Archive for February, 2012

Notable Genealogy Blog Posts, 26 February 2012

The following recent blog posts are those that I consider important or notable. Unlike other similar blog lists, I cannot guarantee that they will all be from the past week. (Some weeks I simply do not have time to read any blogs.) But I will try to write this on a fairly regular basis.

Kathryn Lake Hogan, “Why Should You Hire a Professional Genealogist?,” Looking4Ancestors blog, posted 22 February 2012 ( : accessed 25 February 2012). Kathryn explores issues surrounding the hiring of a professional genealogist, including why hiring a professional might be necessary and how much one might expect to pay (in Canadian dollars).

James Tanner, “Lessons in Genealogy from 1915 Part One,” and “Lessons in Genealogy from 1915 Part Two,” Genealogy’s Star blog, posted 20 February 2012 ( : accessed 24 February 2012). Mr. Tanner explores a book on genealogy methodology published by the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints back in 1915. I am a big fan of genealogical history and historiography, and have downloaded the book from Internet Archive for my own exploration.

Judy G. Russell, CG, “Certified, yes; certifiable… well…,” The Legal Genealogist blog, posted 25 February 2012 ( : accessed 25 February 2012). A very humorous look at Judy’s voyage to earning her shiny new credential from the Board for the Certification of Genealogists. Be sure to go congratulate her!


Simple and complex genealogical conclusions

Earlier this week I posted, “What is a conclusion?,” in which I discussed the application of the Genealogical Proof Standard to every research conclusion that is stated as a fact.

In a comment to this post, Martin wrote,

… Does every event need the GPS now? How boring and tedious do we make a genealogical write-up? Most ages do not agree visa-vis the census. Do we really need to GPS every single person, or can we just conclude that ages in censuses vary? Genealogy is proving relationships. I can understand that proving a relationship might incur the GPS, but every fact or event? I think you’ll run off everyone involved with genealogy including me.

My immediate response to Martin’s comment concluded with the question:

At what point is it acceptable to say, “This fact does not need to be accurate, based on research in all relevant records”?

Ultimately, we do need to ask ourselves this question. My goal in researching–and I assume that many of my readers will agree–is to create an accurate account of my family history. My work for clients also reflects this ideal. However, I can also recognize that for some, genealogy has other purposes and priorities.

On the other hand, I think that it is important to recognize what the Genealogical Proof Standard truly entails. You can read the full definition in my post, “The Genealogical Proof Standard: an introduction.” In short, the Genealogical Proof Standard requires that we:

  • Search for all records that could potentially hold relevant information.
  • Cite the sources we use.
  • Evaluate the information.
  • Reconcile conflicting/contradictory information.
  • Form a logical written conclusion.

As I stated in my last post, every statement that we make as factual is a conclusion based on our research. As such, every fact should meet the above conditions.

However, one will note that I did not state that every fact needed to look like a case study in the National Genealogical Society Quarterly or one of the other scholarly journals.

There is a difference between a simple conclusion and a complex conclusion.

These are not terms one will encounter in genealogical literature, as such. However, in my assertion that every fact is a conclusion, it may serve to define these two kinds of conclusions in this sense.

A simple conclusion is a straightforward statement of indisputable fact.

complex conclusion, by contrast, is a conclusion based on a proof summary or a proof argument.

The following table explores various qualities of simple and complex conclusions:

Simple Conclusion

Complex Conclusion

A simple statement of fact A conclusion based on thorough research
Based on a single document

  • Providing direct evidence of the conclusion;
  • Created contemporary to the event being reported;
  • Created specifically for the purpose of reporting the event being reported;
  • Created by a participant or official eyewitness to the event being reported
Based on multiple facts in multiple documents

  • Providing both direct and indirect evidence of the conclusion;
  • Providing information of varied quality;
  • Created for various purposes other than the purpose for which we are using them
 A single citation to a single record will suffice Each document used to form the conclusion must be cited individually
Corroborating information is not necessary to prove the statement (but may exist) Corroborating information must be examined fully to form the conclusion
Conflicting evidence does not exist Conflicting information may exist, and must be reconciled
May form part of a more complex proof argument Comprised of simple conclusions; may form part of an even more complex proof argument
Example: Person A purchased land from Person B, citing the deed that recorded this sale. Example: Person X was the son of Person Y as illustrated by a proof argument, citing several pieces of evidence supporting this conclusion.

