Ten-Minute Methodology: Proof Summaries and Arguments 1


This post is part of an occasional series intended to educate and challenge BCG associates, aspirants, and the genealogical community at large.

Our Proof Goals

We genealogists aim for accuracy in representing identities and relationships. We want to show why we believe people were who we say they were. We want to show that they really belonged with the folks we attach them to.

We follow the Genealogical Proof Standard to ensure that our research is thorough, our sources well documented, our reasoning levelheaded, and our conflicts resolved. Then we write up our conclusions. Standards 51 through 54 in Genealogy Standards describe the qualities we aim for in writing our proofs for the public, for ourselves, and for posterity.

Options for Writing Proofs

Standard 53 offers a division of proofs into statements, summaries, and arguments.

  • Proof statements are the simplest and reflect direct evidence. We’ve looked at these in the first and second “Ten-Minute Methodology” posts.
  • Proof summaries are a little more complex and also rest on direct evidence. They are “relatively straightforward” and can be lists or narratives. Always, they present documentation. It there are conflicts, they are minor and easily explained.
  • Proof arguments are still more complex and address cases where evidence conflicts or where direct evidence is absent. These are the challenging cases that require more explanation and often include tables, charts, or maps. [1]

Both proof summaries and arguments can stand alone as work samples, or they may appear as parts of larger works. They can be very similar, only the complexity of the case distinguishing the two.

Understanding the Terminology of Proofs

What can be confusing is when a proof is a summary and when it’s an argument, and what to do about proofs that seem to be hybrids that aren’t defined in Genealogy Standards. Over time terminology has been changing. An example of a proof summary in an older publication may look more like the current definition of a proof argument.

A Continuum

We don’t have to get hung up over trying to create artificial boundaries between summaries and arguments. There’s an easier way to look at genealogical proofs than trying to determine whether we use a proof summary or a proof argument and to figure out which one to use when. It’s a continuum and looks something like this: [2]

There’s a big overlap between proof summaries and proof arguments in terms of their complexity and length: the grey area. Occasionally our proofs will naturally fall into the grey area, and that’s ok.

Naming types of proof isn’t our goal. Designing and writing them is. As we work with information we turn to research standards related to reasoning, for example Standards 47 (evidence correlation), 48 (resolving evidence inconsistencies), and 50 (assembling conclusions).[3] For choosing a format when writing, we rely on “Genealogical Proofs.”

Standard 53 gives us a general idea, from the type and complexity of evidence we have amassed, what type of proof we will write. Standard 54 reminds us of the importance of organizing evidence and sequencing it logically so it convinces readers of the accuracy of our conclusions.[4]

Examples

It’s fine and well to describe what proof should look like, but it’s important to see what it does look like. There’s an example of proofs that are part of a larger work right on the BCG website. This ascending genealogy provides proofs broken out into “Parentage” sections for three women.

  • Elizabeth’s parentage, pages 1–2, rests on direct evidence. This is a proof in narrative format.
  • Another, more complex, narrative on pages 12–13 summarizes proof of Mary’s parentage with a focus on her mother. It requires five paragraphs to describe and explain the evidence for Mary’s mother’s identity as well as the parental relationship.
  • Proof of Barbara’s parentage on page 19 is presented in a numbered list. It derives from “Four pieces of direct evidence.” [5]

We see how the type and length of proof used depend on the type, quality, and reliability of the evidence available. More narrative is required to explain reasoning in cases where we have only second-hand information or when conflicts and/or indirect evidence is added into the mix. What we call our proofs is of minimal significance. What is really important is that we get them written!

Next time we’ll look at more published examples of proofs.

Many thanks to Alison Hare, Laura DeGrazia, Stefani Evans, and Tom Jones for helpful input.


[1] Board for Certification of Genealogists (BCG), Genealogy Standards (Nashville: Ancestry.com, 2014), 31.
[2] Thomas W. Jones, Mastering Genealogical Proof (Arlington, Va.: National Genealogical Society, 2013), 87.
[3] BCG, Genealogy Standards, 27–29.
[4] BCG, Genealogy Standards, 32–34.
[5] Connie Lenzen, “The Maternal Line of Elizabeth (Niesz) Titus,” 2007, Board for Certification of Genealogists (http://www.bcgcertification.org/skillbuilders/titusnarrlineage.pdf : accessed 11 January 2015).

Ten-Minute Methodology: Proof Statements 2, Examples

This post is part of an occasional series intended to educate and challenge BCG associates, aspirants, and the genealogical community at large.

