Analyzing Ten NGSQ articles: Part 1

I have been studying a large number of articles from the National Genealogical Society Quarterly (NGSQ or the Q) lately.  I joined the NGSQ Study Group; part of the assignment for my Mastering Genealogical Proof [1] was to analyze an article and share our observations.  We were invited to read the other articles also.  I would like to share with you my findings about the structure of these articles.  This personal examination was done for two reasons 1.) I want to become a more proficient writer with greater clarity and 2.) as I prepare to write my proof argument for the BCG certification I want to be as knowledgeable as I can about complex proofs such as those published in the Q.

Fine print:  Nothing of what I write below should imply that the writing of a Q article is formulaic; this is an analysis of what is the “same” not what is “different.”.   These observations are of the patterns that I see in multiple, but not every article, I read.  I have not done a similar analysis of The American Genealogist articles but that would be interesting.  These are my observations–a different person might come to different conclusions.  A different subset of articles might yield different observations.  This analysis is not about the content of the articles.  And, I have no idea if the Editors of the Q would agree with the statements I am making below. With that….let’s get started.

All of the articles I read follow this “simple” outline:

  • Title
    There seems to be an “art” to writing a good title. Three items are often included in the title.
    1.  Type of conflict (direct vs direct, or indirect vs. direct etc.)
    2.  What is being resolved (identity, location, lineage)
    3.  Name of individual/family who is the focus
    The following article titles contained all three: a., b., d., e., f., g., h. or 70%
  • “The Hook” The “Hook” is a short statement of the universal issue addressed in the article.  The responsibility of the “Hook” is to outline an issue which could apply universally to many genealogists.   This paragraph is in italics and can be 50-100+ words long.  All articles had a “Hook.”
  • Section 1: A full discussion of the universal issues noted in the “Hook” begins the article.  This section includes the context issues that make the analysis and correlation difficult and worthy of publication.  The author describes the problem in such a way that the reader can draw parallels to his or her own work and perhaps use the methodology described in the article.  In some articles this section is quite long, two or three pages  (c.) and includes descriptions of burned counties, unusual sources, or odd travel patterns due to external influences which affects the methodology used (c., j.)  The shortest was 42 words (b.) Because of the type of content, this section usually has fewer citations then the two sections that follow.
  • Section 2: statement of the known facts and the research question.  This section can sometimes be quite short and also sometimes quite long and complex.  Proof Statements, or simple proofs relying of 1 or 2 sources, can often be a part of this section.
  • Section 3: Analysis/correlation of discovered facts.  Because this discussion will be longer I have decided to make it Part 2.  So please check the blog posting following this one on the following day.
  • Section 4: Conclusion
    This is the shortest section. The conclusion is often a summary of the methodology used and and how it supports the research question raised in Section 2.  It was interesting that two of the articles (c., h.) did not reiterate the answer to the research question.  Perhaps there has been a change in direction by the editors as these two articles were written in 2001 and 2003.

Articles by Leary and Woodward (f., j.) were the most different from the others.  Leary’s article is from the edition of the Q on evidence published in 1999.  It is a short proof argument, almost a proof summary, focused on direct evidence/direct evidence conflict.  The Woodward article is more of a case study rather than a proof argument as it sets out to explain by individuals might reside in places very different than one might suppose.

Hope this was interesting/helpful.

Happy Hunting!


1. I have listed the Q articles I used in this analysis below and coded them to the narrative by their letter.  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 from my Mastering Genealogical Proof class, four were a special assignment of MGP, one was the article read for this month’s NGSQ Study Group and two 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.