How am I doing in the Mastering Genealogical Proof virtual study group?

It is going well. I am learning a lot which was the point.

As some of you know I signed up for the MGP (as it is called) class and started taking the course in mid August. I think it goes until mid October.

MPG bookWe are systematically working our way through the book, Mastering Genealogical Proof by Tom Jones, and are presently on chapter 3 after spending two weeks on Chapter 2. It is no surprise that we spent more time on Chapter 2 as it is fundamental to the understanding of the Genealogical Proof Standards (GPS).  Chapter 2 covers the Process Map: Sources (original, derivative and authored works), Information (primary, secondary, Indeterminable) and Evidence (direct, indirect).

We also learned how to write a good research question. My first ones were incomplete but markedly improved. For example, here is a progression:
1. Who is Frederick Eilers?
comment: What I am looking for cannot be identified. it also doesn’t differentiate him from a contemporary Frederick Eilers.
2. When did Frederick Eilers die?
comment: This one is at least measurable but I still cannot differentiate him from any other dead F. Eilers.
3. When did Frederick Eilers who married Eda Berg in 1862 at the German Reformed Church located in Freeport, Stephenson County, Illinois, die.
comment: Now that addresses both the issue of vague question and identifies the exact F. Eilers I am trying to determine the death date.

Another concept I didn’t have nailed until I goofed a couple of time was identifying “authored works.” There are TWO aspects that have to be considered to have the source qualify as an authored work:
1. It must use multiple prior sources
2. The author must draw a conclusion or make an interpretation based on their multiple sources

Happy Hunting!


What I have done since the last posting: finished my MGP assignment and participated in a chat; participated in my ProGen Class by commenting on others work and participated in our monthly chat. Went to CO on vacation. Attended the NARA Virtual Genealogical Conference. It was very good and I hope they do it again.


Bloggers Night Out!

The genealogy bloggers met tonight at a bar in a nearby hotel. Thanks, Amanda for organizing  it (via Twitter)!  It was great fun. The community is more varied than you might think.  I met a person who blogs about the Family Jones, another about Hamilton Genealogy Society and yet another blogs about her books on the engagement of grade school and high school students in family history. We had about 10 there at sometime during the night.

Two of the afternoon sessions I attended were the topics of discussion.  Some questioned the conservatism of ESM’s session on copyright and plagiarism.  Some thought she was overly conservative and that bloggers might as well quit if we were to try to live to the standards she espoused.  I didn’t go that far, but she certainly was conservative and perhaps unnecessarily so.

Barbara Vines Little, who rode down the elevator with me as we went Our respective ways for the evening, was the instructor in the last session of the day on proof arguments.  The bloggers thought her presentation did not cover the topic particularly well and left a couple of key concepts to be assumed by the crowd.

Happy Hunting!


Things I have done since the last post: took a walk around the Exhibit areas (I’ll report more on that later.), went to Walgreens and pick up some diet coke (it’s $3.85 in the convention hall), found out that the Zaha Hadid (architect) Art Gallery is very close, learned about the ProGen study Group (I have to look into this).

Blogger’s Night Out!
about 15 showed up; that’s Amanda on the right.

What were the problems with my Case Study?

I think I have reworked my Case Study three times now, each time learning something new about how to write these.  I am using indirect evidence to prove the relationship between two women, my great grandmother and her sister.  This discovery was one that led to the breaking down of a twenty year old brick wall!

Here’s the story (and I promise to be short!):  Grietje immigrated in 1865 at age 16; I couldn’t find an immigration record for her nor her parents. She married in 1869 and shows up twice in the 1870 census.  I had her tracked from that point until her death in 1922.  Death certificate stated her parents were Boyo Wienenga and G. Kriens.  For twenty years I tried to find her village and in 2002 I attended a class on patronymic naming at a conference.  That night after the class, I compared the family names of Grietje and this woman who “hovered” around the family, Eda Eckhoff.  (pure intuition or educated luck?) Using given name naming customs it appeared that Eda Eckhoff was the sister of Grietje.  At that same conference a local expert directed me to an area of Germany called the Rheiderland and specifically the village of Weener or Bunde because that is where the family surname shows up (and yes, Ostfriesland is composed of villages where a single surname may reside for a long while).  I did some research on Eda and found that in the 1920 census the enumerator had entered the birth location  as the village name of Weener for Eda and her family!  I ordered the Weener tape from the LDS library and twenty years after I initially asked the question, I found Eda and Griejte and her twin sister Martje in the parish record! Goose bumps!  Yesterday, I received Eda’s death certificate and it lists the father with a very similar last name as was on Grietje’s death certificate. I also re-reviewed the 1870 census and enumerated with Grietje’s family was a person whose identity I had never determined.  It was Eda, before she was married, but her name was so mangled that no one would have identified it as her without already knowing the alternate spellings of the surname and some of the other clues.

