Wednesday, April 29, 2015

Negative search vs. negative evidence

Last Friday I told you how important it is to record your Negative Searches but what is the different between a negative search and negative evidence? Here is an example:

You are tracking John Doe like a bloodhound and this is what you find.

John Doe appears on the 1830 census in Jones County
John Doe appears on the 1840 census in Smith County (but not in Jones County)

John Doe appears on the 1846 tax list in Jones County
John Doe appears on the 1850 census in Jones County

So is not finding John in Jones County in 1840 a negative search or negative evidence?  It depends.

If you are trying to make the case that the man in Smith County is in fact your John (you would certainly need additional evidence to support this) then the fact that John does not appear on the 1840 Jones County census would be negative evidence supporting your case. Your hypothesis might be that John moved to Smith County for a five year period but then moved back to Jones County.  However, if you think that these two are different Johns and you have no reason whatsoever to believe that your John might have been living in another county in 1840 then this is a negative search, not negative evidence.

In this case the difference is this….

Negative search – Your John should have been living in Jones County and there is no evidence at all to support that he had moved away. The John in Smith County is a different man.  John isn’t on the Jones County census because he was overlooked by the census taker, the census taker accidentally forgot to include John when he recopied the census, or a census page(s) is missing.

Negative evidence – The fact that there were no John Doe enumerated in Jones County in 1840 makes your case stronger that the John that was enumerated in Smith County is the John you am looking for. Again, this one piece of evidence would not be enough to put together a proof argument that this was the same man but not finding John in Jones County is evidence you need.


Copyright © 2015 Michele Simmons Lewis

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