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