Friday, May 7, 2010

Why Can’t You Get It Right?

See “Evidence Management” for an overview and links to other articles in this series. and FamilySearch, why can’t you get it right? (That goes for pretty much everybody else, too. But per my editorial focus, I pick particularly on them. But I digress…)

Playing around with different genealogy management programs has driven home to me how very close the genealogy database vendors are getting to where they should be, but without evidence that they know where that is.

They would know where they should be headed if they…

  • attended most any of the NGS methodology classes, or
  • read chapters 1 and 2 of Evidence Explained (or even just the inside cover), or
  • read the National Genealogical Society Quarterly special Evidence issue (Sep 1999), or
  • bought an evidence analysis research process map from the Board for the Certification of Genealogists, or
  • studied the Genealogical Maturity Model.

(Notice how I worked in that shameless plug.)

To put it succinctly, genealogy programs lack Evidence Management.

Evidence Management

Genealogy programs have always managed individuals quite well. We can assign assertions (events and information) to them. We can list them. We can sort them. We can search them. We can filter them. All well and good and absolutely necessary.

Genealogy programs handle relationships adequately. Most use the concept of families as a shorthand method of dealing with an entire set of important relationships. And most allow limited assertions about child-parent relationships, such as blood, step, and adoption. (Not important for today’s discussion on evidence management, but we are also interested in non-familial relationships such as neighbor, friend, clergy, care-taker, and more. And we are interested in searching, sorting, and filtering by relationship assertions. But I digress…)

Genealogy programs have come a long way when it comes to sources, but without Evidence Management, sources remain an ugly step-sister. When it comes to evidence management, genealogy programs is exceedingly wanting.

User Scenario

Refer to this diagram as I talk through a scenario.

Evidence management diagram

Here’s how a user would use the Evidence Manager.

  • I find a source with information that I can use. That’s what evidence is: usable information. Applicable information. The answer to a question. Although as Tom Jones pointed out in one of his lectures, “it is an answer, it is not the answer.”
  • I create a source record (shown in red) to track the source.
    • I upload a digital image of the source.
    • Or I link to it online.
    • And I enter a citation.
  • I create an evidence summary (shown in green) and type in evidence from the source.
    • I link the evidence summary to the source record.
    • And I link the evidence summary to a target conclusion (shown in purple) about an individual (shown in blue)
  • I examine the accumulated evidence and adjust the value of the conclusion accordingly.
  • I update the explanation of my conclusion as necessary.

Next week I will make this more clear with an actual example. (See “Evidence Management Explained.”) In subsequent articles I will compare the diagram with member trees, the New FamilySearch Tree, and Footnote person pages.

For the time being, suffice it to say that sources and evidence and conclusions are three separate concepts and today’s software typically shoehorns the three into two. (See “Evidence: There’s No Better Rule.”)


  1. I wholeheartedly agree. I'd love to see them take that a step further though and develop functioning research logs that will track evidence as found with customizable templates. Logs where you can see at a glance what evidence you have and what evidence you still need to find. I'm sure I'm not the only one who has two of one record and none of another (though you'd swear you did have it at some point)!

  2. I also agree. I use the Master Genealogist and have tried all others, including MAC programs. The issue for the software companies is the average user would not use this feature and it would confuse the learning curve for a beginner. Although I would love to have this tool I have used entensive notes and anecdotes within TMG to refresh my memory on conclusions drawn from evidence inputed by various sources; this tool would save a lot of going back to determine a fact etc.
    Not all amatures are as serious or are interested in producing a published work or genealogy. This is evidenced by the numerous errors I and others find in onl an some publish data. I have spent years online as a Surnameboard admin correcting errors and providing sources to prove the facts only to have them reappear. I just published a 10 Generation Genealogy and spent three pages explaining with documention the difference between two brothers who constantly appear as one merged person on LDS,IGI, and other websites. I routinely go to the USROOTSWEB Worldconnect site and update with sources data on my family. It ends up appearing on someone elses input without the sources cited. So for the serious Genealogical researcher the tool would be a boon, but for the casual or beginner it would either have to be an add-in or something that could be turned off as a normal install.
    Wayne E. Weatherwax
    "The Weatherwax Genealogy 1710-1930"

  3. Right on. I agree with both Sherri & Weatherwax Genealogy. I agree that many would not use it, but if a system were embedded into programs, increasing numbers of people would write proof statements. It is a matter of education. And if we don't start somewhere, it will never happen. -ken knight

  4. Weatherwax has a point, but I love Sherri's idea.
    My main complaint about the programs are they don't give patrons enough time to assimilate the changes before they change again.

  5. Thank you so much for your post. I have been requesting information of the sites regarding their validation and verification system to add integrity to their databases. I have been sent round circle within the organizations ---- my thoughts are 1. there is not one 2. if there is one nobody knows about it.

  6. The ancient problem of proofs of assertions will always be with us.

    True enough, the genealogy programs interface poorly with the development and application of evidence because they are two-dimensional.

    Of the web site tree/hosting sites you mention, and care nothing about evidentiary accuracy of user submissions.

    Because the proprietors and initators ofr NewFamilySearch ~do~ care about genealogical accuracy, it is shocking that the old IGI, so full of Widely Held Mistaken Beliefs (genealogically speaking) is the basis of the tree.

    Thank you for broaching this issue.

  7. There is a dimensionality to the interrelated source > evidence > conclusion paradigm.
    However, there is also an emotional issue of trust. Do I trust the transcribing ability of the person who consulted the original source? Did they actually consult the original source or just a copy of the source? (Yes, that should be clear from the source citation, but how often is it?) Do I trust the knowledge and experience level of the individual drawing conclusions from the evidence? I have forty years experience in genealogy and I KNOW I have made mistakes in the conclusions I drew from the evidence I had at that time.
    I am beginning to wonder if what we need with our on-line trees is a Google Wave or Wiki-like communication tool where the running source>evidence>conclusion dialog is recorded with each person getting credit for their contributions and key portions being pulled to the front for emphasis, but the whole remaining in the background searchable and reviewable as "new" evidence comes to light.

  8. Ben Sayer, of Mac Genealogist, is working on a program for this at

  9. Ancestry Insider,

    You might be interested in this Google+ community,

    especially this post.



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