Mastering Genealogical Proof – Chapter 2 revisited

Chapter 2 – Revisited

Russ Worthington
10 August 2013

Thomas W. Jones, Mastering Genealogical Proof , (Arlington, Virginia: National Genealogical Society, 2013), p 7-16

Book available from the publisher at

If you have been following my Blog on the book, Mastering Genealogical Proof, you may has seen that I put a Source Analysis Report out for Peer Review. Never in my wildest dreams did I expect to receive comments from Elizabeth Shown Mills. I have had the pleasure of meeting her a couple of times, in person, but did not expect to have a review of my struggle with this book.

Her comments were very clear AND very helpful. But what it did for me was to cause me to go back are read Chapter 2 again and see what I was missing. Also, I am using the Evidentia software program to help me learn. That is practice what I am learning. (for me)

When I went back at the chapter AND how I was using Evidentia I missed something that was right in front of me, but didn’t see it. The book, and Evidentia are walking me through the steps, I wasn’t DOING the steps in order.

The report I was running, and putting out for peer review was a Source Analysis Report. But what I was missing, I was creating that report with the eye of one who has already done detailed analysis on the data collected. I had already been through the cycle and was returning to document the analysis. Like reading the last chapter of a book, then judging the book by its cover.

Let me try a different way of explaining this. I see a Container of something, then describing the container after I already opened the package that was inside of the container. If I consider a SOURCE as being a Container, for this report, I should be trying to describe the CONTAINER. Is it Round, is it Square, Did it come by truck, by plane or by boat.

I should be trying to describe that its round or not. If its not round, it could get to me by truck or boat. For the topic at hand, is the SOURCE an Authored Work, or is it a Record, and that Record could be original or it could be derived from records.

The container being Round or Source an Authored Work, it might contain someone interpretation of records, but it will never be a record. The Square container or Record, might come in two forms, an original record or derived, but these two records will never be Round.

Evidentia does help me through this step. I just didn’t see it that way. The opening screen:

We start with this screen, then we select Document Source.


I have created a Source using the Template Feature, that walks me through the fields that need to be in a Source Statement that will become a Citation later. I must Classify what this Source is. The options are Original Record, Derived Record, or Authored Work. Is the CONTAINER Round, or Square, and if square did it come by boat or truck. Evidentia helps us with that on this screen in that. It asks if we are looking at an Image Copy, then it would be Original, or is it an Image copy that is derived. Derived from something else. Is it a Clerk’s Copy, a Transcript, and Extract, Abstract or an Index, all of which would be derived.

I got that piece right, in that I made a selection, but I was looking at a Registration book. Just thinking about that, perhaps it really is a Clerk’s Copy, and that is based on the fact that the page had names in alphabetical order and would appear that they were written at the same time. I have now changed my choice from Image Copy (Original) to Clerk’s Copy (Derived). I had to go back to that image and look at the fact that the list was in alphabetical order and written about the same time. It would appear that there was some other record or piece of paper that was then put into this Register in the proper order. My Container was Square but came by boat not by truck (Derived not Original)

The next step is to Catalogue the INFORMATION in the Container. Not analyzing the information, but cataloging the information. We start, in Evidentia, by identifying the Claims from the information that we are presented with. Is it Primary, Secondary, or we can’t determine (Indeterminable).

For a US Census Record, until the 1940 Census, we could NOT tell who the Informant of the information was. All US Census until 1940 would be “Indeterminable”. We just don’t know, nor can we guess.


Can we determine from each claim who gave the information. That’s simple, or is it? Information collected from that container, could be a mixture of Primary or Secondary. Did the Informant give the information directly, from experience, or from someone else or was told about the information being asked.

In the case of my Civil War Registration record, all of the information that was recorded in that book have been concurred in by other records. So, if James A Wake gave the information to the clerk for recording into that register, the informant and Classification would be Primary.

So far, I have classified the Source as Derived, and the Information as Primary, trying not to confuse the content with the container. My peer review document had confused, but my data entry, the content then the container or source.

I didn’t see any signature, nor statement of who the informant was, so I had selected indeterminable. But the information provided would have been answered by someone who knew or witnessed making it Primary information.

The third step, sticking with this first Container or Source is to evaluate the Information Collected or Evidence from This Source. Evidentia helps with that as well.


We have to choices when evaluating the Claims. Direct or Indirect or Negative. The claim makes a clear statement or we have to pull information together or to be able to answer the question.

Lesson Learned: Answer the questions, in Evidentia, in the order asked. Don’t read the last chapter of the book to find out how the story ends, before reading the book.

Lesson Learned:
This experience does NOT mean that the information is correct or incorrect. I won’t find that out until I have followed these steps, in order, several times, before I can analyze ALL of the information that I have collected. That’s the next step AFTER I have found more sources.

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