Archive for the ‘Research Skills’ Category

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 (https://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 (https://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.]

Correlating information from multiple records

When trying to correlate information from multiple records to confirm the identity of the subject of the records, you will often find that the information does not agree completely. In these cases, the only way to identify the subjects as those you are researching may be to correlate all of the information contained in the two records, as a whole.

Consider the following case, for example:

In the 1880 U. S. federal census, the household of William Waters in Baltimore, Maryland, contains the following inhabitants:

  • Wm. Waters, black, age 40 years
  • Cornelia [Waters], black, age 39 years, wife
  • Caroline [Waters], black, age 20 years, daughter
  • Charles [Waters], black, age 16 years, son
  • Augustus [Waters], black, age 14 years, son
  • Nellie [Waters], black, age 12 years, daughter
  • Louis [Waters], black, age 10 years, son
  • Bessie [Waters], black, age 8 years, daughter
  • Frank [Waters], black, age 6 years, son
  • Virginia [Waters], black, age 4 years, daughter
  • Carrie [Waters], black, age 3 years, daughter
  • Adele [Waters], black, age 1 year, daughter
  • Augustus Ridgely, black, age 16 years, nephew
  • Gertrude [Ridgely], black, age 8 years, niece
  • Catharine Williams, black, age 34 years, boarder[1]

Compare this household with the following household in 1870:

  • Otho Hagan, white, age 35 years
  • Cornelia [Hagan], white, age 27 years
  • Caroline [Hagan], white, age 11 years
  • Charley [Hagan], white, age 5 years
  • Augustus [Hagan], white, age 4 years
  • Mary [Hagan], white, age 2 years
  • Catherine Williams, black, age 23 years[2]

The only similarity between these two records is the presence of a Catherine/Catharine Williams in both households. Yet these are the same family. How do we know? By analysis and correlation of the information.

Look at the two records side-by-side:

  • Cornelia Hagan, white, age 27 years (1870) = Cornelia Waters, black, age 39 years (1880)
  • Caroline Hagan, white, age 11 years (1870) = Caroline Waters, black, age 20 years (1880)
  • Charles Hagan, white, age 5 years (1870) = Charles Waters, black, age 16 years (1880)
  • Augustus Hagan, white, age 4 years (1870) = Augustus Waters, black, age 14 years (1880)

Is this enough to prove the identity of this family? Not by itself. But we must continue to search for other records.

The most revealing is in the Baltimore city marriage records:

  • On 12 December 1878, “Wm. Waters,” age 39 years, colored, widower, married “Cornelia Hagan,” age 36 years, colored, widow, in Baltimore.[3]

These three records clearly confirm the identities of these families. Often, it is only through the correlation of multiple records that the identities of the subjects of records can be known with certainty.

If you are interested in throwing more trouble into the mix, take a look at the following record, from the 1860 U. S. Census:

  • Caroline Ridgeley, mulatto, age 51 years
  • Augustus [Ridgeley], mulatto, age 29 years
  • Cornelius [Ridgeley], mulatto, age 28 years
  • Arthur Harkins, mulatto, age 25 years
  • Caroline [Harkins], mulatto, age 5 months
  • Cornelius [Harkins], mulatto, age 22 years[4]

In this record, “Arthur Harkins” is actually “Otho Hagan” and “Cornelius Harkins” is his wife “Cornelia Hagan.” Their daughter Caroline, the only one expected to be alive at this point, appears as the infant “Caroline Harkins.”

Caroline Ridgely was Cornelia’s mother. In 1844, Victoire Vincendiere of Frederick County, Maryland, manumitted her 39-year-old slave Caroline and her 5-year-old daughter Cornelia.[5] In Victoire’s 1854 will she refers to her slave “coloured slave Augustus (son of Carolina whom I have heretofore manumitted).” She bequeaths Augustus to her nephew Enoch Louis Lowe, who was Governor of the state of Maryland from 1851 to 1854.[6] On 16 June 1857 E. Louis Lowe manumitted “mulatto man Slave Augustus (commonly Known as Augustus Ridgely) son of Carolina a free mulatto Woman he being the Same who was bequeathed to me in and by the last will and testament of Victoire Vincendiere.”[7]

This series of records provides the surname “Ridgely” to the family of the slave Caroline, and provides relationships between Caroline, Augustus, and Cornelia. If each record were considered in isolation, the history of this family could not be determined. However, by correlating information from all of the records, the astute researcher now has a history of the early life of Cornelia (Ridgely) Hagan Waters.

SOURCES:

[1] 1880 U. S. Census, Baltimore City, Maryland, population schedule, Part of 2nd Precinct, 13th Ward, enumeration district 114, page 19, dwelling 164, family 218, Wm Waters household; digital images, Ancestry.com (http://www.ancestry.com : accessed Jul 2011); citing NARA microfilm publication T9, roll 501, FHL microfilm no. 1,254,501.

