Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Complex Evidence; what it is, how it works, why it matters

After learning so much from Laura DiGrazia on how to conduct a reasonably exhaustive search, my next session at NERGC was with F. Warren Bittner. 

Mr. Bittner began his presentation with this statement: “The goal of family history is to establish identity and prove relationships. If this goal is not met, all other family history goals and activities are a waste.” So how do you do this?

The Genealogical Proof Standard (GPS) is at the top of the list, and then Mr. Bittner drilled down. The key is to make sure evidence is scrutinized for details and compared with other evidence.

Keep track of your sources: Are they original or derivative?
Information: Is it primary or secondary?
Evidence: Direct (usually enough to answer the research question) or indirect (combination of sources)?  Since people live complicated lives, moving, marrying, etc., Mr. Bittner warns that direct evidence may cause problems if there is conflicting information, so verify by utilizing sources of indirect evidence.  Maybe a timeline of evidence sources could help?

Don’t be lured into thinking that successful research only consists of finding birth, death and marriage dates and if those come from direct evidence, they don’t need to be analyzed, nor does a written summary need to be done.

“Complex Evidence must include the analysis of evidence, the comparison between pieces noting the similarity and differences, and the resolution of conflicts.”

And last but not least, “Complex evidence without a written proof summary does NOT establish relationships or prove identity. The written summary of evidence is essential for proof of relationships.”

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