Book Review: Genealogy Evidence by Noel C. Stevenson,

Gen Evid bk StevensonStevenson, Noel C. Genealogical Evidence: A Guide to the Standard of Proof Relating to Pedigrees, Ancestry, Heirship and Family History. Laguna Hills, California: Aegean Park Press, 1979, revised 1989.

What can you learn from a book written almost 35 years ago and revised 25 years ago? A lot!

To state the case most simply: if you are working on your portfolio, you need to have this book close by. Let me explain why.

Noel C. Stevenson, J.D., FASG  is one of genealogy’s icons of the most recent past generation, serving as President of the American Society of Genealogists from 1985-1986. [1]  His book, Genealogical Evidence is recognized as a pioneer in defining a common genealogical vocabulary, constructing a standard for source analysis and providing guidance for assessment of evidence.[2]  Thus, in the genealogy of genealogy, this book is an “ancestor” to Evidence Explained  by Elisabeth Shown Mills and Mastering Genealogical Proof by Tom Jones. [3]

The content covers common genealogical problems and establishes guidelines for their assessment.  For example, The first chapter on “Paternity, Maternity, Legitimacy and Illegitimacy” discusses “Age and Paternity” and “Age and Maternity,” where Stevenson discusses the ages one can expect parents to be within and ones that are outside that realm.  When you are looking at the age of the father at 16 and the age of the mother at 13 in your case study, what do you say about the likelihood of that happening? Stevenson will give you guidance and his work is a respected source. Is your case study a question of identity?  If so, Stevenson has an entire chapter on that topic.

Stevenson then breaks down records into two groups — public and unofficial records, the latter being everything that isn’t public, such as bibles, church records, tombstones etc., and covers types of records within those two broad categories. With each source type he begins with a short history of the development, and then describes their relative accuracy. Another great inclusion is the list at the end of these chapters which describe the various locations one can obtain the information desired if the single source does not exist.  The list for location of evidence of marriage, considered a public record, is 21 items long.  These other locations for marriage records may assist you in breaking down some of your brick walls or verify that you have truly completed your “exhaustive research.”

As a lawyer, his narrative concerning court records is especially note worthy. Stevenson brings a depth of understanding of the types of courts, their history and the records found there. He covers the types of marriages and the legality by state of common law marriages.  In this era, laws of marriage are changing so rapidly this list may be outdated, but it gives you a place to start.  This section (and others) are laced with examples which focus the reader on the analysis and the conclusions that can be drawn from the court records.  He even discusses, with examples, false pedigrees and some of the genealogical hoaxes that have been committed and still exist today.

Val Greenwood’s book, The Researcher’s Guide to American Genealogy, another iconic book, looks at source types; Stevenson’s addresses source types but then investigates each source type for the type of information it might contain and discusses the inherent validity of the evidence you may find within that source type. It is true that Stevenson uses terms like “circumstantial evidence” which now are dated, but this does not obviate the quality of the contents within.

If you are “on the clock,” this book will provide you with a basis for assumptions, will give you a basis for analyzing your sources and give you hints as to other locations to find records which make for a more complete research effort.  In addition, his citations may lead you to other documents, articles and books to assist you in solving a particular problem.  However, this is not a “brick wall problem solvers guide” as it is not focused on a particular problem you might have but rather the book provides us with a road map for our every day genealogical assessment.

Happy Hunting!


What I have done since the last posting:  I made my research plan for the holiday weekend.  I also listened to Ron Arons Legacy Webinar on mapping.  He did a nice job and Geoff Rasmussen, the host, gave my webinar presentation on fire insurance maps (scheduled for April) a shout out to all the live listeners.

[1] American Society of Genealogists, “Past Officers” ( : accessed 25 November 2015).

[2] John (surname not given), “Elements of Genealogical Analysis,” Our Blog (Allen County (IN) Public Library Genealogy Center), blog,  13 November 2014 ( : accessed 25 November 2015).

