“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.



4 comments on ““Under Construction:” the Case Study

  1. […] “Under Construction:” the Case Study « Genealogy Certification: My Personal Journal – “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?” […]

  2. Pam Anderson says:

    Thanks for sharing another way to look at proof arguments. Very interesting. I see another lecture in your future.

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