Archive for the ‘Research Skills’ Category

Those Genealogy Police are at it again!

Yesterday I received a horrible email from the Genealogy Police(tm).

Can you believe that they told me that I should use death certificates in my research? I don’t want to use death certificates! They are so gloomy. Genealogy is supposed to be fun!

And they said that court records would be a good source of information about my ancestors. If my ancestor was a criminal or was sued, well, I just don’t want to know about that.

The way that I do genealogy is perfectly fine. It makes for a great hobby! I can trace my family tree all the way back to Moses through Charlemagne, King Henry VIII, and I’m third cousins with Brad Pitt. (That explains my good looks.)

I don’t cite my sources for any of this because the “genealogy police” actually think that a citation should provide detail about my sources to an extent that would allow me or someone else to actually know what we had looked at. If I can’t do it their way, then I just won’t do it at all!

Besides, I’m just doing this for my kids anyway. I’m not a professional, and all I care about are the stories.

Now that I got all of that out of the way…

Obviously all of the above was written with tongue firmly in cheek. And I am sure that I have ticked a few people off. I apologize to all who are offended. But I felt that this was the only way to make my point.

Over the past two or three years I have read several blog posts that–believe it or not–are very similar to what I wrote above. These posts of course do not complain about someone telling them to use death certificates or court records (or any other record group). They complain that someone emailed them about a lack of documentation or faulty analysis or some other “standards” issue. Why is it that what I wrote above seems so over-the-top ridiculous, but these other posts get dozens of “likes” on Facebook and “attaboy” and “attagirl” comments? There is no difference.

When genealogists write about the need for standards in genealogy—yes, even for non-professionals—they are usually doing so to try to help.

Meeting standards does not suck the fun out of genealogy.

Meeting standards in your research—even if no one other than yourself ever knows it—increases your own personal confidence in the accuracy of your research. Whether you are in it as a professional or in it just for yourself (or your kids), you should care about the accuracy of your research. Do you want to research your family tree or someone else’s? Do you want to honor your ancestors or someone else’s?

Meeting standards in your research makes you a better researcher. The standards were written by professionals with decades of experience—those whose research skills have been repeatedly demonstrated and found to excel. Becoming a better researcher, in my opinion, makes genealogy even more fun. It opens doors. It breaks down brick walls. Becoming a better researcher allows you to identify with confidence far more ancestors than otherwise. These “new” ancestors all have their own lives and stories. If you love the stories (and who doesn’t), then more ancestors = more fun!

So who are the Genealogy Police anyway?

I’ve never seen them. I have been “doing genealogy” online since I was twenty years old. You can still find some of those old posts I wrote in 1997 or 1998 online. They don’t meet standards. I didn’t know there were standards. They don’t cite sources (though I sure wish they did so I could find some of that information now).

Despite all this, I have never been visited by the Genealogy Police. Never once have I been shot down by some genealogist with a pompous attitude telling me I was doing it wrong.

I have, on the other hand, received messages over the years from genealogists who helped me become the researcher I am today. They taught me about examining sources. They taught me about indirect evidence. They even taught me about citing sources.

But this may come down to perception. I wanted to learn. So I did not take criticism as negative, I took it constructively. I recognized my weaknesses and my mistakes, and I made the attempt to correct them.

I won’t say that there may not be some overzealous genealogists out there who attack people (always privately) about a comma or a semicolon or a faulty record or a disproven connection. They may exist. Luckily they have never emailed me.

So the next time the Genealogy Police visit you, please ask yourself: is this genealogist really attacking me, or are they trying to help?

Charging for genealogy: what is it worth?

This post has been inspired by Thomas Macentee’s 2012 update to the 2011 “Genea-Opportunities” series of blog posts.[1] Longtime readers may recognize that it was this discussion that originally led to the birth of this blog in its current incarnation. The third topic Thomas has proposed for this week is “What Do You Mean It Isn’t Free?”

Despite the subtitle of this blog (“Genealogy as a Profession”), I have never discussed the central question that most aspiring genealogists struggle with: what do we charge for my services?

