I grew up in Utah, have a brother-in-law that worked for WordPerfect, and used WordPerfect in high school and college before Microsoft Word became the dominant word processing software. So when I tried to put a name to all the ideas about what the ideal genealogy software would look like to me, GenPerfect was the perfect name.
I am sad that I missed RootsTech 2011, but am excited to see that it has stirred up ideas and there is a spirit of innovation that seems to be sweeping through the genealogy/technology community. Some are having discussions about a new data format to bring GEDCOM into the 21st century and make sure it plays well in the online world of collaboration and social networking. One place you can find this is the BetterGEDCOM Wiki and another is the e-mail list for the FamilySearch Developer Network (FSDN).
Much of the recent discussion on FSDN has been around the main sticking points of the data model and whether the structure should be people-based or record-based. As a developer, I often want to jump down into the details of the problem and gnaw on it until I figure it out. But lately I am changing. I prefer to look at it from a user’s perspective. Call it product management or User Experience (UX), but if in the end the data model doesn’t allow the software to do what I think it can and should do, then I think a great opportunity would have been missed.
So back to GenPerfect. What do I think it should look like? What implications does that have on a data model? As a user, what is my vision of the perfect genealogy software?
Back in April 2009, I created a video that showed my dream for how citing online sources should be done (see blog post). It would be a partnership between online record repositories and desktop genealogy software. I created a prototype close enough to the real thing to prove that it could be done and to help others visualize how it would work. I even created a survey to get feedback from others.
Over 300 people responded to the survey and at the end of the trial period I sent a copy of the results to all participants that provided an e-mail. I planned on blogging about the results but got discouraged at the time.
Two events have happened this week to get me thinking about this again. The first was a comment on my blog by Bruce. He has a website for his personal family history and wanted to know how to go about setting up the site to do citations like the video demonstrated. It saddened me to tell him that it is not possible to do this yet without cooperation from the desktop genealogy software vendors. The second was a direct message via Twitter from fellow genealogy software innovator, Dean. He contacted me to say that my blog was mentioned in a discussion today at RootsTech on how to handle sources.
Maybe it is time for me to publish the survey results from 2 years ago.
What type of people responded to the survey? People like you and me. The majority are non-professional researches (plain Jane/Joe family historians) many of whom belong to local genealogy societies. Some have visited courthouses, the National Archives, or the Family History Library, but almost all had done research on the internet in the last week. They used sites like Ancestry, Footnote, and FamilySearch and desktop software like RootsMagic, Legacy, Family Tree Maker, and PAF. Over 99% thought citing sources was important but 75% thought it was difficult to do it. Over 90% thought that there should be one standard citation guide and 57% were using “Evidence Explained.” When asked if they were interested in the solution provided in the video, 93% said they were interested.
There are more details and nuggets in the survey results.
Maybe we can explore them more in future posts.
In December 2008, I wrote a blog post titled 9 Genealogy Predictions for 2009. It is now time to review that list and see how well the predictions matched reality.
1. Two more desktop genealogy applications will support source citation templates from Elizabeth Shown Mills’ Evidence Explained. Currently Legacy 7 and RootsMagic 4 support this. The other two might likely be Family Tree Maker and The Master Genealogist.
Family Tree Maker 2009 now supports source citation templates following Evidence Explained. To my knowledge, no other desktop genealogy applications have announced this support.
2. One major online database (Ancestry, WorldVitalRecords, FamilySearch, Footnote) will announce upcoming support for Evidence Explained source citations. Other sites will soon follow with their own announcements.
I am disappointed that none of the mentioned online databases support Evidence Explained source citations. Please correct me if I am mistaken. If GenSeek is released in 2010, maybe it will be the first.
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?
I applaud the work the RootsMagic team has done to bring professional-quality research practices to the most recent version of RootsMagic. The work that they (and others) are doing is truly innovative. Just the other day, I awarded RootsMagic 4 an Innovator award for the implementation of research analysis around their citation quality feature.
I strongly encourage users of RootsMagic to use this feature, but in its current implementation there are a few gotchas and workarounds that need to be followed.
The Genealogical Proof Standard & Evidence Explained define research analysis classifications for a source, information, and evidence. A source is an object (or person) that contains (or has) information. A source can be classified as original or derivative. An original source is in its first oral or recorded form. Everything else that comes from an original (or another derivative) is a derivative. For example, a book is an original. Let’s say that it is a census enumerator’s book that he carried from house to house to take the census. Now let’s say that book is microfilmed and stored at an archive. The microfilm copy is a derivative. The digitization of the microfilm is a second generation derivative of the original. Without getting into the special cases of image copies, duplicate originals, and record copies, it is relatively easy to start uncovering the provenance or ancestry of the source you are using for your research back to the original source. The classification of a source as original or derivative helps to answer the question “Is there a better source?” and helps in your analysis as original sources usually carry more weight than derivative.
Writing about this next innovation has been on my backlog for many months (at least 3). In a previous innovator award, I spotlighted one of the first genealogy software packages to support source citation templates following those found in Evidence Explained: Citing History Sources from Artifacts to Cyberspace by Elizabeth Shown Mills. These templates help the beginning and professional genealogist to accurately cite sources as part of their effort to do professional-quality work.
As early as the 1997 book, Evidence! Citation & Analysis for the Family Historian, Elizabeth Shown Mills has covered the topics of citation and analysis. It is this second item, analysis, that is the focus of this innovator award. In Evidence! we start to see the formation of the current classification for sources (as original or derivative) and evidence (as direct or indirect). The BCG Genealogical Standards Manual published in 2000 supports the classification of sources (as original or derivative), adds a classification for information (as primary or secondary), and continues the classification of evidence (as direct or indirect). These classifications remained unchanged in Professional Genealogy which was published in 2001. By 2006 as seen on quick sheet, Evidence Analysis: A Research Process Map by Elizabeth Shown Mills we see the formation of a new evidence classification so in addition to direct or indirect we can classify evidence as negative evidence. When Evidence Explained was published in 2007 it restated these same classifications for sources (original or derivative), information (primary or secondary), and evidence (direct, indirect, or negative).
The winner of the next innovator award not only supports Evidence Explained citation templates but has coded these professional analysis practices into their software in a way that is approachable to all. So a big congratulations goes out to Bruce Buzbee and his RootsMagic team!
Let’s look at the implementation in more detail.