[3] Do I really need to provide a citation for you?


What did I learn about certification at SLIG?

The tone of the conversation about certification is changing.  I noticed the “change” in the first day of the Advanced Methodology course as Dr. Jones took numerous opportunities to make the process of applying and obtaining certification seem attainable to a greater number of potential applicants than before.

In my own mind, a mystique built around the application process.  I felt, even understood, that I must have certain institutes and other criteria met before I am eligible to apply.  Certain materials reinforced my mindset:

  • Quiz on the BCG page [1]:  Have you read two years of five journals worth of articles?  These are valuable to read but if you haven’t, you lose points and then you may not be “qualified.” I am not sure that the family lineages of the east coast as presented in the NEHGR and TAG are all that pertinent to me whose earliest ancestor immigrated in 1854 and went straight to Illinois.  NGSQ focuses more on methodology and I learn a lot from those articles, wherever the proof argument is located.
  • BCG portfolios at conferences:  These nearly “perfect” examples have certainly made this potential applicant reticent to apply.
  •  Number who are certified yearly:  It does not help when we see one person get certified in a quarter.  This makes it appear that of the many that must apply (of course, we don’t know how many actually apply) only an extremely small percentage must qualify.

I am sure that none of the above is the single thing that has kept me from applying but it does ascribe a criteria which if not accomplished sent a negative message to this potential applicant.

At a breakfast at the end of SLIG attended by 15+ attendees including certified and uncertified individuals, the discussion centered around how there are two types of genealogists who apply for certification: those that aren’t ready at all and the “over readies.”  The latter group has every box checked, every institute attended, every NGSQ+ article read and analyzed and every citation template memorized.  The “over readies” work beyond the level necessary to achieve certification and seem to be striving for perfection.

 Let’s be clear…I am not, nor are the people I spoke to, saying it is easy or frivolous to attain certification, just attainable–and perhaps more attainable than we, the applicants, are making it.

Tom Jones and Judy Russell also reduced the focus from citations to correlation.  The application process is less about the form and more about substance.  Both iterated that getting an A was not the goal but that passing was.  Judy noted that no one gets a different certificate if they “pass” better than the next applicant.

Some certified individuals made it clear that the reason why they failed the first time was because they did not follow directions.  Lesson Learned:  Follow the directions!  But one individual also failed a portion of an element of the portfolio and still passed! The advice was– it is better to fail on form–something correctable–then to fail on correlation or analytical thought process.  Form is easily corrected; an inability to correlate is not.

I am being urged to apply and submit.  I will put in my application to go “on the clock” in the next four weeks.  I want to time this so it doesn’t land too close to the holidays and after my computer comes back from the Apple Hospital!

A new standards manual comes out in the next week and I have my copy on pre-order.  I will be pouring over it and I am sure that in short time frame it will be as dog eared and tabbed as the previous edition.  Tom Jones noted a significant change is the title.  Have you noticed?  It is no longer The BCG Genealogical Standards Manual [2] but is rather Genealogy Standards [3]– for all genealogists– a significant and important modification.

 Happy Hunting!


 What I have done since the last posting: watched my two favorite pro football teams duke it out to play each other in the Super Bowl!  Now who do I root for? I have a couple of posts ready to publish but I had to wait until my desk top got back from the Apple Hospital which it now is.  Woo hoo!  I apologize in advance for a cluster of postings which are appearing a week after the SLIG event.  corrected this post per Judy Russell’s comment.

[1], accessed 25 January 2014.

[2] Board for Certification of Genealogists, The BCG Genealogical Standards Manual (New York: Turner Publishing Co., 2000).

[3] — , Genealogy Standards, 50th Anniversary Edition (Nashville, Tenn. : Ancestry, 2014).  Book has yet to be distributed but the preorder price is less if you purchase by January 27th!

Woo hoo! Celebration time!

No, I didn’t solve the problem of Friedrich Eilers and my great great grandmother but rather…..