I promised last post to give examples of proof statements. Here are two. The first shows proof statements as sentences, the second as data items.

Proof statements in a genealogical summary. Here each proof statement is comprised of an assertion and its related source citations, together proving the identity of Harriet and her husband. The sources are original and the context demonstrates “reasonably exhaustive research” in vital, church, and newspaper records. Two proof statements in this excerpt show the relationship of Harriet and Joseph to the parents of each.

1. Harriet Jane Iddiols, daughter of John Iddiols and Harriet Walter, was born 1 November 1842 in London, England,1 and died 3 April 1881 in Saint John, New Brunswick, Canada.2 She married on 13 February 1863 at Saint John to Joseph Williams.3 Joseph, son of Peter and Elizabeth Williams, was baptized 27 November 1836 at Mawgan-in-Meneage, Cornwall, England,4 and died 24 April 1886 in Boston, Massachusetts.5

________________________

1 England birth certificate, Harriett Jane Iddiols, 1842; General Register Office, London, image from Strand, vol. 1, p. 349. Also, Parish of St. Anne (Soho, Westminster, Middlesex), Baptisms, vol. 7 (1837–1853), p. 247, Harriett Jane Iddiols; microfilm 918,608, Family History Library (FHL), Salt Lake City, Utah.

2 “Died,” The Telegraph (Saint John, N.B.), 5 April 1881, p. 3.

3 Saint John Co., marriage register, vol. F (1859–1863), p. 413, Williams–Iddiols; microfilm F16244, Provincial Archives of New Brunswick (PANB), Fredericton, N.B. Also, Saint John Co., marriage bond 1387 (1863), Williams–Iddiols; PANB microfilm F9093.

4 FamilySearch (http://familysearch.org : accessed 25 November 2014) > “England, Cornwall and Devon Parish Registers, 1538–2010” > Cornwall > Mawgan-in-Meneage > Baptisms 1813–1837, image 52 of 54, Joseph Williams. [The later biographical sketch will show Joseph enumerated as his parents’ son in 1851.]

5 FamilySearch (http://familysearch.org : accessed 25 November 2014) > “Massachusetts, Town Clerk, Vital and Town Records, 1627–2001” > Suffolk > Boston > Deaths 1886–1887 > image 97 of 683, Joseph Williams. Also, “Deaths,” The Daily Sun (Saint John), 27 April 1886, p. 3.

The author gratefully acknowledges Alison Hare, CG, for providing this example.

Proof statements in a database. Here the proof statements are not sentences, but data items, a series of related proofs for the events of a woman’s life. Each is supported by at least one citation to a high quality source. Taken together they create context for evidence of this woman’s identity.

Two items assert Philippina’s relationship to her father and her mother. Again, each is supported by direct evidence from original sources and some primary information. Using a relationship tag or fact allows us to identify all the sources that bear directly on proof of parentage. If our genealogy software does not provide such tags, we can create them.

Name: Philippine Magdalene “Philippina” Kaiser

Individual Facts

Birth: 3 August 1843 in Bremberg, Nassau, Nassau1

Relationship: 3 August 1843, birth to Philipp Jacob Kayser; Bremberg, Nassau,                Nassau2

Relationship: 3 August 1843, birth to Anna Magdalene Klöppel; Bremberg,                                   Nassau, Nassau3

Confirmation: 31 May 1857 at Evangelische Kirche, Kördorf, Nassau, Nassau4

Marriage: 12 August 1876 to Johann Friederich “Frederick” Kicherer in Jefferson County, Pennsylvania, United States5

Death: 3 July 1909 in Jefferson County, Pennsylvania, United States6

_____________________________

1. Evangelische Kirche Kördorf, KB [Kirchenbuch, church register] 05, Taufen [baptisms], 1843, pp. 564–65, no. 42 [first of two], Philippine Magdalene Kayser; FHL microfilm 1,577,323, item 1. At the time of Philippina’s birth, Bremberg was in the Duchy of Nassau, now part of Germany.

2. Evangelische Kirche Kördorf, KB 05, Taufen [baptisms], 1843, pp. 564–65, no. 42; FHL microfilm 1,577,323, item 1. Also, Evangelische Kirche Kördorf, Konfirmationen [confirmations] 1818–1878, 1857, p. 120, no. 30, Philippine Magdalene Kayser; FHL microfilm 1,577,324, item 6. Also, “Aged Lady Dead; Mrs. Kicher, of Henderson Township, Expired Saturday,” Sykesville Post-Dispatch (Sykesville, Pennsylvania), 9 July 1909, p. 1, col. 4. “Kicher” reflects Philippina’s stepchildren’s abbreviation of their family name.

