[APG Public List] Genealogical Proof Standard (Was The reliability of federal census records for genealogi...)

jfonkert at aol.com jfonkert at aol.com
Wed Nov 4 12:13:20 MST 2009


I especially like Elizabeth's comments about the difference between following a formula and doing critical thinking.

ESM: "The reality, of course, is that there are no formulas to follow that will help genealogists avoid the fundamental need to think for themselves. That is why, of course, the Evidence series is called Evidence rather than “Citing Sources.”  There’s no moral superiority in citations, per se. The issue is finding evidence and analyzing it validly."
 
I see people wanting a formula or recipe to follow time and time again, not only in genealogy but also in my non-genealogy profession.  It is much harder to teach people to think critically than it is to teach them to follow a cookbook recipe.  This, it seems to me, is the real challenge in genealogical education: get researchers beyond just looking up "facts."  It's not that hard to teach people about where to find records, but much harder to teach the necessary thought process.

This is no way suggests that beginners are any less smart than more experienced researchers, but it does suggest that we need to help turn on a light that says something like "the thought process of converting information into evidence to solve a problem is really fun."  I think this is an idea that lecturers and writers should always keep in mind.



-----Original Message-----
From: eshown at comcast.net
To: 'APG APG Public' <apgpubliclist at apgen.org>
Sent: Wed, Nov 4, 2009 12:49 pm
Subject: [APG Public List] Genealogical Proof Standard (Was The reliability of federal census records for genealogi...)




> Because the informant on census records is unknown, some of these same researchers tend to automatically dismiss the information as unreliable.  
Michael, here you get at the crux of the issue in plain words. 
 
The problem I’ve particularly noted over the years is the number of people who want what I call “formulas to follow,” ones that will (they think) alleviate all the angst over all the complications they encounter. 
 
Most people come into genealogy thinking it’s all a matter of “looking up the family name and finding your tree.” The more they look, the more they discover that it’s not so easy.  Eventually, they feel overwhelmed by it all. 
 
Those who value quality then look for a way to get a handle on all of it. They look for guides. They look for concrete paths to take them from A to Z, so they won’t go off onto tangents or get mired along the way or reach the wrong conclusions. 
 
At this point, many buy books like EE (to use the example you brought up) thinking that “If I follow this or that template exactly, I won’t have to worry about whether I’m doing it right.” They use the Evidence Analysis Process Map, looking for a way to categorize what they find so they can more-easily decide whether they can trust “this” over “that.”
 
And, of course, before the Evidence Analysis Process Map existed, they had those canned lists of “primary sources” and “secondary sources” that contradicted each other a jillion ways; and so they argued mightily over whether a census record should be called primary or secondary. And, just as now with the EAPM and the GPS, the old focus on those two arbitrary labels blinded them to the real issue you’ve spotlighted in your blog entry, i.e.: Every individual piece of information, even individual fragments of a single sentence, must be evaluated by solid principles of textual analysis.
 
The reality, of course, is that there are no formulas to follow that will help genealogists avoid the fundamental need to think for themselves. That is why, of course, the Evidence series is called Evidence rather than “Citing Sources.”  There’s no moral superiority in citations, per se. The issue is finding evidence and analyzing it validly. 
 
Genealogists look for sources but whatever information those sources provide has to be mentally processed before we have evidence. Rotely citing something we don’t understand gets us nowhere. For reliable research, we have to understand those records, we have to know their strengths and weaknesses, we have to understand the principles of data collection (not just so we can create a citation that tells other people where we found the data, but so we will have sufficient detail about the source to understand it and evaluate the reliability of its information). We have to learn methodology for correlating evidence and framing a reliable conclusion.
 
You, Jeanette, and Larry have focused squarely on the need. My only point of difference is my view of the GPS as a teaching tool to define quality, as opposed to a square hole into which round pegs are to be pounded.
 
 
>Many genealogists do tend to get caught up in the details of "meeting the GPS," rather than honing research skills.  In talking with some "transitional genealogists" both on the mailing list and in other settings, I see a tendency to want to know everything out of a book rather than just jumping into the records to learn through experience.
 
The one point on which I differ with you here, Michael, is in your use of that word “rather.”  I do not see the issue as an either/or proposition. “Jumping into the records to learn through experience” is, I’d argue, the way most people have approached genealogy for many generations; and there’s a legion of garbage, as a result.
 
The wiser course, I think all of you would agree, is to emphasize that expertise and quality research both result from balancing education (self-ed or formal training) with hands-on experience. We need the education to teach us guiding principles, and we need solid experience to understand those text-book principles. One without the other creates all the problems we’re lamenting in this thread.
 
Elizabeth

 

Elizabeth Shown Mills, CG, CGL, FASG
Tennessee
 



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