[2] 1870 U. S. Census, Baltimore City, Maryland, population schedule, Tenth Ward, Baltimore City post office, page 205, dwelling 1077, family 2160, Otho Hagan household; digital images, Ancestry.com (http://www.ancestry.com : accessed May 2011); citing NARA microfilm publication M593, roll 575, FHL microfilm no. 552,074.

[3] Baltimore City Court of Common Pleas, Marriage Record IFR 6, ff. 552–553, Waters to Hagan (1878); MSA C214-6, MdHR 20,221-6; Maryland State Archives, Annapolis.

[4] 1860 U. S. Census, Baltimore City, Maryland, population schedule, 12th Ward, Baltimore City post office, page 27, dwelling 151, family 190, Caroline Ridgeley household; digital images, Ancestry.com (http://www.ancestry.com : accessed Jun 2011); citing NARA microfilm publication M653, roll 463.

[5] Frederick County Court, Land Record HS 21, ff. 523–524, Vincendiere to Caroline (1844); digital images, Maryland State Archives, MDLandRec.NET (http://www.mdlandrec.net : accessed Jun 2011).

[6] Frederick County Register of Wills, Original Wills, Victoire Vincendiere (1854); MSA C900-24, MdHR 11,532-964; Maryland State Archives, Annapolis.

[7] Frederick County, Maryland, Land Record ES 10, f. 411, Lowe to Ridgely (1857); digital images, Maryland State Archives, MDLandRec.NET (http://www.mdlandrec.net : accessed Jun 2011).

If you would like to cite this post: Michael Hait, “Correlating information from multiple records,” Planting the Seeds: Genealogy as a Profession blog, posted 30 Nov 2011 (https://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.]

Who is this? Confirming the identity of a record’s subject

One of the most important—and most overlooked—forms of analysis that genealogists must perform is confirming the identity of the subject of the record.

Much has been stated about the difficulty of researching common names like Johnson, Smith, Jones, etc. Researchers must be careful, though, not to assume that the unusual name of their ancestor was unique to them, however. Some surnames seem unique to us but were common in that time and place. Even a unique combination of given name and surname could be common within a certain generation, and not as unique as it might seem to us. So you must be careful to confirm the identity of the subject of every record you locate.

In some cases, you will not be able to tell by looking at the record by itself. This is what the Genealogical Proof Standard means when it requires “correlation” of information. We must compare the information in one record to the information in other records.

Federal census records comprise the most popular record group in use by genealogists. For an ancestor who lived 80 years, he may appear in seven, possibly eight, separate census records. Finding these records is important, but it is also important to recognize and confirm the identity of the families in each household.

Census records allow one of the most useful techniques for confirming identity: using relationships with other people. I discussed this in an article originally published in the “National African American Genealogy” column on Examiner.comon 11 August 2009, Using ‘clusters’ to track your ancestors through multiple census years (part one).”

But how do you confirm identity in other records?

Most records contain more than just our ancestors’ names. Records may contain ages, occupations, street addresses or neighboring farm owners, names of their fathers (as in “Henry son of Aaron” or simply “John of Thomas”). You can often compare these other details from record to record in order to confirm identity.

The more records (and information) you obtain, the easier it becomes to confirm identity, specifically because of these details.

Take the following death certificate, for example:

[You can click on the image to see a larger image.]

There are a few details on this death certificate that will be useful for identification of this John A. Meagher in other records: name (of course), age, and address of residence. The name of the cemetery also suggests additional records for research.

Using this information we can easily find this John A. Meagher in the 1900 U. S. Census, where his household also contains his wife Mary C., and several sons and daughters.[1] Taking this further, we can find him again in the 1880 U. S. Census, where his household contains the same wife and children.[2] By comparing and correlating the information relating to John’s age (and corresponding implicit date of birth) among these three records with his street address as reported in 1900, the names of his wife and children between the two census records, etc., we are able to confirm that all three records relate to the same man.

We can take this research further by comparing other details–like the street address in 1880, the date of marriage in 1900, the date of death, etc.–with the details provided by still more records. Marriage records, probate records, land records, pre-1880 federal census records, etc., could all be consulted to gain additional information about John A. Meagher’s family.

Each of these records may also provide more details that would lead to more records, each of which may contain more details, etc. The process of confirming identity requires attention to detail, which in turn allows us to create full (and accurate!) profiles of our ancestors’ lives.

Are you taking the time to confirm the identity of the subject of every record you consult?

SOURCES:

[photo] Baltimore City Health Department, Bureau of Vital Statistics, death certificate no. B-37632 (1901), John A. Meagher; Maryland State Archives microfilm no. CR 48116.

