“Under Construction:” the Case Study

CS openingMany years ago, I attended a session on non-fiction writing where the lecturer described the best story line as a series of small climaxes that build to the final–punch line.  Diagrammatically, it might look like the photo on the left. I wondered if my case study or those of other more accomplished writers might follow a similar construction model.

I am working on my case study, a “proof argument.” A proof argument poses a genealogical question  and answers the question by conducting research, citing the evidence, analyzing and correlating the evidence, resolving any conflicts and then writing it up. These five steps compose the Genealogical Proof Standard (GPS), the standard by which we genealogists measure our work.[1]

It is the responsibility of the writer to lay out the story, or a proof argument, in the best way possible.  But, what is the best way? Tom Jones in Mastering Genealogical Proof [2] covers this in Chapter 7, “GPS Element 5: The Written Conclusion.”

Early in this chapter, the author defines the types of proofs: proof statements, proof summaries and proof arguments. Each of these types are on a spectrum of complexity, with statements being the simplest, usually just a sentence with a citation using an original source, and proof arguments being the most complex, requiring multiple page narratives with tables, timelines, etc. to illustrate the resolution of the research question and ultimately to arrive at an answer to that question. Proof arguments are a requirement for the portfolio for certification. [3]

Dr. Jones outlined the basic construction types the proof argument might assume in the writing: single hypothesis, alternative hypothesis, building blocks and syllogisms.

I am very visual. I wondered if I could diagram these construction types of proof arguments much as my non-fiction lecturer had years before. My primary interest was whether I was writing my proof in a way that followed a MGP type.

I decided to analyze other authors’ work to determine if I could see a pattern with successful articles. I defined “successful articles” as those which had been published in the National Genealogical Society Quarterly (NGSQ), one of our most well respected journals and which regularly publishes top-flight proof arguments. [4] In the interest of time, I looked at just five of the most recently published proof arguments.

Here are the articles. Each has its own construction model.

Laurel T. Baty, CG, “Reassembling a Clark Family of Alabama, Georgia and North Carolina,” National Genealogical Society Quarterly (NGSQ), 103 (December 2015):245-261.

CS single hypThis article illustrates “single hypothesis” construction of her proof. Ms. Baty states her hypothesis and then provides the evidence to support it. Its might look like the diagram to the left.



Ronald A. Hill, Ph.D., CG, FASG, “Middle Names from 1792 and 1793 Help Reconstruct Ancestry of John Rodda Jr., Butcher at Helston, Cornwall,” NGSQ, 103 (December 2015): 263-279.

CS blocks steppedThis article illustrates “alternative hypotheses” construction of his proof. Dr. Hill presents five families who fit the initially known criteria and then eliminates four, leaving the last and best hypothesis still standing. It might look like the diagram to the left.


Sara Anne Scribner, CG, “No Name, No Number: George Holmes’s Orphans of Washington and Jefferson Counties, Georgia,” NGSQ 103 (September 2015): 165-177.

CS orphansMs. Scribner identifies a working hypothesis early in her work, but appears to have used the “building block” approach to identifying the names of orphans who were winners in the land lottery. The author sequentially addressed each orphan with proofs for each.  Assuredly these proofs overlap, so it is not quite as “clean” as I am describing, but you can see the framework clearly in the article. I have diagrammed my proposed construction model on the left.

Sue Hahney Kratsch, “James Wesley Mooney of Will County, Illinois: Business Records Reveal His New York Family,” NGSQ 103 (September 2015): 179-200.

CS block dependantThis article could be either “building block” or a “single hypothesis” concept of construction.  The author builds a family step-by-step suggesting a building block approach but also there is a single hypothesis and all components are very interdependent.  I diagrammed this construction model showing how the blocks cannot stand on their own and need the next one and the next one to be complete.  Please read the article and decide.

Darcie Hind Posz, CG, “One George Deane or More? Determining an Identity Spanning Illinois, Iowa, Kansas and Missouri, but not Wisconsin,” NGSQ 103 (September 2015): 201-207.

CS single blockThis is an example of a “single hypothesis” addressing a question of identity.  Three fragments of a George Deane are suggested by the evidence: George Deane’s early life, including a marriage to Minnie and birth of a child and then two George Deane’s deaths, one with a marriage to Susie. Which George was married to Minnie? Which of these two fragments, if either, can be linked to the George who married Minnie? I have diagrammed this construction model on the left.