One resource that is often recommended is Chapter 10, “Setting Realistic Fees” by Sandra Hargreaves Luebking in the book Professional Genealogy. In this chapter Ms. Luebking puts forth a relatively simple two-part formula to calculate your rates: (1) Salary + Expenses + Profit = Targeted Income; and (2) Targeted Income / Billable Hours = Hourly Fee.[2]

Using this method, if your “targeted income” is $80,000, and you can work 20 billable hours per week (x 50 weeks = 1000 hours), then your hourly fee would be calculated as $80 per hour. Simple enough.

Unfortunately I disagree that this formula can produce a realistic figure. To me, one should set their fees based on external factors rather than internal factors. Think about every job you have ever had. You did not walk into the interview and say, “This is how much you have to pay me.” Being self-employed, of course, you have the option to set whatever rate you decide. You can base this on anything that you want.

My own rates are based primarily on a broad survey of other professional genealogists. What do others with similar skills, experience, and education charge? This, in my opinion, is the fair way to set my fees. It has less to do with what I think I need, and more to do with what the market allows.

I believe that the market should control our rates for two reasons: the dangers of overpricing and the dangers of underpricing.

The danger of overpricing

Suppose you are an aspiring professional genealogist. You have decided to quit your job and start taking clients full-time. You have never conducted any research other than on your own family. You have never completed a genealogy course of study, other than a few local society meetings and regional conferences. You use the equation above and decide to come out of the gate charging $80 per hour, in order to maintain your lifestyle.

With your first few clients, you realize that you are in over your head a little bit. You have a few unhappy clients–not because their expectations were too high, but because you could not deliver value equal to your rate. Suddenly these unhappy clients have told their friends who told their friends, and to a small but growing group of people “professional genealogy” is now considered a scam.

This hurts all of us–not just you or your clients.

The danger of underpricing

Some prospective clients will try to get anything they can for free. They will write to you for advice, asking specific questions about their family, and eventually start asking you for “favors” to pick up records, etc. Part of the problem is that many genealogy consumers are on fixed incomes and quite frankly can’t afford to hire a professional. Another part of the problem is that genealogical research skills are often undervalued even among professionals, and this attitude spreads to consumers.

Underpricing is quite often a result of undervaluing what your skill is worth. Again this is why we must conduct market research. Find out what other genealogists with similar skill, education, and experience are charging. And, equally important, be honest with yourself as to what your level of skill, education, and experience really is. If you have been researching the same family for 25 years, this is different from a professional genealogist with 25 years of experience researching hundreds (or thousands) of different, unrelated families.

Doing market research

The greatest resource for conducting market research into what other genealogists charge is the Members Directory of the Association of Professional Genealogists. Here you can read the profiles of all 2000-plus members of the APG–not all of whom take clients.

The members’ profiles provide general qualifications: education, experience, qualifications, specialties. You can search for specific locations or specialties or even keywords using the Search function of the Directory. But don’t stop there. Most profiles do not provide specific information on rates. However, many professional genealogists have their own websites. Follow the links to their sites for more information. Don’t stop at one, either–look at a few dozen. Find those most similar to yourself, and average their rates. You can make small adjustments as needed based on your local average cost of living. (Living in Manhattan is a different scale than living in Kansas.)

In general–in my opinion–your rates should reflect the value that you are able to provide based on your skills, education, and experience. Have I repeated those three factors enough yet? These three factors are among the most important when it comes to many other aspects of professional genealogy as well–not just setting your rates.

What do my fellow professional genealogists think?

SOURCES:

[1] Thomas MacEntee, “GENEA-OPPORTUNITIES – 2012 UPDATE,” Geneabloggers blog, posted 9 July 2012 (http://www.geneabloggers.com : accessed 9 July 2012). Thomas MacEntee, “GENEA-OPPORTUNITIES (LET’S MAKE LOTS OF MONEY),”  Geneabloggers blog, posted 18 April 2011.

[2] Sandra Hargreaves Luebking, “Chapter 10: Setting Realistic Fees,” in Professional Genealogy (Baltimore: Genealogical Publishing Co., 2001), pages 193-202.

