What is Evidence?

Sources, paperwork, information, information, details, info, proof. They’re related phrases and we household historians typically use them extra loosely than we should always. Of all these phrases, essentially the most important, and maybe the least properly understood, is proof. All of us have implicit notions of what constitutes proof, nevertheless it has a exact that means in family tree which isn’t properly understood. Figuring out methods to clearly outline, classify, group and use genealogical proof is an important talent for all household historians.

A Definition

I looked for definitions of “proof” in keeping with numerous genealogical our bodies world wide. To my shock I discovered just one organisation, the US-based Board of Certification for Genealogists, have a printed definition:


A analysis query’s tentative reply, which may be proper or fallacious, full or incomplete, or imprecise or particular; may be direct, oblique, or adverse.

Board for Certification of Genealogists, Family tree Requirements, Second Version, 2019, p.77. (“BCG” hereafter.)

Hmm. Whereas the massive variety of clauses in that sentence present that the authors have striven for a whole definition, it isn’t the clearest or most concise definition I’ve ever learn.

The explanation the BCG definition is so impenetrable is that it’s attempting to summarise a classy mannequin for the derivation of proof (which may be direct, oblique, or adverse) from info (which may be major, secondary, or undetermined), itself derived from sources (which may be authentic, spinoff or authored), multi functional sentence.

The BCG definition of proof is constructed on no fewer than eleven different phrases that every have their very own definitions. This isn’t a user-friendly method.

On this article I’ll focus in on the core components of genealogical proof and attempt to make them as clear and straightforward to make use of as I can.

Constructing Blocks

Though poorly introduced, the BCG mannequin for genealogical proof has an important power at its coronary heart: all family tree analysis is predicated on sources, these sources include info, and proof is derived from that info.

It sounds self-evident, however there may be some actual energy in stating it this manner, and a few hidden depths:

  • Info by itself is NOT proof. The researcher should draw the proof from the said or inferred info.
  • A supply by itself is NOT info. It’s the container from which info may be extracted. As household historians we should use our data of the supply to accurately establish and interpret the knowledge held inside it.

Forms of Proof

There are three forms of proof within the BCG mannequin: direct, oblique, and adverse.

Let’s take a look at them one after the other:

  • Direct Proof
    Will show a degree of reality by itself and with out interpretation of circumstances.
    I’m searching for the wedding of my Nice-great-grandfather John Bowers. I discover a marriage certificates exhibiting he married one Mary Jane Hyland in Warrington, Lancashire in 1894. That is direct proof of the wedding; I would like no different proof to determine this as a degree of reality.
  • Oblique Proof
    Will show a degree of reality solely together with different components of oblique proof, i.e. it requires some interpretation of the circumstances. In authorized parlance, this may be circumstantial proof.
    I’m researching the Hyland household of Liverpool, Lancashire. I think they could have been Irish immigrants so their spiritual denomination would probably have been Catholic slightly than Church of England. I discover a batch baptism of the three Hyland youngsters into the Church of England in 1869 when the youngsters are aged 9, six and 4. Batch baptisms of kids of this age, whereas not unknown, weren’t commonplace apply. One interpretation of this info is that they could have been baptised into the Catholic church as infants and transformed at a later time. Additional searches discover an earlier Catholic baptism for the center little one in 1863, although I’m at present unable to search out Catholic baptisms of the opposite two youngsters within the extant on-line sources. Taken collectively, these two items of data assist my idea that the household had been initially Catholic and later transformed to the CofE. On their very own, neither piece of oblique proof exhibits a change of faith, it is just when mixed that we will see that the change befell.
  • Destructive Proof
    Oblique proof arising from the absence of data the place it would in any other case be anticipated.
    Destructive proof have to be dealt with with care nevertheless – be aware of the previous adage that “absence of proof doesn’t imply proof of absence“. It might probably solely ever be interpreted as oblique proof, requiring further proof earlier than it could possibly represent proof.
    Instance 1:
    I’m searching for the start dad and mom of Ernest Albert Stringer, born in Cheshire in 1872. I discover a start certificates for Ernest which names his mom, Anne Stringer, however no father. That is robust adverse proof that Ernest was born illegitimately. Additional searches present that Anne was single and aged simply 19 on the time of Ernest’s start. She subsequently remarried and left Ernest to be introduced up by her dad and mom. Combining the adverse proof of the start certificates with the opposite oblique proof, we will make a really robust case that Ernest was illegitimate.
    Instance 2:
    I’m researching the Hyland household of Liverpool, Lancashire (once more). I imagine that William Hyland, the daddy of the household was useless by the point his daughter Mary Jane married in Warrington in 1894, as she said that he was deceased on her marriage certificates. I discover the household in each 1881 and 1871 censuses, however on each events William is absent. That is adverse proof suggesting that William most likely died earlier than 1871. Additional searches reveal that William died in December 1865. On this case, the adverse proof of the wedding certificates and the censuses helped me to slim down the search window for William’s demise, resulting in the direct proof of his demise.

Be fully trustworthy with your self, do you construction and classify the proof you acquire on this method? I believe this can be a great tool, and one which we should always all be utilizing and discussing extra extensively.

The Want for Supply Citations

We are sometimes informed that it’s essential that we cite all our sources, however there may be seldom a dialogue of why? The purpose of the supply quotation is to allow one other researcher (or ourselves at a future time, after we’ve lengthy forgotten the main points) to re-create the Supply –> Info –> Proof path of reasoning. By shining a lightweight on what we depend upon to derive our proof, we allow open assessment, dialogue and, if vital, revision of the chain of reasoning underpinning the proof we current in direction of our total conclusions.

Having a clear chain of reasoning is a basic principal in all investigative disciplines. In science, for instance, researchers publish articles in peer-reviewed journals, totally describing the method they adopted to realize their outcomes. This allows different scientists to breed the experiment and ensure the consequence. With out reproducibility, a scientific result’s thought-about null and void, inflicting it to be formally withdrawn. (This could and does occur – c.f. the furore over Chilly Fusion in 1989 – see https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cold_fusion)

In family tree, we should intention for related ranges of transparency in our analysis. So, our rule of thumb right here ought to be: proof is simply proof when supported by supply citations.

If solely all these on-line bushes held sufficient info to uphold their assertions…

Ultimate Ideas

Whereas the BCG mannequin is somewhat daunting, it’s the finest mannequin we’ve for genealogical proof. It permits us to categorise and collate proof in a structured approach, resulting in legitimate conclusions which might be clear to others and can stand the check of time.

Subsequent Time: I’ll take a look at the problem of linking two or extra items of proof collectively. Once we discover two information in disparate occasions and locations, how can we fulfill ourselves that they relate to the identical particular person?