Some people eat, sleep and chew gum, I do genealogy and write...

Saturday, May 30, 2015

Comments on Becoming an Excellent Genealogist -- Chapter Sixteen

This is an ongoing series of chapter by chapter comments on the book,

Meyerink, Kory L., Tristan Tolman, and Linda K. Gulbrandsen. Becoming an Excellent Genealogist: Essays on Professional Research Skills. [Salt Lake City, Utah]: ICAPGen, 2012.

I am now commenting on Chapter 16: "Getting the Most from Electronic Indexes" by Suzanne Russo Adams, MA, AG.

 I fully realize that I have stretched this particular commentary over an extended period of time and it has been a while since I wrote my last post on the subject. However, I intend to finish the entire project. Chapter 16 is one of the few chapters that I entirely agree with. This chapter outlines some of the concerns that all genealogists face with using online websites and particularly in using indexes created by those websites. This is not a commentary on the accuracy of the FamilySearch Indexing program or any other program involving the complex task of indexing genealogical records, but it is a cautionary commentary on the reality of the limitations involved in those indexes.

I think the following paragraph from the article gives an overall view of the issues involved.
A history of the record sets you might find on the web, such as county or state vital record indexes and indexes to the census, might require a little genealogical sleuthing about where the records came from and how they were created, in order to better understand and utilize them.
 I would suggest that more than a little genealogical investigation as to the origin and content of the index is absolutely necessary. One example from is sufficient to illustrate this problem. If you examine the Historical Record Collections on carefully, you will find that there is an extreme discrepancy in some cases between the number of records reported and the number of records digitized. Although it is not spelled out directly, the record count given for each of the records, apparently reflects only the number of indexed records and not the number of total records in the collection. For example, a recently added collection is entitled "Czech Republic Church Books, 1552-1963." This particular collection is listed with 86,069 records. However, further investigation indicates that there are in fact 4,668,489 images. Obviously, the number of records actually indexed is only a small percentage of the total number of records in the collection.

Using this example, any search on of this particular collection will in effect, only be searching a very small portion of the total number of records available. Until the records are completely indexed the only safe way to search this particular collection is to examine the records as if they were still microfilmed, as they actually are. In other words, the researcher must search the records individually. Fortunately, because the microfilm has been digitized it is readily available and searchable online for free. Those who are unaware of the situation and rely on the fact that there is a number of records indicated, will likely miss information. Unfortunately, FamilySearch does not tell the researcher which collections are only partially indexed in an obvious fashion.

This, and many other problems and challenges of using indexes are carefully outlined in the current chapter under consideration. Another quote indicates clearly that the author understands the limitations of the indexing process.
Due to continuing technological advances, it is becoming increasingly easier to connect a scan of an original source document to an index. When viewing indexes online, it is important to learn what information is contained on the original document and the "rules" for collecting that information. For example, enumerators of the U.S. federal censuses were instructed to record the state and/or country of birth for an individual. Thus, researchers should not expect to find the city of birth of an individual listed on an original census record or on an electronic federal census index. Moreover, researchers must understand which fields of information were indexed on a specific document in order to effectively use the index.
The article continues with a summary of the various areas where the index may be limited due to the selection of the fields indexed and the information contained in those fields.

 The article also contains a short comment on the limitations of OCR transcribing. Although optical character recognition (OCR) has been being developed for some considerable period of time, there are still some obvious limitations. Some of those limitations are pointed out by the author and include the quality of the original image. One significant limitation of OCR transcriptions for genealogists is that any document that is handwritten is not yet able to be electronically transcribed except in very limited situations.

This particular chapter is an excellent example of the value of this particular book.

You may wish to review some of the preceding chapters:

Friday, May 29, 2015

The Elements of Research -- Part Five: The Search Continues

To begin your genealogical research, it is vitally important to understand the difference between methodology and theory. Doing research is not just a rote set of actions, it also requires a extensive realization of the end product of the endeavor. The researchers must resolve the question of what they are ultimately trying to accomplish. It is easy to get caught up in the mechanics of "doing your genealogy" and approach the subject as if it were nothing more than an exercise in filling in blanks on a form. The extreme example of this is the common practice of copying and adopting an existing pedigree without further examination, a practice that is also called "name gathering."

