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?

BCG Case Study: Movement!

Clock mathAbout five days ago, I started working on my Case Study and I have been steadily working at it since!  Finally, some real progress for.  I wonder if it was because I requested and received an extension of time to my portfolio?  Being “on the clock,” I certainly know that I don’t want to ask for another extension a year from now.1  If that was the motivation–I’ll take it.

I have always liked my BCG Case Study focus.  I am finding it a challenge to get it organized in a way that is very clear and very convincing to the reader. To refresh my memory about writing these proof arguments, I reviewed Tom Jones’s book, Mastering Genealogical Proof.  This became a very good thing to do.  I have taken the Mastering Genealogical Proof class under the tutelage of Karen Stanbury, so I am familiar with the book and have done the exercises.  I learned a lot but this time different topics resonated.

  • Writing a good research question is not as easy as it sounds–at least for me!  I find myself redrafting the question as I write.  Probably not a good attribute. This chapter added some clarity to my writing. (Chapter 2)
  • My comfort with source citations (Chapter 4) has increased but not due to this chapter.  I have gained a new perspective on source citations because of the lectures Dr. Jones gave at the Professional Management Conference in 2015 in Salt Lake City. I need to review those notes and his syllabus again from that conference.  I do “get” the idea that Evidence Explained by ESM is a “style manual” and not a “rule book,” a concept some have difficulty with.
  • I need to spend some time in analyzing my sources–but not too much as I have all original documents.  ( Chapter 5) Also reading some Q articles might help me better understand the amount of analysis of my sources I need to incorporate into my writing.
  • I love tables!  There is not a table I have ever met that I didn’t like!  But, I think I have an overabundance of tables.  🙂 I need to consider what is the best approach for presenting the information  in the best way not resorting to what method I like best, i.e. a table. I suspect I will lose some of the tables and use some of the other tools instead. (Chapter 5)
  • How does one best “close the deal?”  Some proof arguments I read have weak written conclusions–I need to read Q articles by strong writers (Henderson, Bittner, etc.) to analyze what makes a strong proof argument conclusion.  Chapter 6 does a good job answering some of my questions about the issue of conflicting evidence and my Case Study.
  • And when I get to the “Nirvana Point”–the time when I feel I am 90% done with the paper, I want to remember to review the 11 questions in chapter 8 about my genealogical conclusion.  I want to be able to answer “yes” to every one.

The NGSQ Study Group is meeting next Tuesday morning and I plan on being on the call.  I learn much from the collective wisdom of the group and certainly will be especially watchful of the items noted above.  I can then improve my Case Study, which I have been working on so diligently for the past five days.

Happy Hunting!


What I have been doing since my last post:  I have been working on my Case Study.  Woo hoo!  In addition, I have presented to the Eastside GS and Skagit Valley GS.  Both were great fun. Upcoming is Seattle GS and British Columbia GS.  I have put together a presentation on “Insanity in the 19th Century: One Family’s Story.” But, so far no one wants to hear it–yet i constantly have people who tell me that some relative of theirs was in an insane asylum in the 1800s or early 1900s.  Do you know someone who wants to hear it?  I will be working on the SGS newsletter this coming week and printing the Spring Seminar Syllabus. I approached Seattle Public Library to teach some genealogy classes.

1The photo was taken by me on 11 April 2015 at the University of Washington, School of Medicine, 750 Mercer, Seattle, Washington in the CERID lab.

GPS Element #5: Writing your conclusions

typewriterThis is the third of a series of articles about the Genealogical Proof Standard. [1]  The elements are not being published in numerical order, primarily because I had presentations to make on some of the elements, and I completed those first.  You can read about GPS #1 (thorough search), GPS #2 (source citations)  and  GPS #3 (analysis and correlation), by clicking on the links.  I haven’t yet published GPS #4 (resolving conflicting evidence).

My ProGen class is in its second month of writing their proof arguments. Proof arguments are the basis of the BCG case study and components of the Kinship Determination Project, both requirements for certification.  Proof arguments are a type of genealogical writing that describes, in a scholarly way, our findings to a question.

