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RootsMagic 4 Citation Quality Gotcha #2

Wednesday, 8 Jul 2009 | by Mark Tucker

In gotcha #1 we looked at the issue of having the Source quality associated with the Source Details instead of the Master Source.  In gotcha #2 we look at issues dealing with evidence.

Source, Information, & Evidence

According to Evidence Explained by Elizabeth Shown Mills, ”sources are artifacts, books, digital files, documents, film, people, photographs, recordings, websites, etc.” (see page 24)  Information is the content of the source.  Evidence “represents our interpretation of information we consider relevant to the research question or problem.” (see page 25)  So in order to classify evidence we need both information and a research objective.  Even though the Genealogical Proof Standard (GPS) does not include a step to define research goals, I’ve included it as part of the Genealogy Research Process Map because it is implied.  Step one of the GPS states:

“We conduct a reasonable exhaustive search in reliable sources for all information that is or may be pertinent to the identity, relationship, event, or situation in question.”
The BCG Genealogical Standards Manual, page 1.

How do we know which sources to search if we don’t have a research objective?  The definitions of direct and indirect evidence also points to the need to have a defined research objective:

Direct evidence – relevant information that seems to answer the research question or solve the problem all by itself.
Indirect evidence – relevant information that cannot, alone, answer the question;
Negative evidence – an inference we can draw from the absence of information that should exist under particular circumstances.
Evidence Explained, page 25

Even the definition for negative evidence hints at a research objective.

So how can we set the citation quality value for evidence in RootsMagic or any other genealogy software unless we have a research objective?

A research objective can be in the form of a question, statement, or hypothesis.  The following are all valid research objectives:

  • What was Worth Tucker’s birth date and place?
  • Where was Worth Tucker born?
  • Worth Tucker was born 30 Nov 1870 in Ashe County, North Carolina.
  • Was Worth Tucker born in 1869 or 1870?

How specific the research goal depends on the researcher and what they want to discover.

In RootsMagic, a source can be associated with a person, family, or fact:

RootsMagic 4 - Source Association

And for each citation of a source you can specify a value for citation quality for source, information, and evidence.  But to classify evidence, what is the research objective implied or otherwise?

Let’s say we have a book that we use as a source.  It was created by its author and is an original source.  The source information is entered in the Master Source section and appears in the Master Source List.  A specific page of that book is specified in the Source Details section and some information from that page is entered as part of the Source Detail Text.  This information then needs to be evaluated based on who provided that information: the informant.  If the informant was a participant or eyewitness, then we can say that the information is primary, otherwise it is secondary.  Now we come to evidence.  We take that piece of information and compare it to our research objective, but since we don’t have one we must infer it from what the citation is related to: person, family, or fact.  It is important to note that it is usually the researcher that should determine the research objective and not the software. 

RootsMagic 4 - Citation Quality Matrix

Since we don’t have research objectives, only what the citation is associated with, then we must imply the research objective.  This can be tricky. 

 

Evidence for Fact Citation

Since a birth fact allows you to enter date, place, and place details does information in the source we are citing need to contain all of this information before we can say that it is direct?  Put another way, is the implied research objective:

What is the date, city, county, state, and specific place of Worth Tucker’s birth?

or it is

What is the date and place of Worth Tucker’s birth?

Do they both mean the same thing?  There is room for ambiguity.  Not to mention the fact that as a researcher, maybe I wanted the research objective to be a statement or a hypothesis:

Worth Tucker was born 30 Nov 1870 in Ashe County, North Carolina.

Depending on the fact, the software ask us to enter different information:

  • Birth – date, place, place details
  • Alternate Name – given names, surname, prefix, suffix, name type, nickname, date
  • Education – date, place, place details, description
  • DNA – DNA results
  • LDS Baptism – date, temple, status, live/temple

One workaround for fact-based citations is to define a guideline that the citation quality can be marked as direct only if all possible entry fields for that fact type are filled in completely.  If a date or place is only partially filled in or the information doesn’t allow all fields to be filled in, then it is indirect.

 

Evidence for Person Citation

What would be the implied research objective for a citation associated with a person?

When you add a new person it asks for given name(s), surname, prefix, suffix, sex, and nickname plus some vital facts.  So I guess the workaround for this situation is to have the research objective be:

What is the complete name, sex, and optional nickname of Worth Tucker?

If the information from the source can answer all the parts, then it is direct; otherwise it is indirect.

 

Evidence for Family Citation

Now what about the implied research objective for a citation associated with a family?

What are the complete names of both parents and all children as well as the birth order of the children for the marriage of Worth Tucker and Florence Abby Pulsipher?

If the information in the source can answer all parts of the question, then the evidence is direct.

An Eye to the Future

Part of the reason for the current implementation in RootsMagic 4 and similar software could be the decades-old focus on research results and not research analysis.  My first genealogy software was a DOS version of PAF.  Before using that software, all research and any conclusions I came up with were done on paper.  Even the first versions of PAF only allowed you to enter a single date for birth, christening, death, and burial.  So the software was intended only to record the results of your research.  Modern genealogy software allows you to enter multiple facts/events of the same type and associate a source citation to it.  That way, you could have half a dozen birth entries containing different values or different levels of detail as the your research required. The software is able to keep track of ongoing research, and not just results.  I think genealogy software will continue to innovate and allow more and more research collection and analysis to occur in the software.  That is the direction that citation quality is pointing in RootsMagic 4 and the similar feature in Family Tree Maker 2009.  The next logical step is to allow the software to define research projects each with their own research objectives.  These research objectives would then be associated with source citations and citation quality therefore clarifying the use of the classification of evidence as direct or indirect.

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