[1] 1900 U. S. Census, Baltimore City, Maryland, population schedule, Ward 17, enumeration district (ED) 222, sheet 1B, dwelling 12, family 15, John Meagher household; digital images, Ancestry.com (http://www.ancestry.com : accessed Mar 2011); citing NARA microfilm publication T623, roll 615.

[2] 1880 U. S. Census, Baltimore City, Maryland, population schedule, 1st precinct, 12th ward, enumeration district (ED) 104, page 21, dwelling 147, family 175, John Meagher household; digital images, Ancestry.com (http://www.ancestry.com : accessed Mar 2011); citing NARA microfilm publication T9, roll 501, FHL microfilm no. 1,254,501.

If you would like to cite this post: Michael Hait, “Who is this? Confirming the identity of a record’s subject,” Planting the Seeds: Genealogy as a Profession blog, posted 30 Nov 2011 (https://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.]

Analysis of Evidence in the Genealogical Proof Standard

The third condition of the Genealogical Proof Standard is that we “analyze and correlate the collected information to assess its quality as evidence.” This topic is one of the most difficult to master. I will therefore address several different aspects of analysis and correlation in several coming posts.

First, however, I would like to address the issue of analysis itself.

When I first began researching I was on the lookout for one thing: a record that provided information. This information had to provide direct evidence answering my research questions.

The term analysis in genealogical research goes far beyond this.

The key to full analysis of a record is to ask the right questions.

  • Who provided the information on the record?
  • What knowledge did the informant have of the information being reported?
  • Did the informant have any reason (valid or not) to intentionally report inaccurate information?
  • Could the informant have unintentionally reported inaccurate information, for any reason?
  • Could the informant read and write, or was the information attributed to them written by a third party?
  • What specific information does the record report?
  • What information does the record not report? (For example, a marriage license does not indicate marriage. In a case I researched several years ago, a couple purchased a marriage license, then purchased a second marriage license over a year later. There is also often a few days between the date of the marriage license and the date of the actual marriage, in nearly every case I have researched.)
  • What specific terms are used in the record? What do these specific terms mean, in the language in use during this time period?
  • What information is implied by the record? (For example, if a person’s age is reported, what does this imply about his year of birth?)

This is just a short list of the types of questions I ask about the records I locate. But these are not the only forms of analysis that one should perform:

  • If you are working with a deed, have you platted the land description, and located the tract on a map?
  • If you are working with an estate inventory, what does ownership of certain items imply about the decedent? (For example, if he owned books, you can infer that he was literate. If he owned blacksmith tools, you may be able to infer that he was a blacksmith.)
  • If you are working with a tax record, have you looked up the tax rates for that year? These generally appear in a tax act in the public statutes for the year.
  • If you are working with a church record, are you truly familiar with the liturgical laws concerning the sacrament in question?

Of course, there are many more forms of analysis that can be added to this list, as well.

You also want to ask yourself: does the information in this record suggest additional records that may hold relevant information?

  • In the federal census from 1850 through 1870, and after 1900, questions relating to the ownership of land appear. These would suggest a search for land records.
  • Many death certificates report in which cemetery the person was buried. Not only does this suggest a photo of the headstone, if the cemetery is attached to a church then it would suggest that your ancestor may have attended this church.
  • There are many different kinds of probate record: testamentary/administration bonds, estate inventories, lists of debts, lists of sales, administration accounts, probate court proceedings, guardian bonds, guardian accounts… If you have one, do you have them all?

Finding multiple, independent sources for our information is the surest way to reach an accurate conclusion. This not only involves the “reasonably exhaustive search” previously discussed, but also full analysis of each piece of information contained in the record.

The next several posts will describe various aspects of analysis and correlation.

Why is source citation part of the Genealogical Proof Standard?

I have discussed source citations so many times in this blog, from several different perspectives. In the course of addressing the Genealogical Proof Standard, I am once again drawn to discuss the subject of source citation.

The second condition of the Genealogical Proof Standard, as published by the Board for the Certification of Genealogists in their standards manual, reads,

We collect and include in our compilation a complete, accurate citation to the source or sources of each item of information we use.[1]

Hopefully I have convinced you in earlier posts why source citation is important. But why is this part of a proof standard? What does source citation have to do with the quality of our research conclusions?

I have briefly touched on this issue in other posts. You can read my previous posts about source citation by clicking on the category “Source Citations” in the sidebar on the right. But here I would like to address this question more directly, and provide examples.

Suppose a key document in your proof argument is a last will and testament. In your argument, you discuss information from this will.