Now I am not the type to reinvent the wheel for no reason. Defining these terms serves a clarifying purpose.

The proof summaries, proof arguments, and case studies that we read are complex conclusions comprised of a series of simple conclusions. If we are to trust the conclusion, we must be able to trust the facts being reported as evidence of this conclusion.

We must therefore recognize the difference between a simple conclusion and a complex conclusion. Many of the proof arguments or case studies that I read are actually comprised of a mix of simple conclusions (statements of fact) and complex conclusions (proof summaries or proof arguments in their own right).

Both simple conclusions and complex conclusions can meet the Genealogical Proof Standard. For a simple conclusion, meeting the Genealogical Proof Standard requires no more than conducting full analysis of the single record being used. Some of the statements in that record would qualify as simple conclusions. Other statements in the same record will not qualify, due to the quality of this record as a source for that information.

For example, stating that Person X lived in County Y on a specific date based on his appearance in a federal census record would constitute a simple conclusion. On the other hand, stating that Person X was born in 1847 based on his age as reported in this same federal census record would not constitute a simple conclusion. The census record is not a high-quality source for this information.

As my last post opined, every fact that is reported as a fact must meet the Genealogical Proof Standard. If you report a fact based on high-quality evidence (as described above), then you have met the Standard for this fact. However, if no high-quality direct evidence exists, then a proof summary or proof argument must accompany this conclusion.

Any genealogical conclusion (whether it relates to kinship or some other aspect of an ancestor’s life) based on a series of complex conclusions that do not individually meet the Genealogical Proof Standard cannot itself meet the Standard. Like the old computer adage said, “Garbage in, garbage out.”

If you would like to cite this post: Michael Hait, “Simple and complex genealogical conclusions,” Planting the Seeds: Genealogy as a Profession blog, posted 26 February 2012 ( : 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.]

What is a conclusion?

The final condition of the Genealogical Proof Standard is that we arrive at a “soundly reasoned, coherently written conclusion.” This may seem to be the simplest part of the GPS and a part that many take for granted. Yet in my experience this is really the most important part of the Standard. It is also often confused and therefore I will take the time to address this further here.

To understand this last condition fully you must ask yourself “what is a conclusion?” How one defines conclusion has a profound impact on one’s understanding of the Genealogical Proof Standard as a whole.

Professional genealogists often consider the term conclusion in the professional context, in the sense of the conclusion (or end) of a research project or agreed-upon time frame. Even for non-professionals, it is too easy to think of meeting the Genealogical Proof Standard only in terms of our long-term research goals, or the “big picture,” as opposed to the many facts that lead to that “big picture.”

If I state that my great-grandfather was born on 24 October 1897 (not the real date), as if this was a fact, then I am stating a conclusion based on my research, right? In actuality, every fact reported as such is a conclusion reached through research into that specific research goal.

Each of these conclusions/facts may provide evidence that leads you to a “big picture” conclusion, a more complex research goal.

If you accept that every fact is a conclusion, then it should follow that every fact is subject to the Genealogical Proof Standard, and all that it entails.

When I reported my great-grandfather’s date of birth, have I:

  • conducted a reasonably exhaustive search for all records that may contain pertinent information?
  • fully and accurately cited every source used in my research?
  • analyzed and correlated the information provided by the sources that I have located, assessing their quality as evidence?
  • reconciled any conflicting or contradictory information?

If I cannot honestly respond that I have met each of these conditions, then my statement of the “fact” of my great-grandfather’s date of birth can be called into question.

It is far more likely, for example, if I have not searched for every record that might hold relevant information, that additional information might arise in the future that contradicts my conclusion. This new information might be more accurate, and it might force me to completely abandon my original conclusion. Had I evaluated my conclusion based on all of the conditions of the Genealogical Proof Standard, it would have been a more reliable conclusion, and the likelihood of its being contradicted by a newly discovered record would have dropped significantly.

