01 January 2014

Statements, Genealogical Statements, and Definitions

In my work towards certification, I struggle with terms and definitions. In this blog post, I muse on "statements." This is not meant to be an edict, but rather an attempt on my part to work through terminology and definitions in order to make my work as accurate, clear, and consistent, as possible. I've only reviewed this blog post twice--so there's a chance I've written something that is inconsistent.

Creating definitions is never easy. And there are situations when spending more than a certain amount of time on definitions becomes an exercise in herding cats.

The problem is that some words get clearly defined, discussed, and debated and certain others get bantered around and used with nary a whit of virtual ink spilled in an attempt to define them. My present personal frustration is with "sources" and "information." We will start with a general definition and work from there.

I've borrowed the definition of "statement" from one used in other disciplines This is how one usually defines statement in a logic course or setting.

Statement: Something which is true or false. Statements do not contain opinion.
"Grandma was too fat to raise all those kids," "Grandpa should never have had children." "Aunt Martha should have been institutionalized." These items are not statements as they contain opinion.
"Kevin Sanders was born in Ohio in 1900." "Thomas Rampley married Christianna DeMoss in 1920." "Susan Hendersondotter was the mother of Henrick Svenson." "Ronald Reagan was on the Mayflower." These items are statements--because they are true or not true.  
"Ronald Reagan should have been on the Mayflower" is not a statement. 

In math and the sciences statements are "easier." Either 2+3=5 or it does not. Either an item weighs four ounces or it does not. Oxygen is required for a certain chemical reaction or it does not. Statements of these types are a little easier to show than "Eric Swenson was born in Ostergotland, Sweden in 1856."  But it remains that either Eric was born there on that date or he was not.

When we say that statements are true or false, we are differentiating them from statements as "Eric Swenson should have immigrated in 1880."

It seems that statements for genealogical purposes should be more precise and there should be a little more direction other than that they are "true or false." There still is a certain level of vagueness to our definitions no matter how precise we may like to make them.

Genealogical Statement: A precise type of statement involving individuals, relationships, or locations. A genealogical statement should either express a single relationship (biological, legal, social, or cultural) between individuals or indicate the existence of an individual.
A genealogical statement can express a relationship that exists between (or among) two (or more) people, possibly at a certain time and possibly in a certain geographic location. The time and location are not necessary. "Susan Smith was the mother of Henry Smith," "Thomas Jones and Susan Smith were married in 1830 in Coshocton County, Ohio," James Tinsley, Jonathan Fowler and Isaac Rucker were witnesses John Rucker's 1780 Amherst County, Virginia deed" are all examples of genealogical statements as they express relationships. Relationships can be biological, legal, cultural, or social. The 1780 deed example
A genealogical statement can also indicate a person existed in a certain location at a certain point in time. "Riley Rampley lived in Hancock County, Illinois, in 1850," "Susan Jones lived in Chicago, Illinois, between 1890 and 1930," are both examples of genealogical statements.
Statements do no contain opinion but genealogists may have differing opinions as to whether a specific statement is true or not true. That's where the analysis comes to play.

Where do we get genealogical statements? From genealogical sources and documents.

Genealogical sources contain statements that we often vaguely call "information."  Information is primary or secondary, but one has to be careful with how broadly one paints the information brush. The problem I have with the use of the word "information" is that it's easily interpreted by many as meaning all the material contained in a genealogical source. "Information" is often not really well-defined in research manuals. It may be easiest to view "information" as that collection of statements within a genealogical source. Statements in sources are either direct or implied. And, statements are either primary or secondary--just like "information" is primary or secondary.

Direct statements are those that are explicitly stated in the document, such as when a birth certificate indicates the age of the father is twenty-five or that his name is William Miller. Direct statements may be either true or false--they are called direct only because of the way they are stated on the document.

Implied statements are those statements that are implied from the source and not explicitly stated. "William was at least twenty-one when he was married in 1851" is an implied statement from the record because the record does not mention William being under age or needing consent to marry. The lack of such a statement that William was under twenty-one implies that he was over twenty-one at the time of the marriage. There are other types of implied statements contained in documents. Different genealogists may disagree upon what statements a document implies and their reasons for why they believe the document those implied statements. That does not change our definition of what an implied statement is.

Whether we view any statements from a document as true or false depends upon our analysis of those records, the perceived reliability of the source, etc. As we research, we extract genealogical statements from records. And since information is comprised of "statements," each statement is either primary or secondary in nature--in the way that genealogists have defined primary and secondary in such works as Elizabeth Shown Mills's Evidence Explained: Citing History Sources from Artifacts to Cyberspace 2nd Edition.

After we have conducted an exhaustive search, we should have a collection of genealogical statements (which we can classify in two ways "direct" or "indirect" and "primary" or "secondary"). From those genealogical statements, we choose those we believe to be reliable and credible (our evidence), combine them with our logic, reasoning, and analysis and construct a proof argument. And of course, we cite our sources along the way.

One genealogical document contains no "proof." Genealogical documents contains genealogical statements.
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