Does the concept of “thematic networks” have a place in the “analytical toolbox”?

Answer: it might, particularly in analyzing information gathered in oral interviews and perhaps in the structuring of our proofs.

Attride-Stirling, in an article referenced in the previous post and cited below, discussed Thematic Networks as a way of analyzing data.  I thought this approach might give me some insight about how to analyze and ultimately to be a better analyzer of genealogical data.  After reading the article closely, I have come to the conclusion that its most obvious application for genealogists is in the summarization of oral interviews.

Example: you interviewed a series of World War II veterans for an article for your local genealogy society newsletter.

Attride-Stirling’s approach is to organize in “layers” by 1.) basic themes 2.) organizing themes and finally, 3.) global themes.  Using a common analogy, the basic themes might be thought of as observations at the 1000 foot level, the organizing themes as the 20,000 foot level and the global themes as the 50,000 foot level.

Basic themes:  As you read the interviews, code individual comments either by letter or number….1.) Fred’s battle #10, 2.) Fred’s battle #12, 3.) Alan’s R&R in Italy, 4.) Alan’s bombing run #3, 5.) Alan’s bombing run #9, 6.) Fred’s USO experience, etc.  I recommend placing each comment on a separate post-it.

Organizing themes:  Now, take your multiple comments (each on a post-it) and place into clusters or organizing themes (in our example: battles fought, and recreation).  By using post-its, I find that I can move comments around easier as I change my mind.  The post-it idea was not advanced by Attride-Stirling but is a method i have used for quality improvement exercises and works well if, like me, you are a graphic learner.

Global themes:  As you look at your organizing themes you may see some global themes, perhaps as simple as “WWII”.

Obviously, this is a very simple example.  The author states that the strength of this approach is when there are at least four organizing themes but it is also possible to have multiple global themes.

On the 26th I will be conducting an oral interview with the father of a friend who is visiting for Christmas.  I will put the interview results through this process and report back about the applicability of the Thematic Network approach in that relatively simple example.  I hope that it will help with the analysis of the information and the writing of the final report.

There is another possible use for this method.  I believe that it might assist us in separating “chaff” from the substantive arguments in our proofs.  Write the proof, code the basic themes, do the post-it exercise to identify the organizing themes, and see what does not organize itself.  In this exercise, you can start with the global theme and work towards the basic.  The extraneous information that does not support the global or organizing themes either needs to be discarded or needs to be rewritten/refocused to be eligible to be included.

I’ll let you know how it goes.  Tell me what you think.   Am I “pole vaulting over mouse excrement?”

Jennifer Attride-Stirling, “Thematic networks: an analytic tool for qualitative research,” Qualitative Research, vol I (3):385-405. December  2001.

Happy Holidays!


What I have done since the last post:  lots of quality time with the family, skiing and shopping with my daughter.  also, reread Attride-Stirling’s article.


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.

Part 1: How do you keep track of information that does not yet rise to a level of “proof”?

I thought it might be interesting to you to hear how i work with my data and the sequence of thought.

When I do the data gathering, I am continuously entering information into my database; I do not hold information for later entry.  In my personal research I trace all children, their spouses and their children.  If we have a gene in common, I will work the line.  That theory means I do not trace ancestors of people who marry into the family, but I do trace descendants.  Since I have 11K people in my database using the above theory, I am going to stick with it.  I am not interested in “people collecting” as some are.

I use my software program to handle “work in progress”, particularly if I am faced with indirect evidence that is just not conclusive.  I will gather snippets of information and enter it into the database.   Some examples are:  people I think might be related but I need more evidence; people who I think are mine that show up in the US and I didn’t think they immigrated etc. etc.

To keep these types of investigations clear and in front of me when I want them to be, I use a tag system based on scientific inquiry.  I have tags for “Research Hypothesis”, “Research Notes”, “Research Conclusion” and “Research Records Not Found”.  I use the Hypothesis tag if I can imagine a scenario but I just do not have time to do any investigation.  I change the Hypothesis tag to Research Notes and enter what I have done, if I do any work on it and I have not come to a conclusion.  As soon as I have a conclusion….either yes, I hypothesized correctly or no, I didn’t, I change the tag to Research Conclusion and enter my proof.  I keep this tag.  Research Record not Found will continue be used when, for example, I cannot find them in the census after going through the pages the old fashioned way.  That way I do not go looking for it again.