I won’t dwell on the definition of a proof argument, you can find explanations and examples in a variety of places, including the BCG website ( Almost every article in the National Genealogical Society Quarterly is a proof argument.

As our class discussed their first drafts, I started to see some trends in my writing as well as that of my cohort. These observations may reflect a single paper or sometimes the issue is systemic.  One thing remains clear–these are my personal comments.  Each of the items below is composed of 1.) what I see/experience, 2.) any documentation or analysis which clarifies the issue and finally 3.) a statement of how I plan to approach the issue in my own writing.  What you select to incorporate into your proof arguments is a personal decision; your choice may be different than mine.

I pause here for a minute to thank Karen Stanbury, my facilitator for Mastering Genealogical Proof (MGP) by Tom Jones.[2] She made the course, taken in late 2013, rigorous and demanding. I utilize daily the information contained in that book and emphasized by Karen. I know that some facilitators were not as rigorous as Karen and that is their loss.

1. Research Question:  The crafting of the research question seems easy at first and then reveals itself to be surprisingly difficult. At times I was struggling with defining exactly what I was trying to “prove.”  Did I want to answer when Mary was born, or her location of birth or who were her parents?  In the end, for this assignment, I decided to focus on the parents because I had the evidence to support that question.
Analysis:  The research question is composed of two parts: a clearly defined and unique individual and a measurable interrogatory. To identify an individual who is “unique in the world,” you must supply enough known descriptors that there is only one person who could satisfy those requirements.  The interrogatory may be relationship (e.g. who are the parents of…), or an identity (e.g. Which Alonzo Fedpussle paying taxes in Whichamacallit County in 1879, was the son of Alphonso Fedpussle?) or an activity (e.g. What military service, if any, did Alonzo Fedpussle, born in 1847 in Whichamacallit County, provide in the Civil War?)  The interrogatory also needs to be measurable.  A question such as “who is John Smith?” fails on two counts.  John Smith is not unique in the world but, in addition, the interrogatory “Who was…” is not measurable; said a different way, how would you know if or when the question of “who was John Smith” had been answered?
How I plan to approach it:  I believe that I understand the concept of the unique individual but I will continue to work on the crafting of the good question.  I am hopeful that writing more PAs will result in more efficient writing.  Reading more articles will help as well.  I struggle most with research questions that are implied in the writing but not specifically stated.

2. Organization: The organization of the writing is very challenging. It’s not that I cannot organize the writing, but rather I have trouble picking the best organization for the question, the evidence and the reader.
Analysis:  I am not sure I see too much written about this.  In MGP Dr. Jones describes how the work must have a beginning, a middle and the end (I work with several people who always start conversations “in the middle.” Irritating, isn’t it?)  I think this is harder for some people than others.  Dr. Jones discusses various constructs for the argument, including single hypothesis, alternative hypotheses, building blocks and syllogisms [3]
How I plan to approach it:  My articles usually use one of these techniques as the prime organizing methodology and then within that structure some or all of the others will be utilized.  It sounds like I know what I am doing but it is still hard to pick the right structure for the evidence you have.  I’ll probably blog about this more later.

3. Inclusion/Exclusion: We want to include all we know. We worked so hard to get all that information and just because it doesn’t support the research question doesn’t mean we should eliminate it, does it? Well, yes, it does. The focus of the writing should be on the research question and all other material which does not support the thesis should be deleted. On the flip side and equally as “wrong” as too much information, is making the paper so “bare bones” that the author forces the reader to make assumptions and “leaps of faith.”  A third type of problem with writing of proof arguments is where the author writes something which “begs the question.”  In the latter, the reader is busy wondering why something wasn’t covered; just the inclusion of a brief discussion would have eliminated the alternative focus by the reader.
Analysis:  Inclusion of other information which does not directly support the question, leads the reader away from the prime focus; the author appears to have wandered off topic. The reader should also not be making assumptions because the writer has failed to include necessary evidence.  This type of writing leaves the reader with questions which interrupt the flow of the reading.
How I plan to approach it:  I actually have the problem of putting in too little information and making leaps of faith, under the guise of “isn’t it self-evident?” My writing improves if I have the opportunity to let it sit for a while before rereading.  I also write the paper and then outline it after the first draft.  I find outlining helps identify errant bits of evidence which do not support the question, but notice — I outline after I have written the draft.  If I have difficulty outlining the paper, the area of writing which needs improvement is immediately identified.