Methodology is the systematic use of procedures and actions. To be effective, any methodology must be directed by an overall understanding or "theory," that is, a system of ideas and understanding based on general principles. I am not using the concept of a "theory" in the scientific sense of a hypothesis, but in the general sense of an idea used to substantiate the need for a specific action. By writing about research, I am intending to investigate the limits and bounds of what is and what is not genealogical research. This investigation comprises my "theory" of genealogical research. At the same time, I am formulating a series of methodologies that support my overall genealogical theory.

Blindly gathering names is antithetical to research. If research must involve a process of moving from what is known to discover what is not known, there is an absolute, implied requirement of knowledge before there can be any further discovery. In genealogical investigations, this begins with one's own parents. Hypothetically, there are several initial conditions that can exist in any genealogical research project:

  • The identity of the researcher's biological parents are known and the relationship is positively verified
  • The identity of the researcher's biological parents are assumed, but not positively verified
  • The identity of the researcher's biological parents are partially identified
  • The identity of the researcher's biological parents are unknown

I begin with this example because in my experience, it has not been uncommon that a beginning researcher did not know the identity of his or her parents or only knew the identity of one parent. Genealogists acknowledge this possibility with the categories of adopted, foster, guardian and grandparent relationships. The ultimate reality of genealogical research is that the consideration of actual biological relationship is in question at every single step in the ancestral or relational links. For example, are you sure that you or some or all of your siblings were not adopted? As a side note, in the United States, the existence of a "birth certificate" is not conclusive as to a biological relationship. In many cases, the adopted child has been provided with a birth certificate showing the adopted parents as their "biological" parents.

There is a serious issue concerning what is actually known about our ancestry. Unfortunately, relying on sources is not an absolute guarantee of accuracy. This difficulty is generally analogous to what is known as the Uncertainty Principle in science. Just as there are limits to the degree of precision available in the scientific world, there is a concomitant limit to the accuracy of any historical research; we are always limited by the accuracy and availability of historical records. Although, I must observe that we can achieve a far greater degree of accuracy and precision than is commonly demonstrated in genealogical research.

Back to the issue of methodology vs. theory. Much of what is taught about genealogy involves methodology. For example, there are hundreds, if not thousands, of classes taught about "how to organize" your genealogy. Another example is the abundance of "tutorials" on the various genealogically related programs. There is an assumption that knowing how to use a certain program will enable you to "do your genealogy." If genealogical research were nothing more than methodology, then it would be relatively simple to create a computer program that would automatically provide each person with their own genealogy. Despite the fact that there are programs out there that purport to do just that, the reality is that those programs, of necessity, are based on inaccurate and incomplete data. Until and unless computer programs can replicate the activity of the human brain, human evaluation of the products of computer programming research will always be needed.

Where does that leave the genealogically inclined researcher? Perhaps the answer is in this quote attributed to Albert Einstein:
Learn from yesterday, live for today, hope for tomorrow. The important thing is not to stop questioning. See Albert Einstein, Relativity: The Special and the General Theory

Previous installments of this series include:

Help! I am a victim of Pedigree Collapse

If you are related to your mother and your father, you too are a victim of pedigree collapse. Pedigree collapse is a basic principle of ancestry. The definition of this condition is a little complex. Essentially, some of your ancestors married their own relatives. As you go back in time, this intermarriage becomes more and more prevalent. The effect of the intermarriage is that the number of your ancestors does not actually increase in a regular geometric progression (i.e. 2, 4, 8, 16, etc.), but instead, at some point in the past, the numbers actually begin to decrease dramatically. If you were to view your pedigree in a diagram, the resultant image would look similar to a snake that had swallowed a mouse whole. The number of persons in your family lines would increase to a point in time and then begin to decrease.

