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.

9 Responses to Mastering Genealogical Proof – Chapter 2 revisited

  1. Hi Russ – I found your post while trying to determine if I can count information from a 1940 census by the person interviewed as primary. It appears that the answer may be yes. Thoughts? And if the answer is yes, does what would that mean for their answers about the other people in the household, since one would presume that, say, a wife would have first-hand knowledge about her husband’s occupation.

    • Russ Worthington says:


      Yes, we might know the informant, in the 1940 Census, BUT is it ALL Primary? No. That doesn’t mean that it’s right or wrong, but … Was the Informant PRESENT at the Time of the Event being recorded. Husband’s occupation, probably. Husband’s birth and birth location, probably not.

      Let me give you a First Hand example.

      My mother is listed twice in the 1940 Census. No, what wasn’t living in two places. On the one entry, HER father was the informant for the entry for the Household and he WAS the Head of Household; BUT, wait for it …

      The wife listed, was my Mother’s name, but my grandmother’s other details, which were correct. AND, my aunt was NOT listed at all. When I saw the record, with a day of the release of the images, I called my aunt to ask here where she was in 1940. She was still at home, going to the local college, which I knew.

      Was this my grandfather’s error, the enumerator’s error, or a recorder’s error. The image of that census page was very clear, so there wasn’t an image transcription error.

      Not because of the other “errors”, I would say that the ages given were probably right, and place of birth were also correct. But, for this same set of grandparents, I have a record of their marriage being in one State, when they were married a the home in the town where they lived.

      Long answer for a “Maybe” answer or a Yes / No answer.

      Not sure that helped, but thank you for your comment and question.


      • Thanks, Russ. Your thought process mirrors my own. I would think that a wife interviewed would know the husband’s occupation as primary, but birth as secondary, for example. But she should know all of her own details. In EE, ESM says that a census is secondary, so I’m not sure how that applies to the person being interviewed in the 1940 census.

        • Russ Worthington says:


          Where did Elizabeth Shown Mills say that Census records are secondary. Much of the information IS secondary. As to the Husband’s occupation question, I would look for more information to affirm or contradict that occupation listed in a Census Record. That gets into our Evaluation process as described in Mastering Genealogical Proof.

          The other thing to understand is that The Census is a container of information or the Source of information. So, in general a Census might be considered Secondary. It’s the Information on a Census Image, where some of the fields might be Primary. Such as the Wife giving the Age and birth place of her Child. She was there and has first hand knowledge. That wouldn’t hold true for her husband. She wasn’t there.

          As to the husband’s occupation, my guess is that if you asked Him that question, you might get a different answer. Jus’ sayin’. In any case, I would evaluate ALL of the records / information that I would find about his occupation.

          Not trying to disagree with you, just sharing what I have learned on this topic and two study groups I was part of in this book.


        • According to “Evidence! Citation & Analysis for the Family Historian” on pg. 49(I credited EE, but I assume it is the same there), she says that only the original is primary and ALL duplicates of any kind are secondary. Since I am not looking at the original census record, I assume she would call that a duplicate image.

          I’m definitely looking at all of it in light of all of the evidence (I’m using Evidentia), but am a little confused about primary vs. secondary because Evidentia considers exactly duplicates such as digital images as primary, whereas what I see from ESM says that no duplicates are primary.

        • Russ Worthington says:

          Mary Ann,

          I am not the expert. But, here is what Dr. Thomas W Jones says, in Mastering Genealogical Proof, on page 11, Chapter 2:
          Primary Information is that reported by an eyewitness. Primary information often was recorded soon after the event, but it may be reported or recorded years or decades later.

          Secondary Information is reported by someone who obtained it from someone else. It is hearsay, Secondary information begins as primary information. It becomes secondary when someone who did not witness an event or relationship reports it.

          Evidentia very, very closely matches EE and the GPS (Genealogical Proof Standard). Ed, the developer pays very close attention to those documents and “standards”.

          Isn’t that book that you quoted a bit dated?

          Have you visited the Evidence Explained website ?

          A quote from “Genealogical Proof Standard, Building a Solid Case” by Christine Rose, CG, CGL, FASG says on page 22

          “For the information to be considered primary, it must be furnished by someone with firsthand knowledge or a participant in the event. That is the INFORMATION in a Source. The Source being the container of information.

          I just had a thought about your Evidentia Question. Are you talking about the Container, that is the Census Record you are looking at, OR the Information that is within that Record (or any record). You classify the Source first, in Evidentia. Then you take the Claims or Information from that record and then evaluate that. Two different things. Container and Information.

          Does that help? or is there still some confusion?


        • Thanks for helping me drill this down. You are right – the book is dated and I didn’t realize it. I think I just need to invest in EE. I didn’t want to get the digital version – I need to look into whether Evidentia’s references to pg. numbers will match up to the digital version.

          Regarding the original question, I am talking about the claim, not the source. Maybe that is my confusion. I classified the source as an original record (although it is really a duplicate) and am working on the claims. I think it should be primary for the informant and secondary for the others listed, so that is what I am going to go with.

        • Russ Worthington says:

          Mary Ann,

          EE is a good investment.

          For the Claim, the key is “were there there”. That would not include their birth. Yes, the child was there, but …

          Good luck


        • Russ Worthington says:

          Mary Ann,

          I just checked Evidentia’s Help Menu. I think that the Help Menu makes what you are looking for clear. (I think, or at least it did for me).

          The biggest difference in Census Records was How provided the Information. A recent new term was added to GPS, Indeterminable. or we don’t know. That was try with 1930 and earlier census records. Now we do know, most of the time, WHO the informant was. Each piece of information on that line in the census record could have Primary AND Secondary Information.

          Sorry, it’s not black and white. Lots of gray.


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