My name is Kathleen, and I have been researching my family history since I was a child. I love to go into county courthouses and smell the old books and paper... or is it dust? This blog will focus on the stories I've heard over the years and the research methods I follow. I am particularly interested in data management and cloud genealogy.

Some of my personal areas of interest include Southern Maryland and DC (Robie, Rhodes, Grimes, Lindsey), NY state (Hill, Cookingham, Flynn, Rhodes, Skinner, Wheeler, Mead, Havens, Trotter), NJ (Parcell), North Carolina and Eastern TN (Lynch, Seabolt, Spears), MO (Wilcox, Kiddell), and CA (Simi, Grady)

I am always happy to compare notes or share my experiences, so please leave a comment!

Saturday, July 21, 2012

Using the GRS to record evidence, assertions and proofs

I'm assuming that anyone reading this is already familiar with the work of Elizabeth Shown Mills, and especially her gold-standard reference work on analyzing and citing evidence: Evidence Explained.  If you are not, drop everything and read it!  She is one of the most respected scholars in the field of history and genealogy, and has worked for many years to raise the standards of research in genealogy to match or surpass those in any other academic field of study.  

The Genealogical Research System of templates for Bento is a tool that helps you enter your research data in a manner consistent with the requirements that we track the quality of our data and not just the quantity.  It also provides a framework for analysis -- it won't do the work for you, of course, but it does  provide the outline, and that will often make the difference between doing the work and skipping it.

Like everything else in the GRS, evidence analysis is designed to be accomplished in stages.  The first step comes when you are entering basic information about your source in the Sources library.  Data reliability rests heavily on the type of sources you use, so it is important to record information about the physical nature and quality of the source in the "source evaluation" form:

    1. Choose from a list describing the type of media you are consulting, whether it is a book, document, digital image, and so on.  
    2. Describe the type of source you are examining, whether it is the original form of a document, original index, official copy, transcript, abstract, index, etc.
    3. Describe the category of information provided by this source, such as newspapers, wills, land records, burials, etc.
    4. In the notes field, include any other thoughts you have about this source: physical condition, legibility, missing pages -- anything that may affect its reliability.

    When you are ready to enter all the evidence from a source into the Evidence library, you will be asked to record additional information about each separate piece of evidence it contains -- keeping in mind that you may repeat this exercise for many different pieces of evidence from the same source:

    1. Check the box marked "direct evidence" if this evidence provides a specific statement that answers a research question.  In the example shown above, the source (a daybook written by the brother of an ancestor) directly stated that Rachel Grimes died on 18 June 1852; an indirect piece of evidence might have been a simple note that he went out to buy mourning clothes.
    2. Check the box marked "primary informant" if this evidence is from a source that had first hand knowledge of the event.  In this case, I assume that Thomas Grimes knew for a fact that his niece had died, because of their relationship and physical proximity.  I would not have checked the box if he had written that a Mr. Lindsey had told him about the death of a mutual acquaintance in Kentucky.
    3. Check the box marked "original source" only if you are using a source closest to the original as possible.  In other words, do your research and make sure that the source you are using is the one closest to the original.  I've embedded the Sources library as a related data field at this point, so information about the source you used is readily at hand. Obviously if you looked at an abstract or compiled data of some sort, this will remind you to seek out and review the original. (Following Dr. Mills' guidelines, I consider a digital image of a document from a reliable online provider to be equivalent to an original source, but rely on the notes that you make when you are looking at the source when deciding whether to check this box.)
    4. Discuss the nature of the source and your conclusions in the text fields.

    The Assertions & Proofs library contains a further step in the process of analyzing your data.  In this library, you identify a research question, and assemble the evidence that you have gathered.

    What this template does is give you a framework for looking at a particular research question, and seeing the arguments for and against your hypothesis together in one place.  This way, you can keep tabs on the current status of your research at any given time.

    Of course, all this works only if you think of these templates as an active part of your research process and not just a place to store your data..... but I'll write more about that another day.

    Monday, July 16, 2012

    Related Data fields in Bento

    I want to write a bit about how Bento works, and how I use the Genealogical Research System templates in my research.  Today, I'm focusing on related data fields:  in my opinion, this is the main reason Bento is such a useful program for my genealogy research (...that is, until the day comes when genealogy software developers realize that users want family tree programs to accommodate serious research, and not just to fill out pretty charts.)

    Bento is a semi-relational database because records in one library contain pointers to related records in a different library -- and stop there.  A true relational database, however, is a much more sophisticated program that automatically links related data.  It joins two libraries by comparing a key field and generating a new data set from records that meet some predefined criteria.  Bento cannot do this;  instead, links to related data are created through look-up tables, which give Bento most of the functionality of a relational database except that the burden is on the user to maneuver through the data on their own.

    In the example below, from the entry for Dickerson Naylor in my Genealogy_people library, Bento won't automatically remember that he is linked to the listed pieces of evidence (nor will it automatically remember the sources from which they were extracted).  I have to physically move my cursor to the library containing the related information, using the icons located on the lower left below every related data table:

    Once you figure out how to move around from one library to the related records in other libraries, then the fun begins and you can start using the data interactively.

    For example, say you are entering data in your Evidence library and you want to link it to specific individuals.  You go to the related data table called "evidence related to whom" (linked to the Genealogy_people library), and select the appropriate person from that table.  Looking at that person's entry in the Genealogy_people Library, you might realize that this individual is also linked to an entry in the Correspondence library.  That record describes a letter you received two years ago containing information that was meaningless at the time but now makes sense in light of the present piece of evidence.  Without a system for recording related data, you might never make the connection between a new piece of data and a snippet of information filed away in a letter.

