How do you compare and contrast?

Compare and contrast is an analytical writing tool needed in genealogical writing.  On 18 December 2011 I investigated the different writing types that I had been taught (and forgotten) and then using a writing example from the NGS Quarterly, I analyzed what types of writing the author was using.  One of the styles used by the author was Compare and Contrast.

There appear to me to be two forms of Compare & Contrast writing which are used in genealogical writing:

1.  Table form:  When the information is fairly simple it lends itself to a matrix, a “row/column” approach.  On the left hand  column you might have names of individuals in the family in question and in the row across the top, how they appear in various censuses.  In the latest Quarterly you can see a compare and contrast table in the article “Polin Ries of New Orleans” where the names of the family members are in the left column, the second column is their birth date per the Bas-Rhin records, the 3rd column is the variation of the name, the 4th column is the birth date, the latter two per the passenger manifest.  The more complex the table is, i.e. more record types, trying to compare more data points (names, dates, ages etc.) the more complex is the table, the more difficult to analyze the data and the more difficult for the reader to understand.  To me, being a graphic thinker, this is a very quick way to understand the areas where it is the same and where the information differs. I naturally gravitate to this mode of presenting data.

2. Narrative approach.  This approach seems to work very well if it is the desire of the author to reduce the number of options. For example, you might list the variety of sources of your immigrant ancestor that supplies relevant information that gives you clues as to your ancestor’s village of birth.  From those variety of sources which do not all agree, you make certain conclusions based on the veracity of the sources and the commonality of the data.  The information gathered in the US is then compared with information of a possible ancestor candidate in the birth country.  You may not be able to reach a specific conclusion but you may be able to narrow the choices of where you need to look.  It explains your process of looking in village X and village Y, but not village C and then reporting your findings.  I think this methodology is harder for the reader but is sometimes unavoidable.

The first example, leads to rather direct conclusions; the narrative approach appears better suited if the information is varied and you are trying to reduce the number of options rather than coming to a specific conclusion.  So I recommend looking at lots of examples (NGS Quarterly is great for this) and then practice setting up the table or working your way through a complex narrative.

They both have their uses but are handling information differently.

Happy Hunting!


What I have done since the last post:  I have worked very hard on the client report.  I am getting very close to being done.  I am quite pleased.  I did some work for the OGSA conference in IL I am chairing.  I went to the Seattle Public Library to browse the reference stacks.  Sure enough, I found something of interest!  I got asked to speak at the SAR meeting on medicine and prisons of the Civil War (I know it’s not the American Revolution).  I am excited.

  • Teri D. Tillman, “Using Indirect Evidence and Linguistic Analysis to Trace Polin Ries of New Orleans,” National Genealogical Quarterly, 99 (December 2011):247.
  • Patrick Quigley, “The Quigley Family Searches for the American Dream,” The National Genealogical Society Quarterly, 98 (December 2010):4.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s