Archive for March, 2012

Notable Genealogy Blog Posts, 25 March 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.

Short list this week, as I am still catching up on my reading…

Andrew Simpson, “The little bits, spelling and alphabetization,” A Linguist’s Guide to Genealogy blog, posted 1 March 2012 ( : accessed 24 March 2012). I love when people bring their studies in other fields into their genealogy research. Though I am not a linguist in any sense, it is a subject that intrigues me, and this blog will surely provide a lot of fare for me. This particular post discusses some of the prepositions from other languages that become americanized as parts of surnames. (The best example may be U. S. President Martin Van Buren.)

Two other posts are not genealogy-related, but I thought people might be interested:

Carol Fisher Saller, “Citing a Tweet (It’s Not Just for Twits),” The Subversive Copy Editor blog, posted 23 March 2012 ( : accessed 24 March 2012). We might as well learn how to do this now. 🙂

Mike Parkinson, “How to Communicate with Aliens,” BDG Blog, posted 21 March 2012 ( : accessed 24 March 2012). This post describes the plaque on the Pioneer 10 satellite that was sent to Jupiter in the 1970s. It is a fascinating exploration of visual language.


Another word on “Evidence-based” and “Conclusion-based” genealogy software use

Recently I was researching a client’s ancestor and I found myself thinking about the recent discussions on “evidence-based” and “conclusion-based” genealogy software use. This case perfectly illustrates my difficulties in using genealogy database software. The case has not yet been concluded, so I am unable to publish the specifics here.

In this particular case my client’s ancestor (“S. B.”) was born ca. 1764-1765, based on analysis of several sources, including pre-1850 federal census records, the 1850 federal census, a Revolutionary War pension deposition, and an obituary.

A man with the same name was identified as a son in the 1762 will of the presumed father (“M. B.”). Obviously this immediately presents a problem, but the census records are vague enough, and the other sources late enough in life, that the possibility of the date of birth being pushed forward a few years remained, so it was possible that S. B. could have been an infant when his father wrote his will.

The most important evidence came when examining the other probate records related to M. B.’s estate. S. B. served as the administrator of the estate, in 1762-1763. By checking a 1759 compilation of laws in effect in the state, I confirmed that a person appointed executor or administrator of an estate had to be at least 17 years of age to serve as such. This would mean that S. B., son of M. B., had to have been born no later than 1745. In other words, there was simply no possibility that my client’s S. B. was the son of M. B.

Writing the report in MS Word, it is very easy to quote the relevant portion of the probate law, and cite the law book. This law provides the crucial evidence to prove that M. B.’s son S. B. was born before 1745. No other record provides this information, either directly or indirectly.

In a genealogy software program, how would one:

(1) enter a “fact” or “event” for S. B. or M. B. to reflect the existence of the probate law?

(2) cite the probate law?

I am sure that there is a way, and if I relied on genealogical software in my research, I would have to figure it out. But I have a feeling that it would be a bit convoluted, whereas it is much easier to accomplish simply using a word processor with footnotes.

The next question is then–how would this be handled differently by an “evidence-based” software user and a “conclusion-based” software user?

I am open to all comments.

If you would like to cite this post: Michael Hait, “Another word on ‘Evidence-based’ and ‘Conclusion-based’ genealogy software use,” Planting the Seeds: Genealogy as a Profession blog, posted 23 March 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.]

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 ( : 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, 12 March 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.

The Narrator (pseudonym), “Tuesday’s Tip – Interpreting primary sources – the 6 ‘w’s,” Essex Voices Past blog, posted 21 February 2012 and “Tuesday’s Tip: Primary sources – ‘Unwitting Testimony’,” Essex Voices Past blog, posted 28 February 2012 ( : accessed 5 March 2012). These two articles are geared more towards historians than genealogists, but they discuss important aspects of interpreting the records we use: basically understanding what the document says, and what it means (but doesn’t say).

