One of the hot topics in GeneaBlogging land this week is fact versus conclusion based data entry. The gist of the discussion is whether to use software to enter conclusions only. Over the years, I have found it to be quite a challenge to keep track of sources and such. For me, there is no doubt that my work improved drastically when I learned to do document-based data entry, or evidence-based, as it is being referred to.
I use a couple of different software programs for a couple of different purposes. Not all of my work is academic or research reports. I am also very interested in DNA, which requires a different sort of tree. When working with autosomal DNA, those non-documented trees that stretch far into Fantasyland can actually be helpful. I primarily use Family Tree Maker 2012 for this. One of the reasons to utilize autosomal DNA testing is to find unknown connections, so it makes sense for both parties to look to otherwise thinly-documented lines and supplement with DNA. This can be especially useful when there is a group of people who match in the same area of the same chromosome, yet have an unknown connection. It is oftentimes easier to pick out a match when working with trees for a small group rather than just two individuals. I digress, I am not here to talk about DNA today.
Coincidentally, I was just discussing the use of document-based entries with the ladies at my local Family History Center yesterday. I explained to them that I use Roots Magic 5 as my “document-based” software. When I use that software, I set up the source first, memorize it, and then enter each and every piece of information listed on the document, pasting the source as I go. For example, if I obtained a marriage record for George T. Armstrong and Mary L. Wilson, I would first set up the source information for the document and then I would begin to enter each and every item listed on the paper. This document lists George as having been born in Boston, Massachusetts, so I would include that “fact”, or piece of evidence, and then cite it to this document source.
After entering each piece of data, clear patterns will often emerge. I find this to be very useful, especially when dealing with conflicting information. When it is clear that almost all evidence points to George T. Armstrong being born in Maine, the researcher will likely conclude that there was an error in the above-mentioned marriage record. Perhaps George’s new wife did not know where he spent his early childhood? Perhaps George did not want to tell her? Perhaps it was a simple error. Either way, this method paints a picture for me that I need to look first to Maine for a birth record for George. Of course, that search can and will be extended if not initially successful, but Maine is clearly the first and best place to start looking.
If the next step wasn’t so clear, that is when I would likely use a spreadsheet to evaluate the evidence for a specific fact. This method is also helpful because the Genealogical Proof Standard requires that we explain any conflicting evidence. The chart that Roots Magic produces, as well as the accompanying spreadsheet that I would make for a more complicated problem, both assist with outlining items that require explanation.
In Roots Magic 5, there is also the option to evaluate the quality of evidence, listing it as primary or secondary, original or derivative, and direct,indirect, or negative. I admit that I have not used these quality ratings many times because I feel that the individual pieces of data, rather than the document as a whole, should be evaluated for quality.
On that note, I am off to spend the morning on a George hunt. Enjoy this sunny day!