4. Proof Argument/Research Plan?: Some in the class wrote the argument as if it were a research plan. This sometimes looked more like a listing of sources which supported the query.  The author would include all the evidence in a source list/discussion but never pull it together and correlate by contrasting and comparing.  They told the story but seemed more interested in the sources than the proof.
Analysis:  The eleven points of MGP continue to guide us in the writing but everyone needs to improve on this. [4]
How I plan to approach it:  I will continue to read NGSQ and study other articles.  I admit I was amazed how much I had learned in the past two years by reading and rereading these articles.  I am a much better consumer of peer reviewed articles than I was before–it’s a bit scarey!

5. Analysis of sources: Am I the only one who doesn’t want to read about whether that will was original or derivative or the information was primary, secondary or undetermined?  The inclusion of source analysis after source analysis which is not additive to the argument makes for difficult reading.  The author has the responsibility to provide informative citations which tell the reader the viability of the source that was used; it is not necessary to do the analysis in such a visible way.  For all the analysis, the evidence could still be wrong.
Analysis: These citations should make obvious whether the author was looking at an original, derivative or authored work; using primary, secondary or undetermined information and providing direct, indirect or negative evidence.  Only when two sources conflict is it reasonable–it seems to me– to expect the author to discuss the quality of the source and then draw a conclusion.   The inclusion of that analysis can happen in one of three places– in the body of the proof, in the footnote of the proof and outside of the paper altogether. Authors who analyze every source and include their analysis in the narrative, make for difficult reading. Note the fifth bullet of the 11 in MGP, “We discuss sources to a lesser extent, because most information about sources belongs in the citations and footnotes.” [5]
How I plan on approach it:  I leave out most and sometime all references to the categories of my source, information and evidence.  I have a tendency to write about the analysis of the source only when it is in conflict, i.e. does the source analysis make one answer more appropriate than another?

6. Style of writing: Some authors wrote a portion of their article in a very familiar style- first person, present tense.
Analysis: The third bullet of the 11 points in MGP states “present-tense verbs refer to extant sources and living people….(consequently, much genealogical writing is in the past tense.) and the tenth bullet “the tone of a proof argument or summary is that of a “defense” in the academic sense.” [6]
How I plan to to approach it:  I have little difficulty using past tense fairly consistently in my writing but occasionally, a present tense verb sneaks in.  I just have to be aware of the issue and address it at the time of writing.  Generally, my writing is rather academic (read: dry) so the use of the first person does not often enter my writing.

So this was, and continues to be, a great exercise. I have written a few proof arguments now and although I cannot say I am comfortable, the efficiency of writing is better and my initial output is stronger.

Happy hunting!


What I have done since the last posting: commented on my classmates proof arguments; got the SGS newsletter out to our membership; campaigned to have our society join FGS; purchased, received and deeply skimmed Applied Genealogy by Eugene A. Stratton and Genealogical Evidence by Noel Stevenson. Both are older books but are still the go-to reference for genealogy fundamentals. Also read the ProGen assignment for next month and 4 NGSQ articles (one is related to my BCG case study, one was written by a friend, one is the Q study article for March and one is about a special schedule of the 1880 census where a great grand uncle was enumerated as he was labeled insane. More about this later—I am doing some deep research on the topic of incarceration in an insane asylum in the late 1800’s.)

[1] Board for Certification of Genealogists, Genealogy Standards (Nashville: Turner Publishing Company, 2014) p. 1-2.