If you would like to cite this post:

Michael Hait, CG, “Charging for genealogy: what is it worth?,”Planting the Seeds: Genealogy as a Profession blog, posted 11 July 2012 (http://michaelhait.wordpress.com : accessed [access date]). [Please also feel free to include a hyperlink to the specific article if you are citing this post in an online forum.]

Assessing the reliability of a statement

Several weeks ago, the following question was posed on the APG Members mailing list:

I need to get an idea of whether people think that a statement (follows) in a letter can be reliably accepted as proof of relationship.

Belle (Skinner) Capwell wrote a letter in 1930 to Kate Black, saying, “Sally Goodrich Cheney [Kate's great-grandmother] was a sister of my grandmother Betsy Goodrich Skinner.” Betsy (Goodrich) Skinner died in 1876, when Belle (Skinner) Capwell was 14; Belle’s father, Daniel Skinner, died in 1881. So Belle might very well have gotten this relationship information firsthand from her grandmother or father. The Cheney family had moved to Illinois before Belle was born, so she might not have known them, unless they came back to NY for a visit.

The Goodrich/Goodridge genealogy by Edwin Alonzo Goodridge included Betsy (and Sally?)’s father, Edmund Goodrich/Goodridge, but Sally was apparently born after the family moved to NY from Newbury, MA, and the list of children in the genealogy includes only the three born in Newbury. I’ve been trying to locate records in Chautauqua Co., NY, where Edmund died, that might tie him to Sally, but so far have had no luck (he lived with Daniel Skinner at his death, and there is no probate file).

I do still need to investigate deeds for him in Chautauqua Co., but in the meantime, I want to get an idea (Elizabeth?) of whether a genealogical journal editor would accept that statement in the letter as proof. Belle wrote the letter to Kate because Belle wanted to join the DAR and was hoping that Kate might have info about the Goodrich family that might lead her to Revolutionary War ancestors.[1]

This researcher has raised a very important issue in evidence analysis by genealogists. How do we assess the reliability of this statement? For that matter, how do we assess the reliability of any statement in any record?

Here are the first questions that I ask myself when assessing any statement:

  • Who made the statement?
  • Who did they make the statement to?
  • Why did they make the statement?
  • What was the informant’s knowledge of the event being reported?
  • Did any reason exist for the informant to deliberately make a false statement?

In this example, the researcher had already identified the responses to most of these questions. Sometimes analysis does come down to asking yourself specific questions and formulating specific answers.

First, let’s clearly delineate the statement being evaluated: “Sally Goodrich Cheney [Kate's great-grandmother] was a sister of my grandmother Betsy Goodrich Skinner.”

This statement provides evidence of a sibling relationship between Sally (Goodrich) Cheney and Betsy (Goodrich) Skinner. Our objective is to evaluate the reliability of this evidence.

Who made the statement? The statement was made by Belle (Skinner) Capwell, granddaughter of Betsy (Goodrich) Skinner.

Who did they make the statement to? The statement was made to Kate Black, great-granddaughter of Sally (Goodrich) Cheney.

Why did they make the statement? Belle was contacting Kate, her first cousin once removed, for information about their mutual Goodrich family. We do not know whether Belle and Kate knew each other. However, the structure of the sentence explicitly expressing the relationship between Belle’s grandmother and Kate’s great-grandmother implies that Kate did not know Belle personally, but that Kate may have known her great-grandmother Sally. Belle’s appeal was through the relationship that Belle’s grandmother had with Kate’s great-grandmother, rather than through a direct association.

The more specific response to this question is that Belle made the statement in pursuit of her goal to join the Daughters of the American Revolution, a lineage society. Though the proof standards required by the DAR in 1930 were far shy of those required by the DAR today (and even further shy of what the BCG might require), there is still the assumption that, by contacting more distant family members, she was striving for a certain level of accuracy. (Remember these were the days before the Family History Library and the Internet, before even the WPA and their work with historic records, when many records were not yet centralized in state repositories but held in private hands or spread out among various courthouse attics and basements. Research was different then.)

What was the informant’s knowledge of the event being reported? This question is vital, but the answer is much more complicated than you might initially believe. One might immediately think, “Belle was not present at her grandmother’s birth, so her knowledge has to be secondary.” But take a look at the statement we are evaluating: this is a direct statement about the relationship, not about the birth. Could Belle have had direct knowledge that Sally and Betsy were sisters? To answer this, we have to look at the relationship between Belle and her grandmother Betsy.

