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Skillbuilding: A Judge's Notes From an Application for CG

From OnBoard - Newsletter of the BCG
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[Anonymous], "A Judge's Notes from an Application for Certified Genealogist," OnBoard 5 (September 1999): 25,27.

One of the standards for a convincing genealogical argument is that evidence is gleaned from all likely sources. All germane evidence (both positive and negative) is presented in a logical manner. Good places to start learning about evidentiary analysis and construction of a genealogical argument are Elizabeth Shown Mills' Evidence! Citation and Analysis for the Family Historian (Baltimore: Genealogical Publishing Company, 1997) [,Evidence Explained - Citing History Sources from Artifacts to Cyberspace (Baltimore: GPC, 2007)] and "Evidence Analysis: Definitions, Principles and Practices," presented at the NGS Conference in Richmond (session W-17) by Helen F. M. Leary, CG, CGL, Elizabeth Shown Mills, CG, CGL, and Christine Rose, CG.

A recent application provides fodder for understanding what is expected in these arguments. The only evidence described in the Preponderance of the Evidence Principle essay was two twentieth-century affidavits concerning the family of a man who was said to have died in the eighteenth century. Negative evidence from probate records was mentioned in passing, but was not described in detail. The oblique references indicated that the probate evidence could be devastating to the hypothesis, however no mention was made of what probate documents were found, what they said, and whether complete research had been done to reconstruct the estate of the subject. No research in land, court, or tax records was mentioned. Indeed, no evidence was presented in the essay to prove any of the persons mentioned in these records were actual descendants of the proposed ancestor. Thorough research into the lives of the subject and his children in contemporary records needs to be undertaken, and all relevant findings should be presented in the essay.

The most significant weakness of the compiled genealogy was in the range of resources used and the kinds of data that were presented. There was too much reliance on secondary sources and not enough mention of contemporary records. For example, the only evidence presented concerning the marriage of one couple (including the bride's identity) came from DAR applications. No citations to an original marriage record was encountered in the compilation; the sources for most marriages were DAR applications and a computer index available on the Internet. There was a brief discussion of land ownership, but all of the sources cited were county histories and published lists. No deeds were cited, and there was no indication that any research in primary sources was undertaken. There were a number of instances where census indexes and soundexes were cited as evidence instead of the actual schedules. This does not present a picture of thorough research.

The weakness was especially glaring in the confusing discussion of multiple men of the same name; a meticulous search of all available contemporary evidence was needed to separate the subject from the other men and assign events to the proper individual.

These weaknesses in the compiled genealogy reflected the same fundamental problems encountered in the preponderance of the evidence essay. Applicants are encouraged to seek education in the concepts of genealogical evidence and to conduct thorough research to assemble enough high quality evidence to present a convincing argument. The more thorough research will also enable applicants to present more biographical detail about the individuals in the compiled genealogies.

There was a problem with the use and interpretation of the documents supplied by the Board. The applicant did not appear to understand the fundamental nature of the document, which was not a release of dower, but a marriage settlement. The abstract relied too heavily on a form and, in effect, misrepresented the document entirely. Applicants are encouraged to abandon the use of forms for abstracting, as their rigid structure often forces the rearranging of the order of the original document. If a more free-form abstracting process had been used with the marriage settlement, the applicant may have gained a better understanding of the document.

A note on using photocopies with research reports. The photocopies provided appeared to cover only portions of the mentioned documents. None carried an adequate citation of the source. Some photocopies appeared to bear highlighter markings that affected legibility, and some of the documents seemed to have emendations from the applicant. These unfortunate practices and the poor legibility of some of the copies necessitated full abstracts of the documents in favor of the extremely brief, calendar-style entries that were provided. Poor copy quality from faded documents is beyond the applicant's control, but such problems can be overcome by good abstracts.

Compiling an application for Certified Genealogist is a grand achievement in itself, even if it is denied approval. It shows focus, perseverance, and a degree of organization well beyond that of most genealogists.

This article was originally published in OnBoard, BCG's educational newsletter and is protected by copyright. Individuals may download and print copies for their personal study. Educators are granted permission to provide copies to their students as long as BCG, OnBoard, and the appropriate author are credited as the source of the material. Republication elsewhere is not permitted.

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