See “Evidence Management” for an overview and links to other articles in this series.
Evidence management is hard to understand from just the diagram (below). Let me give a concrete example of how evidence management should work.
At the NGS conference David Rencher and a team from FamilySearch did a demonstration on real-time collaboration. (It was that session that got me thinking about how close genealogy software is getting to good evidence management. But I digress…) I’m going to borrow sources from their scenario for my example of evidence management.
Sources are the red boxes in the diagram above. A red box contains a citation, a transcript and/or digital image, and sometimes a link to an online source. Of course, a red box only represents a real-world source: a document, a page in a book, an artifact, or a person.
PAF users beware: These are not the definitions of source and citation used by PAF. Instead, go back to your high school and college definitions. A source—or its original—is something or someone you can touch. A citation is something you read that tells where to find the source.
For our example, let’s consider a source document from Rencher’s presentation. The document is the administrators’ final statement in the probate file of Peyton C Clements (shown to the right).
The citation given is
Peyton C. Clements probate file no. 1952, final statement, Greene County Clerk’s Office, Eutaw, Alabama.
Green Box: Evidence
Evidence summaries are the green boxes in the diagram above. From the information in a document, pick out evidence about the subject and key it into the summary.
|Summary name:||Peyton Clements probate|
|Subject:||Angeline née Clements Goldsmith (Link)|
|Source:||Peyton C. Clements probate file … Link||Image of original|
|Created date:||November 25th AD 1873||Primary information|
|Created by:||W N Clements |
W S Goss
Adm’rs, P. C. Clements
|Name:||Angelina||Angelina née Clements Goldsmith?|
|Age:||Over 21 years||Primary information|
|Residence:||Lowndes County, Ala.||Primary information|
|Residence date:||November 25th AD 1873||Primary information|
|Husband:||W. H. Goldsmith||Primary information|
|Principal:||Peyton C Clements||Father?|
Enter the evidence exactly as it appears in the document. Enter only evidence that addresses the subject.
(Whether keyed that way or not, conceptually we are dealing with evidence applicable to the subject. You’ll see why later. For proficient genealogists, the subject may be a research objective rather than an individual.)
Enter notes about the evidences to aid your analyses, as shown in the final column, above.
Give each summary a name to identify it in lists and reports.
Notice in the diagram that each green box has a link going to the left and a link going to the right. These correspond with the two links in the example above.
Purple Box: A Conclusion
Evidence management aids reaching conclusions. A purple box links to evidences pertinent to that conclusion. The purple box prompts the user to analyze each piece of evidences. It captures the conclusion and invites the user to provide sound, coherently written reasoning.
For an example, consider the purple box for the birth date of our example subject, Angeline née Clements Goldsmith:
|Summary Name||Asser-tion||Evidence||Notes||Created Date||Link||Analysis|
|Automatically Selected Evidence|
|1850 Census Peyton C Clements||Age||2||Image copy of federal copy||1850||Source||The earliest record; at just two years of age, it is highly likely that the 1850 census correctly implies 1848.|
|1860 Census P C Clements||Age||12||Image copy of federal copy||1860||Source||Next earliest records agrees with 1848|
|1870 Census P C Clements Jr.||Age||18||Image copy of federal copy||1870||Source||New orphans with all birth dates wrong suggests a 3rd party supplied the data|
|Peyton Clements probate finalized||Age||Over 21 years||Image of original. Primary information||25 Nov 1873||Source||1848 and 1850 are consistent with father’s probate record|
|1880 Census W H Goldsmith||Age||25||Image copy of federal copy||1880||Source||Census ages ending with 0 or 5 are suspect|
|Death certificate A J Goldsmith||Birth date||5 Feb 1850||Image copy of original. Secondary information||1939||Source||There is no reason to doubt 5 February even though the 1850 is not possible according to the 1850 census|
|Gravestone A J Goldsmith||Birth date||1850||Secondary||1939||Source||Likely same informant as death certificate|
|Manually Selected Evidence|
|Marriage W H Goldsmith||Marr-iage Date||15 Jan 1873||Explicit||1873||Source||Birth from 1843-1858 is likely.|
|1850 Census Peyton C Clements||Sibling||Eleanor||Age 1||1850||Source||To have a 1 yr old younger sibling in 1850, Angeline must have been born in 1848.|
|Conclusion for Birth date:||5 February 1848|
|Reasoning:||It is clear that the earliest records have the correct birth year. While there is no collaborating evidence for the day and month, there is currently no reason to doubt it.|
Let me make note of several particulars:
- A major purpose of a purple box is to gather in one place all the evidence upon which a conclusion is based. The software could be intelligent enough to automatically select all the evidence about the subject’s birth date or other assertion. (I prefer the word assertion over other terms such as event or fact.) The software should allow manual selection of other relevant evidence.
- Now do you see why evidence must be keyed in exactly as it appears in the source? Wait until the purple box before you start making assumptions or drawing conclusions.
- Notice the format leads the user to explain conflicting evidence.
- Notice in this example that the conclusion is different from any of the individual evidences. It is not sufficient just to pick one as the preferred value.
- The diagram indicates that purple boxes are supposed to link to green boxes, not red boxes. But since real world software doesn’t provide evidence summaries, I linked to sources in the above example.
Blue Box: Individuals
Conclusions roll into the assertions shown about individuals. Entering or changing a birth date or other assertion would bring up the conclusion box, leading users to enter sources and evidence summaries. Complete evidence management would take hardly more effort than is currently required without it.
Come on, genealogy companies! You guys can do this.
I’ve provided the briefest sketch of what evidence management could look like and accomplish. What do you think? What would you change or add to better implement the Genealogical Proof Standard? Assume the big genealogy companies are watching. This is your big chance to shape the future. Leave a comment by clicking the link below.
Next week I’ll talk about how astonishingly close Ancestry.com, FamilySearch, and Footnote.com are to getting evidence management. And I’ll talk about what they lack. But I’m talking the remainder of this week to work on some awesome stuff from my Grandmother that Ancestry.com digitized for me (for free!) at the NGS Conference. Love you, Grandma!