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.


    1. Excellent, I have been following this blog since recently discovering GRS on Bento Template Exchange and it's mention in Ben Sayer's new Practical Citation forum. This post made it click in my brain. The other entries had made me anxious for more. Now I think I can really start using the system along with Reunion 10. Love the examples. Maybe the next will describe when you begin copying information over to Reunion.

      1. Hi Spuds, thanks for your comment! The system is a bit more clunky when it comes to transferring data back into Reunion, unfortunately. Bento was designed to be a simple home data management program and is not as good at creating elegant output. I do have some work-arounds (mostly involving cutting and pasting), which I plan to write about in the future. To be fair, a lot of the problem has to do with Reunion's inability to import data that is not linked to specific individuals (ie. a source list that may be linked to several individuals). I designed the GRS to manage my research while I wait for commercial software designers to address this very real need. I have a feeling that if enough people start asking for this kind of software, we might get them to start moving on it.....but in the meantime, I think I'd better learn to program software!

    2. Hi, Kathleen,
      I have been publicizing your GRS on Ben Sayer's Practical Citation and on Reunion Talk forum. I'm eagerly awaiting some more of your informative posts.
      Just writing to encourage you and let you know we are out here!