The researcher had obviously already taken this into consideration: “Betsy (Goodrich) Skinner died in 1876, when Belle (Skinner) Capwell was 14; Belle’s father, Daniel Skinner, died in 1881. So Belle might very well have gotten this relationship information firsthand from her grandmother or father. The Cheney family had moved to Illinois before Belle was born, so she might not have known them, unless they came back to NY for a visit.” This shows that Belle almost certainly knew her grandmother for the first 14 years of her life. We do not know (from the limited information provided) how old Belle was when she wrote the letter, though this could affect the reliability somewhat.

So, as the researcher here noted herself, Belle could have learned of the relationship from her grandmother. Imagine Betsy sitting there talking to her granddaughter, mentioning “my sister Sally.”

It is not entirely unlikely, either, that Belle had met her grandmother’s sister in person. Migrant family members often returned to visit the family left behind. Illinois was not too far from New York. So the possibility definitely exists that Belle had met Sally.

Did any reason exist for the informant to deliberately make a false statement? Regardless of whether or not Belle and Kate knew each other, the bottom line is that they were part of an extended family. The letter was an inquiry about their family history. While the potential for bias existed in Belle’s desire to join the Daughters of American Revolution, this potential bias would most likely manifest itself in the lineage application itself. It would not likely apply to a statement in a private letter from one “cousin” to another, inquiring about their mutual family.

So, after asking ourselves just these first few questions, it becomes apparent that Belle was likely stating the truth of Sally and Betsy’s relationship as she understood it, and that she was in a position to have had personal knowledge of this relationship.

In other words, the statement of the relationship is probably highly reliable.

The next step in assessing the reliability of a statement, after examining the context of the statement itself, as demonstrated here, is to compare this information with that provided by other records. Yet the information provided by each of these records must itself be assessed internally, in the way discussed here, before it can be compared effectively with other records. When contradictory evidence is discovered, researchers must consider how reliable the conflicting statements are in determining which is most likely to be accurate.

SOURCES:

[1] Christine Crawford-Oppenheimer (email reserved for private use), e-mail, “Assessment of reliability of a statement in a letter,” to APG Members Mailing List, 9 March 2012. Reprinted with permission of author.

If you would like to cite this post: Michael Hait, “Assessing the reliability of a statement,” Planting the Seeds: Genealogy as a Profession blog, posted 9 April 2012 (http://michaelhait.wordpress.com : accessed [access date]). [Please also feel free to include a hyperlink to the specific article if you are citing this post in an online forum.]

EvidenceExplained.com website launches

I have mentioned the books Evidence! and Evidence Explained on numerous occasions in this blog. These two books by Elizabeth Shown Mills, CG, CGL, FASG, have highly influenced my approach to record analysis and source citation.

Today, 1 April 2012, Ms. Mills announced the launch of a new website based on the books: EvidenceExplained.com.

Across the past year or so, many of you have queried the genealogical mailing lists, asking when the 2nd edition of Evidence Explained would be available in a downloadable format. The wait is over.

EvidenceExplained.com has now launched—not just as a vehicle for providing electronic downloads of an updated 2nd edition of EE and the QuickSheets, but also as an educational venue and a forum for issues relating to citation, evidence analysis, and record usage and interpretation.[1]

Through this site, for the very first time, one can download electronic editions of not only the 2009 2nd Edition of Evidence Explained, but all of Ms. Mills’s Quicksheets also published by Genealogical Publishing Company. All of these reference works should be on every serious genealogists’ bookshelf. These electronic editions now provide a means to have them with you everywhere you go–even those research trips where you just couldn’t.

As she mentions in her announcement, the site also includes several forums, i.e. “Citation Issues,” “Evidence Analysis Issues,” and “Record Usage and Interpretation.” These forums already have several discussions that are worth participating in, and, if you have a question of your own, you should post it to the forums for advice from other scholarly genealogists.

Visit and explore EvidenceExplained.com, and if you do not have these books in your library, get them now!

