Looking to produce a high quality, well documented family history? After a while, its more about the place than a name. Online quick click genealogists look for a possible name match without studying the culture and history of an ancestral locality.
This causesgenealogical flat-lining where it's just names and dates with no contextual understanding. They completely bypass unusual extant record sets that add dimension to an ancestral family's profile.
Elizabeth Shown Mills of EvidenceExplained.com responded to my Facebook comment with "And, Pat Richley-Erickson, worse than flat-lining, it causes genealogical misidentifications because they don't have enough context about the place and time to properly identify the person.(1)
In my early days as a fledgling genealogist, Ol' Myrt innocently committed genealogical flat-lining. Enthralled by others who put flesh on the bones using record sets I'd never considered, it slowly dawned on me that
genealogy is more than names and dates.
Studying history and the law, I began to see why my early Palatines left their beloved homeland in the small village of Affstätt in Herrenberg, in the Duchy of Württemberg in 1709 after decades of wars, crop failures and a winter so cold "birds froze on the wing."(2)
Expanding research beyond birth, marriage and death records, Ol' Myrt here learned about variations in William Henry A. Phillips name from his wife's affidavit in their US Civil War Pension file. Thank the Lord for this tidbit of information: "In regard to the correct name of my husband William Phillips, deceased, I have to say that his full name was William Henry Phillips, but he only used William Phillips when he enlisted so by mistake just W. H. has been used. After the war, he used for business purposes just his initials W. H. Phillips." (3)
Sadly, I had to chop off a limb of my initial family tree because my genealogical flat-lining led to a false assumption of a lineage match. It was a matter of guessing an older man in the vicinity with the same given and surnames had to be my 2nd great-grandfather.
Thorough research, covering 93 years of everyone by the surname in the vicinity, turned up surprising results. Using wills, probate packets and land records proved the man I misidentified as the father was in fact an uncle. Apparently, both had been named for my 3rd great-grandfather.
Why not breathe new life into your family history? Review previous conclusions to see if you've committed genealogical flat-lining. The best remedy is throrough research. See: The Genealogical Proof Standard briefly defined at the Board for Certification of Genealogists website here http://www.bcgcertification.org/resources/standard.html
Happy family tree climbing! Myrt DearMYRTLE, Your friend in genealogy.
(2) Capt. H. M. M. Richards, Litt.D. writes " [the] Thirty Years' War making of Germany almost a wilderness; when, following upon its heels, came the cruel French Invasion of 1693, with its utter devastation of the Palatinate, bringing pestilence and famine; when, as if that were not sufficient, occurred the terrible winter of 1709 when birds perished on the wing, beasts in their lairs, and mortals fell dead in the way…" p9, The Weiser Family by Henry Melchoir Muhlenberg Richards, Litt. D. (Lancaster: The Pennsylvania-German Society, 1924.) Digitally imaged at the Internet Archive, (https://archive.org/details/weiserfamily32rich : viewed 8 Aug 2017.)
(3) 2 Sept 1921 Louisa Phillips affidavit, United States, Civil War Widows Pension Files, filed with Louisa Phillips' pension application no. 907389 co-filed with husband William Henry A. Phillips pension no. 243,464 (Private, Co K 19th Indiana Volunteer Infantry); Record Group 15, National Archives, Washington, D.C., photocopy in possession of the author.
Our final type of a written conclusion is the most complicated – the dreaded Proof Argument. Why ‘dreaded’ ? Well as Ol’ Myrt said – it’s complicated. A researcher arrives at a conclusion when analysis of multiple documents appear to provide information about a fact in an ancestor’s life. But it isn’t as cut and dry as a Proof Statement or a Proof Summary.
You’ll begin your study on page 87 in Dr. Jones’ book where he says “Proof arguments are documented narratives in which genealogists explain why the answer to a complex genealogical problem should be considered proved.” Find out there why the author also recommend three major sections to your proof argument. Here is our study group session to assist you with composing a proof argument.
