SpringBoard, an official blogger for the 2016 National Genealogical Society (NGS) Family History Conference, is pleased to offer a review of this BCG Skillbuilding lecture, presented 7 May 2016.

S421, Victor S. Dunn, CG, “I Rest My Case: Constructing a Convincing Proof Argument”

Reviewed by Melissa Johnson, CG

It shouldn’t be a surprise to hear that Vic Dunn’s lecture on proof arguments began with an overview of the five elements of the Genealogical Proof Standard. Understandably, he placed particular emphasis on the fifth element, a “soundly reasoned, coherently written conclusion.” He stated firmly, “it must be in writing.”

Victor S. Dunn, CG
Courtesy of Scott Stewart Photography

Dunn walked the audience through the various types of proof discussions—proof statements, proof summaries, and proof arguments—and showed us examples of each from his own writing. He emphasized that proof discussions can be written for various reasons—as part of a larger work, for our own research files, as a client report, or for publication.

Dunn tackled a difficult task, instructing the audience how to construct and write proof arguments, the most complex of proof discussions. He emphasized to writers that proof arguments aren’t necessarily going to be constructed in the order that the research was done. He also pointed out one of the benefits of writing proof arguments: we often find holes in our logic and learn that we have more research to do.

Proof arguments are separated into several sections—the introduction, the body of the argument, and the conclusion—and Dunn offered a framework for how to approach each one. The beginning introduces the research subject, provides basic information about the person, and states any challenges or complexities involved in the research. The main body of the work lays out the argument, analyzes and correlates evidence, and resolves any conflicts. This section can include text, charts, timelines, maps and tables to communicate key information to the reader. The summary provides an overview of the main points, and sometimes explains the methodology used to solve the problem.

This informative lecture ended with several tips for effective genealogical writing: use the active voice, eliminate excess wording, use topic sentences, organize with headings and subheadings, discuss documents in the present tense, and proofread your work. For genealogists learning to write proof arguments, he recommends reading articles from the top five scholarly genealogical journals: National Genealogical Society Quarterly, The American Genealogist, The Genealogist, the New England Historic Genealogical Register, and the New York Genealogical and Biographical Record.

Anyone looking to increase their understanding of genealogical proof and sharpen their writing skills would benefit from hearing Dunn’s lecture.

A recording of this lecture may be previewed and ordered from PlaybackNow.

The words Certified Genealogist are a registered certification mark, and the designations CG, CGL, and Certified Genealogical Lecturer are service marks of the Board for Certification of Genealogists®, used under license by board certificants after periodic evaluation.