Wednesday, February 6, 2013

Genealogical Proof Standard - Step 5–A soundly reasoned, coherently written conclusion

This step is the hardest one for me. When you have amassed copious amounts of data, it isn’t that easy to compile it into a report that follows a logical sequence and is readable.  You also have to worry about English syntax/grammar/spelling/punctuation/capitalization.  Your footnotes should be a breeze though since you have your complete citations on your Research Calendar and all you will need to do is copy and paste.  Here are a few hints.

  • You need a dictionary, thesaurus, English handbook and a style guide (Evidence Explained or the Chicago Manual of Style). A history book of the location in question as well as timelines are also very helpful.
  • Do not rely on your genealogy database program to write your reports for you. Even though the program will tell you it can do it, don’t believe it.  The output will never be what you need it to be.  Even if you have no plans to publish or submit your conclusions to anyone, you should write up your proofs in the correct format.  You can attach the file to your database program.  You never know when you might want to submit it to a journal, donate it to a genealogical society or write a family history..
  • Proof arguments do not necessarily need to be as long as you would find in a national journal.  The cases you see presented there are published specifically because of their uniqueness and complexity. Your proof argument for a specific fact may only be a paragraph or two long.  That doesn’t make it any less important.
  • Always have someone proofread your work, more than one person is even better.  Don’t rely on your word processor’s spellchecker and grammar checker,  They are totally inadequate.  I am the only one that proofreads this blog so you will find errors from time to time that I didn’t catch, however, when I am writing a proof argument I don’t trust myself to catch the errors.  My cousin Mary is a retired college professor and I get her to proofread for me.  She catches all of my syntax/grammar/spelling/punctuation/capitalization errors. She also happens to be a genealogist so she also catches any faulty logic.  I also like to have a non genealogist proofread.  If a non genealogist can follow your proof argument then you are doing good.
  • Normally you do not attach actual records to the report unless it is vital to show your point.  A citation to the document is usually sufficient.  An example of when you would need to show the document would be if you are comparing signatures.  In that case you can just put a photo within the report of just the signatures and not the entire document.
  • Sometimes lists and tables make the data easier to understand but the bulk of your report should be in a narrative format.
  • The best way to learn how to write a good proof argument is to read national journals like the National Genealogical Society Quarterly (NGSQ), The New England Historical & Genealogical Register and The American Genealogist (TAG).  Your state genealogical society may also publish journals with scholarly articles. 

Skillbuilding: It's Not That Hard to Write Proof Arguments by Barbara Vines Little, CG
Skillbuilding: Proof Arguments by Laura A. DeGrazia, CG
The Genealogical Proof Standard, Step 5 by Shaw Genealogy (This one is short and sweet!)

Copyright © 2013 Michele Simmons Lewis

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