3. Ibid.

4. Evangelische Kirche Kördorf, Konfirmationen, 1857, p. 120, no. 3.

5. “Aged Lady Dead,” p. 1, col. 4. Also, 1880 U.S. Census, Jefferson County, Pennsylvania, population schedule, Henderson Township, ED 191, p. 17 (penned), dwelling/family 93, Frederic Kicherer household; NARA microfilm T9, roll 1136.

6. Pennsylvania Bureau of Vital Statistics, death certificate 61832 (1909), Bena Kicher; Pennsylvania State Archives, Harrisburg. Bena is a nickname for Philippina. Also, “Aged Lady Dead,” p. 1, col. 4.

Did you notice how the proof statements in these examples comply with the Genealogical Proof Standard (except for resolution of conflicting evidence, as there is none)?

For further information on proof statements, see

  • Board for Certification of Genealogists, Genealogy Standards (Nashville, Tenn.: Ancestry.com, 2014), 32, 73
  • Thomas W. Jones, Mastering Genealogical Proof (Arlington, Va.: National Genealogical Society, 2013), 84–86 and 177.

Next time we’ll look at what our proof looks like when there is conflicting evidence.

Ten-Minute Methodology: Proof Statements 1

This is the first in an occasional series intended to educate and challenge BCG associates, aspirants, and the genealogical community at large.

Confession: Since starting this post, I’ve come to realize that my idea of proof statements was all wrong. Now I have them pretty well figured out. I hope this post will help you understand them better, too.

The heart of all our genealogical work is determining identities and relationships and proving them. Proof statements are one means of presenting our genealogical conclusions. Not all statements, even if they are source-cited, are proof statements. Proof statements are special. All by themselves, individually, they can make a case for a conclusion and comply with the Genealogical Proof Standard. What? How does that happen? Let’s look at one of the standards.

Standard 53 includes a definition of proof statements:
Proof statements are source-cited sentences and data items in thoroughly documented contexts demonstrating adequate research scope. Genealogists use proof statements when at least two citations demonstrate that a conclusion’s accuracy requires no explanation. Proof statements usually appear in documented presentations of genealogical research results, including articles, blogs, case studies, chapters, charts, family histories, monographs, reports, tables, and other printed and online works. [1]

Whew! Let’s break it down.

What are proof statements? They are conclusions within a broader context that meet current standards for genealogical proof. Let’s analyze the standard to see the requirements.
o They are “sentences and data items [as in a table].” They make an assertion.
o They are “source-cited.” They include the source citations.
o They appear in “thoroughly documented contexts demonstrating adequate research scope.” They are part of a larger whole (the context), one of the types of presentations listed above, and the context is further described:
• The whole context (like the single proof statement) is thoroughly documented.
• The context demonstrates “adequate research scope.” The context and its citations show reasonably exhaustive research.

How do proof statements comply with the five criteria of the Genealogical Proof Standard?
1. The proof statement and the context of which it is a part reflect broad research in a wide range of best available sources.
2. At least two source citations support the assertion. One or more may appear in the footnote to the proof statement. Or one may appear in the footnote and other(s) in the broader context in which the statement appears.
3. The citations reflect use of high-quality sources and information. Priority is given to original sources and primary information. The proof requires no further explanation or discussion of the evidence. It fits well in its context.
4. Resolution of conflicting evidence requires explanation beyond the scope of a proof statement, so it is not applicable to this type of proof.
5. A proof statement is the write-up of the conclusion.

Where do we find proof statements? What do they look like? We use them in every genealogical work product we create. The next “Ten-Minute Methodology” post will give examples of proof statements. Be watching for it as you mull over these concepts!


[1] Board for Certification of Genealogists, Genealogy Standards (Nashville: Ancestry, 2014), 32.

BCG Announces New Webinar Series!

The Board for Certification of Genealogists believes in education and would like to share with the public some of the expertise represented in BCG through a series of webinars.

Open to everyone who wants to improve their skills, these live webinars are set for 8 pm Eastern for the following dates:

Monday, September 22, Thomas W. Jones, Ph.D., CG, CGL, FASG, will present “Fine Wine in a New Bottle: Guidelines for Effective Research and Family Histories.” Updated, retitled, and reorganized, genealogy standards first published in 2000 are now available in a new edition. The webinar will describe the changes and what they mean for all family historians. Dr. Jones teaches at three genealogy institutes, co-edits the National Genealogical Society Quarterly, and is the author of Mastering Genealogical Proof.