The one construction type that is mentioned in MGP, but not discovered in my very limited survey is “Syllogisms.” Syllogisms are “if/then” arguments. An example of a syllogism is “If Jill Morelli’s brother was named Fred Jacobson, then her birth name was Jill Jacobson.” I did not find any articles that used this technique as their primary structure; however, many authors use this technique within their proofs, especially when involving negative evidence.

My discoveries:

  • individual authors construct their proofs in a method that suits the evidence and research question
  • proof arguments can be a mix of types but usually there is an overarching construction type which encompasses other sub-types within it.
  • There are perhaps infinite combinations of these types and sub-types, but there is an overarching system to our proof writing which must be respected or the reader can get easily confused…not to mention the writer!
  • My proof argument was falling within an accepted structure of a “single hypothesis” with sub-types of “building block.”

These are my interpretations.  I would appreciate comments from others if they disagree or agree with my visual and narrative assessments.

Happy Hunting!


What I have done since the last posting: I have been working very hard on my case study.  I thought that it would take just a couple of days to complete, but I am on day 5 now and still have a day (?) to go.  My perspective was greatly enhanced by by letting it sit for 2.5 months.  When I read it for the “first time” after it resting, I had a fresh perspective. That “fresh perspective” meant that I had more work to do than I thought.  I have also been looking for (and finally found) a document for my personal document transcription, abstract and work plan, another component of the portfolio.  I have lots of deeds but wanted a will. I found a will.

[1] Board for Certification of Genealogists, Genealogy Standards (Ancestry.com, an imprint of Turner Publishing Company: Nashville, Tennessee or New York, 2014) 1-2.

[2] Thomas W. Jones, Mastering Genealogical Proof (Arlington, Virginia: National Genealogical Society, 2013) 83-94.

[3] Board for Certification of Genealogists, The BCG Application Guide (Washington, DC: Board for Certification of Genealogists, 2016) 6; accessed online at http://www.bcgcertification.org/brochures/BCGAppGuide2016.pdf .

[4] I wish to point out that Tom Jones, the author of MGP, is also one of the co-editors of NGSQ.  He, therefore, brings a deep knowledge of writing of proofs by the best authors, but also may mean that he could edit articles to “fit” his construction types of MGP. I suspect only the former.


SCGS Jamboree 2016!

palm trees[There was a glitch and I am reposting this.  Sorry if you received it 2x.]

I am just coming off the excitement of NGS in sunny Florida and I get to go to sunny CA!  Jamboree 2016, sponsored by the Southern CA Genealogical Society, is a major regional conference held in Burbank CA. I am looking forward to my favorite Seattle speakers–Janice Lovelace and Mary Roddy. But, who can resist Kenyatta Barry or David McDonald or David Rencher or Jay Fonkert or Annette Burke Little or…..well you get the idea. How fun is this?

I will be giving two of my favorite presentations…”Fire Insurance Maps” and “Blogging your Family History.” They are very different presentations but then I have a more eclectic package of presentations than many.

FIM is a “tried and true” presentation. I love this presentation as it combines my architect’s love of 2 dimensional representation (the map) of a 3 dimensional reality (real life!) and is a wonderful resource for answering late 19th c. and early 20th c. genealogical questions.

“Blogging Your Family History” is a new presentation, but one that I feel comfortable in presenting since I have been blogging on a variety of topics including my family on and off for almost 4 years now.  It is so easy to do and makes the daunting task of writing seem very manageable.  There are some great examples out there as well….people who are already blogging their family history and doing a very good job of it.  I will cover how you can set up a blog in (WP says 3 steps), I say,  6 steps.  It should be fun.

I just signed up for the live streaming of the DNA Day lectures.  $99 for 6 lectures. Seemed like a deal to me. A “deep dive” into DNA  is on my to do list right after submission of my portfolio.  I will be traveling the day the lectures are given live, but will listen to them after the fact.

I am anxiously awaiting the app for the conference.  I saw it in beta test last week and fooled with it a bit. It was supposed to be in the App Store today but I don’t see it yet . Maybe by the time I post this it will be!

Happy Hunting!