If the geometric progression of your ancestors was a reality, in about 30 generations, you would have more theoretical ancestors than the entire population of the world. In my own case, this phenomena began with my own parents, who were 2nd cousins, that is, they shared the same great-grandparents. Another obvious fact is that the smaller the ancestral community, the more likely it will be that your ancestors married their own cousins. Pedigree collapse is more common among populations where transportation was limited or in small isolated populations, such as islands.

If you want and current graphic example of pedigree collapse, you can enter your ancestry into the Family Tree program and then use the Relative Finder app to see all your relatives. You may find out that you are related to your spouse.

Thursday, May 28, 2015

The Elements of Research -- Part Four: Starting the Search

What do you already know about your family? This is not a question to be addressed casually if you are beginning your family history research or even if you have been researching for many years. Yesterday, I spent a couple of hours with one of my friends working on his family lines in the Family Tree. He began by showing me his ancestors back seven or eight generations and looking at names and more names. He had no idea where to start or what to do.

I find this to be an extremely common situation. Genealogical research can very quickly involve very large numbers of ancestors. The geometric sequence progression of direct line ancestors illustrates this perfectly: 2, 4, 8, 16, 32, 64, 128, 256 etc. My friend was looking back at a level where he had over 500 (510 to be more exact) ancestors. When you consider that many of these ancestors had more than one spouse, practically, the number was even greater. What was the problem here? He thought he was ready to research some of his remote ancestors when he had serious data problems my closer to the present. After going back to his parents and grandparents, we found a situation where one of his great-grandmothers supposedly had her first child when she was five years old. We spent the rest of the time looking at this one family.

When we say that research begins with the known and moves to the unknown, we mean it. The accuracy of each successive generation is based entirely on the accuracy of the data about the one that is more recent in time. Jumping back into time to do "research" almost guarantees that you are researching the wrong people. This does not mean that a single line cannot be accurately extended, what it does mean is that moving back generations without doing the fundamental groundwork for each intervening generation is ill-advised. So, do we take out aunt's or grandmother's word that everything she put in her pedigree was the gospel truth? Not unless you want to find out later that you were building a bridge in the air without any support.

I have been working on my family lines for over 30 years and I am just now beginning to sort out the lines where the controversy begins with the families of two great-great-grandfathers. In my case, most of the information "passed down" from my family was inaccurate. When I say this, I mean the people were not properly identified, not that there were simply errors in the dates etc. the identity of the people listed was and is in question.

In many cases, it is easy to determine where to start because the pedigree is incomplete in the first four generations or is almost entirely lacking in supporting source documentation. The main question to ask at this point is whether or not the researcher is actually interested in doing research. The reactions I get to my comments about the status of the information they have already gathered is usually indicative of whether or not they are willing to begin to do research or are merely passively interested is seeing names on a pedigree.

I look at the starting point in terms of geographic locations. My questions involve discovering a trail of established, verified, specific geographic locations that are associated with events in the family tree. The reason for this position is simple. Genealogically pertinent records are associated with specific geographic locations. Depending on the family and the location, this identification may need to be down to the specific house, farm or ranch the family lived in or on. This is particularly true when you have people with the same or similar names in the area.

Here are the steps to determine where you start doing research:

Step No. One
Examine your family lines carefully. Look for documentation with valid sources for the information recorded for each individual. Look for consistency in dates, places and names.

Step No. Two
Choose a specific line for investigation. Verify each place and the associated records where the recorded events occurred.

Step No. Three
Begin your research at the point where the names, dates and places begin to be partially recorded or missing.

Most of the time, this process takes me about ten to fifteen minutes before I have found serious data problems.

Previous installments of this series include:

Wednesday, May 27, 2015

The Elements of Research -- Part Three: Looking at Sources

Before I go any further with this series on research, I need to discuss the concept of "sources."