Over the years, I discovered that I had to:

  • become more technically competant about genealogy to solve my personal brick wall
  • “fine tune” my “gut instincts” indicator so I knew which clues to track and which to let alone
  • ask lots of questions of lots of people to more clues
  • re-review documents for clues that I missed when I was perhaps more naive,
  • practice patience and persevere!

But, the question was how to make this into a genealogical proof case study?  What I found I was doing was putting in the many false leads and the wandering paths I had taken into the proof.  While being interesting to me, I was not being efficient with my writing.  I was very enamored with the two census enumerations which were very interesting but just didn’t add to the proof.

So I resaved the document and have been working on it the last few days to get it down to the relevant evidence.  I still struggle a bit as to whether this qualifies under the indirect evidence but I have been pouring over ESM’s classic work on the topic (see below) and am comfortable with the case and the proof process.

But, this, like the discovery of the village of Grietje and Eda, has taken a while to get here and a few wandering paths.

Happy hunting!


What I have done since the last post:  attended class (lecture on newspaper research and very good discussion about our findings after reading a newspaper over a segment of time.  One of the most interesting classes to date.  1 woman looked at pamphlets of the 1600’s!), also turned in my assignment, which will be my work for my friend on Jens T. Dahle.  reworked the case study, again!

Elizabeth Shown Mills, “Working with Historical Evidence: Genealogical Principles and and Standards,” National Genealogical Society Quarterly 87 (September 1999) 165-183.

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.)

When do you have enough information to go from “possible” to “probable”?

I don’t know or it depends or ……

There, got that off my chest!  I have been working on my proof of birth/location of Jens T. Dahle (I did discover I cannot copy/paste a table into this blog.) based on the Genealogical Proof Standard (GPS).

Here is what I have so far:

  • Birth date:  the information about Jens’s birth date is consistent between that which is in the record in the USA and that which is recorded in the Leikanger parish in Norway, i.e. 25 March 1839.  The USA information is obtained from a series of sources (1900 census, 2 contemporary county histories and the Civil War record).  While March 1839 is the common denominator, in the two county histories we have the conflicting dates of 25 March and 5 March.
  • Birth location: all sources in the USA say Norway.  No other record has been found which lists anything other than that.  A Jens Torkelson is born in Liekanger parish, Sogn og Fjordane county, Norway.
  • Immigration/emigration:  Both the date in the 1900 census and the moving out parish record in Norway say 1858.

The question is:  Do I need to do more?  There is one more clue that if resolved would lend credence to the proof.  It is stated in one of the county histories that Jens went to live with an uncle, Halvor Quie in Rice County MN, when he immigrated.  Halvor Quie is found in Rice County. However, when checking with the siblings of his parents, Torkel and Unni, and with his step father, Endre, there are no siblings with the name of Halvor.  Halvor is however, born in 1835 and might instead be a cousin, either first or second.  Halvor also mustered into the same Union Army unit on the same day as Jens.

Or, said another way, what are the chances there is another Jens Torkelson born in March 1839, probably on the 25th and who emigrated from Norway in 1858?  Probably pretty low.  It would be “nailed” however if I found that Halvor was related to my Jens and I knew how.

For a client report, this seems to go beyond what I have been hired to do and so I have decided to just declare this a loose end and point out what I have found out about Halvor.  I expect that someone in the future may look into this more closely.

Your thoughts about “what is enough proof” would be welcomed.

Happy Hunting!


What I have done since the last posting:  analyzed Jens, researched the birth location of Halvor with the very much appreciated help of the Norway listserve, attended two art show/holiday parties with a friend and gone to yoga!  Whew!  You would think I had my holiday shopping done (you would be wrong!).

How do I use the Genealogical Proof Standard (GPS)?

As genealogists we may understand the point of the GPS but not “get” how to use it.  I thought it might be helpful to put down in writing how I use it in the writing of lineages and even data entry.

Think for a minute about some of the dilemma’s you have had in deciding whether you have the “right” John Smith to be able to say it is “your” John Smith.  Contrary to science, to prove some relationship in genealogy relies on a sliding scale of confidence; in genealogy, there is rarely absolute “proof”.  If you have done the DNA testing (y-DNA, mtDNA and/or autosomal), you may be 99% confident or “reasonably certain” that the parents who raised you were also your biological parents.  Without testing, you can only have that level of confidence that the parents who raised you are your biological mother and father.  For example, your confidence level on your father is based on 1.) your mother’s word 2.) consistent circumstances that surround the birth, 3.) an evidence of marriage, etc.  Added together the evidence may add up to “certainty” but not to the level of a scientific-based test.

The words “possible,” “probable” and “certain” are the words advanced by ESM in the NGS Quarterly article ” Working with Historical Evidence,” of September 1999 as the rating scale for genealogy purposes.