Harold Henderson, “How to prove parents without direct evidence,” Midwestern Microhistory blog, posted 8 March 2012 ( : accessed 9 March 2012). In this enlightening post, Harold dissects the evidence and the proof argument of a case study in a recent issue of the National Genealogical Society Quarterly.

Daniel Hubbard, “Learning and Imagining,” Personal Past Meditations blog, posted 4 March 2012 ( : accessed 9 March 2012). Daniel discusses breaking the rules of genealogy, particularly the one about starting with yourself and moving methodically back in time.

“Evidence-based” and “Conclusion-based” software use

My discussions of genealogy research conclusions have taken an interesting turn. (See “What is a conclusion?” and “Simple and complex genealogical conclusions.”)

While my posts deal with the use of proof in forming conclusions, Randy Seaver, prolific author of the Genea-Musings blog; Tim Forsythe, author of Ancestors Now; Russ Worthington, author of A Worthington Weblog; and others have taken it a step further in discussing how they use their genealogy database software. This new turn is particularly interesting, considering that I rarely use any genealogy software in my research, especially my research for clients.

Read the following posts to witness the development of the terms “Evidence-based Genealogists” and “Conclusion-based Genealogists”:

I would like to applaud all of the bloggers mentioned above for giving so much thought to how to apply research standards to how they use their tools. Every day more genealogists start using one of the genealogy database programs. I hope that they all come across these posts, so that they will also give this discussion some thought.

I would quibble about one word being used, though. Rather than calling oneself an Evidence-based  or Conclusion-based Genealogist, it would be more accurate to call oneself an Evidence-based or Conclusion-based Software User. Using the word “genealogist” as opposed to “software user” implies that there are two separate approaches to genealogy, rather than simply two separate ways to use the software.

I also want to address a related topic, that of “evidence-based” and “conclusion-based” genealogy research. So as not to confuse the issues, this will be discussed in a separate post.

Again, to all of the bloggers who have taken part in the discussion, thank you!

Notable Genealogy Blog Posts, 4 March 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.

Malissa Ruffner, “Treasure Hunt – Using the WPA/HRS Index,” Family Epic blog, posted 14 February 2012 ( : accessed 29 February 2012). I was immediately drawn to this post because it discusses the recent resurrection of the Baltimore City Archives in Maryland. (I can remember several years ago when the old Baltimore City Archives was closed because of poor archival conditions.) But Malissa also discusses a name index for Baltimore City created by the Works Progress Administration during the Depression. Do researchers in other areas know of other similar indexes?

Malissa Ruffner, “(Loose) Paper Chase,” Family Epic blog, posted 21 February 2012 ( : accessed 29 February 2012). Another great post from Malissa! This one contains the trifecta: slave research, research in loose court papers, and researching historic laws.

Brenda Joyce Jerome, CG, “Free or Slave?,” Western Kentucky Genealogy Blog, posted 16 February 2012 ( : accessed 3 March 2012). Ms. Jerome discusses an example of a “certificate of freedom” in Kentucky, granted to a free black man born to a white woman. As she reports, the status of children followed the status of their mother, so anyone born to a free woman was also therefore free. This is a seldom-mentioned law that existed throughout most of the country.

James Tanner, “Distance — a misunderstood concept,” Genealogy’s Star blog, posted 29 February 2012 ( : accessed 3 March 2012). In this post, Mr. Tanner describes the importance of physical distance (rather than political boundaries) and travel time in researching our ancestors.

And I also must mention two blogs that exemplify the possibilities of how blogs can be used to educate and demonstrate key genealogical skills:

Rachal Mills Lennon, M.A., CG: Finding Southern Ancestors at Ms. Lennon uses case studies to explore advanced research methods, particularly the “FAN Club” (family, associates, neighbors) principle or “cluster genealogy.”

Margaret G. Waters: Orangeburgh Plats: Orangeburgh District, South Carolina Land Records at Ms. Waters has been platting early surveys in Orangeburgh District, South Carolina, using topographic maps. If you are researching in this area, this site is an essential resource. Even if you are not researching in this area, the examples set and methodology used by Ms. Waters will help.

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