What I have done since the last post: I am getting ready to run copies of all parts of my portfolio!  This is exciting. It’s the first time I will see all parts together.  On a scale of “the good, the bad and the ugly” I am out of the “ugly” phase and into the “bad” phase.  It’s coming.  Just when I feel positive–I get a shot of reality and go–whoops, gotta do that! I attended a session today on the Swenson Swedish Immigration Research Center presented by a former librarian who gave us lots of inside tips.  It was very interesting.  I will be visiting this summer.


Keeping Track of Footnote Status

The Problem? How do you maintain writing momentum while composing footnotes? How does one track the status of footnotes as you write?

I doubt I am inventing anything here and, in fact, I suspect most folks come up with a system of some sort and perhaps one even fairly similar to mine.

I have a four methods I use to maintain consistency between similar footnotes, clean up footnotes and identify short form/Ibid footnotes. The main reason why I need multiple methods is because I find writing painful if I have to stop writing and make a footnote. What I do instead is intensely research and take notes (Evernote, Dropbox, Word are my friends). And then start writing and it can flow out of me.  “Flow” makes it sound simple; actually writing is only less painful if I do it this way.

If the writing naturally breaks up into chunks, I will write then do footnotes and then repeat. But, trust me, at the beginning, the paper is pretty ugly.

Here we go…

Method 1:

  1. I insert the footnotes into the very ugly draft. There are two types–ones I found while researching– These are usually in good shape because I carefully compose them while I am researching.  The other category are ones based on my documents I have collected over the years that I wish to reference in the document. These I  compose as I find I need them.
  2. Each footnote is also copied onto a Master Source List and placed in an appropriate category, e.g. censuses 1850 and before, vital records, books, etc. and in alpha order within each category.

Method 2: Color coding

  1. If I find I am missing a source,  I will make a footnote and instead of a citation I write what I am missing, e.g. “DR for Antje R.” or even “what was I thinking here?” These I put in red.
  2. If I have a partial footnote or I am missing information, I enter the partial citation, I enter a note to myself. For example, a newspaper clipping in my file but with no newspaper noted, I will put the citation in as I know it but put “What is the newspaper’s name?” in red. I might be able to find the name of the newspaper later.
  3. If I think the citation is complete and I am happy with it, I color it green.
  4. After all citations are green, I will then, and only then turn them all black.

Method 3: identifying Short form and Ibid opportunities

  1. I make all citations long form until all citations are “black.”
  2. While I write and if I think I have used it before (usually I know this because it appears on my Master Source List) I place a “SF” at the start of the citation indicating this citation is a candidate for a short form citation or “IBID” indicating there might be an opportunity to just use Ibid. But, I won’t know this until the paper is finished

Method 4:

  1. To cross check the citations after they have all turned black, I plan on (haven’t gotten this far yet on any document) turning them into endnotes (yes, you can change them back to footnotes when you are finished), and check each one very carefully.  I am not sure yet how this will work, but I think I will pick off the first one, paste it into a separate Word document making another Master Source List II, and turn the appropriate ones into short form or add Ibid. This will force me to look for inconsistencies, anomalies (should be few, but I know a few sneaked in).
  2. I will check each one against EE [1] to make sure any changes I have made are defensible.
  3. I think I will have to do this because I wasn’t religious about entering every unique citation into my first master source list, but even if I had, I would still probably make a Master Source List II because I want my citations to be super-consistent and composed appropriately.

Hope this helps someone.

Happy Hunting!


What I have done since the last post: worked on my KDP almost exclusively, toning up my two presentations for Jamboree which is just in 2.5 weeks, and signed up for their live streaming of their DNA Day. I bought some downloads from NGS and have listened to a couple so far (Judy R on women and the law and Lisa Alzo on eastern European brick walls).

[1] Elizabeth Shown Mills, Evidence Explained: Citing History Sources from Artifacts to Cyberspace,” third edition (Baltimore: Genealogical Publishing Company, 2015).

NGS: What did I learn?

To help me and perhaps be beneficial to you, I thought I would look back at my notes and capture some, but certainly not all, of what I learned at this National Genealogical Society (NGS) 2016 conference held 3-7 May 2016 in Ft. Lauderdale, Florida.