The entire idea of researching genealogy is built on an assumption, proven in fact, that various individuals and organizations keep records and have done so for thousands of years. Whatever the motivational interest, records have been kept from individuals writing letters and diaries, to commercial operations, to national governments keeping track of their armies and treasuries. Some of the oldest writing in the world was used to record grain and livestock transactions. See The British Museum, Explore/Writing. It took thousands of years before writing became so pervasive that records existed about the lives of individuals, outside of royalty and other important people. The earliest records of most of our ancestors only go back as far as the 16th Century although tax records go back much further, such as the Domesday Book, compiled in England in 1085 for the purpose of determining what taxes were owed at the time.

With the advances in printing and literacy, eventually, records accumulated at every possible jurisdictional and societal level. To genealogists, these written records (and occasionally oral ones) are the source for the information that goes into compiling a family tree. Discovering these records is the main activity of genealogists. A record becomes your "source" for genealogical information when it contains information about your family. Basic genealogical references are guides to where these records may be found and how to use them to compile family histories. For example, one basic book about genealogy in the United States is called simply, The Source, A Guidebook of American Genealogy. (See Szucs, Loretto Dennis, and Sandra Hargreaves Luebking. The Source: A Guidebook of American Genealogy. Provo, UT: Ancestry, 2006). This book is primarily an explanation of what kinds of genealogically important records are available and where they might be found.

Records have been preserved for a variety of reasons including being preserved specifically for genealogical research. Today we have entire libraries dedicated to the preservation and dissemination of genealogically important records. As computers and the Internet became the central way information is disseminated, large online collections of genealogically important records became the main place where genealogists began their research. Because of the advantages that accrue from access to digitized records available to individual computing devices, the number and variety of these online records has become a virtual explosion of information.

As the number of records online has increased, genealogists have attempted to keep pace with the number of records by creating catalogs, lists and wikis that attempt to organize these huge collections. Notwithstanding the huge amount of information already online and the vast amounts being added daily, there is still an even greater amount of genealogically pertinent information locked up in the world's paper-based, written records.

If the basic genealogical activity is discovering records that pertain to family history, it is important to distinguish between the quality of the information found and the quantity. Quoting from a commonly used genealogical course book, (Harland, Derek. Genealogical Research Standards. Salt Lake City, Utah: Published by the Genealogical Society, the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, 1963, p. 19).
Far too many so-called genealogists judge success in research by the number names they have collected in their searches, rather than by the method and approach to the genealogical problem and the care with which the search ave been made. "Name gathering" is not genealogy.
The information contained in various records may well be inaccurately recorded, contradictory and in many cases, entirely misleading. The process of becoming a competent genealogist or family historian is essentially an evolution from blindingly copying information to incorporating methodologies for interpretation and evaluation.

A genealogical researcher first must identify and find the records. But at this point, the research process has just barely begun. Records do not exist in isolation, they must be interpreted in context. It is all too easy to find a name in a record and immediately assume that the named person is your ancestor. It is only by careful analysis of the record, its context and possible limitations, that you can safely assume the record is pertinent. In addition, as I alluded to previously, any inconsistencies and contradictions in different records must be resolved. When a record is appropriately evaluated and any issues with the record resolved, then the record should be incorporated into an organized structure so that the researcher and any other member of the family can see where the information was obtained. Maintaining a "source-centric" family history means that every fact is supported by a reference to a record (source) where the information was obtained.

Fortunately, for many beginning researchers, this task has become fairly simple. Several of the large online, genealogical database programs have incorporated methods of automatically searching for pertinent records and then attaching them as sources to the appropriate individuals. The part of this newly developed automatic system that cannot be supplied by the online providers is the evaluation and resolution of the inconsistencies and mistakes in the original records. Although the results of these online, automated searches can be amazing, they can also be entirely wrong.