[2] Thomas W. Jones, Mastering Genealogical Proof (Arlington, VA: National Genealogical Society, 2013).

[3] Ibid, p. 88-89.

[4] Ibid, p. 90.

[5] Ibid.

[6] Ibid.

GPS Element #2: Informative citations

This is the second in the series that looks at each of the five elements of the Genealogical Proof Standard.  The first posting was GPS Element #1: Thorough Search

In the mid 1980’s, I was recording my genealogical sources in numerical order in Access on a “sewing machine” portable computer. I used that number to link the source with the data–all on paper, of course.  I had generated a Master Source List–not a citation list– but at least I knew where I got the information and I knew what I was missing.  (I still have that initial list of 38 sources!)

Fast forward to February of 2002… I was bored with writing an assignment in my final year of my master’s degree program.  I decided to “take a break” and determine if genealogy software programs could handle source citations better than my attempts 15 years earlier. My immediate goal was a momentary diversion from a tedious paper.  My long term objective was to restart my genealogy journey that I had stopped about 10 years before.  That night I purchased The Master Genealogist (TMG) software and almost didn’t get the class assignment completed!

Why was I so focused on citing my sources?  Early in my genealogy career, I understood that genealogy was original research–no different than the paper I was writing for my class.  If one approached family history as a scientific endeavor then weren’t the parallels obvious?

My thought process has evolved (matured?) since the early 2000’s.  Originally, I cited my sources to allow finding the original document quickly (How does one catalog all the ephemeral one collects as a Genealogist?).  Now I see that criteria was too narrow of a perspective.  Thomas W. Jones, in his book Mastering Genealogical Proof, instructs us that proper citations reveal whether we have:

  1. accomplished “a reasonably exhaustive search” (scope)
  2. utilized “the least error-prone sources available” (quality) and
  3. document the research question (linkage) [1]

Two sources help us with the development of strong citations.  The present “gold standard” for a citation style manual for genealogists is Elizabeth Shown Mills’ book, Evidence Explained: Citing History Sources from Artifacts to Cyberspace (EE). [2]  Mastering Genealogical Proof by Thomas W. Jones illustrates the principles of citation building so they can be built with a reasonable accuracy even without a style manual.  The combination of understanding the fundamentals and having templates to assist has given me a greater confidence in the creation of my own citations.

For “fun,” let’s compare four citations from Tom Jones’s article “Logic Reveals the Parents of Philip Pritchett of Virginia and Kentucky” [3] with the EE citation templates.  Since National Genealogical Society Quarterly, the journal which published the Jone’s article, follows EE as a standard, one should expect them to be similar in composition with only some variations to respond to the context of the source or the article.  Both Dr. Jones (TJ) and Elizabeth Shown Mills (EE) agreed to allow the use of their material for this blog. [4]  They also read the draft of this posting in advance of publication.  This document embodies their comments. but, as they say, the mistakes are mine.

It should come as no surprise that there is strong consistency between the citations addressing specific sources in the article (TJ) and those of the style manual (EE).  The variations that do occur are often attributable to the context or clarifying inclusions. As Dr. Jones stated in his email, “Context of the source, context of the citation, and context of its reader should all inform the decisions we have to make while crafting a citation. Different contexts will lead to different decisions about what to include and how to format the elements of the citation.” [5]  This is the “art” of citation building.

Bold typography highlights the differences which are then followed by my observations.    I recommend you read the Pritchett article to place the citations in their context and to read about the templates in Evidence Explained.  I have placed the page number below in parentheses following the “TJ” or the “EE” for your convenience.

TJ (29):        1810 U.S. census, Montgomery Co., Ky., p. 377, Philip Pritchet; National Archives and Records Administration (NARA) microfilm publication M252, roll 7.
EE (247):     1810 U.S. census, York County, Maine, town of York, p. 435 (penned), Line 9, Jabez Young; NARA microfilm publication M352, roll 12.