“When Worlds Collide: Resolving Conflicts in Genealogical Records,” Judy Russell, presenter: Isn’t it great when two sources agree and answer our research question? But, as we advance in our genealogical skills we see that disagreement between sources actually is much more common than agreement.  Judy urged us to first assess whether the conflict mattered, e.g. “Kate” for Katherine–does not matter. She urged us also to really read Standards 17, 48 and 49 in Genealogy Standards [1] to understand the limitations and the outward boundaries of decision-making. Always check the quality of your sources.

“Dissection & Analysis of Research Problems,” Elizabeth Shown Mills, presenter (who nudged out Tonya Marking’s presentation on “Recovering Identities of Slaves of Roseland Plantation, St. Charles Parish, Louisiana: A Case Study” and Tom Jones’s presentation on “Going Beyond the Bare Bones: Reconstructing Your Ancestor’s Lives”): Elizabeth shared with us her research approach with a summary of her research approach.  The syllabus is most valuable here.  It was affirming to me that I was using many of the tools she suggested, including assessing each source uniquely, and using timelines to see gaps in the research.

“Reasonably Exhaustive Research: the First Criteria for genealogical Proof,” Elizabeth Shown Mills, presenter. In 60 minutes, ESM took us across multiple states, illustrated deep research using FAN club principles, conducted deep mining of sources, topical and geographic thoroughness, and cross generational research. At the end of the presentation,  the entire audience was exhausted! This case study, representing 1000 hours of research time,  will be written up in NGS Quarterly, so keep a watch for it.  In addition, she plans on posting the research document (700 pages1) on her Historic Pathways blog site after publication in the Q.

“Using Griffith’s Valuation to Identify Your Ancestor’s Origins: A Case Study,” Donna Moughty, presenter.  I would have bought this presentation as a download if it were available but not all presentations were audio taped, and this was one that wasn’t. Donna certainly knows a lot about how to access and read not the original Griffith’s and the revisions which occurred into the 20th century.  Several good websites were shared and a methodology for finding Irish ancestors was illustrated.  Donna stated, “Wouldn’t we all love to have our Irish ancestors back to 1807?” I then realized that I have my lines back further than any Irish researcher can hope to have. I am lucky.

An Add on
At the Exhibit Hall I attended a session conducted by My Heritage on Danish records.  They are “madly” digitizing and indexing the Danish records to put them online and hope to have parish and census records done by the end of 2016!  This will be terrific add as the present Danish site, even tho’ free, is difficult to access using very old search technology.  My Heritage is a huge company, similar to Ancestry, but for the rest of the world.  This is the place to find cousins in the country of origin.  I also met (again) Donna Thompson, who is a candidate for the Director position of the Museum of Danish America in Elk Horn, Iowa.  She has her interview next week. I wish her the best.

It was great seeing friends and meeting new ones.  My own presentations went very well. One woman said that she wanted to know where I would be speaking because they drive a motor home to events she wants to attend.  A groupie!?  I referred her to the Genealogical Speakers Guild where I post my speaking opportunities.

Happy Hunting!


What I have done since the last posting: laundry? pet the cat! and prepped for my presentation on Monday the 9th to the Genealogical Society of South Whidbey Island (GSSWI).

[1] Board for Certification of Genealogists, Genealogy Standards (Nashville, Tennessee: Turner Publishing Company, 2014) 14,27, 28



NGS: The FAN Club

2014 ESMI attended a number of Elizabeth Shown Mills‘s presentations this past week at the NGS 2016 annual conference in Ft. Lauderdale, Florida (see photo at left). [1]  ESM rarely works with direct evidence and is usually in the extreme ends of the lineage trying to solve her research question. Her presentation on identifying John Watts, “Reasonably Exhaustive Research: The First Criteria for Genealogical Proof,” soon to be a NSGQ article, is a study in extremely complex FAN Club research. [2]

What is a FAN Club? Friends, Associates and Neighbors comprise any person’s FAN Club. These are the individuals who surround us and who we interact with regularly. We call upon them to assist us in our dealings that generate documents that survive to today. More importantly, we find our FAN Club being kin, especially before the 21st century.

For example, when it is time to fill out the request for the Civil War pension and you need to have some attestations of your service and good character. Who are you going to ask to give character witness? –your comrade in arms from your unit. Your unit was comprised of individuals from your state and often included kin.