For more on Evidence Explained, read the following posts:

SOURCES:

[1] Elizabeth Shown Mills (email address for private use), to APG Members Mailing List, e-mail, 1 April 2012, “Electronic edition: Evidence Explained.”

How do I cite a genealogy research conclusion?

I hope that my recent posts defining conclusions and differentiating between simple and complex genealogical conclusions helped researchers to better understand the nature of what we aim for in our research. As scholarly or aspiring professional genealogists we should always attempt to meet the Genealogical Proof Standard, and its condition that we arrive at a “soundly reasoned, coherently written conclusion.”

When we reach a conclusion the question is then: how do we cite them?

Many genealogists are familiar with the terms direct evidence and indirect evidence. Simplified, direct evidence is evidence–information from a document, for example–that states explicitly the solution to a genealogical problem. Indirect evidence is evidence that does not state explicitly the solution to a genealogical problem, but forms part of a larger proof argument.

These terms coincide slightly with the terms simple conclusion and complex conclusion. A simple conclusion–what is generally called a “fact”–can be reached when we have direct evidence that can be assessed as reliable information. For example, the date of death as reported on a death certificate can generally be deemed reliable. On the other hand, the date of birth on the same death certificate, unless provided by one of the parents, would generally be deemed as far less reliable.

In the absence of reliable direct evidence, we as genealogists must “go the extra mile” to meet the Genealogical Proof Standard in forming complex conclusions. This does not necessarily mean that the conclusion has to be difficult. The proof argument concerning Gabriel Diggs’s date of birth is a relatively straightforward argument. By meeting the conditions of the Standard even on straightforward and simple cases of indirect or conflicting evidence, not only do we strengthen the overall reliability and accuracy of our research, but we also develop the analytical skills and thought processes necessary to attack far more difficult cases.

Back to the original question: how do I cite a research conclusion?

In general, simple conclusions are easy to cite. Each established fact only needs cite the single most reliable source of direct evidence. If multiple sources of reliable direct evidence exist, we can also cite the corroborating sources. How we cite these sources in our written family histories, our genealogy databases, and anything else we produce remains the same.

The problem arises when trying to cite a complex conclusion. If, for example, we reach a conclusion that comes from examining multiple records with indirect and/or conflicting evidence, how would we cite this? Take another look at the Diggs example. The conclusion that I reached through examination and analysis of all sources was not stated explicitly in any single record.

In a professional written product, such as a client report or a case study for publication, we would cite the source of each fact separately. And of course, by fact, I mean simple conclusion. Complex conclusions stem from a series of simple conclusions. In many cases, complex conclusions are built from a series of both simple and complex conclusions. We should write a proof argument in which we cite the most empirical sources for each piece of information, and produce a “coherently written conclusion.” The Diggs example uses this technique for citation.

On the other hand, if we are simply entering data into a genealogy database, or producing a detailed, multi-generation family history or genealogy, then we would use a different strategy.

When entering information into a genealogy database–whether you are an evidence-based or conclusion-based software user–you cannot enter a proof argument as a “fact” or “event” (the terms most software programs use) with a single citation. And even if you could, for a complex conclusion, this would not be appropriate.

In a family history or genealogy being compiled for a general audience (i.e. non-genealogist family members), the focus would likely be on the stories of our ancestors’ lives. While one or two proof arguments might be able to be slipped into the work, we would not really want to include all of them.

In both of these situations,  we should include abbreviated proof arguments, citing each of the records we use, in the reference notes. We should also report any conflicting evidence, any indirect evidence, etc.

Most genealogy database programs now include a notes field that would work perfectly for this purpose. (NOTE: I am unsure about the compatibility of these notes with the current GEDCOM standard.) Endnotes can be appropriate for a general-audience family history, as the information would be there for those who are interested, and can easily be skipped by those who are not interested.

If you would like to cite this post: Michael Hait, “How do I cite a genealogy research conclusion?,” Planting the Seeds: Genealogy as a Profession blog, posted 21 March 2012 (http://michaelhait.wordpress.com : accessed [access date]). [Please also feel free to include a hyperlink to the specific article if you are citing this post in an online forum.]