  • The differences are minor in nature. The reader can easily determine if the citation adds to the scope, reveals the quality and documents the question. And, I easily found the entry for Pritchet in the 1810 census.
  • Location: the state name is spelled out and the town name given in EE.  EE includes the method of placing the page number (penned or stamped) and includes the line number of the household on the page.  There are no line numbers on the Montgomery County census digital image listing of the households.  I probably would have counted down to Philip and included the entry number in the citation as a alternative to a line number.
  • There is no page number shown on the original Montgomery County document, but the page number is given as 377 in Ancestry (open image, click on “s” to get source information). [6]
  • Head’s Up!  TJ’s entry was the first entry citing NARA and so he has written the acronym out and placed NARA in parentheses.  EE shows it abbreviated.  Another common abbreviation is FHL for Family History Library, Salt Lake City, Utah.  She discusses this principle on page 73 of Evidence Explained.

TJ (36):         Joan W. Peters, The Tax Man Cometh: Land and Property in Colonial Fauquier County, Virginia: Tax Lists from the Fauquier County Court Clerk’s Loose Papers: 1759-1782 (Westminister, Md.: Willow Bend, 1999), 3.
EE (646):      Joe Nickell, Detecting Forgery: Forensic Investigation of Documents (Lexington: University Press of Kentucky, 1996), 123.


  • The two are the exactly the same form.
  • I puzzle about when and how to indicate the state of the publisher.  For example, see the citation below for Black’s Law Dictionary–should I have included Minnesota?  Is the correct abbreviation Mn.?  See page 72 of Evidence Explained for a short discussion on the usage of postal codes for the abbreviations of states in citations.  It appears that TJ could have used MD for Maryland.  I have a tendency to write out the state name if it is not foretold by the name of the publisher or obvious by the name.  In his email of 31 December, Dr. Jones referred me to the Chicago Manual of Style for a more complete discussion of this topic.  I will blog about my findings in the future.

TJ (32):         Fauquier Co., Deed Book 8:179-81, Butler to Baker (1784); County Court, Warrenton, VA.; Fauquier Co. microfilm 4, Library of Virginia (LVA), Richmond.
EE (489):      Perry County, Alabama, Tract books, 1: unpaginated entries arranged by legal land description; see Township 21 North, Range 8 East, Section 27, “SW Fraction E of Cahaba,” James J. Harrison, 1833; Probate Judge’s Office, Marion.


  • These two citations are much more alike than I initially thought.
  • In the context of the article the need for the inclusion of the state (Virginia) is minimal, as the citation is within a map labeled northern “Virginia Counties and Pritchett Locations.”
  • TJ included both the buyer and the seller.  I like this as I get confused sometimes when I am reading deeds as to the roles of various individuals.

TJ (37):      The Encyclopaedia Britannica, 11th ed. (New York: Encyclopaedia Britannica, 1911), s.v. “next friend.”
EE (694):     World Book Encyclopedia (1998) “John Wesley.”


  • TJ gave us more information than the EE template.  He did not place the edition in parentheses. EE states that either the date or the cardinal edition can be used.
  • TJ included the publisher and the date.
  • TJ used the abbreviation “s.v.”  This was new to me.  Black’s Law Dictionary defines s.v. as sub voce or sub verbo: “under the word: used in references to dictionaries and other works arranged alphabetically.”  [7]

Comparing these citations was a terrific exercise for me.  The importance of evaluating the context of the “source, the citation and reader” and their impact on good citation writing became more obvious to me.  I will continue to improve my “citation discipline” (nit picking?) about the details, but I received comfort in knowing that there is flexibility in the development of a citation within the principles of citation building.  I do feel that I understand citations better for having conducted this comparison.  I also understand that there is not a template for every situation–  I just have to write thousands of them to get really comfortable!  🙂

Ultimately, the writing of a citation is an art and not a straitjacket.

Thanks to Elizabeth Shown Mills and Tom Jones for taking a bit of their time to assist me in the writing of this article.


