Those who are skillful in evaluating the evidence when building a case allow others an understanding of their research process. Including your evidence analysis is crucial when building a case that uses several pieces of indirect evidence.
Creating a path for others to follow is beneficial to you, and your family. At some point, in your genealogy journey, you will pass the torch onto another family member. Wouldn’t it be nice if they could follow your trail instead of needing to blaze their own?
How does one become skillful in Evaluating the evidence?
When I first started researching I skipped alot of the basic concepts in the analysis process due to not understanding why it was important. As time went on, I began to understand why it is important not to skip this step.
Examples: Since I had not made a habit of using all the factors included in evidence analysis, I found myself looking for the source itself in investigating conflicting evidence. Also, my grandmother did not give any direction as to what she had searched. Because I wanted to make sure that I had the right person in the tree, I had to redo/retrace what she had done.
By regularly using this set of skills, it will become second nature for you, and the better you will become.
The process of evidence analysis begins by using a research log/plan.
Sources and Information:
The first step to analyzing the evidence is to evaluate the source. This determines the quality of the source, therefore determining the quality of the evidence.
Sources are not just courthouse records, registrations microfilm, books, or websites. They are also artifacts of any type from family stories to writing on the back of a photo. Determining the quality of a source is essential no matter what the source is.
This is done by asking the question: Is it an original, derivative or authored works?
- Authored Works – ie: research that was done by others, family stories, or the writing on the back of that family photo.
- Records – subdivided into primary and secondary:
- Original (primary) – original documents made at the time of the event and are not based on prior records. These also include photocopies of the original
- Derivative (secondary) – created from primary records. (ie: transcripts, abstracts etc).
Determine the quality of each source:
- When was the source created? (Sources generated closer to the time of the event are more reliable than those made at a later date.)
- Why was it created?
- What is its condition?
- Is the information easily readable?
- Are there any tears, stains etc that result in areas that are unreadable?
- Are they bound or loose records? (loose records indicate there may be other records that have been misplaced)
About the information it contains: (here, information is describing the informant)
- Are they reliable?
- Are they a primary source? (first-hand, eyewitness information)
- or secondary? (someone with second-hand information)
- What is their role, or motivation in supplying the information?
- Indeterminate – Information from an unknown source.
The type of evidence in its relationship to the question determines its quality.
- Direct – Information from a primary source, or record. and can answer the question by itself. A death record will give direct evidence to the date of death but is considered indirect evidence for a birthdate.
- Indirect – uses two pieces of information that when combined answer a question. ie: census gives a birth year & parents names, a baptismal record does that not contain the name, but gives parents names and the birthdate. These 2 pieces of information when combined are considered a reasonable conclusion
- Negative – contradicts another piece of information or information that could not be found. However, negative information must also be included when forming a reasonable conclusion.
Evaluating the evidence is not about a single piece of evidence. It is about evaluating all the evidence and how it fits together. You are ready to build your case once you have gathered enough information that you feel secure in your conclusions.