Reconciling conflicting information–a case study

The fourth precept of the Genealogical Proof Standard is that we “resolve any conflicts caused by contradictory items of evidence or information contrary to your conclusion.” To read more, see “Reconciling conflicting information.”

Regardless of what fact it is you are trying to prove, it is necessary to meet the Genealogical Proof Standard. This includes not only collecting all relevant records, but also analyzing and correlating the information. This process will almost invariably reveal conflicts. For this reason, the Standard requires that researchers consider the contradictory evidence.

1.         Gabriel Diggs, the son of George R. and Charlotte (Simmins) Diggs, was probably born on 10 September 1875, in Marlboro District, Prince George’s Co., Maryland,[1] and died on 2 December 1930, in Upper Marlboro, Prince George’s Co., Maryland.[2] On 15 May 1894, in Prince George’s Co., Maryland, Gabriel married first, Christianna Tolson,[3] daughter of William and Roxana (West) Tolson.[4] She was born ca. 14 October 1873, in Prince George’s Co., Maryland, and died on 9 April 1912, in Prince George’s Co., Maryland.[5] After Christianna’s death, Gabriel married Susie Lee, daughter of Jupiter and Harriet Ann (Young)[6] Lee.[7] She was born ca. 1885-1886, in Prince George’s Co., Maryland.[8]

Gabriel’s date of birth

Though he was born after the abolition of slavery, Gabriel Diggs was still born before the advent of vital registration in the state of Maryland. The first vital registration laws in Maryland were passed in 1865, but the birth and death registration programs were abandoned just a few years later. The state would not again begin recording births (outside of Baltimore city) until 1898.[9]

In order to estimate the date of birth with optimum accuracy, it is therefore necessary to correlate the dates and ages of multiple sources. Gabriel’s age is provided in the federal census enumerations for the years from 1880 through 1930; two separate marriage records; a military draft registration card; and his death certificate. Each of these records must be weighed according to its individual reliability, allowing us to come to a reasonable conclusion. The following chart shows the ages, stated or estimated dates of birth, and dates of record, for each source for Gabriel’s age.

Source

Date of Record

Stated Age

Date of Birth

1880 U. S. Census[10]

1 Jun 1880

5 yrs

btw. 2 Jun 1874-1 Jun 1875
1894 Marriage[11]

15 May 1894

21 yrs

btw. 16 May 1872-15 May 1873
1900 U. S. Census[12]

1 Jun 1900

24 yrs

“Apr 1876”
1910 U. S. Census[13]

15 Apr 1910

34 yrs

btw. 16 Apr 1875-15 Apr 1876
1915 Marriage[14]

25 Jun 1915

39 yrs

btw. 26 Jun 1875-25 Jun 1876
World War I Draft Card[15]

12 Sep 1918

43 yrs

“Sept. 10th 1875”
1920 U. S. Census[16]

1 Jan 1920

44 yrs

btw. 2 Jan 1875-1 Jan 1876
1930 U. S. Census[17]

1 Apr 1930

54 yrs

btw. 2 Apr 1875-1 Apr 1876
Death Certificate[18]

2 Dec 1930

53 yrs, 3 mos, 22 dys

10 Sep 1877

The 1918 draft registration card contains both primary information and direct evidence of Gabriel’s date of birth, provided by Gabriel himself.[19] The ages reported in the 1915 marriage record and the census records from 1910 through 1930 support this date.

Of the remaining sources of information concerning Gabriel’s age or date of birth, the conflicting information can be generally explained. Federal census records do not record the informant, and cannot be judged as simply as other records might; their reliability as sources of genealogical information therefore varies from record to record, household to household.

The earliest record in which Gabriel appears is the 1880 federal census, as a young child. This record reports his age as five years old.[20] It is not rare among census records to find a small child’s age to be slightly inaccurate, especially since there is no way to know whether or not the child’s parents served as informant for the record.

The 1900 federal census provides the correct age, but reports the month and year of Gabriel’s birth as April 1876.[21] Again, the informant for this record is not known, so its reliability cannot be empirically evaluated. In light of the other evidence, however, it would appear that the record is simply mistaken.