When I say I am doing genealogical research, what am I doing? The answer to this question is, to some extent, highly personal. But there is a general consensus. Genealogical research is primarily an activity involved in identifying and searching records. Any record found to contain genealogically pertinent information can become a source through proper evaluation and interpretation. Any information recorded in the family history derived from that "source" should be attributed to the record through a process of citation. It is important that these "citations" contain enough information that the research and any subsequent researchers can readily identify and locate the original record. One major advantage of the online, automatic or semi-automatic record hinting programs is that the citation to the record, once incorporated by the researcher into a family tree, is preserved with a link to an image of the original record.

As a side note, presently, in many cases, there exists the capability to electronically attach digitized copies of the original source record. This should be a mandatory and consistent research method. Any time it is at all possible copies of all original records should accompany the citation attached to any family or individual.

Well, at this point, I have gotten a start to analyzing and commenting on the research process. Stay tuned for future installments.

Previous installments of this series include:

Tuesday, May 26, 2015

The Elements of Research -- Part Two

I begin this second installment in the series with a quote from Cerny, Johni, and Arlene H. Eakle. Ancestry's Guide to Research: Case Studies in American Genealogy. Salt Lake City, Utah: Ancestry Inc, 1985, on page 115:

When students of genealogy first learn that it is impossible to prove a lineage absolutely, they resist that fact. They live in an era when advanced technology demands absolutes, the products of societies driven to achieve perfection. Neither resistance, technology, nor the pursuit of perfection will alter reality; at best, a lineage can be proven only beyond a reasonable doubt, just as guilt or innocence is proven in a court of law.  Lineages, like court cases, are built upon available evidence.
I will reserve further comment on the issue of applying legal jargon to genealogical research issues to another post, but I would comment here that proving genealogical research to a standard of "beyond a reasonable doubt" would make that research practically impossible. This statement above, to some extent, summarizes my comments in the first installment of this series. Proving an ancestral relationship with "evidence" implies a degree of certitude that is not achievable. Court cases involve adversarial proceedings presided over by a judge or jury who will ultimately make the decision as to which side prevails. There are no genealogical courts, either are there any genealogical judges or juries. The end product of our genealogical research is nothing more or less that a series of conclusions we make based on the sources we discover. Nothing is added to the research process by alluding to any quasi-legal standard of proof.

In an earlier work, Harland, Derek. Genealogical Research Standards. Salt Lake City, Utah: Published by the Genealogical Society, the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, 1963, the author states, at page 20:
It would be difficult to set a general standard for genealogical research, as the methods of compiling pedigrees vary according to the time and locality of each problem. The aim of every genealogist is to conform to the highest standard, irrespective of the time and locality of the problem – it is to carry out searches that will result in complete and correct and connected records.
In the book, Bennett, Archibald F. A Guide for Genealogical Research. [Salt Lake City]: Genealogical Society of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, 1951 at page 51, it states:
Each one of us who would undertake to compile a genealogy is in duty bound to base this record upon the testimony of persons who actually knew from first-hand experience those facts of names, dates, places and relationships which go to make up such a record. Or, in the event no direct, first-hand testimony of an eye and ear witness can be found, he must obtain the testimony of one who, although not himself an actual witness to these facts, learned of them from those who did know by personal experience.
The key concept I see as crucial to beginning a study of the subject of genealogical research is the concept of moving from the known to the unknown. Before we begin to search for information about our remote ancestors we most certainly need to understand clearly what we already know. This particular stage has been referred to as the "Survey Stage" of genealogical research. In my early years, this process involved years of research in the Family History Library in Salt Lake City, Utah gathering all of the records previously compiled by my relatives. Today, that task is made considerably easier by the availability of much of that information online.

All too often after accumulating the efforts of other family members, researchers began by accepting on blind faith the work done. Obviously, such work may have been accurate but in many cases, there are discrepancies that can seriously affect the accuracy of subsequent research efforts. Many of these earlier compiled genealogies lack any reference to the source where the information was obtained and are therefore inherently unreliable. It may seem unnecessary bother to document information that we "know" to be correct but had our ancestors done this, we would not be in the position of having to redo the research.

