Wednesday, February 17, 2016

The Advanced Evidence Analysis Practicum: Upping Your Game

This is part of my ongoing series featuring guest authors writing reviews of the courses offered at the Salt Lake Institute of Genealogy. I am excited to to have these friends share their perspective on the institute and the education they received. 

The Advanced Evidence Analysis Practicum: Upping Your Game
By Karen J. Matheson

The blood seemed to be pounding in my head, my heart was racing. I surreptitiously wiped my sweaty palms on my jeans, hoping no one would notice. Was I completely out of my depth? Or had I nailed it??

I felt such a combination of excitement and nervousness on the first day of the Advanced Evidence Analysis Practicum at the 2103 Salt Lake Institute of Genealogy. So, why did I choose it? And why did I choose the Practicum again in 2016? Because the Practicum offers an experience unlike any other offered at a genealogical institute.

I had spent many years sitting in genealogical lectures and day-long seminars presented by today’s preeminent genealogists. I had previously attended week-long sessions at SLIG and IGHR, including advanced courses. I was looking for something more, something different, and the Practicum’s course description caught my eye:

“This hands-on course is an opportunity for advanced genealogists to put their research skills into practice. Participants work on five complex genealogical research problems—a new one each day. Each case requires careful evidence evaluation and/or additional research to solve. The objective is to give each student experience in conducting research on complex problems, analyzing and correlating evidence, and reaching conclusions.”[1]

This was a way to “up my game!”

The Practicum experience is endless—different cases are prepared by different presenters each year. The course is not just information gathering! Each case requires determining which documents are important, analyzing the information gleaned, resolving any conflicts, and reaching a sound conclusion—usually from indirect evidence. Participants are asked to write a summary each day and turn it in before class begins that afternoon.

Class time consists of about 1.5 hours of discussion with the other participants and the professional who presented the case. This is perhaps the best part—the opportunity to have an in-depth discussion with other like-minded genealogists. We explored the various approaches class members took to solve the problems. We discussed what worked, what didn’t work, what constituted key pieces of information, etc. (I learned that researching in an urban area requires a completely different approach than researching in the rural South!)

A case presented in 2013 by William D. Litchman, PhD required participants to identify a man for whom we were given only a name, a marriage license, and a few newspaper articles. We were tasked with finding the correct man and learning where he came from, where he went, and who his family were. The answer to this problem was reached by focusing on the man’s identity—the types of activities he engaged in and his apparent educational background.

In January 2016, Paul K. Graham, CG, AG gave us all the documents necessary to prove who the father of an individual was. The question was not difficult to answer; however, we were tasked with analyzing and correlating the information and writing a proof summary of the indirect evidence that provided the answer.

I have learned that applying a variety of techniques can help—sometimes a case seemed to require a timeline, another case lead me to create a database of family members and extended family. Some cases were made clearer by the creation of comparison charts.

The Practicum taught me time management—with only 22 hours to solve a case and write a conclusion, you have to plan out your time! I learned that it is best to follow the instructions! I learned that it is best to stay focused on the research path that will most likely lead to the answer and not get lead astray by interesting tid-bits (the curse of the researcher)! Most of all, I learned that even if I didn’t quite get the answer, there is always another day and another opportunity to hone my skills.

So, if you are tired of sitting in classes and you’re ready for a challenge, the Advanced Evidence Analysis Practicum offers a great way to “up your game.”

Karen Matheson has been doing genealogical research for more than 20 years and works as a professional genealogist. A native of Utah, Karen formerly lived in Texas and currently lives in Morgan Hill, California. Karen has served on the boards of many different genealogical societies and volunteered in a Family History Center for five years. Karen enjoys researching, mentoring, teaching, and sharing her enthusiasm for genealogy and family history with others!

[1] Angela Packer McGhie, “Is the Advanced Evidence Analysis Practicum Course Right for You?” Adventures in Genealogy Education, ( : accessed February 2, 2016), Saturday, June 1, 2013.

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