Analyzing Ten NGSQ articles: Part 2

In the Part 1 of this series I looked at the overall structure of the National Genealogical Society Quarterly (NGSQ or Q) articles.  In this posting we will concentrate on Section 3.  See below for complete list of the articles, subsequent listings use an abbreviated title.

Fine print:  Any of the observations noted below should be placed in the context of the author (me) as a student.  I am asking questions, not criticizing.

From the previous post, all of the articles followed this general outline:

  • Title
    Three items are often included in the title: type of conflict, what is being solved and the name of the individual or family of focus
  • The “Hook”
    The “Hook” outlines the issue addressed in the article which could apply universally to many genealogists.
  • Section 1:
    This section contains a full discussion of the universal issues noted in the “Hook”.
  • Section 2:
    This section contains research questions and the known facts.
  • Section 3:
    This section is the analysis/correlation of discovered facts.  This is the section covered in this posting.
  • Section 4: Conclusion
    The conclusion is  a summary of the methodology used and and how it supports the research question raised in Section 2.

All of the sections above comprise the proof argument.  The proof argument is composed usually of a combination of proof statements (simple, non-conflicting proofs), and proof summaries (more complex but less than the proof argument.) But now, lets look at Section 3 more closely.

According to Mastering Genealogical Proof [1], there are four different “approaches” for constructing this section: single hypothesis, alternative hypotheses, building blocks, and syllogisms (“if-then” statements).   Some articles will contain more that one of these.

Here is a table showing my interpretation of the frequency of use of each of these four in the ten reviewed articles:

Article

Single Hypothesis

Alternative hypotheses

Building Blocks

Syllogisms

a.

“Calvin Snell”

X

X

b.

“Philip Pritchett”

X

X

c.

“Geddes of Tyrone”

X

X

X

d.

“Charles D. McLain”

X

X

e.

“Eleanor Overton”

X

X

X

f.

” Mary Kittrell”

X

g.

“John Bradberry”

X

h.

“Samuel Hanson”

X

i.

“Priscilla Wilford”

X

j.

“Yellow Fever Epidemic”

X

My observations:  The more complex proof arguments rely on a combination of buildings blocks, which are often individual proof summaries, and one or more of the other types of analysis to reach their conclusions.  The two articles, “Mary Kittrell”  and the “Yellow Fever Epidemic” are unique as the former is a rather simple illustration of conflicting direct evidence and the latter is more of a story than a proof argument.  I struggle with identifying the differences between the single hypothesis and the building block approach.  It seems to me the author should be able to have a single hypothesis (possible answer to a research question?) and use building block methodology to solve the argument.  Thus, I do not see these as different approaches to the writing of proof argument (i.e. the article) but rather tools one could use in a variety of ways to build the convincing resolution to the research question. So, it appears to me that there are really only two overall structures–a single building block or multiple building blocks.  Within each of the “blocks” the author may use alternative hypotheses, e.g. there are three Fred Smiths which one is “mine?” and syllogisms, e.g. if Fred Smith wasn’t on tax rolls in Washington County, then he didn’t own taxable property there.  This seems a bit confusing to me.

I also looked at the tools used in each of the articles as the author correlated the evidence:

Article

List

Table

Map

Pedigree chart

Image

Genealogical Summary

a.

“Calvin Snell”

X

X

X

b.

“Philip Pritchett”

X

X

X

c.

“Geddes of Tyrone”

X

X

X

d.

“Charles D. McLain”

X

X

X

X

e.

“Eleanor Overton”

X

X

f.

” Mary Kittrell”

X

X

g.

“John Bradberry”

X

X

X

h.

“Samuel Hanson”

X

X

i.

“Priscilla Wilford”

X

X

X

j.

“The New Orleans Yellow Fever Epidemic of 1853″

X

X

My observations: The four articles with the genealogical summaries were written between the years of 2001 and 2007.   The others were written between 1995 and 2009.  Thus, it is unclear whether the inclusion of the summaries are just an issue of space or author’s discretion. It does not seem to be editorial policy. Tables, maps and the pedigree charts supported the argument directly and therefore, are specific to the article and no pattern was identified.  The use of the pedigree chart in the Samuel Hansen article and the use of the maps in Philip Prichett were particularly effective.

