Tuesday, 10 March 2015

Genealogy Do-Over week 6

The topics for week 6 of the Genealogy Do-Over were:
1. Evaluating Evidence
2. Reviewing Online Education Options

Collecting data, or "evidence", is easy - I do it all the time, particularly for my one-name study.  A new database is announced, I visit the site, search for "Parry", and then collect any results.  Sometimes this is only at the index level as, depending on the format of the database, extraction of any additional details can be quite time consuming.  And often, because the Parry ONS is a fairly large study, that is as far as I get.  Yes, eventually, when I am identifying individuals, and tracking the events of their lives, the expectation is that I will take a closer look at the details and be able to add the information to a person in a pedigree.  But that does not always happen to start with, and even an index level of detail can have value for a one-name study, so that's okay.  It is still progress on the study.

However, it is another step to actually evaluate the evidence found.  But this is an essential step, if we're aiming to produce reliable pedigrees, or life histories, or even just statistics from the original database.  After all, how complete *is* that database?  Are the results really representative of what I think they are?

Sometimes the need for evaluation of a source is obvious.  When I first started collecting any references to the Parry surname, I soon realised that there were certain "well known" Parry families.  For example, 'The Parrys of Poston', in Herefordshire, who are frequently noted because descendants include Blanche Parry, Chief Gentlewoman to Queen Elizabeth I.   But, when I found the often quoted source, a pedigree for the family in the "History of Breconshire", warning bells began to ring.  It wasn't just the tracing of the tree back into the 'myths of time', from "Catherine, widow of Thomas Lord Laci", through "Idio Wyllt, Earl of Desmond",  and back to the kings of Ireland, but basic issues, such as the almost total absence of dates, and even occasionally names, for some of the more recent individuals in the pedigree. 

Clearly there are questions to be asked about the accuracy and reliability of such a work. 

But the necessity for evaluation of all sources is easy to forget when dealing with some of the more recent "evidence" we collect.  So we take documents such as census records or birth certificates at face value.  Occasionally, we might perhaps spot an anomaly that causes us to ponder but, generally, we can be tempted to think, "it's an official record, it must be accurate".  We can also fall into the trap of assuming that, just because we can only find one entry for the name we're looking for, then that *must* be the relevant one.  I was amused to see a blog post recently, by Cherie Tabor Cayemberg, which illustrated exactly this point, as she was searching for the death date of a relative with what seemed to be a rare combination of names, but found two possibilities in the same area.  How easy it would have been to be misled, if there had only been one obituary available (Tuesday's Tip - The Case of the Two Viola Vanias http://haveyouseenmyroots.blogspot.co.uk/2015/03/tuesdays-tip-case-of-two-viola-vanias.html

These days, it is so easy to add details to a family tree without going through a process of evaluation (especially when the tree is on the same site as the databases themselves, such as on Ancestry, with their "Save to person in your tree" button).  Once entered into a tree, there's even less chance of a later reader examining why a particular connection was made, or how strong the evidence was for a stated fact.   Good research, that produces results which can be relied upon, requires a better examination of every source, or piece of evidence, and a ranking of reliability.  That was something I was aiming at with my Colston Parry pedigree at http://freepages.family.rootsweb.ancestry.com/~parryresearch/colston.htm , but I still have some way to go to build this process into my practice. 

The principles of evaluating genealogical evidence, usually based on the work of Elizabeth Shown Mills (see https://www.evidenceexplained.com/content/quicklesson-17-evidence-analysis-process-map ), can be found on many sites. Thomas MacEntee added the relevant considerations as columns in his Research Log spreadsheet but, for a working reference sheet, I quite like the way Dawn Kogutkiewicz formatting the items as questions ( at http://dawninggenealogy.blogspot.co.uk/2015/02/genealogy-do-over-week-6.html?spref=fB ).  So these are now entered into my OneNote Research Notebooks, to be referred to whenever I am collecting data.  I have also added a note to develop some questions for myself, that I can apply to a whole database prior to even looking at individual entries, as evaluation at that level will be necessary if I am drawing conclusions based on index level information.

Reviewing Online Education Options
This topic made me laugh - as, if "doing the Do-Over" wasn't enough of an example of online education, I don't know what is!

We all need to keep learning, as Thomas MacEntee says, not just to improve our own research, but to keep up with new developments and to learn about new areas of research.  So, do I need a specific 'education plan, as he suggests setting?  One needs to remember that those whose livelihood involves genealogical education will keep on producing 'new' courses, webinars, etc., as long as people keep attending them.  The danger is that there is so much information 'out there', that we can easily spend all our time trying to learn everything, and we never actually 'do' anything.

So, no, I am not going to create a new 'education plan' this week - in a sense, I already have one, because the goals that I set out initially for this year of my Do-Over, such as mastering the new techniques and new programs that I am using, involves a lot of learning.  So I shall continue to focus on the items already specified and trying to ensure that what I learn actually gets embedded into my practice.