It is important to note that the likelihood of new information emerging that will contradict your conclusions will never fall to 0%. This always remains an open possibility–no matter how slight–and an honest genealogist will not dismiss emerging information simply to protect one’s earlier conclusions. Even if it means that hours of research on “former ancestors” (to borrow a phrase Martin Hollick used in a comment to another post on this blog) will be lost.

In other words, a conclusion does not equal the end.

The points addressed here also raise another important question: how do I cite a research conclusion?

I will respond to this question in a future post.

If you would like to cite this post: Michael Hait, “What is a conclusion?,” Planting the Seeds: Genealogy as a Profession blog, posted 20 February 2012 ( : 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.]

Notable Genealogy Blog Posts, 19 February 2012

The following recent blog posts are those that I consider important or notable. Unlike other similar blog lists, I cannot guarantee that they will all be from the past week. (Some weeks I simply do not have time to read any blogs.) But I will try to write this on a fairly regular basis.

Kimberly Powell, “Search for Sources, Not Just Surnames,” Genealogy blog, posted 29 January 2012 ( : accessed 17 February 2012). Kimberly discusses the importance of educating yourself about what records are available that might be relevant to your research at every level of government.

Daniel Hubbard, “Footnotes on my Footnotes,” Personal Past Meditations: A Genealogy Blog, posted 12 February 2012 ( : accessed 14 February 2012). In this post, Daniel discusses the need to understand the provenance of the sources you are using.

Notable Genealogy Blog Posts, 12 February 2012

The following recent blog posts are those that I consider important or notable. Unlike other similar blog lists, I cannot guarantee that they will all be from the past week. (Some weeks I simply do not have time to read any blogs.) But I will try to write this on a fairly regular basis.

Lucy Ferriss, “In Defense of Browsing,” Lingua Franca blog, posted 8 February 2012 ( : accessed 8 February 2012). Not a genealogy blog. Lucy Ferriss discusses why the loss of brick and mortar bookstores, in favor of the online alternatives, is detrimental to writers and bibliophiles.

Polly Kimmitt, CG, “Open-Mindedness and Compromise Not Dirty Words,” PollyBlog, posted 16 January 2012 ( : accessed 8 February 2012). In “The Genealogy Paradigm Shift” I discussed the technological changes in society that are also affecting the genealogical community. One example that I used was the closing of many local genealogical societies compared with the growth of online genealogy communities. In this post, Polly further explores this topic with grace, and discusses how genealogical societies and tech-savvy genealogists can work together to move into this new era.

Judy G. Russell, “SSDI Hearings: OUCH!,” The Legal Genealogist blog, posted 3 February 2012 ( : accessed 8 February 2012). Judy watched the hearing of the Ways and Means Committee on the Social Security Death Master File (“Social Security Death Index”) and it did not look good. I agree!

Fred Moss, “RPAC launches ‘Stop Identity Theft NOW’ Petition,” Records Preservation and Access Committee blog, posted 7 February 2012 ( : accessed 8 February 2012). Rather than just complaining about the potential loss of the Social Security Death Master File, the RPAC–a joint committee of the Federation of Genealogical Societies, National Genealogical Society, and International Association of Jewish Genealogical Societies–has introduced an alternative that continues access while limiting the potential for abuse. This post describes a petition on the White House website in support of this alternative.

Randy Seaver, “Answers to Questions from,” Genea-Musings blog, posted 10 February 2012 ( : accessed 11 February 2012). Randy asked a representative from some pertinent questions about how the site will develop over the next few years. The responses are enlightening.

Schedule of IGHR Evening Sessions now available

The schedule for the evening sessions at Samford University’s Institute for Genealogical and Historical Research, in Birmingham, Alabama, from 10-15 June 2012, has now been posted on the Institute’s website.

The scheduled sessions are as follows:

Monday June 11, 2012

“The Library of Congress: An Introduction and Overview for Genealogists”

This lecture discusses U.S. passenger arrival records, 1820-1957, which are available online and on microfilm. It explains what facts researchers need to know to begin their search for an immigrant ancestor’s ship, as well as how to conduct that search. Specific examples illustrate how to exploit Internet databases, National Archives indexes on microfilm, indexes published in book form and other pertinent research tools. How to find the ship of an ancestor who arrived before 1820 is also addressed briefly.

