“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!

9 thoughts on ““Evidence-based” and “Conclusion-based” software use

  1. Thanks for gathering these posts together, Michael. I had missed a couple. This dialog is finally clarifying my underlying dissatisfaction with genealogy software. I mentioned to Russ that it is a tool, but I begin to wonder how useful a tool it is.

    Jennifer made a valid point regarding DNA research, and Pat’s point about managing research by using search functions in the software is also useful. But I don’t find any of the programs complement my research process. Caroline is on to something there!

  2. Let me quibble with your definition a bit – I am a “Software-using genealogist” because I do genealogy-related work (research, data entry of names, dates, places, transcribing, abstracting, summarizing, sourcing, research logging, list making, report writing, chart creating, and much more) with my genealogy and office software tools. Sometimes I have to edit the output to make it conform to a standard or requirement of some sort.

    I take your point that the genealogy programs like RootsMagic are tools, but they are indispensable tools for researchers like me that cannot handwrite clearly, or are not well organized, or cannot recall every detail of their research over decades.

    When I used the term in my blog posts, I assumed that all genealogists use software, but I realize that not everyone does. Not all of my society colleagues do, mainly because they are not computer literate, and i’m always surprised when I learn that. I can’t imagine a computer literate researcher in the 21st century not using genealogy software just because it does so many things so well.

    The software has improved so much from the 1980s and 1990s of PAF and FTM that it enables both conclusion-based and evidence-based software using genealogists to thrive.

    • These tools (various software/programs) are indispensable to you only because you have adjusted your workflow to take advantage of them. I also use several software programs that I find indispensable, because of the convenience: MS Word, Deedmapper, Transcript, GIMP (an image editor), and others. On the other hand, these are not truly indispensable tools–meaning that it would be possible to do genealogical research without them (even if it took much more time or would not be as easy/convenient/neat/accurate/etc).

      However, evidence and conclusion (as in “evidence-based genealogist” or “conclusion-based genealogist”) are words that have significant meaning in the field of genealogy. Properly-done genealogy research–aside from any use or non-use of software–involves the gathering of evidence in order to ultimately form conclusions (whether a long-term or short-term goal). There simply is no difference between an “evidence-based” or “conclusion-based” genealogist. Conclusions do not exist without evidence, and evidence without conclusions (even if only temporary theories and hypotheses) has no purpose.

      This is why I make the distinction between an Evidence-Based and a Conclusion-Based Software User, rather than Genealogist. People can use their software in different ways (just like you can use any other tool in multiple ways), but genealogy itself is not quite so open.

  3. Michael,

    I’d be very interested in your general research workflow with the tools that you do use, if you don’t mind sharing them. I’m interested in identifying the different research workflows.

    I think the problem with a lot of the gen software assumes that the user will be making some sort of end product with it and tries to provide those outputs. My problem is that I use my database as a work-in-progress, and I’d like it to support me as I research both online and offline.

    For example, when I’m on site, I take photos of [or scan] docs and related materials with my iPhone and an app. Then another app [integrated with the first] allows me to make a quick copy of the scan, mark it up with notes and citation info [if I want to do this at that time], and then the 2nd app allows me to upload it to an online storage service that syncs with all of my electronic devices.

    Additionally, I’ve come up with alternative methods while I’m at home and online searching with my laptop for capturing information, annotating, transcribing, etc.

    In both these processes, I think gen software has not met up to my particular workflows. However, I’ve been looking at FTM 2012, and it seems to mirror what I do pretty well. I want my database to be full of my clues, conclusions, evidence [both in note form and image form] simply because it’s where I’m working from, and my research is ongoing. I don’t look at my database as an finished product.

    If I buy gen software, I shouldn’t have to use all these other technologies to augment the software.

    However, my goals are to be completely digital; to have my offline database sync to my online database; to be able to digitally attach notes, annotated images and ‘clean’ images to both facts and people; to be able to digitally share my info with others [but not in a GEDCOM]; and to have my data available on all my devices at all times.

    Therefore, I think it depends on what the researcher’s goals are with their database, and what they want it to be able to do for them. Also, I think the goal of being completely digital is much easier for those who are newer to researching.


  4. This is a helpful discussion; I’ve been following along on Randy’s site and others.

    I’ve used both PC and Mac genealogy database software and have found that it’s most reliable to avoid extensive use of the Fact or Event feature and just list my information and sources chronologically in the Notes Field. These always seem to transfer from product to product and I can include my own thoughts and conclusions.

    Like Caroline, I want to keep everything (research, conclusions, notes) in one place where I can find it if my work has to stop and start up later.

    I’m somewhat bothered by the definition of “source” and “source citation” used by some software companies. A source is the item itself that provides the information (document, photo, census record, artifact), and the citation is the roadmap to the source. The citation isn’t the detail information or a special listing. I’d like to see more universal definitions used.

    The fact that many researchers use their own custom source templates or source log lists on a database or spreadsheet would indicate that software source features just don’t work for their own workflow.

  5. Pingback: Another word on “Evidence-based” and “Conclusion-based” genealogy software use « Planting the Seeds

  6. Pingback: Evidence-based Genealogy vs. Conclusion-based Genealogy | Ancestors Now Blog

  7. Pingback: Evidence based or Conclusion based Genealogy? | Evidentia

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