The 1894 marriage record likely contains primary information provided by Gabriel himself, yet conflicts by the greatest variance with the birth date provided on the draft card. Whereas all other records examined place Gabriel’s date of birth at around 1875 or 1876, this record states Gabriel’s age as 21 years of age, placing his date of birth in 1873. In 1894, the age of majority in the state of Maryland was 21 years, so it seems probable that Gabriel deliberately misstated his age on this marriage record so that he could be married without parental permission.[22] This theory is corroborated by the 1930 federal census record. In the column where it asks “Age at first marriage,” the census reports that Gabriel was first married at age 19.[23] If he was indeed nineteen years of age at the time of his 1894 marriage, then Gabriel would have been born ca. 1875, as other evidence suggests.

Finally, Gabriel’s death certificate records his date of birth as 10 September 1877. This is two years later than all other estimates, but shares the same month and day as Gabriel himself reported twelve years earlier on his draft card. Most death certificates are signed by the informant, but this certificate does not name the informant.[24] In this case, it appears that the informant was someone who knew Gabriel’s birthdate, but not his exact age.

All evidence thus being considered, it seems certain that Gabriel was born in either late 1875 or early 1876, and most probable that he was born on 10 September 1875.

SOURCES:

[1] See discussion under heading “Gabriel’s date of birth.”

[2] Maryland Department of Health, Bureau of Vital Statistics, death certificate no. 16201 (1930), Gabriel Diggs; Maryland State Archives microfilm no. SR 3111.

[3] Prince George’s Co., Maryland, Marriage Record, Liber JWB 1, ff. 76-77, Gabriel Diggs and Christianna Tolson, 15 May 1894; Maryland State Archives microfilm no. CR 7537-1.

[4] Maryland Department of Health, Bureau of Vital Statistics, death certificate not numbered, Christiana Diggs, 9 Apr 1912; Maryland State Archives microfilm no. SR 3025. 1880 U. S. Census, Prince George’s County, Maryland, population schedule, Third District, ED 123, SD 3, pg. 40, dwelling 316, family 326, William Tolson household; digital images, Ancestry.com (http://www.ancestry.com : accessed 9 Jan 2010); citing NARA microfilm T9, roll 513, FHL microfilm 1,254,513.

[5] Maryland death certificate, not numbered, Christiana Diggs, 9 Apr 1912.

[6] Prince George’s County Marriage Licenses, 1879-1886, f. 32, Jubiter Lee and Harriet Ann Young, 9 Jun 1883; Maryland State Archives microfilm no. CR 50,230-7.

[7] 1910 U. S. Census, Prince George’s County, Maryland, population schedule, Third Election District, Upper Marlboro Town, ED 62, SD 4, sheet 16B, dwelling 51, family 51, Jupiter Lee household; digital images, Ancestry.com; citing NARA microfilm T624, roll 567.

[8] 1910 U. S. Census, Prince George’s Co., Md., pop. sch., 3rd Election Dist., Upper Marlboro Town, ED 62, SD 4, sheet 16B, dwg 51, fam 51, Susie Lee.

[9] For a general overview of Maryland vital registration laws, see Maryland State Archives, “Death Records,” online article, Guide to Government Records (http://guide.mdsa.net/viewer.cfm?page=death : accessed 23 Nov 2010).

[10] 1880 U. S. Census, Prince George’s County, Maryland, population schedule, Third District, ED 123, SD 3, stamped page 66, page 11, dwelling not numbered, family 84, George Diggs household; digital images, Ancestry.com; citing NARA microfilm publication T9, roll 513, FHL microfilm 1,254,513.

[11] Prince George’s Co. Marriage Record, JWB 1: 75, Diggs to Tolson.

[12] 1900 U. S. Census, Prince George’s County, Maryland, population schedule, Melwood, 15th Election District, ED 107, SD 3, pg. 19B, dwelling 259, family 260, George R. Diggs household; digital images, Ancestry.com; citing NARA microfilm T623, roll 626.

[13] 1910 U. S. Census, Prince George’s County, Maryland, population schedule, Third Election District, ED 62, SD 4, pg. 2B, dwelling 35, family 36, Gabriel Diggs household; digital images, Ancestry.com; citing NARA microfilm publication T624, roll 567.