This is my 1 year anniversary for doing my blog and my 101st posting.  Wow!

I am amazed.

Of course with every milestone, I try to look over what I have accomplished (or not) and see if there is room for improvement.


  • I am still working towards certification
  • I have been fairly consistent in the frequency of my postings with July and August an understandable exception.
  • I anticipate continuing blogging
  • I have a nice mix of clients but am always looking for more (suggestions welcomed)


  • There was a problem in the past with the name of my blog name.  After consultation with BCG’s lawyer I changed the name to a mutually agreed upon name.
  • It seems sometimes I “bite off more than I can chew.”  I actually do not think this will improve, but rather is genetic.
  •  I am not yet “on the clock”

I look forward to the journey for the next year.

Major goals for the next year:

  • get “on the clock”
  • development of a sustaining client base
  • continued education (haven’t heard back from ProGen yet)
  • greater knowledge base of US sources (related to bullet #3)

I think that’s good for now!

Happy Hunting!


What I have done since the last posting:  finished a major client project!  This was big.  I can now get started on the two that have been waiting patiently for me to get started!  I have also been rereading the BCG Application Standard book; organized my downloads of the NGS Quarterly and the Magazine so I can tell if I have read them or not.  I am also getting ready for the genealogy cruise.  (Note: Like the NGS conference I will suspend my usual approach to this blog and instead post about what I learn etc.  With the cruise line charging for internet time, this postings will probably be when we land.)  I also have two weeks to pull together my information about Freiderick Eilers and Ida Berg to discuss with regional expert on cruise to see if they have ideas about how to find this guy.

What have I been doing?

What I haven’t been doing is thinking about certification!

I have been working almost every non-gainful employment hour on the genealogy conference in Illinois:

  • finalizing the program
  • getting the speaker bios/pics together
  • working on the tours
  • organizing a picnic
  • planning the fun things at the banquet
  • writing the script for the four days (if you ever plan a conference make sure you do one of these!)
  • and building a mobile app for our schedule (got the idea at the NGS conference.  See below for how to access)

Whew!  No wonder.  And this does not describe the “minutia”….building two presentations: “1719 & 1757 tax assessments in Ostfriesland” and “Ostfriesen Genealogy: an Overview.” Both of these I am doing with another person.  Also buying pretzels (who knew that Freeport IL was the pretzel capital of the world!….well, maybe not the world.)  Also, I have been copying handouts for the presentations and finally being nervous that we won’t have enough people and we will lose money!

So, no, I haven’t been thinking about certification.  But, I plan on going on the clock right after the conference.  Really!  Stay tuned!

Oh, did I mention that I am also planning to take a small group on a “study abroad” to Salt Lake City in February.  This will be a combination of coaching, genealogy research and fun.
Oh, did I mention that I am leaving for the conference a few days early so I can do some research on my maternal side in the county where two of my ancestors landed in the 1850’s before moving on to Iowa in the 1870’s.  There is a singular lack of vital records that I can tap into but I am hoping that land records will be of interest.

Happy hunting!  You may not hear from me for two weeks; then again, you might.


What I have done since the last posting:  here is the app:

Surname Saturday: or What is Wientjes all about?

First of all….sorry for the earlier, and incomplete, publication….don’t know what happened.  🙂

There is a website for all genealogy bloggers at  (Check on the link on the sidebar.) Basically the blog “owner,” Thomas MacEntee, keeps a list of all genealogy bloggers.  He is very active with at least one post a day and sometimes two.  He has several activities he runs through his blog besides just listing bloggers; for example, today is Surname Saturday.  The idea is to write something about a surname.  I looked over his lists of “days” and while some would be fun to write about they didn’t seem to be in keeping with certification, until Surname Saturday came up.