Or, you are a member of a church. Who is on the church rolls with you?—other church members, many of whom may be family members

It is time for you to emigrate. Do you just pick up and go?–no, you probably entice others from your small town to emigrate as well and all appear on the passenger manifest together. Do you shoot darts at a map to determine where you are going to settle?—again, no. You instead pick an area you have heard about, because others from your parish have migrated before you to that place.

These are just 3 examples of different FAN Clubs. As you can see one person can have many FAN Clubs at the same time and individuals may “occupy” overlapping groups. In very difficult problems, such as the identification of John Watts, not only did the FAN club include multiple types of clusters, but it grew in numbers of individuals as more evidence was found. A FAN Club is never static. It will increase in size as new information is obtained and new names are added. It will shrink as individuals are identified who do not answer the research question.

The reason why someone would drop from the list is if they defied Newton’s Laws of Physics:

Principle 1: and object (individual) cannot be in two places at the same time.

James Smith #1 farms on Smith Creek and James Smith #2 farms on James Creek in 1850–at the same time. These are two different James Smiths. Understanding the distances one could travel in the time frame of investigation is necessary to eliminating individuals from a FAN Club.

Principle 2: one object (individual) cannot occupy the same time twice as someone else. James Smith #1 resides on land from 1812 to 1850. James Smith #2 resides on land from 1830 to 1860. These are probably two different James Smiths because their timelines are not in alignment.

These are extremely simplistic examples and are only used to illustrate a point of identity of same named individuals; not to illustrate reasonably exhaustive research, which would be necessary to actually eliminate John Smith #2 in each instance.

Same named individuals can only be separated by using reasonably exhaustive research and having alignment of geography, time AND the FAN Club.

I would also suggest that you probably use it more frequently than you think. Your FAN Club size may be small and you can quickly eliminate all but one. This type of research is particularly critical for Irish and Scandinavian ethnic groups whose naming practices result in many individuals having the same name.

Happy Hunting!


What I have done since the last posting: attended the NGS 2016 conference, blogged about the conference, presented twice and became inspired as I read the submissions of others for certification at the BCG booth. Next up? Whidbey Island GS and Jamboree! Next blog (probably)—coincidence and decision-making.

[1] Photo of Elizabeth Shown Mills & Jill Morelli, taken at the request of Jill Morelli by an attendee, May 2014.  Photo taken NGS 2014 conference in Richmond, VA.

[2] FAN Club is a group composed of friends, associates and/or neighbors devised by Elisabeth Shown Mills, also called “cluster research.” The use of FAN Club principles are used repeatedly in solving genealogical problems.


NGS 2016: What you missed!

2016 0506 NGS meIt has been a great conference in Ft. Lauderdale. And I regret that you couldn’t join us and experience the quality of presentations of the conference. Some highlights for me include:

I love the meeting up old friends I haven’t seen for awhile and making some new ones along the way. this can be the best part of attending (the second) conference!

I also like attending the speical events such as Board for Certification of Genealogists (BCG) and the Association of Professional Genealogists (APG) lunch. Tonight I am going to the banquet. The best reason for going to these is “meeting up with old friends!”  It is always nice to meet new individuals who are on the clock–sometimes they seem so naive but maybe I am calloused. (Calloused is not good.)

they run about 10 sessions at anyone time so it is difficult at times to pick which one to go to at any given time. Some sessions I attended stand out:

