13 February 2014

Struggling Over Evidentiary Answers

I've finally had time to take a look at my (Board for Certification of Genealogists) BCG Genealogy Standards: Fiftieth Anniversary Edition

Like many genealogists, I struggle with definitions. Perhaps I am overly burdened by my background and one too many semesters of teaching the basics of mathematical logic and set theory.

We'll try and make some of that struggle here--publicly. The theory is that if I'm struggling then at least one other person probably is too.

On page 67, of  Genealogy Standards "evidence" is defined partially as "...a research question's answer..."

I may be confused, but I was under the impression that evidence was the information we chose to use from sources in the construction of a genealogical proof. I didn't think that the evidence was the answer.

It may be splitting hairs, but I don't think evidence is the "answer" by itself. There's more to reaching a conclusion that simply compiling evidence. Evidence is the various information we use in the construction of a proof to arrive at an answer. Evidence may be direct, indirect, or negative and any one piece of evidence may not provide the answer (in most challenging and interesting problems it does not). In the case of indirect and negative evidence, one piece of "evidence" does not usually explicitly state anything--most specifically not what we are trying to "prove." With indirect evidence an analysis including additional unstated information must be included to reach the "indirect statement" and with negative evidence an analysis including what's "negative" must be included with the negative evidence. Direct evidence does state something specifically, but even direct evidence may not completely state that which we are trying to prove.

I may be debating the number of angels on the head of a pin, but thinking about terms, definitions, and genealogical proof is not necessarily a bad thing.

And onward it goes.
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