Despite our belief in the accuracy of the previously done work, as we examine whatever has been previously compiled about our family, it is important to integrate both analysis and interpretation without implying a final conclusion. I see the basic outline of the process as follows:

1st Stage:
We begin the process by understanding the need for source documentation as a basis for extending and verifying family lines. Before initiating a search for individuals and families, it is imperative to understand the relationship between locations and sources. Any valid genealogical or historical investigation is source-centric. But at the same time, any consideration of sources need to be focused on specifically identified geographic locations. It is essential that we verify information we already possess. In the process of verifying my own family's efforts, I found much of the information to be inaccurate. Place names were improperly recorded or totally inaccurate. Dates were often missing or obviously wrong. Names were expelled in a variety of formats and variations in the names were not reflected in any actual records. I found incorrect places and dates, thereby rendering whole ancestral lines questionable.

2nd Stage:
All of the previously recorded sources must be analyzed and evaluated for consistency and accuracy. At this point, it is important to proceed systematically, making no assumptions and refraining from the impulse to jump back to research missing information. For example, if a particular ancestor has no source documentation, approximate dates and unspecified places where events occurred, it should be assumed that any recorded ancestral lines beyond the unverified individual are questionable and should be ignored until adequate documentation is discovered.

Research, therefore, is the process of evaluating what is presently known, identifying questions that need to be resolved and missing information that needs to be found and then beginning the process of analysis and interpretation extending the lines by considering sources that may be available as connected to the places where our ancestors lived. Too many people, when beginning genealogical research, assume that all they need to is look for records and copy out the names.

I will expand on this idea in future installments.

Previous installments of this series include:

Monday, May 25, 2015

The Elements of Research -- Part One


For some time now, I have been thinking about the concept of genealogical research. In order to further my thought process and organize my thinking, I have decided to begin a series analyzing and explaining the basic research processes as it pertains to genealogy's particular area of historic research. Obviously, as usual, this analysis and the accompanying explanations will be highly personal. In order to begin to organize my thoughts on the subject, I used the following book written, in part, by my friend Arlene Eakle.

Cerny, Johni, and Arlene H. Eakle. Ancestry's Guide to Research: Case Studies in American Genealogy. Salt Lake City, Utah: Ancestry Inc, 1985.

I do not intend to review the book, but I do intend to use the concepts contained in the book as a structure for addressing the current concepts of genealogical research. As I go along, I will add additional, more recently, published books. I may also refer to other even older books along the way. 

Since my very first attempts at historical research, in high school, over fifty years ago, I have been actively involved in research in some form or another. But simply doing research does not necessarily give someone the insight to analyze and understand the process. For quite some time now, I have been reading and studying the methodology and processes involved in discovering family relationships. Of course, my years of active participation as a trial attorney have also influenced by thinking.

I have written several blog posts about my impressions of the current state of genealogical research. The thrust of my concerns involve the fact that current genealogical methodology and analysis has become almost hopelessly tangled with concepts and jargon borrowed from both law and science. I am almost in despair at the task of separating the intermeshed and inappropriate legal and scientific concepts from from the core concepts of genealogical research. The current common adoption of the terms "facts," "evidence" and "proof" in talking about historical research is the most obvious indication of this integration. Historically, these terms were used in a general sense, but during the very recent past, the terms have definitely adopted a quasi-legal connotation.

When did genealogists begin incorporating legal and scientific jargon into their writings? If you read the following book, you will not find any reference to "proof" as such or to the more current concept of a "proof statement."

Harland, Derek. Genealogical Research Standards. Salt Lake City, Utah: Published by the Genealogical Society, the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, 1963.

Harland does discuss the concept of evidence, but uses the term in a general way and does not try to relate the term to legal terms. By 1985, the Ancestry book, cited above, makes reference to a "preponderance of the evidence," a term directly borrowed from legal jargon. 

