Wednesday, December 16, 2015

Review of “Genealogical Evidence and Proof”

Once again I am pleased to have a guest author review one of the courses from the Virtual Institute of Genealogical Research. This post features a course on genealogical evidence, and is written by my friend Cari Taplin, CG. 

Review of “Genealogical Evidence and Proof” taught by Warren Bittner, CG for the Virtual Institute of Genealogical Research
by Cari A. Taplin, CG[1]

When I first learned about the “Genealogical Proof Standard” and its five components, I was overwhelmed; a lot of beginning or intermediate genealogists probably are. It took a long time for me to embrace the GPS in my daily genealogical practice. No matter how many lectures you might attend on the subject, the process will never be as simplified and broken down into steps for you like the latest course by Warren Bittner from the Virtual Institute of Genealogical Research (VIGR) titled “Genealogical Evidence and Proof.” It is a must have in your genealogical education plan.

This course cuts through a lot of GPS confusion and breaks it down to manageable and understandable pieces. The four lectures this course consisted of are:

    Complex Evidence: What it is, How it works, Why it matters
    The Web of Evidence: Proof and Disproof
    Proof Arguments: How and Why
    Exhaustive Research, Evidence Analysis, and Genealogical Proof

Each of these lectures contained educational gems for genealogists of any level. Every class began with a reminder that genealogy is the pursuit to: identify an individual and identify correct relationships between individuals. “Failure to do these two things is a waste of time,” he said throughout the course. Proper use of the GPS ensures we are not wasting our time.

Warren has a gentle teaching method yet still tells it like it is. One of my favorite quotes from the second class, “There are two kinds of genealogists: those that read the NGSQ and those that don’t.” He pointed out that he (and other top-notch genealogists) learned to use the GPS and write proof arguments through reading quality journal articles, not only from the National Genealogical Society Quarterly, but also the New England Historical and Genealogical Register, The American Genealogist, The New York Genealogical & Biographical Society Record, and the American Society of Genealogists’ The Genealogist. Only by reading and studying other, high quality proof arguments, regardless of their geographic subject or the surnames involved, will we be able to craft our own.

He especially encouraged the class to complete GPS step five, “a soundly reasoned, coherently written conclusion,” because failure to write down our thought process identifying the correct person or relationship dooms the next generation to repeat the research.[2] Warren discussed approximately sixteen different steps for writing a proof argument, beginning with making a statement about what is going to be proven, stating the type of proof that will be used (direct, indirect, conflicting or most likely a combination of all), and working through steps for analysis, resolving conflicts, and drawing conclusions. Sixteen! I have never had an instructor break the process down so completely. It was utterly amazing and his course made so many often unnoticed details become visible.

Warren ended the series of classes by stating that “the more I work with the GPS the more I am impressed by it.” He also admonished those who have shied away from pursuing certification from the Board for Certification of Genealogists (BCG) because they didn’t have a “good case study” for the portfolio. He said he doesn’t know one genealogist that doesn’t have at least two documents with points of conflict that could be written into an acceptable case study. Whether or not you are interested in certification, this course should be high on your list of educational requirements for yourself. Warren’s deconstruction of the process is invaluable for gaining a better understanding of the GPS process.

[1] CG and Certified Genealogist are service marks of the Board for Certification of Genealogists, used under license by board certified associates after periodic competency evaluations, and the board name is registered in the US Patent & Trademark Office.
[2] For the description of step five of the GPS see Board for Certification of Genealogists, Genealogy Standards (Nashville, Tennessee: Ancestry, 2014), 3. 

Cari Taplin is related to Roy Rogers. Or at least the stories her grandparents told her as a child said so. As a result, she has been working on finding her true heritage since the year 2000. She is a native of Wood County, Ohio but migrated to Wyoming, Colorado and now Pflugerville, Texas which is just outside of Austin. Cari is a Certified Genealogist and has served in a wide variety of volunteer and leadership positions for several state, local, and national societies, most recently elected as Region 2 - Midwest Director for the Association of Professional Genealogists, Director of the Federation of Genealogical Societies, and the Education Committee Chair for the Austin Genealogical Society. She has been a speaker to local and state societies since 2004. As the owner of GenealogyPANTS, she provides speaking, research and consultation services. She is also a graduate of ProGen 16. When she’s not working on her genealogy, she is a wife and mother of two/too cute kids.

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