This morning in Thomas Jones’ Advanced Methodology course he counseled us that the most important things we can do as genealogists is (1) record the oral family history stories in our family and distribute that record to others, and (2) contribute our DNA.
Then, he drilled deeper into source and evidence analysis. Here’s some key points:
Good research methodology should begin with a research question. Research questions most often are based on establishing identity or relationship. The research question we ask needs to be not too specific, but also not too broad. We gather evidence to answer our question.
To determine if a source contains primary or secondary information, we must be able to combine the source with the information. We need to ask, “What is the information item?” “What is the information?” and “Who is the informant?”
Evidence is the genealogist’s use of information. Evidence is one information item and our use of it. It’s not tangible like a source. We can’t touch it. It IS a belief or possibility or possible answer to a research question. Without a research question we have no evidence. Evidence is our thoughts about what the information means. It is a possible answer. It can never be proof. It is a possibility that leads us to proof. It can be wrong but we won’t know that until we test the hypothesis.
Direct evidence is what the source says. Indirect evidence is what the source suggests. Negative evidence, a form of indirect evidence, is what the source does not say. For instance, if the research question is, “When did Mary Smith die?” and she appears as a baby on the 1850 U.S. census but is not on the 1860 with the family, the negative evidence suggests the child died between 1850-1860.
Evidence items are the building blocks of proof. As we correlate evidence, we may find that some pieces agree with each other while others do not. It’s in the correlation of the evidence that we establish proof. One of the best ways to correlate pieces of evidence is to plot them on a table.
Jones’ class covered a lot of ground, but he broke it up with in-class assignments that we worked through together. THAT really helped.
After the morning session, I attended the vendor luncheon with a demonstration of Personal Historian by RootsMagic. This is a great tool to help write a personal or family history.
After lunch, Claire Bettag lectured on government documents: what they are, why we should search them, how they are arranged, and how to access them. She specifically went into the U.S. Serial Set of the American State Papers, and Serial Set volumes. To further embed our understanding, she gave us some homework with three cases. The homework was well worth the time spent, just to be able to practice the things I had learned.
This evening I attended D. Joshua Taylor’s class, “Printed Online, and Onsite: Fantastic Resources for Colonial New England Research,” and John Colletta’s class, “Turning Biographical Facts into Real-Life Events: How to Build Historical Context Part 2.”
All in all, another jam packed day but well spent. I’m headed to bed and promise to return tomorrow if Thomas Jones’ homework assignment doesn’t take up my whole evening!