This system has really worked for me.  What system to you use to keep track of work in progress but suspended, or conclusions reached?

Happy Hunting!


what I have done since the last post:  Progress!  I have written 2500 words on the Jens T. Dahle lineage.  I decided the footnote process was getting in the way of a smooth narrative.  So I am writing, based on the information I have.  I will then go back and add footnotes or change what I have written to align with the information I have.  I also got a great book “Civil War Nurse: The Diary and Letters of Hannah Ropes”.  this woman was a true ground breaker in the hospitals of the Civil War and died for her endeavors in 1863.  This might form a backbone of my class project.  I’ll keep you informed.

How can working on a class project also help the BCG certification?

There are many ways to go about the process of doing the 7 components of the application for BCG certification.  As you know I am taking a history course oriented towards genealogy while also working on my certification.  Being basically a lazy person (I like to think of my self as “efficient”) I would like to not do double work while still advancing certification and the class.  Of course, I have to be careful that what I submit for the class I do not also submit to BCG, otherwise, I could have a review by someone of my work that I would then “correct” based on their input.  My understanding is that the review==>corrections process is not allowed.

With that in mind, I have been working on Jens T. Dahle’s Civil War record, which I received yesterday in the mail.  I have only one ancestor (a remote great great uncle) who served in the Civil War so it is particularly fun.  I am tracking his movements (he spent a considerable amount of time in the hospitals in Washington DC) and the battles he did fight in.

Right now I am doing preliminary research identifying sources of information.  Obviously the file I received from NARA is filled with original records, but other information I am gathering from the Internet is derivative.  His Civil War Military file provides me with information, some of it is primary (muster in/out records) and some secondary (Prisoner of War summary document).  After evaluation and an exclusion process, the information leads to conclusions based on evidence, most of which is direct and very relevant for the Client Report.  This is all part of the evaluation process providing proof of his Civil War experience.  If all this sounds like ESM NGS Quarterly article, “Working with Historical Evidence,” you are right.

So, how does this help my class?  BCG requires that the final report be turned in but it does not require any of the intermediate tools you use to get there.  One of our class assignments is a chronology of historical events paired with your ancestor’s action.  I have used chronologies in the past for genealogical purposes and find that they simplify certain kinds of information so it can be better analyzed.  The use of this tool was imperative to understanding the movements of Jens and his regiment over the 3 year period of the time of 1862 to 1865.   I generated a table composed of four columns:  what was happening nationally, what was the regiment doing, what was Jens doing and the date.  This time line, for the purposes of the assignment will have to be condensed (he’s asked for 1 page and I am at four!).

I struggled with the identifying of the focus for the chronology for a while and almost decided on Grietje Wientjes and her immigration.  I would really like to understand her immigration motivation (she left a twin sister behind), but I decided to flow with the information I had rather than having to work for information that might be difficult to get. And, so, I am doing Jens instead.

And, I now know much more about the Civil War than I did two days ago and I am getting familiar with Civil War original sources.

I would be interested in knowing how you have used chronologies in your genealogy work.  Why not leave a comment to this article and let us know.

Happy hunting!


What I have been doing today:  reading through carefully the Civil War record and developing a table to understand the historical context.  I have a couple of people to find in Anna Oline Seim’s lineage and I suspect in a very quick time I will have what I am looking for.

What constitutes “proof”?

Good morning!

I have been working this question for a couple of days as I try to obtain information about Jens T. Dahle (b. 1839, d. 1919) in Norway.  Jens, according to the 1900 census was born March 1839 in Norway and emigrated in 1858, ending up in MN.  But where in Norway?  I found his wife very quickly.  He remained elusive.  I could not find him in the Castle Gardens passenger manifests, so I am taking an enumerator’s “word” for the birth month and year and his year of immigration.  I did look at for others that might have posted information about Dahle and found that Jim Larson had posted information that placed him in Leikanger parish (on a deep fjord on the west coast of Norway).  Jim had given a source for the birth but there was no comment about how he knew it was “his” Jens.

Genealogy proof often relies on indirect evidence….the accumulation of consistent evidence from a wide range of sources which makes it difficult to believe that there would be someone else with that set of same facts.  Such was the case for Jens.