[14] Prince George’s County Marriage Record, Liber BDS, ff. 76-77, Gabriel Diggs and Susie Lee, 25 Jun 1915; Maryland State Archives microfilm no. CR 7538.

[15] “World War I Draft Registration Cards, 1917-1918,” digital images, Ancestry.com, Gabriel Diggs, serial no. 610, order no. 248, Draft Board 0, Prince George’s County, Maryland; citing World War I Selective Service System Draft Registration Cards, 1917-1918, NARA microfilm publication M1509, roll not cited, FHL microfilm roll no. 1,684,364.

[16] 1920 U. S. Census, Prince George’s County, Maryland, population schedule, Mellwood District, ED 90, SD 4, stamped page 123, sheet 11A, dwelling 195, family 206, Gabriel Diggs household; digital images, Ancestry.com; citing NARA microfilm publication T625, roll 674.

[17] 1930 U. S. Census, Prince George’s County, Maryland, population schedule, Marlboro District No. 3, ED 17-9, SD 5, stamped page 83, sheet 14A, dwelling 214, family 228, Gabriel Diggs household; digital images, Ancestry.com; citing NARA microfilm publication T626, roll 877.

[18] Maryland death certificate no. 16201 (1930), Gabriel Diggs.

[19] World War I draft registration card for Gabriel Diggs, serial no. 610, order no. 248, Prince George’s Co., Maryland.

[20] 1880 U. S. Census, Prince George’s Co., Md., pop. sch., Third Dist., ED 123, SD 3, pg. 11, dwg not numd., fam 84, George Diggs h/h.

[21] 1900 U. S. Census, Prince George’s Co., Md., pop. sch., Melwood, 15th Election District, ED 107, SD 3, pg. 19B, dwg 259, fam 260, Gabriel Diggs.

[22] Prince George’s Co. Marriage Record, Liber JWB 1, fol. 75, Diggs to Tolson, 15 May 1894.

[23] 1930 U. S. Census, Prince George’s Co., Md., pop. sch., Marlboro Dist. No. 3, ED 17-9, SD 5, sheet 14A, dwg 214, fam 228, Gabriel Diggs.

[24] Maryland death certificate no. 16201 (1930), Gabriel Diggs.

If you would like to cite this post: Michael Hait, “Reconciling conflicting information–a case study,”Planting the Seeds: Genealogy as a Profession blog, posted 4 February 2012 (http://michaelhait.wordpress.com : accessed [access date]). [Please also feel free to include a hyperlink to the specific article if you are citing this post in an online forum.]

Reconciling conflicting information

The fourth precept of the Genealogical Proof Standard is that we “resolve any conflicts caused by contradictory items of evidence or information contrary to your conclusion.”

For many genealogists, who struggle with some of the more difficult research concepts, conflicting information poses a particularly tricky situation. Conflicting information is inevitable, especially when we have truly conducted a “reasonably exhaustive” search for records.

When records disagree, how can we possibly discover the truth?

The most important skill that we develop as genealogists is the skill of analysis. Genealogy research is far more than just finding the records. Once we have found the records we must determine what relevant information each record holds, and how reliable that information is.

Some of the questions that we must ask ourselves, when faced with conflicting information, are:

  • Who provided the information?
  • What was the level of participation of the informant in the event being reported?
  • What was the level of understanding of the informant in the event being reported?
  • How long removed was the creation of the record from the event being reported?
  • Did any bias or external pressure exist that may have caused the informant to intentionally report inaccurate information? (I know, none of us want to believe that our ancestors would have lied, but sometimes there were “good reasons.”)

Based on your reasoned responses to these questions, regarding each record containing conflicting information, you should be able to determine that one report can be deemed most likely to be more accurate than the others.

An example of this process will follow in a subsequent post.

If you would like to cite this post: Michael Hait, “Reconciling conflicting information,” Planting the Seeds: Genealogy as a Profession blog, posted 21 January 2012 (http://michaelhait.wordpress.com : accessed [access date]). [Please also feel free to include a hyperlink to the specific article if you are citing this post in an online forum.]

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