I’ve had to write this sort of complicated narrative with pen and paper on occasion, instead of just typing things up. The dining room table was cleared, and I was able to work through every relevant document I collected. There is conflicting evidence to be resolved about of the birth year of my grandmother. Ol Myrt here must consider an old family story provided by my mother. It is her mother, Frances Irene (Goering) Froman McDonnell that we are once again studying.
To begin with, I’ll need to explain the family tradition that our grandmother lied about her birth year because when she met her second husband, she never wanted him to know she was three years older than he. Grandma Frances made mother promise if she died before her husband, mom was to keep the secret going. That’s why the funeral card isn’t a reliable source for the birthdate.
I’d spend much time writing about each document, indicating how I weighed the evidence. I’d insert a table to keep track of things. I’d have to present documents to explain her change of name due to two marriages. I’d include census records, her 1st marriage license, and her delayed birth certificate. The latter is the most significant, since it was signed by the physician attending her birth. Of course, I would appropriately cite each item, as this gives me the opportunity to consider the motivation of each informant.
I particularly like the delayed birth certificate since the attending physician signed it, most likely having looked at her files to verify her findings. I remember my father had two rooms of patient files where he kept copious, though sometimes cryptic, notes during each examination – but I digress.
Then having lead my reader ‘down theeach garden path’ I’d restate my premise that Frances Irene (Goering) Froman McDonnell was born 22 Aug 1905.
That’s the thing about written conclusions. While we do our very best to ‘get it right’ there is always the possibility that our hopefully very educated guess is incorrect. I was glad when new-to-me, more convincing evidence came to light.
How is your “complicated’ Proof Argument coming along?
Aside from learning it’s all about explaining your thought process in narrative format, participants may compose written conclusions based on each session’s topic.
Follow along with the four weekly hangout sessions.
Incorporate the principles Dr. Jones presents in Chapter 7 as mentioned above.
Compose a written conclusion based on your own research.
Make sure to include your name on the top of the page.
Include reference material as follows:
Jones, Thomas W., “The Written Conclusion” Mastering Genealogical Proof, (Arlington, Virginia: National Genealogical Society, 2013).
Richley-Erickson, Pat. Mastering Genealogical Proof Study Group, DearMYRTLE’s YouTube Channel (http://ow.ly/dmhX30dhvOS : viewed July 2017).
Publish your conclusion in blog or public Google Doc format.
Submit only 1 conclusion per week as follows:
Week 1: Proof Statement
Week 2: Proof Summary
Week 3: Proof Proof Argument
Week 4: Clear Writing (take one of your previous proofs and rewrite following Dr. Jones’ advice.)
The fifth element of the GPS is a soundly reasoned, coherently written conclusion that according to the GPS:
Eliminates the possibility that the conclusion is based on bias, preconception, or inadequate appreciation of the evidence
Explains how the evidence led to the conclusion
A proof statement is perhaps the easiest to compile. It may only take a sentence to describe what is directly stated in a document from a “credible source” as Dr. Jones puts it.
It seems to me that a written conclusion is just like sitting down together with something like a church or court record and “talking it through” with Ol’ Myrt here. Write it up like we’re talking over a cup of herb tea. Explain it in simple terms. And with a proof statement there are no nuances, no need to question the motivation of the creator of the document. We aren’t using a compiled genealogy book where so-called facts have no citations.
Another good example might be a death certificate, signed by the physician. Ol’ Myrt’s proof statement for this document is:
From the Idaho Bureau of Vital Statistics for Twin Falls, Twin Falls County, Idaho Death Certificate #55994 for Chas. [Charles] Switzer Weiser died on 29 Dec 1926 due to chronic intestinal nephritis, signed by the attending physician.
Note I put his full name in [square brackets] since the document lists my paternal great-grandfather as Chas. I couldn’t read the doctor’s signature.
I haven’t touched the other information – about his wife, age, occupation, parents, residence. Ol’ Myrt here is only making a proof statement to support the fact of the man’s death.
Happy family tree climbing!
Your friend in genealogy.