  • Presented by John Philip Colletta
  • 6:00-7:15 p.m.
  • Brock Forum, Dwight Beeson Hall

“Americans Abroad: Consular Records of the State Department”

In addition to diplomats, military personnel, or those abroad on official or semi-official assignments, Americans abroad-particularly in the nineteenth century, but also earlier-included many “ordinary” citizens: merchants, business men and women, middle-class travelers, naturalized citizens returning to their native countries, students, missionaries, artists, and others. Often circumstances caused them to seek assistance or support of the federal government while abroad. In such situations, as they interacted with the American government through its embassies or consulates, they created records, many with genealogical value. Those records are part of the State Department records in Record Group 59 at the National Archives. They begin as early as 1789 and continue to the present.

The presentation cites mostly records created in U.S. consular offices in France. However the examples are illustrative of similar records created in any other countries with which the U.S. had diplomatic relations-and thus had consulates where such records were created.

  • Presented by Claire Bettag
  • 6:00-7:15 p.m.
  • Auditorium, Brooks Hall

Tuesday June 12, 2012

“Certification: Procedures, Questions, and Answers”

  • Presented by Thomas Jones and Elissa Powell
  • 6:00 – 7:15 p.m.
  • Brock Forum, Dwight Beeson Hall

“The 17,000,000 Stories of Ellis Island: What’s Fact? What’s Myth?”

Ellis Island occupies a mythical place in the history of our nation. And rightly so! But many myths and misconceptions about the place persist, distorting genealogical research and reporting. This lecture puts Ellis Island into its proper place in the larger context of U.S. immigration history, and in so doing, sets the record straight as to what’s fact and what’s myth.

  • Presented by John Philip Colletta
  • 6:00 – 7:15 p.m.
  • Auditorium, Brooks Hall

Wednesday June 13, 2012

“Genealogical Research: Online Resources – for Free!”

In the economically challenged world we are in today, free is good! There are many choice websites that have digital images, databases, text files, etc. available free to use. The presenter will provide the attendees with insight into what is in store for them when they search some of the popular, and some so not well known, free websites available to them.

  • Presented by C. Ann Staley
  • 6:00 – 7:15 p.m.
  • Brock Forum, Dwight Beeson Hall

“Using the Genealogical Proof Standard to Research Slave Community”

The Genealogical Proof Standard provides a measuring stick to evaluate the validity of your conclusions. By allowing the Proof Standard to guide your research, you can be sure that your research is as accurate as possible.

During the Haitian Revolution in the 1790s, many planters fled the French colony Saint-Domingue (Haiti) for the United States. The Vincendiere family settled in Frederick County, Maryland, on land now part of Monocacy National Battlefied (a National Park), bringing several slaves with them. Within a few years, they owned several dozen slaves.

This case study will show how the Genealogical Proof Standard was used to research the slaves owned by the Vincendieres, from Saint-Domingue to Maryland, South Carolina, and Louisiana.

  • Presented by Michael Hait
  • 6:00 – 7:15 p.m.
  • Auditorium, Brooks Hall

Thursday June 14, 2012 — Banquet


  • Banquet Speaker: Larry H. Spruill
  • 6:30 p.m.
  • Cafeteria, University Center

For more information, visit the Evening Sessions page on the IGHR website at


Notable Genealogy Blog Posts, 5 February 2012

The following recent blog posts are those that I consider important or notable. Unlike other similar blog lists, I cannot guarantee that they will all be from the past week. (Some weeks I simply do not have time to read any blogs.) But I will try to write this on a fairly regular basis.

Note: Between the APG Professional Management Conferences and the 2012 RootsTech Conference this week, most of the blogs that I read on a regular basis have either been inactive or covered the conferences. So this is a short list this week.

James Tanner, “What is left to digitize?,” Genealogy’s Star blog, posted 21 January 2012 ( : accessed 28 Jan 2012). Mr. Tanner emphasizes that–even though hundreds of millions of records have been digitized–the surface has barely even been scratched. As genealogists, we still need to consult original records.

Linda Woodward Geiger, “Evidence: A Matter of Context for Genealogists & Historians,” Anamnesis: Musings by Linda blog, posted 4 February 2012 ( : accessed 4 February 2012). A light-hearted post that does make a subtle point about evidence.

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