  • “When Worlds Collide: Resolving Conflicts in Genealogical Records (Judy Russell): One of my big take-aways is that we as educated genealogist must make the decision as to whether the conflict is a true conflict or whether the evidence we have is just a variation of another, e.g. name of Kate/Katherine, Catherine really are all variation of the same name. She then focused on the Genealogy Standard no. 47 which offers us guidance to define the type of conflict we have and how to resolve.
  • Elizabeth Shown Mills had two that were outstanding:
    • “Dissection & Analysis of Research Problems”: a review of her research techniques. She gave me several new ideas for how to organize my research, while writing while you research. I was pleased that several of the techniques she illustrated, I actually used regularly.  (For those of you who do not know Elisabeth Shown Mills–she is a leader of the field of genealogy in methodology and education.)
    • “Reasonably Exhaustive Research: The First Criteria for Genealogical Proof ” This was an amazing study, representing 1000 hours of research : Elizabeth used an amazing case study to illustrate seven levels of research. This one proof represented 1000 hours and generated a 700 page research report.
  • “Ticks, Chiggers and Snakes: Civil War Diaries, Letters and Military Records in Southern Archives and Libraries” (Sara Scribner). Manuscripts are often difficult to find. Sara showed us some wonderful repositories and search techniques.
  • “Italian Genealogy Research in Italy and From Home.” Mary Tedesco served as our guide on a whirlwind tour of Italy, Italian records and how to research in Italy.  Fun! Especially since her maternal side is from Toscana, just like Pat’s!
  • Notice the picture (My presentation is 3rd one down!)  I presented my “On Death and Dying: Changes in  Medical Care in the 19th Century:” In spite of tough competition, I had 40 people in the presentation. I was thrilled. Margaret F. and Janice L. came also. It’s always nice to have friends in the audience.  The presentation went far better than I expected going into the session.  There was a technical difficulty throughout the presentations with the PPT; luckily, I was audio taped only and not video taped.  The tech person looked at it twice.  I should have done what I did when I had this problem before, i.e. join the wifi, which terminated the requests.

I also enjoyed the exhibit hall. One activity I participated in which in the past I had not …I attended a presentation by My Heritage on Danish research.  My Heritage is working very hard to bring the Danish records on line including census records. This will be a terrific addition for the Danish community as Danish records are particularly difficulty to search even when using the index.  I enjoyed these mini-sessions.  Ancestry, Family Search and Lisa Louis Cooke conducted similar mini classes.

Happy Hunting!


What I have done since the last posting: attended the conference and worked on my presentations. And, had a lot of fun!

Development Activities

Clock 3I decided to “take a break” from the client report and work on the new Development Activities (DA) requirement.[1] This is the certification portfolio component that replaces the resume.


The Development Activity document is different in two significant ways:

  1. The DA is now part of the evaluation of your qualifications.
  2. The requirements of the DA focus on your genealogical education and what you learned.

The reason why this change occurred is because the Board for Certification of Genealogists discovered there was a direct correlation between rigorous education courses and successful portfolios. Their survey of past applicants and successful portfolios showed that ProGen, the series of classes I took in 2013-2014, results in the highest percentage of success.

This DA component seems pretty simple, doesn’t it? And, assuming that you have some reasonable educational opportunities in your genealogical tool chest, it is.

My primary tip? Do not take this too lightly.

  • Organize the DA carefully. What do you want to highlight? Do you put elements of your education into clusters or is it a list?
  • Focus on what you learned at each educational opportunity. Clearly make the connection between your education and the four learning areas BCG lists in their Guide.
  • Work at making this succinct. The guidelines ask for only one to two sentences for each educational opportunity describing what you learned.

After you have the opportunities arranged in a way that works for you and you have listed what you learned in each–step back. Assess if it is as good as you can make it. Assess if you have any gaps in your Development Activities and if so, identify what can you do to rectify the gap–either by filling it or focusing on an alternative.

At this point, I went through and tried to reduce each entry to two sentences.  I wasn’t always successful, but I didn’t do too badly in achieving that goal. I really want to “ingratiate” myself to the judges by having a fairly small number of pages for the portfolio! :-) With the new rules for this extension, I have to submit fewer than 150 pages.  I am hoping for a portfolio of no more than 120 pages.

If you want to read the guide or better yet, considering getting your certification, click on this link.

Happy Hunting!


What I have done since the last post: presented my “Fire Insurance Maps: the Google Maps of their day” at Legacy Software Webinars. It was a wonderful experience and the presentation was well received. Geoff Rasmussen is a gracious host and does a very nice job of prepping the inexperience webinar presenter (me!) and then having a smooth transition to the actual presentation. At Geoff’s urging, I submitted five other presentations for his consideration (finding your parish, Danish records, Norwegian records, Swedish taxation and 19th c. insanity.) I also continue to refine the client report.  Just when I think I have it polished up–something rears up. Next up? Getting ready for my presentations at NGS the first week of May.

[1] Board for Certification of Genealogists, The BCG Application Guide (Washington, DC: Board for Certification of Genealogists, 2016) 3.