Sunday, 20 March 2016

ESM's QuickLessons A DearMYRTLE Genealogy Study Group Lesson 2

Hilary Gadsby

QuickLesson 2: Sources vs. Information vs. Evidence vs. Proof    
Elizabeth Shown Mills, “QuickLesson 2: Sources vs. Information vs. Evidence vs. Proof,” Evidence Explained: Historical Analysis, Citation & Source Usage ( : accessed 18 March 2016).

Only this last week in the MOOC (Massive Open Online Course) I have been part of we were discussing Primary and Secondary sources. Primary being original, contemporary records and Secondary being hearsay and writings of others. However this classification may not truly reflect the nature of the source.
Within a document information may exist which is first hand knowledge alongside other second hand or hearsay. Each piece of information and the assertion or claim that is made must be evaluated for its ability to be used as evidence supporting a proof.
A strong proof is only as good as the building blocks, that is the evidence, that is used in its construction.

In my example from Lesson 1 I had a person who I had gathered some information about and whom I suspected would be someone listed in the 1939 register. I set out with the intention of finding her to support the theory that she was still alive in 1939. If I found her I might also be able to ascertain more information about where she was living her date of birth and possibly who was living with her.

Using the diagram above let us see what I have here.
Source = Find my Past Website Index and scanned images of pages of the 1939 Register with some redaction.

Evaluation = Original page as digital image, Index is a derivative created recently

Information = Other than the address in 1939 the name, occupation and date of birth in the register are reliant on the veracity of the person giving the information, which should generally be the individual or a close relative, though it could be someone unrelated. The information about the date of birth cannot be primary as it is being recorded sometime after the date.

Evidence = Whilst the information in the digital images can be used to form part of a proof none of it can be considered to be more than an assertion. We have no means of determining the absolute truth.
Assertions from other sources may be combined with the ones from this source to build what we may call our current hypothesis, proof or conclusion. 
Conflicting information should not be ignored but discussed in a proof statement or argument.

In discovering the correct person in the register the analysis of the information supports what is already known. 
The conclusions drawn should meet the genealogical proof standard. Should further research be needed, collecting the evidence together will allow us to interpret what we may need to find, to meet the requirement of thorough research.

Whilst I endeavour to look at everything I find I may have not always been diligent. 
Evidentia can help with this analysis and as I work through rebuilding my tree I will be using it to assist with building the evidence into a strong proof. It will at least provide me with some idea as to where the evidence is weak or if I need to look for more information.

At each stage of processing a source and its contents we need to decide whether what we find is convincing, or may contain an error, and these considerations must be included in any discussion of the evidence we are using to support our conclusion.

Nothing is absolute anything can contain an error which is why no single piece of evidence is enough to support our conclusions.

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