To register for the September 22 webinar, please use this link:
https://attendee.gotowebinar.com/register/8699013103252043265

On Wednesday, October 15, Judy G. Russell, J.D., CG, CGL, will explain “Kinship Determination: From Generation to Generation.” Requirement 7 of the BCG certification application asks for a Kinship Determination Project in which the applicant writes a three-generation narrative and explains how the relationships are documented. All genealogists do this regularly while placing relatives with their appropriate connections in the family tree. A familiar speaker at conferences across the country, Judy will coordinate the Advanced Methodology & Evidence Analysis course at the Institute for Genealogy and Historical Research in 2015.

To register for the October 15 webinar, please use this link:
https://attendee.gotowebinar.com/register/4535381371678485505

Look for future announcements on other upcoming webinars on this blog. You may sign up on the sidebar for email notifications when a new post is written.

New Skillbuilding Documents and Audio Added to Website

Two new additions have been made to the BCGcertification.org website.

NEW DOCUMENT EXERCISES

Three documents have been posted on the Skillbuilding page so that they may be used to practice transcription and abstraction skills which are part of the requirements for certification. These are basic skills that every genealogist needs in order to read and understand old handwriting. Without being able to read the words and understand the archaic meanings, any analysis or further research may be faulty.

The answers to the documents are also posted, but don’t peek until you have tried the exercises yourself! Thank you, Nancy Peters, CG, and Kathy Sullivan, CG, for creating these examples at http://www.bcgcertification.org/skillbuilders/index.html.

NEW AUDIO TALKS

The last four audio recordings captured at the 2012 FGS conference have been uploaded. The BCG luncheon lecture by Pam Boyer Sayre, CG, CGL, compares genealogy to skiing. Listen to her amusing talk at http://www.bcgcertification.org/certification/why.html and don’t miss her short audio clip at the bottom of the same page where she declares “I think I did it a little backwards though.”

Visit our Application Strategies webpage to hear Michael Hait, CG, and Harold Henderson, CG, as they each talk about their unsuccessful first application to BCG and the lessons they learned from it.

BCG is here to help the public understand standards and promote skillbuilding in all levels of genealogy. We hope these website improvements help further these goals.

New Books at NGS 2013: Jones on GPS and DeGrazia on NYC

The National Genealogical Society announced two new books at the conference in Las Vegas two weeks ago.

© 2013 by the National Genealogical Society, Inc. Used by permission of the National Genealogical Society and the photographer, Scott Stewart.

 

The National Genealogical Society announced publication of Mastering Genealogical Proof by Thomas W. Jones, CGSM, CGLSM. It is a workbook for learning to use the Genealogical Proof Standard in our work. It can be ordered here.

Two types of online study groups have sprung up for those of us planning to use the book. Pat Richley-Erickson of DearMYRTLE fame established a group which uses Google+ Hangouts on Air to record to YouTube. It is all explained here. Angela McGhie of ProGen Study Group fame established small groups in a private setting. The GenProof groups are explained here, and in Angela’s blog.

 

 

 

 

© 2013 by the National Genealogical Society, Inc. Used by permission of the National Genealogical Society and the photographer, Scott Stewart.

 

Laura Murphy DeGrazia, CGSM, authored Research in New York City, Long Island, and Westchester County, a new book in the NGS Research in the States Series. As Laura states in her introduction, 62% of the state’s population resides in this area. Settled in 1624, its deep history and large population make for a significantly complex research environment. Laura’s book is a clear explanation of the types of records available and how to find them.

Soon this book can be ordered here.

 

Certification: It’s Not All About Writing and Citing

Please welcome guest blogger Elizabeth Shown Mills, CGSM, CGLSM

© 2013 by the National Genealogical Society, Inc. Used by permission of the National Genealogical Society and the photographer, Scott Stewart.

Certification: A Measure of Our APR

Today’s hot topic seems to be Board certification and what it represents. Some opine that ‘it’s all about writing and citing, as opposed to sources.’

I see it differently. BCG certification is ‘all about’ analysis and problem resolution. It’s about

  1. our ability to analyze a research problem;
  2. our ability to analyze and interpret the relevant records we find; and
  3. our ability to analyze the body of evidence we’ve accumulated and reliably determine when and whether it resolves a difficult problem.