The most important part of conducting high-quality research and producing high-quality conclusions is using high-quality records. You might remember the phrase “Garbage In, Garbage Out” that we all learned when we started using computers. This is true with genealogy as well.

That will you are using may exist in multiple forms:

  • There is the original will written and signed by the testator.
  • There is a recorded copy of the will transcribed by the court clerk into the will book.
  • There may be a microfilmed copy of the will book created by the state archives.
  • There may be an independently microfilmed copy of the will book created by the Utah Genealogical Association available at the Family History Library.
  • There may be a published transcription of the will.
  • There may be a published abstract of the will.
  • There may be a reference to the will with a partial abstract in a compiled genealogy.

So when you refer to the facts of the will, which version did you view? The citation would provide this information. In this way, you can assess the strengths and weaknesses of your sources, and determine the quality of any research based on those sources.

But this is not the only reason that source citation is part of the Proof Standard. To understand completely, look at the Genealogical Proof Standard as a whole:

  • Conduct a reasonably exhaustive search in reliable sources for all information that is or may be pertinent;
  • Collect and include in our compilation a complete, accurate citation to the source or sources of each item of information;
  • Analyze and correlate the collected information to assess its quality as evidence;
  • Resolve any conflicts caused by items of evidence that contradict each other;
  • Arrive at a soundly reasoned, coherently written conclusion.[2]

In other words, we search for information, we cite the sources, we analyze and correlate the information, we resolve conflicting evidence, and we arrive at a conclusion.

But we could not possibly go directly from looking for records to analyzing the information.

When do we actually assess the quality of the source we are using? It could be considered part of the first step, where we are instructed to search in “reliable sources.” But this does not tell us how to determine what constitutes a “reliable source.” The first step deals with the search for records, the third and fourth steps deal with analyzing information. Only the second step deals with analysis of the record itself, as opposed to the information held within that record.

Think of the Genealogical Proof Standard as if it were written this way:

  • We conduct a reasonably exhaustive search in reliable sources for all information that is or may be pertinent.
  • We assess the provenance and quality of the records we are using by collecting and including in our compilation a complete, accurate citation to the source or sources of each item of information.
  • We analyze and correlate the collected information to assess its quality as evidence.
  • We resolve any conflicts caused by items of evidence that contradict each other.
  • We arrive at a soundly reasoned, coherently written conclusion.

In my post “Five things you have to know about every record,” I discuss the importance of a record’s provenance.

When the testator died, his will was deposited with the Register of Wills (or the appropriate probate court depending on where you are researching). If you went to the Register of Wills and looked at that original will, there is a pretty good chance that it had not been moved much from the time it was originally deposited.

If, however, you looked at the original will at the state archives, this means that at some point before you saw it, that will was boxed up and transferred to a separate institution. Once it arrived, it was likely accessioned into the new repository under the provisions of the archival system already in use at that institution. This process may include separating records that had been previously filed together or combining records that had been previously filed separately. In some cases no changes to organization were made. In other cases, no consistent organizational system seems to exist from record group to record group or county to county. It is important to address this as part of your analysis of a record.

Of course, we don’t have to reinvent the wheel every time we view a record. If we use an original will from County A held by the state archives on one project, then a few weeks later use another original will from County A held by the same state archives, we can generally assume that the analysis we did the first time we used the records remains the same. This may not hold true if we are looking at an original will from County B or County C, or any other record group from County A, but when using the same collection, it probably does. Once we learn about a collection or a record group, we can apply that knowledge to future research.

This analysis then appears as part of your citation. When creating a citation, you make use of the organizational system of the records you are using. This forms the basis, to a certain extent, of the format of the citation.

SOURCES:

[1] Board for Certification of Genealogists, The BCG Genealogical Standards Manual (Orem, Utah: Ancestry Publishing, 2000), page 1.

[2] The BCG Genealogical Standards Manual, pages 1-2.

If you would like to cite this post:

Michael Hait, CG, “Why is the source citation part of the Genealogical Proof Standard?,” Planting the Seeds: Genealogy as a Profession blog, posted 23 Nov 2011 (https://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.]

Finding what you are not looking for

While focused research is vital it can also unintentionally lead to what is called “inattentional blindness,” that is, looking without seeing[1]. In other words, if you are looking for one thing–one name, for example–you might miss other things.

Take a look at the following video:

 

Are you guilty of this when researching?

When you are searching tax lists or census records, do you focus tightly on certain names or surnames? Or do you search with your eyes open, noticing what else is happening in the records? You might be surprised at what you see in the records when you simply pay attention.

SOURCES:

[1] David McRaney, “Inattentional Blindness,” in You Are Not So Smart: A Celebration of Self-Delusion blog, posted 1 October 2009 (http://youarenotsosmart.com/ : accessed 21 Nov 2011).

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