    By linking your data in one library to the related records in other libraries, you can keep track of how much you know about all the data points you are following at any given time -- and this is what the Genealogical Research System was designed to do.

    Related data tables in each of the libraries in the Genealogical Research System

    Sources library:                                                      Repositories library:
    Repository                                                              Sources                     
    Online Database                                                    To Do List                                             
    To Do List                                                               Online Database library:
    Evidence library:
    Sources                                                                    Genealogy_People library:
    Hardcopy Lookup                                                 Evidence
    Genealogy_People                                                To Do List
    To Do List                                                               Correspondence
    Assertions                                                               Genealogy_Photos
    Assertions & Proof library:                                  all Census years
    To Do List                                                              Correspondence library:
                                                                                     To Do List
    To Do List library:
    Sources                                                                   Genealogy_Photos library:
    Evidence                                                                Genealogy_People
    Assertions                                                              To Do List
    Repository                                                             Genealogy_Artifacts:
    Online Database                                                   Genealogy_People
    Genealogy_Artifacts                                           To Do List

    all US Census libraries:
    To Do List

    *The Evidence library does not contain reciprocal related data tables for the US Census libraries because there are so many of them.  I just make sure that any census evidence I add includes the relevant year and head of household, so I can easily look it up in the US census library.

    Thursday, July 12, 2012

    New updates to the Genealogical Research System are available!

    The new templates for my Genealogical Research System are now posted on the FileMaker template exchange.  I will give you point by point details soon on what's included in the updates, so stay tuned.  In the meantime, here's the short answer:

    • the U.S. Census templates are now included as an integral part of the GRS so there's no need to download them as a separate template; 
    • I've added a Library for Proofs; and 
    • I've included more related tables.
    The whole idea behind the GRS is to support every stage of the research process, from data gathering to analysis, using the Genealogical Proof Standard as a constant guide.  As you might have seen from the first version, the emphasis in the Source library is on data gathering.  Then, in the Evidence library, you move to extracting and recording meaningful information from your sources, linking this data to relevant people or tasks.  In this version, I've added an Assertions & Proof Arguments library, in which you identify a research question and gather together all the relevant pieces of evidence both pro and con.  Once this is assembled, you have all the tools together in one place to write a proof argument.

    I make extensive use of Bento's Related Data feature, which allows you to easily add data and move between related records in different libraries.  By moving through your data in a non-linear fashion and examining it through different lenses, you understand it more thoroughly, and often make logical connections that are missed in a straightforward linear record-keeping structure.  The research process itself is iterative, so your research tool should accommodate a flexible, back-and-forth model of recording data.

    In fact, that is the key element of a useful research tool: you should be able to record data or perform tasks as they become relevant, from multiple places in your database.  This obviously makes your work more intuitive and seamless, since you don't have to stop what you are doing, close down a page, and start something new.  The related table feature in Bento allows you to do this; here are some quick examples:

    • You are at a courthouse, examining several wills, each of which offers several different pieces of evidence.  Add the source and do a "quick add" to the Evidence library right from the source page.  Later you go back to fill in the details.
    • While entering information in the Evidence library, you are struck by a common theme in your data; you can enter it as a formal assertion directly from the evidence screen, and analyze it later in the Assertions library.
    • You can add items to your To Do List library from almost everywhere in the system; if you are anything like me, you are always thinking of the next step while you are still in the middle of doing the first thing!
    The point is that the process is organic, and not linear.

    One caution -- if you've been using the earlier version of my templates, make sure to save your data before importing to the new templates.  I tried not to change field names, but there were a few unavoidable changes -- best practice is to always save your data before trying anything new!

    Tuesday, July 3, 2012

    details, details.....

    A genealogist is nothing if not detail oriented!  That is a wonderful thing when you are researching, because you follow every lead and painstakingly gather every scrap of information, even if it is not immediately relevant.  You know that those seemingly random bits of data often end up as key pieces of the puzzle.

    However those qualities that make a good researcher tend to bog down the person!  My youngest daughter just graduated from high school, and my life in the last few months has been busy with entertaining family and getting her ready to head out into the world. Talk about details.... whew!  Thankfully things are beginning to settle down into a summer routine.

    I've been meaning to add the changes I've made to my Genealogical Research System to the template sharing page on the Bento website, but all the details of my life these days have kept me from doing it.  If anyone reading this wants a copy of the latest version (the census templates are linked to the main research template, and I've added a new template that helps you assemble your evidence to construct a proof), don't hesitate to email me and I'll send you the updates.

    Meanwhile, with my new-found free time, I've been having fun on the Family Search website -- I'm thrilled to see all the wonderful content they are adding.  I've been looking at digital images of wills, birth records, naturalization records, and more as fast as I can find them.

    The best part about having immediate access to these records is that it is now very easy to expand my strategy to include the records of my ancestors' friends, family and neighbors. This hasn't always been possible for me in the past.  As a mom with a busy family, my research time was limited; so whenever I visited a records repository, my searches had to be highly targeted strikes.  The fact that I can now sit at my desk instead of traveling is a real game-changer.

    Of course this all has to happen now that I am becoming an empty-nester and I want to travel around....