The times, they are a-changin’

On Monday, Randy Seaver, blogger extraordinaire, discussed recently made changes to the Evidence Analysis Process Map used by genealogists as a guideline for assessing the quality of sources and the information they contain, the nature of evidence, and the strength of proof. Two excellent versions of this map are available from Historic Pathways, courtesy of Elizabeth Shown Mills, and Think Genealogy.

The changes, too new to be shown on either map, would expand sources, information, and evidence each from two to three categories, adding authored sources to original and derivative ones; undetermined (or indeterminate) information to primary and secondary information; and negative evidence as a third category of evidence, along with direct and indirect evidence.

These changes are important for the same reason that it’s important to separate the form of a source from the information that source contains: because doing so helps us better understand the quality of both the source itself and the information derived from it, which in turn leads to better evidence (of all kinds) and, ultimately, to better proof.

While most genealogists focus on larger changes to the field, like better access to records through digitization, these small changes to underlying research tenets slip quietly by. Don’t get me wrong. I’m as excited about digitization, DNA, and the like as anyone else. But I’m equally excited about having new ways to analyze records, historic or modern.

These new distinctions aren’t merely semantics. They’re crucial to the assessments we make every day about the records we use and the evidence we derive from them. Genealogy is, after all, a field where details reign. Precision is key, and using precise terminology is an excellent way to remind ourselves of that.

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