What I have done since the last posting: I worked very hard this weekend on my Case Study for certification.  It is slow going but coming along.  I would say that I am half way through a good first draft.  It is shorter than some I have seen (you can look at examples of successful portfolios at conferences).  I hope that “elegance” of presentation is more important than “weight”. On the recommendation of Karen Stanbury, my mentor in the MGP class, I decided to read some of the Jacobus Award Winners, given annually for excellence in family history writing.  What surprised me was the I had difficulty getting any of the books from my local or university library.  I recommended to the librarian at the Seattle Public Library that he purchase the complete set of winners.  I registered to attend the NGS conference in Richmond.  I wasn’t going to go but then decided to cancel out of another trip to Richmond in March and substitute this instead.  I will stay with my friend Mary so accommodations are not an issue.  I am getting ready for Salt Lake Institute of Genealogy (SLIG) where I will be taking the Advanced Methodologies course from Dr. Jones and others.  I am excited and hope to do a little research as well.  I am talking to a new client about doing the layout for the memoirs of her father; this seems to be a niche that is a vacuum I can fill.

[1] Thomas W. Jones, Mastering Genealogical Proof (Arlington, Virginia: National Genealogical Society, 2013), 33.

[2] Elizabeth Shown Mills, Evidence Explained: Citing History Sources from Artifacts to Cyberspace (Baltimore: Genealogical Publishing  Company, 2007).

[3]  Thomas W. Jones, “Logic Reveals the Parents of Philip Pritchett of Virginia and Kentucky,” National Genealogical Quarterly, 97 (March 2009), 29-38.

[4] Elizabeth Shown Mills [(e-address for private use)] to Jill Morelli, e-mail, 28 December 2013, “requesting permission for use of EE templates for a blog posting,” digitally filed, Blog file; privately held by Morelli, [(e-address) & street address for private use], Seattle, Washington, 2013; Tom Jones [(e-address for private use)] to Jill Morelli, e-mail, 29 December 2013, “blog on comparison of citations,” digitally filed, Blog file; privately held by Morelli, [(e-address) & street address for private use], Seattle, Washington, 2013.  (note to self:  find out why parentheses are placed around the word “e-address.”)

[5] Tom Jones [(e-address for private use)] to Jill Morelli, e-mail, 31 December 2013, “blog posting comparing article with EE citation templates,” digitally filed, Blog file; privately held by Morelli, [(e-address) & street address for private use], Seattle, Washington, 2013.

[6] 1810 U.S. census, Montgomery Co., Ky., p. 377, entry 9, Philip Pritchet; digital image, ( : accessed 31 December 2013); citing National Archives and Records Administration (NARA) microfilm publication M252, roll 7.

[7] Henry Campbell Black, Black’s Law Dictionary (St. Paul: West Publishing Co., 1968) 1500.

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.

GPS Element 3: Analysis and Correlation

How many sessions at conferences or webinars have you attended where they talk ABOUT the Genealogical Proof Standards (GPS) [1] and its five elements, but then did not show us how to apply each element to a real world problem much less apply it to our own readings and writings?  I have been taking the Mastering Genealogical Proof class based on the book of the same name by Thomas W. Jones [2].  I am finding it very informative (however, I will be the first to admit there are some moments that, for me, were incredibly dry.)

I will address each of the five elements of the GPS in separate blogs and apply each to what i specifically have learned in that chapter.  I hope you will share your findings as well.  Application is the component which is missing in most presentations.  Even if we “know we should know it”–do we really understand how to apply the GPS to our genealogical work?  I will also confess upfront that this has been an evolving awakening on my part.  Once again, I am struck by how much I do not know about qualitative analysis.

