After two years spent studying Elizabeth Shown Mills' Evidence Explained, our group needed a break. We decided that there is no better way to discover all that The Master Genealogist (TMG) can do than to explore its powerful custom report writer. If you would like to participate in the Tri-Valley TMG User Group's adventures as we examine the best ways to input data to make full use of TMG's wide range of reporting possibilities, please feel free to comment and share your ideas.

The Tri-Valley TMG User Group is associated with the Livermore-Amador Genealogical Society (L-AGS), and we meet in Pleasanton, California. Information on our meetings - location, date, time, and topic - is always available on the home page of the L-AGS web site. Our three-hour meetings are actually hands-on workshops in which up to fifteen computers are connected to a digital projector allowing customized personal assistance to attendees. In the past, the group has systematically studied Lee Hoffman's Getting the Most out of The Master Genealogist, Terry Reigel's A Primer for The Master Genealogist, and Elizabeth Shown Mills' Evidence Explained.

For further details on the reports we create, please visit our website. The section dealing with TMG reports begins at the page, "Exploring TMG's Report Menu."

Start following our new blog, "The Continuing Adventures of the TV-TMG User Group." This will detail our 2014 project.

Tuesday, January 7, 2014

It's Only a Hypothesis - Part Two (B)

"But rarely is genealogical evidence overwhelming, and frequently we have to use careful language and words beginning with the letter P, such as probably, perhaps, and possibly. You be the judge of when and how to use them in your own research." (Henry B. Hoff, “Weighing the Evidence,” New England Historic Genealogical Society, American Ancestors ( : accessed 31 December 2013))

How do you show that you're not sure of a place?

One method was suggested at our after-meeting lunch: add a question mark to the place name, with or without square brackets or parentheses. This works perfectly well in the database, in charts, and in GEDCOM files, but when was the last time you read something like this in a genealogy article? "Lydia Ball was born say 1802 in Groton(?), Grafton Co.(?), New Hampshire(?)."

Many of the qualifiers and qualifying statements relative to dates can be entered in TMG such that the suppositions and explanatory statements are clear in the database, as well as in narrative reports, family group sheets and pedigree charts, and GEDCOM files. I don't find that as easy to accomplish when dealing with hypothetical place information. Standard qualifiers for places don't seem to have been codified in quite the same way as they've been done for dates. My usual practice is fine for my personal database and works for journal reports, but it doesn't work as well for family group sheets, pedigree charts, or GEDCOM files. Other solutions might work for the database, but not for journal reports. Accuracy and clarity is important, though, and your TMG entry decisions might be helped by examining the meanings of these varied qualified statements. All of these statements would require additional information, whether in the text or in a note, that explained the qualification(s). Do you agree with my interpretations?
  1. Lydia Ball was born say 1802 possibly in Groton, Grafton Co., New Hampshire.
  2. Lydia Ball was born say 1802 probably in Groton, Grafton Co., New Hampshire.
  3. Lydia Ball was born circa 21 April 1803 possibly in Groton, Grafton Co., New Hampshire.
  4. Lydia Ball was born in Lisbon, Grafton Co., New Hampshire, circa 21 April 1803.
  5. Lydia Ball was born possibly 21 April 1803 in Lisbon, Grafton Co., New Hampshire.
  6. Lydia Ball is probably the Lydia Ball, daughter of Eleazer and Tamson [__?__] Balll, who was born 21 April 1803 in Groton, Grafton Co., New Hampshire.
  7. Lydia Ball was born 1802(?) in Groton, Grafton Co., New Hampshire(?).
  8. Lydia Ball was born say 1802 in Groton[?], Grafton Co. New Hampshire." 
  • Statement (1) conveys the least certainty. Say dates are based on accepted life patterns. This date might be based on Lydia's marriage date and/or the birth dates or ages of her children. Possibly conveys less certainty than probably.
  • Statement (2) uses the word "probably" when referring to the birthplace. The author might be basing this on accumulated evidence showing that her birth family resided in Groton at this time. It might be best to rewrite this sentence placing the least sure event last: "Lydia Ball was probably born in Groton, Grafton Co., New Hampshire, say 1802."
  • Statement (3) includes a circa date of birth. The explanatory note might include a source that gives Lydia's age at death, something that might be included in the sentence: "Lydia Ball was born circa 21 April 1803, as calculated from age 41 years 3 months 12 days at her death, possibly in Groton, Grafton Co., New Hampshire." The place qualifier is possibly. Perhaps the family lived in multiple locations and the accumulated evidence cannot narrow down a location.
  • Statement (4) suggests that there is a piece of evidence that states Lydia's birthplace, and there is evidence providing her exact age at some date. Note that the least certain bit of information, the date of birth, is placed last in this sentence.
  • Statement (5) suggests that there is some record of a Lydia Ball birth in Lisbon, New Hampshire, but the author doesn't have enough evidence to conclude that the record refers to the subject. With no explanatory comments, this is a very ambiguous statement.
  • Statement (6) suggests that a birth record was found for a Lydia Ball, daughter of Eleazer and Tamson Ball. The use of probably, rather than possibly, suggests the evidence is pointing towards identity with the subject, but the author isn't quite ready to make that conclusion. 
  • I wouldn't know how to interpret Statement (7). Would you? If this came from your TMG database, would you know what was meant if you returned to this record after several years' work on a different line?
  • Statement (8) suggests that there is some evidence as to Lydia's place of birth, but the source was difficult to read, and the author wanted to indicate that he or she was not sure the transcription of the place name was correct.
The longer I research, the less I want to be pushed into making conclusions when entering data in TMG, and I don't want to publish something that doesn't make any existing ambiguity clear. Just for fun - and to let you see how far my TMG database has come (and has yet to go) - here's a series of screen shots showing the changes in my data entry practice.

This screen shot shows the Lydia Ball detail screen, last edited in November 1993. Note all the question marks, abbreviations, ambiguous notes, etc.

These three screen shots show the gradual changes to Lydia's detail screen as new information was added and evaluated in a recent online research trip.

These images show screenshots of an abbreviated family group sheet report for the Lydia Ball family. Note the variety of qualifiers used. Although ambiguity is noted in this report, a journal report is a better method of explaining the reasoning behind genealogical conclusions, or lack thereof.

Continue with "It's Only a Hypothesis - Part Two (C)"

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