Things I would like to discuss with the Editors, if I ever have the chance:

  1. How has the Q changed in structure over the years? (note: article a. has all the footnotes in the back and it is the oldest article reviewed–1995.  Thanks to the Editors for moving them to the page of reference!)
  2. Though implied by the title, why isn’t the research question posed closer to the beginning of the article? The research question is often at the very end of the Section 2, which can be quite long.
  3. Scientific writing starts with an abstract of the article including the research question and a summary of the findings rather than the “hook”.  Should the Q have a similar layout?
  4. Could the conclusions be stronger?  Sometimes the conclusion states the universal issues but does not restate the research question or summarize the answer. (c., f., h., i., j.)  The topics of the articles f. & i. do not lend themselves to a specific answer to a specific research question.  I thought one article had a particularly strong conclusion ( g.).
  5. Could the general reference materials used in Section 1 and 2 be listed at the end of the article?  This would be helpful to the intermediate reader who is still trying to develop his/her library.
  6. What changes are the Editors anticipate in the future?

Hope this was interesting/helpful.

Happy Hunting!

Jill

1. I have listed the Q articles I used in this analysis below.  The selection of these articles cannot be described as random as there are five of the nine articles by Tom Jones.  They were also selected because in my classes I am taking, these articles were “required” reading.  Two were readings from my Mastering Genealogical Proof class; four were a special assignment of my MGP class; one was the article read for this month’s NGSQ Study Group and three were selected because of my personal interest.

a. Jones,  Thomas. “The Children of Calvin Snell: Primary versus Secondary Evidence,” National Genealogical Society Quarterly 83 (March 1995): 17-31.
b. —–.  “Logic Reveals the Parents of Philip Pritchett of Virginia and Kentucky.” National Genealogical Society Quarterly 97 (March 2009): 20-38.
c. —–.  “Organizing Meager Evidence to Reveal Lineages: An Irish Example–Geddes of Tyrone.” National Genealogical Society Quarterly 89 (June 2001): 98-112.
d. ——. “The Three Identities of Charles D. McLain of Muskegon, Michigan.” National Genealogical Society Quarterly 96 (June 2008): 101-120.
e. ——. “Uncovering Ancestors by Deduction: The Husbands and Parents of Eleanor (nee Medley) (Tureman) (Crow) Overton.” National Genealogical Society Quarterly 94 (December 2006): 287-304.
f. Leary, Helen F.M.  “Resolving Conflicts in Direct Evidence: Identity and Vital Dates of Mary Kittrell.” National Genealogical Society Quarterly 87 (September 1999): 199-205.
g. Litchman, William M. “Using Cluster Methodology to Backtrack an Ancestor: The Case of John Bradberry.” National Genealogical Society Quarterly 95 (June 2007): 103-116.
h. Mills, Elizabeth Shown. “Roundabout Research: Pursuing Collateral Lines to Prove Parentage of a Direct Ancestor–Samuel Hanson of Frontier Georgia,” National Genealogical Society Quarterly 91 (March 2003): 19-30.
i. Tolman, Richard Lee. “The Life and Times of English Immigrant Priscilla (nee Clark) (Pickett) (Pickett) Wilford.” National Genealogical Society Quarterly 94 (December 2006): 267-286.
j. Woodward, Hobson. ” ‘Through the Furnace of Affliction’: A Connecticut Family and the New Orleans Yellow Fever Epidemic of 1853,” National Genealogical Society Quarterly 89 (June 2001): 113-132.

[1] Jones, Thomas W. Mastering Genealogical Proof. Arlington, Virginia: National Genealogical Society: 2013.

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6 comments on “Analyzing Ten NGSQ articles: Part 2

  1. Rachelle says:

    Jill, I enjoyed reading your analysis of the articles and it was effective to have their approaches broken out in the grids to better understand the variety of techniques. Thanks!

  2. Margaret R. Fortier says:

    Great review of these articles, thank you. I agree with your suggestions 2 through 5 (Things I would like to discuss with the editors), and especially 4.

    I also find the categorization of the methods problematic. Analysis is not always a straight line process and as long as you use all the tools available effectively and appropriately to support your conclusions, tagging each part of it seems less critical to understanding the process, IMHO.

    • jkmorelli says:

      I agree with you wholeheartedly. Just having a table in a paper doesn’t make it a better proof argument–it is knowing when to include the table and how to have it work for you. I struggle with taking the “fuzzy thinking” necessary in analysis and writing it so it flows logically (linear) in a report/article. I am working on a paper right now where I have changed the order of my analytical building blocks 4-5 times in order to get the information to the reader in the most logical way. Thanks for you comments and Happy 2014.

  3. Michael Morelli says:

    Nice work Jill!

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