My genealogical proof is about my great grandmother Grietje.  She was born in 1854 in Ostfriesland, a small region (about 4 Iowa counties in size) of Germany adjacent to Holland, about the time that families in the area were settling in with the concept of surnames.  Until that time, surnames had been primarily patronymic  except for the wealthy who had true surnames (e.g. my Bode family had their surname since the early 1700’s).  As a consequence, Grietje had some choices and, unfortunately for me, she used them all at some time or another.

Wienenga is the name she used when she was married.  Wientjes was her sister’s birth name and the name she used when she immigrated; Wennenga was also used. As a point of explanation: “-enga” is a common ending in the Ostfriesland area and is generally thought of as “clan of-“, much like O’Connell is of the clan of Connell etc.  However, clan of “Wien” or “Wient” does not make any sense as it is not a name in the Ostfriesland/Holland area.  You can see the problem this caused me as I tried to trace her ancestors.  It was a mess.  That’s why she is a great example of how indirect evidence helped build the case that Grietje Wienenga (as she was married) was the same person as Grietje Wientjes and who was the sister to Eda Wientjes.

I find the hard part about writing genealogical proofs is to make sure I am putting in only the information that proves my case and also making sure it is in the right order.  I am sure if I write enough of them it will get easier, but this one seems to be particularly difficult for a number of reasons:

  1. I gathered the information leading to her identification over a long period of time and it did not (surprise, surprise!) come to me in the order that built the case but rather came in erratically.  Then all of a sudden, there was the answer!  It just took 20 years to get there.
  2. It is complicated by the fact that I had to first find her sister who I didn’t know existed
  3. It was also complicated by the fact that her sister was in her household in the 1870 census but the enumerator so misspelled the name (Mittjus) that I did not recognize it as being the same as Wientjes.  And at that time, I didn’t even know I was looking for a Wientjes!
  4. I could not find her immigration record because of course I was using the “wrong” name.  As soon as I had the “right” name, Wientjes, it was right there.

The pieces that made it work were the naming practices of the children (first male after father’s father, second male after mother’s father, etc.).  I compared the 2nd male and 2nd female children of the woman I thought was the sister and Grietje’s children.  While this would not be conclusive if their names were Jimmy and Johnny, Ostfriesen names are very unusual and both Eda and Grietje had the children of interest named Boyo/Boyd and Grietje/Gertrude. Not very common.  from that I layered on other clues and eventually could identify Eda’s village of origin.  With Eda’s village of origin, I looked for Grietje’s birth….and there she was!  It was a very exciting moment that I remember to this day.  My personal “goose bump moment”.

So think about your name and it’s origins.  Do you have any surname stories to tell?  Why not share them here?

Happy Hunting!


Things I have done since the last post:  reviewed all my certification work to date and marked them up.  Incorporated the edited comments into the Proof document.  I still need to do the Lineage.  Signed up for the 2nd quarter of my class and worked on the newspaper assignment (reading and analyzing 4 weeks of the New Ulm (MN) Weekly Review of 1878.)

Do you have any genealogy resolutions?

First of all, I want to thank each of you for subscribing to this blog.  I am not an “expert” at anything but I have an inquiring mind that leans towards the concept of seeing whether information gathered for other uses can be applied to genealogy.  This sometimes leads to exciting discoveries; and sometimes it does not. I believe that blogging is more about the journey than the destination and that’s why my small attempt at becoming certified seems to be a reasonable topic.  Genealogical content is better left to others in less ephemeral locations/media.

My genealogy resolutions unfortunately look more like a “to do” list:

1.  Have a successful OGSA conference in Rockford IL in August….just 8 short months away!  (I am chair.)

2.  Apply and submit for certification (apply in May, do supplied document in June, submit in, say July)

3.  Attend NGS conference in Cincinnati (would love to meet up with any of you if you are going to attend)

4.  Clean out 25% of my genealogy e-mails (of which I have 1000’s)

5.  File/record the 4″ of “stuff” I have never found a home for.  Some people have transfiles full of paper they need to file.  I do not.  But, that 4″ has been there for about 6 years.