Of course, none of this is possible without a solid knowledge of sources for each problem. Of course, writing is the tool we use to explain our analyses. Of course, citations are needed to identify our evidence. However, as with our financial investments, the bottom line for our genealogical offerings is always our APR—our skills at analysis and problem resolution—and the level of security it represents. That is what a BCG credential represents.

Elizabeth Shown Mills, CG
Board-certified since 1976

BCG Ed Fund Leary Distinguished Lecture: Elizabeth Mills on “Can Trousers, Beds, and Other ‘Trivial Details’ Solve Genealogical Problems?”

Please welcome guest blogger Diane Gravel, CGSM.

As genealogical researchers, we routinely pore through records in pursuit of elusive ancestors, grabbing at apparent minutia, anything that might give us the answers we seek. But are we really gleaning all of the information and clues that lie buried in each document before moving on to the next record?

As interpreters of facts, nitpickers of every detail, innovators of new ways to understand records and apply data, we must spend the majority of our time analyzing every document we retrieve. The careful eye scrutinizes each scrap of paper in an estate accounting, noting the date of an order of velvet and fine pants, recognizing it as a likely death record. The careful eye scrutinizes tax rolls for clues of kinship among the neighbors. These are only a few of the examples used by Mills in demonstrating the fine art of record analysis.

This lecture, used with the syllabus material, easily stands alone as a course in evidence analysis. It’s one of those presentations that will be played and replayed, each time inspiring the listener to take another look at their own brick walls, in search of all those missed clues!

This session has been taped. During the conference you can buy it from the JAMB-INC booth in the main conference hall. After the conference, it will be available online at http://www.jamb-inc.com/category/genealogy. This is session F312 under the heading 2013 NGS Conference/Las Vegas, NV.

From Diane’s profile at APG:

Diane is a full-time professional genealogist and lecturer, with emphasis on New Hampshire research. She is a graduate (with honors) of NGS’s American Genealogy: A Basic Course, and attended both the Institute of Genealogical and Historical Research (Advanced Methodology and Military Records) at Samford University and the National Institute on Genealogical Research at the National Archives in Washington, D.C.

 

BCG Skillbuilding at NGS 2013: Richard Sayre on “Genealogical Applications of Historical Geographical Information Systems”

Putting historical context into our family stories is impossible until we know the geography of their lives. Over what paths did they migrate? Where did they live? The term “geographical information system” is daunting, but Rick Sayre shepherded us through the details. He showed us that we don’t have to be GIS professionals to use these tools in our research.

Google Earth is a tool geared to the non-GIS professional. Rick showed us several examples in which historic maps were linked to the Google mapping system. That was just one of more than a half dozen such systems Rick demonstrated. One beautiful use of GIS is the Arlington National Cemetery’s system, available for browsers and smartphones at http://www.arlingtoncemetery.mil/GravesiteLocator/GravesiteLocator.aspx.

Once we look at visual mapping of geography, there are a myriad of resources. You don’t have to create GIS from scratch. Rick’s syllabus material included three pages listing websites to help us map ancestors around the world. The tools and techniques that Rick shared were just the thing for my family stories.

This session has been taped. During the conference you can buy it from the JAMB-INC booth in the main conference hall. After the conference, it will be available online at http://www.jamb-inc.com/category/genealogy. This is session F321 under the heading 2013 NGS Conference/Las Vegas, NV.

 

 

BCG Skillbuilding at NGS 2013: Pamela Boyer Sayre on “Enough is Enough! Or Is It?”

Pam Sayre’s lecture took place in the last time slot of the last day of the convention. The title certainly fit the time slot although she asserted that it was created long before the schedule was made. Pam’s sense of humor lifted our spirits after four intense days of learning.

The lecture covered three topic areas. Pam made sure that we understood the fundamental concepts of document analysis. She stepped us through the process of writing about what we find as soon as we find it. She also brought us on her trip of discovery, showing us how to make a research plan and revise it as we find documents.

What resonated in Pam’s presentation was the tenacity and will to keep on researching when the first few tries come up empty. Just because a county is burned doesn’t mean that there aren’t records. Just because a person was dishonorably discharged doesn’t mean there isn’t a pension application record. Just because there is no gravestone doesn’t mean there are no funeral home records. With every disappointment, Pam showed us how to re-engage with our research.

This session has been taped. During the conference you can buy it from the JAMB-INC booth in the main conference hall. After the conference, it will be available online at http://www.jamb-inc.com/category/genealogy. This is session S451 under the heading 2013 NGS Conference/Las Vegas, NV.