Using the GRS to record evidence, assertions and proofs

I'm assuming that anyone reading this is already familiar with the work of Elizabeth Shown Mills, and especially her gold-standard reference work on analyzing and citing evidence: Evidence Explained.  If you are not, drop everything and read it!  She is one of the most respected scholars in the field of history and genealogy, and has worked for many years to raise the standards of research in genealogy to match or surpass those in any other academic field of study.  

The Genealogical Research System of templates for Bento is a tool that helps you enter your research data in a manner consistent with the requirements that we track the quality of our data and not just the quantity.  It also provides a framework for analysis -- it won't do the work for you, of course, but it does  provide the outline, and that will often make the difference between doing the work and skipping it.

Like everything else in the GRS, evidence analysis is designed to be accomplished in stages.  The first step comes when you are entering basic information about your source in the Sources library.  Data reliability rests heavily on the type of sources you use, so it is important to record information about the physical nature and quality of the source in the "source evaluation" form:

    1. Choose from a list describing the type of media you are consulting, whether it is a book, document, digital image, and so on.  
    2. Describe the type of source you are examining, whether it is the original form of a document, original index, official copy, transcript, abstract, index, etc.
    3. Describe the category of information provided by this source, such as newspapers, wills, land records, burials, etc.
    4. In the notes field, include any other thoughts you have about this source: physical condition, legibility, missing pages -- anything that may affect its reliability.

    When you are ready to enter all the evidence from a source into the Evidence library, you will be asked to record additional information about each separate piece of evidence it contains -- keeping in mind that you may repeat this exercise for many different pieces of evidence from the same source:

    1. Check the box marked "direct evidence" if this evidence provides a specific statement that answers a research question.  In the example shown above, the source (a daybook written by the brother of an ancestor) directly stated that Rachel Grimes died on 18 June 1852; an indirect piece of evidence might have been a simple note that he went out to buy mourning clothes.
    2. Check the box marked "primary informant" if this evidence is from a source that had first hand knowledge of the event.  In this case, I assume that Thomas Grimes knew for a fact that his niece had died, because of their relationship and physical proximity.  I would not have checked the box if he had written that a Mr. Lindsey had told him about the death of a mutual acquaintance in Kentucky.
    3. Check the box marked "original source" only if you are using a source closest to the original as possible.  In other words, do your research and make sure that the source you are using is the one closest to the original.  I've embedded the Sources library as a related data field at this point, so information about the source you used is readily at hand. Obviously if you looked at an abstract or compiled data of some sort, this will remind you to seek out and review the original. (Following Dr. Mills' guidelines, I consider a digital image of a document from a reliable online provider to be equivalent to an original source, but rely on the notes that you make when you are looking at the source when deciding whether to check this box.)
    4. Discuss the nature of the source and your conclusions in the text fields.

    The Assertions & Proofs library contains a further step in the process of analyzing your data.  In this library, you identify a research question, and assemble the evidence that you have gathered.


    What this template does is give you a framework for looking at a particular research question, and seeing the arguments for and against your hypothesis together in one place.  This way, you can keep tabs on the current status of your research at any given time.

    Of course, all this works only if you think of these templates as an active part of your research process and not just a place to store your data..... but I'll write more about that another day.