In Norway, people had a patronymic name but also had a farm name… “Jens” was a given name, “Dahle” is a farm name and probably the “T.” represented a patronymic name or that of his father.  Jim L. reported that the patronymic name was “Torkelson” for his father, Torkel.  So now I needed to if there was a Jens, born in March of 1839 with a father of Torkel in the Leikanger parish records.  Sure enough, a Jens was born 25 March 1839 in Leikanger parish, the same date that the Findagrave website recorded.  Now, the question was, “Did Jens Torkelson emigrate in 1858?”  Sure enough, Jens Torkelson emigrated from the parish to North America in April of 1858 with a small group of others.

Is that enough?

It would be great if I could state that I found Jens Torkelson in the passenger manifests but to date I haven’t been able to find him.  Perhaps I will if I keep looking, especially since I suspect he traveled with the others.  I might be able to find the others and find that the record/search engine transcription is grossly misspelled, not an uncommon event.

So, do I think that this is enough “proof” even if I cannot find the immigration record?  What we have:

  • an consistency on birth date, day, month and year
  • an consistency on emigration year, which is early for emigration from this area
  • a consistency of name with traditional naming practices
  • what we do not have: Jens did not name his children using the traditional Norwegian naming pattern for given names (i.e. first male child named after father’s father, etc.)

My conclusion is that Jim Larson got it right because the number of Jens T.’s that would emigrate from Norway at 19 years of age in 1858 would be relatively small.

I suspect that more information will reveal itself over time and will either confirm or deny this conclusion.  It will be important that I outline this in the report to the client so she is aware that there is a chance, ever decreasing that I found the wrong one.

Happy hunting!


What I have done since the last post:  worked on the research of Jens T. Dahle in the US and finding him in the Norwegian Digitalarkivet, an on line data base of digital images of original parish records of Norway (and it’s free!).  It’s fun to do the research after writing papers about what I have found for the past couple of weeks.

What were some books that I bought?

I found in the process of educating myself about the process of application that I did not have enough good examples of reports required, particularly the lineage reports.  I also saw some consistent recommendations for books in the videos that I reviewed so I decided to go ahead and purchase some items for my library.  Today’s blog will be a short review of those books I bought or had in my library that have proven their worth.

Evidence! Citation & Analysis for the Family Historian:  (ESM) I really like the approach she took with this and my citations follow this book very closely.  If there is a downfall, it is that there are not enough on-line citations for the variety of documents now found there.  She makes up for that with her Quicksheet

Quicksheet; Citing online Historical Resources:  (ESM) I really like this one also but I found that she shifted away from putting the name of the person of interest first (what I liked about Evidence!) and instead embedded the name further in the document.

Evidence Explained! (ESM) A big expensive book.  I use the previous two for my citations but I like the narrative in the beginning about proof, what constitutes proof and how to make those decisions.  I don’t know that I would buy this book now, but others find it invaluable.

The BCG Genealogical Standards Manual:  (BCG) After my first glance at the book, I thought about sending it back.  Subsequent to that, it’s become a “go-to” book and all I can say is “What was I thinking!?”  It has been a very good resource especially the examples of the reports. I found the narrative in the front repetitive of the FHL video by Tom Jones.

Professional Genealogy:  (ESM) I think I could have done without this one as well, since I have no intention of becoming a PG.  On the other hand it has some good examples, and ESM is always an easy writer to read…..and besides that my friend from many years ago, Birdie Monk Holsclaw, wrote one of the chapters.

The Researcher’s Guide to American Genealogy:  (Val Greenwood) Haven’t delved into this one much.  I think it may of been more use to me a few years ago….explaining the different land & probate transactions but then again…I may have gotten them wrong.

In summary, I would suggest that there are some minimal books you need to have in your library but what works for me might not work for you.  Check out your public library (I should be wearing a black arm band, our public library is closed this week due to budget cuts!) and see what they might have for you first or prevail upon a friend who has purchased the book to see if it would be of any interest to you.

I probably need to purchase some subscriptions but haven’t explored enough to know which ones.  Stay tuned!  I’ll let you know what I find out.

Happy Hunting!


What I worked on yesterday:  The lineage report.  I wrote about 1 page last night.  I find I have the sources but decided to re-review every source to glean out all the information for the report.  I am still working on the person of interest but have now covered her genealogy summary and her life story up to 1900.  It is slow going.

ESM is Elizabeth Shown Mills.