Some of you may have been followers of this blog when I wrote my first two blogs on qualitative analysis over two years ago:

Are there tools which can improve our analytical skills?    published on 22 December 2011


Does the concept of thematic networks have a place in the “analytical tool box?”  published 24 December 2011

Dr. Jones does not address the issue of thematic networks in his book, but I still think they have a place.  In the blogs noted above I showed how the creation of a visual “thematic network” can assist in organizing data we obtain from an oral interview which often seems disconnected and haphazard even when using structured questions.  If we ever watch NCIS, or CIS or Rosselli & Isles, visual thematic networks are often pictured…..they are the big walls that have all pertinent crime data collected to date posted on a wall so the crime solvers can see all the myriads of clues in a single visual scan.  The crime solvers start grouping and eliminating suspects and irrelevant information as they assess other information that is more pertinent to solving the crime.  All is posted on the wall–they are correlating the evidence!  Are we so different?  Perhaps if you have a particularly tough “brick wall” you might consider such a wall.

I would like to come up with a new name for this wall; how about, BRICK Wall for “Better Research In Correlation of Kin” Wall!!  🙂

If thematic networks are already in our “analytical toolbox, what other tools does Dr. Jones put into the box?

ANALYSIS: Analysis according to Dr. Jones is the in-depth look at the source.  He analyzes the source, the information it provides and applies the Process Map [3].  What is the quality of that source?  biased?  manipulated?  an index (derivative) or and original?  If an authored work, what standards did the author use in the compilation and conclusion making?  We, too, can analyze the source and the information it contains for its validity.

CORRELATION: Dr. Jones adds narrative discussion, lists, timelines, tables and maps to our toolbox, and then illustrates ways to analyze the information we have to determine if it rises to the level of evidence, either direct or indirect.  These, too, can go into our own analytical tool box.

I had not analyzed my sources with any discipline before engaging in the exercises in the book, except at the most superficial way, as in “Yeah!  They have the microfilms of that parish’s records.”

I didn’t even think about the differenty types of tools to use for correlations: narrative or lists, which I have not consiously done.  I also had not specifically thought of how maps, tables and timelines contribute to my analytical tool box but I use them frequently.   As a visual person, I gravitate towards these tools.  I will normally put information into a table, sometimes even when a narrative would do.

post-it exercise 2So I would like to propose that before we do a Research Plan, perhaps a “BRICK Wall” would be a good place to start.  This would allow us to move information around and put it in the most logical order.  It should be dynamic–as we gain information, it should be posted on the wall.  the earlier we start with such a wall, probably the better; however, we might find ourselves in an intractable position with a problem well into the analysis and this tool might “rescue” us from what seems to be an intractable problem.  The BRICK Wall would also have the advantage of assisting us in the writing of the report as well (We’ll talk about that when we get to GPS Element 5: The Written Conclusion”.)  So if we are having problems with organizing complex data for a proof; such a wall might help.  There are programs out there which create a virtual wall such as Scrivener.

I will be assessing my sources.  I will be think first about which is the best of many tools to use that assist in the correlation of my collected information and evidence. And, I will determine if a BRICK Wall is a good tool to use for my problem before I get too far in the process of conceptualizing the problem.

Happy Hunting!


What I have done since the last posting:  I am working on the next SGS Bulletin, submitted by assignments for both ProGen and MGP, attended an PS-APG meeting on Family Search (check out their Terms and Conditions before you post your information, photos, videos etc. there).  I have not been working on my portfolio, other than indirectly through these classes.  Did some client work that I need to wrap up.  My aunt has yet to do the house plan exercise which I hope she will do soon.  Made very cute Halloween cookies! I have sent to USCIS requests for naturalization papers on my paternal grandfather and Pat’s paternal grandfather.  I got the C number from them ($20) and armed with his file number, made my request (another $20) for the portfolio on my grandfather before the government shut down.  Haven’t heard anything about Pat’s grandfather yet.  Haven’t received the portfolio yet.  Let’s hope this silliness is over soon.

[1] Board for Certification for Genealogists, “The Genealogical Proof Standard,” ( : accessed 13 October 2013).

[2] Thomas W. Jones, Mastering Genealogical Proof, (Arlington, Virginia: National Genealogical Society, 2013) 53.

[3] Elizabeth Shown Mills, “QuickLesson 17: The Evidence Analysis Process Model,” Evidence Explained: Historical Analysis, Citation & Source Usage ( accessed 13 October 2013).

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.