6.  Schedule some event with my husband once a month…a play, a concert, an outdoor festival…something.

That’s it.  What do yours look like?

Happy 2012!


What I have done since the last post:  written up the oral history interview narrative and sent to my friend, written up the class assignment (only to find out it isn’t due until the first part of April!), checked out some of the other blogs about genealogy that are out there.  If you haven’t done that you might want to check out geneablogger.

Part 3: How do you incorporate your data from the computer to the papers you write?

The only right answer is “It depends!”  For me, it depends on what I am writing and who is my audience.

I used to think that making good genealogy reports was only a function of the computer program I bought.  I now think differently.

I had always believed (and still do) that the computer program is for storing evidence about my ancestors and their descendants.   This evidence is the result of the compilation of information that has been analyzed by me and connections/relationships have been identified and recorded.  I used to believe that if I just worked the information cleanly enough then I could “punch a button” and out would come a really good report I could use in all situations.  I was wrong.  The information is sterile; the stories are repetitive….this doesn’t make them bad, but they are just not acceptable in all situations such as the books I write or for the requirements of certification.  I also admit that my requirements have changed over time; I never started doing genealogy because I wanted to write the family book or get certified!

I am now careful about when I use what is “canned” in the computer.

This is what I do:  while I gather the data I try to think of the good “stories” that each person could tell.  Is there anything unusual, such as a very young or old person getting married? …a solo emigration at a young age?  …anything odd about the timing of children (my grandfather was a “1 day baby”….his parents married the day before he was born!  It was a miracle!)?  Or, did they work outside the parish frequently?   Did their parents die when they were young?  All events tell you something about their lives.  Because I am an architect, I also think that our physical environment shapes us, so I ask questions about the land and how it might have influenced decision making.  Lacking our ancestors direct communication, we have only our own analytical abilities to rely upon.  These questions can sometimes be answered by looking very closely at the “public” information provided.

Let me give you an example of information you can gather which is a great story:

  • the Christmas Day Flood in 1717 struck the entire North Sea coast of Holland, Denmark and Germany and affected all families living in it’s path.
  • this is documented in a beautiful map (see below)
  • Also in 1719, to pay for the improvements to the Ostfriesen dike, the officials conducted a tax census and counted households.
  • All my mother’s ancestors were within the flood zone.
  • I have over 80 identified family members who are survivors of this flood

In my computer program, I can create a tag that allows me to link people to the flood and tax census events. But, the repetitiveness of that story for each person is mind numbing and implies that each had the same experience.  If you look closely at the map, one can see that those closer to the dike break had a different experience than those further away and others ended up with a ship in their backyard!  It’s a great story and it’s all on the map or in the census! If I were to use just the computer program’s suggested language it would tell the same story for all but not a true story.

When I wrote books on two of my immigrant families, Bengt Peter Anderson and Ryke Rykena and their families ( I quickly found that I was using the information stored in the database but very little of it was “canned” from the computer, the notable exceptions were the pedigree charts and family group sheets at the end.  Of course, I could have written it differently, but I wanted the books to be for a family audience not the NGS, BCG and not even other genealogists.  I also knew that the more graphic rather than narrative information I could include, the better the book.  This approach would not be suitable for the types of reports needed for BCG.  For certification, the format of these reports is so prescribed, it takes me less time to rewrite then it does to use the “canned” report and modify.  (I admit that because of my internal set up with my MAC, the latter is not even a possibility.)  The writing style is better if “fresh,”  rather than relying on the repetitiveness of a computer.

How do you work?

Happy Hunting!


What I have done since the last post:  Added 500 words to the Dahle lineage report and have the narrative completed.  Now to start the footnoting.  Worked on my class assignment for the Bibliography.  We have to find 15 different sources and annotate them.  I have all but 3 or 4.  All relate to Dahle’s Civil War service and his stint in the hospitals of Washington DC.  Also found some very interesting photos.