Wednesday, May 8, 2013

Debunking Misleading Records by Thomas W. Jones

imageWe have to make an act of faith and trust that a record is wrong, said Thomas W. Jones. That is, we need to mistrust that a record is correct. In Jones’s session, “Debunking Misleading Records,” he said it was uncharacteristic of him to ask such a thing, but in this case it is warranted.

“You have to mistrust it in order to be able to validate it,” said Jones.

Trust of incorrect records is rampant, he said. We want to believe that the information is correct.

We need to mistrust records so that we can detect errors. We detect errors by analysis and comparison. We then discard incorrect information. Finally, we prove correct answers by explaining and documenting our conclusion, including the resolution of conflicting evidence.

He suggested discarding incorrect information when it is:

  • “Information that you cannot corroborate,
  • Secondary or indeterminable Information from a derivative source,
  • Information you can document or convincingly explain as incorrect, or
  • Some combination of these.”

Use maps, tables, and prose to detect errors. “Write it out and you will find the brick wall doesn’t exist,” he said. At the very least you’ll understand better what you need to do next.



Thomas W. Jones, PhD, CG, CGL, FASG, FNGS, FUGA, has been a researcher since 1963. He is an educator in the Boston University Genealogical Research Certificate Program, as well as various institutes, conferences, and state seminars. He is a trustee of the Board for the Certification of Genealogists, and since 2002 has co-edited the National Genealogical Society Quarterly. Jones made the remarks in a session of the 2013 annual conference of the National Genealogical Society.

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