In an even earlier work,

Bennett, Archibald F. A Guide for Genealogical Research. [Salt Lake City]: Genealogical Society of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, 1951.

the concepts of proof and evidence pre-date any attempted relationship to the use of these terms in the legal sense. It is not use of the terms, per se, that I find objectionable, but the implication that they are validated by their incorporation as quasi-legal terms. This culminates in the present assumed ability "advanced genealogists" supposedly acquire to write acceptable "proof statements," which are nothing more or less than their personal conclusions couched in quasi-legal jargon. From my standpoint, this is exactly the same as relying on the briefs submitted by one side in a legal controversy with weight being given to the formality of the statement, more than the content and research supporting the arguments made. After writing legal briefs for years, perhaps I resent the implication that my genealogical research is only acceptable if I follow quasi-legal guidelines and prove my genealogical case. If I believed that a "proof statement" was necessary, I would become fundamentally exclusionary and adversarial.

In writing about the subject of research, I will try to avoid the currently popular terminology and rely on the more traditional methods of describing genealogical research. I will also try to go well beyond the present issues of terminology and address a more thorough methodology for conducting research.

I will begin demonstrating my line of thought with this example. I recently became involved in researching one family line of immigrants from England and Wales. Nearly all of my other family lines have been exhaustively researched for over 100 years, but this line has had little attention from researchers. This particular line begins with my Great-great-grandfather, David Thomas (b. 1820, in Wales, d. 1888) and illustrates some of the issues involved. David Thomas was married three times, first in 1842 to Mary Howells (b. 1821, in Wales, d. 1860), next in 1862 to Adeline Springthorpe (b. 1826, in England, d. 1891) and then in 1871 to her sister Frances Ann Springthorpe (b. 1833, in England, d. 1879). I spent some time researching early church records which contained records of all three marriages. In the records of the marriages in America to the Springthorpe sisters, Adeline and Frances both reported their birth dates exactly ten years later than the English birth records. The remaining information supplied by the sisters is consistent with the English birth records; the parents and places are accurately reported. When were the two sisters born? When do I consider that I have completed a "reasonably exhaustive search" of the existing records? Who else is going to spend the time on this particular line and disagree with any of my conclusions? However, in this case, I have at least three other very able researchers to question my findings and collaborate on the conclusions.

I could resort to the currently popular legal jargon and analyze the "evidence" from the records and conclude that the birth records in England "prove" that the sisters were lying about their ages. Or, I could simply report that the discrepancy exists and that my conclusion, based on the available sources, is that the birth records are more reliable than the dates reported by the sisters. As an attorney, it would be very easy for me to make a convincing argument, now commonly called a "proof statement" that the sisters lied about their ages, speculating about any number of reasons this could be the case. What happens when we discover more records figure out that both records are wrong because we have the sisters in the wrong family? My issue is with the implied finality of using legal terminology. Why does it matter whether or not I use legal terminology to express my opinion as to the actual birth dates? I would submit that the main reason for avoiding the quasi-legal evidence and proof concepts is that the research here is open-ended. We are not deciding and closing the case. There is much, much more to the story of this family than a simple issue of the dates of the two wive's births. As I have learned by experience, legal arguments are designed with the intent to conclude the controversy. As attorneys we want to "win" the case, i.e. have the case decided in our clients' favor. This is not what genealogy is all about. We are not researching our families in order to win our case. We are merely investigating historical documents for information and drawing conclusions. There is a need to be careful, accurate and systematic in our research, but in all this I eschew any reliance on a specific type of formality. What is happening today in genealogy is too much like the Supreme Court of Arizona refusing to accept my brief for filing because I have not provided the correct number of copies.

Genealogical research begins when we stop copying others and start looking at the records and drawing our own conclusions. To try to impose on this process an adversarial need to prove our case does not add any validity either to our conclusions or our opinions. It boils down to this, why should I care what you think about your family? Why should I have to feel obligated to prove to you (or anyone else) what I think about the history of my own family?

So much for my highly opinionated introduction. Stay tuned, if you can stand it, for the next installments.