An example: a relationship between a child is mentioned in a probate record as the son of the deceased.  What is the level of surety of the relationship in this case?  Not high.  Mothers and fathers called adopted/foster children “son” and “daughter” all the time.  Your surety in this case should be that it is “possible”.  To raise the confidence rating to “probable” or “certain,” you need to obtain more information where you can extract a greater amount of evidence.  If you find consistent information, your confidence level of this relationship grows to “probable” and maybe even “certain”.

Another example: Jens Torkelson Dahle.  I have only one source, a rootsweb entry, that says he was from Leikanger parish in Norway.  Nothing else points to that parish but importantly, nothing points against it either.  The good news:  a Jens Torkelson was born in Leikanger parish at the right time.  So let’s look to guidance from the GPS for what I should do:

  1. Conduct a reasonably exhaustive search:  There are many documents (US based) that state Jens Torkelson Dahle is from Norway but none point to his parish.  County histories (2), military records, naturalization papers, death certificate, census info are mute.  I even wrote an e-mail to the “Jim Larson” who posted the information in 2005 to see if he would respond and I asked my client if she knew Jim.  I came up negative on both.  While there may be other documents out there, I do believe I have done a “reasonably exhaustive search”.
  2. Collect and include a complete citation of each item we use:  (somehow this seems out of place)  I am prepared to do this as soon as I find something I can use, besides Jim Larson’s rootsweb posting!
  3. Analyze and correlate information:  In my experience this analysis is often done using a table.  For example, a comparison of what I know about Jens T. Dahle in the USA can be compared to the information about Jens Torkelson in Norway (birth, immigration etc) and see what the level of correlation is.  It is important to specifically look for items that are in conflict.
  4. Resolve any conflicts:  This may take the form of birth years that differ, etc.
  5. Reach a sound, coherent conclusion that is written cogently.:  While this will remain to be seen, the result of this item is to make sure you do not let the audience draw the conclusion but rather you write the concluding remarks so there is no ambiguity of your intent.  The audience then may disagree with your conclusion or new information could be found that obviate the conclusion later but those events are both tolerated within this approach to “proof”.

None of this should be interpreted to imply that there are no conflicts.  In my reading of the NGS Quarterly, conflicts occur, are researched, analyzed and commented upon.  You might check some of these out for examples.  In that same September Quarterly noted above, there are four articles that are illustrative of different types of genealogical issues.

So, my recommendation is that you analyze each relationship carefully.  We all know that “feeling” we get when we just “know” that the guy we are seeing in the record is “our” guy, but the GPS forces us to put into narrative all the clues we have gathered and to analyze their veracity.   I will, probably in the next post or shortly after, share the table comparing the Jens Torkelson in Leikanger parish to “my” USA Jens Dahle.  Beware!  I may not be able to paste in a table into this reader, so it may not look like much of a table when I am done.  I’ll keep you posted.

Happy Hunting! Your thoughts and comments are always welcomed.  And remember, I will be changing the URL of this blog.  You will probably have to sign up again.


What I have done since the last post:  finished all this quarter’s assignments, talked with a friend of mine to see if I could do an oral history on her father (88) who is visiting this Christmas.  (This is an assignment for the class next quarter.)  Participated in a tour of the genealogical collections at the Seattle Public Library conducted by the head genealogy librarian.

Ever find that getting together with relatives feels like it’s interferring with working with the ancestors?

You may think this post will be about balancing our “grand obsession” with making time for the living family members….it’s not.  We each have to find our own balance and speaking from my personal experience my balance has shifted a  lot over time as i am sure yours has as well.  It is about recognizing an opportunity, assessing its risks and “going for it”.

I had an opportunity this past weekend to meet up with a 5th cousin (maybe, but more about that later) visiting from Denmark.  She was going to be in LA for a week and wanted me to come an meet up with her.  The dilemma is obvious….she found me through a rootsweb posting which showed the possible/probable link to her grandmother.  I had corresponded with her on and off (mostly off) for over a year before she offered to meet.  I thought about whether it was a scam, was I in any danger, could I just fly to LA for lunch?  What if we didn’t hit it off?

As you can guess, we hit it off instantly.  Helle is warm and engaging.  I do not think we stopped talking for 22 hours.  She had brought pictures of her family.  I brought the research I had already done.  The problem was:  there is a 10 year gap in my Danish soldier’s life and during that time he fathered, we think, a child, Anne Kirstine Suhm/Suhmsdotter/Danielsdotter but this has not yet been confirmed.  so, Helle and I may not be related at all!  but at a minimum I found a new friend and had a great day in Disneyland.

She also has a genealogist friend in the northern area of Denmark who she will ask if he will help break down this 10 year gap (it used to be 30 years!) and resolve whether or not Anne Kirstine Danielsdotter, runaway wife (love that!), is the daughter of Daniel Suhm.

The postings through the holidays will be sporadic but I wish you the very best of Thanksgivings.

Happy Hunting!


What I have done since the last post:  gone to Disneyland with my maybe 5th cousin, visited my brother, and worked very hard on my class assignments.  I have read a lot on the Civil War and on health care and prisons of that era.  Chilling but life affirming information.