What We Will Cover In This Lesson:
Note: The following lesson may look familiar as an almost identical version exists in Stage 3: Researching Your Ancestor in their place of Immigration. You were also asked to deal with conflicting evidence as part of that stage.
At this point in the Green Room Research Roadmap you are collecting information from new record searches and combining it back into existing timelines and family trees. However, as you search a variety of record sources using different search portals, it is inevitable that you will notice contradictory evidence along the way. Watch out – because how you notice and handle this contradictory evidence may either get you into trouble further down the line – not knowing what facts to trust – or may provide useful clues as you dig deeper into your ancestor’s history.
Bearing this in mind it is important to understand how to resolve any conflicting evidence that you come across as you search new record sources and uncover new “facts” that are at odds with your existing research. You may remember from the beginning of the roadmap that this is the fourth element of the Genealogical Proof Standard:
“If conflicting evidence is not resolved, a credible conclusion is not possible.”
The following 8 Step Process For Resolving Conflicting Evidence will help you to:
As you progress with your family history research you are likely to uncover different types of conflicting information. Examples include finding:
The 8 Steps that I find work best for professional genealogists – and may work best for you are:
Step 1. Recognise That a Conflict Exists.
Step 2. Decide if the Conflict is Significant.
Step 3. Quarantine and Keep Searching.
Step 4. Evaluate Your Additional Research.
Step 5. Compare Your Conflicting Pieces of Evidence.
Step 6. Record Your Findings – Guesses and Conclusions.
Step 7. Look for Errors in your reasoning and conclusions.
Step 8. Publish Your Conclusions.
Now, let’s go through each in turn.
This sounds obvious – but too easy to skip over. Recognise that a conflict exists – do not ignore it. Otherwise, you will pay the price later on in your research!
Does the conflict matter in general and does it matter with regard to your specific research question?
Let’s Take an Example:
Let’s look at three different examples based on information for the same ancestor:
If there is no absolute evidence to provide an immediate resolution as to which fact is correct, then “quarantine” the contradictory evidence you have uncovered and continue to search for additional evidence and alternate sources which will later confirm or refute the information you currently have.
The dictionary defines “quarantine” as “a state, period, or place of isolation in which people or animals that have arrived from elsewhere or been exposed to infectious or contagious disease are placed”.
Genealogists like to do the same with records we cannot confirm actually belong to our ancestors!
In simple terms, save records (and their sources) that you cannot confirm or refute to a “holding file” in your computer or a separate box until you can either confirm or refute that the record belongs in your family history file.
When you need to analyse your evidence even further then correlate, organise, collate, sort and re-sort. Do not be afraid to use several strategies – for more complicated conflicts try using timelines or sticky-notes. Use a “For and Against” column approach to identify whether you still need more information or whether you now have sufficient information to reach a conclusion.
It is very important that you explain on paper how you arrived at your conclusions. Include your concise reasoning (use simple terms so that both you and others will understand what you meant at a later date). This can be as simple as a short notation “transcribed as….”, or maybe a note that clarifies when a boundary changed and attaching the proof of the boundary or place name change. A good example of this type of proof would be to present ordnance survey maps both before and after a change of boundary.
This will help in two ways:
Can you “poke any holes” in your own theories, conclusions and reasoning as you analyse conflicting evidence? Try sharing your research, findings and conclusions in the Ask the Genealogist section of the Green Room Forum and ask for help from our professional genealogists. You can see the link below.
Sometimes, especially for more complex and time-consuming problems, it may be useful to pay a genealogist for a few hours professional help – this may save hours of your time by validating what you have gathered so far.
Once you are satisfied that you can reach a conclusion you may then add it to your research notes and publish (eg attach to your family tree or private timelines). If you cannot resolve a conflict between information gleaned from separate records, then place your research and evidence along with your analysis into a “quarantine file” until such time as you can satisfactorily resolve the conflict. Look back over the above 7 steps at a later date when you have renewed energy or new evidence comes to light! A few days rest and a fresh head can work wonders when examining conflicting evidence anew.
Do you have examples of how you have resolved major or minor conflicts of information? Do you have an evidence conflict problem and are not certain about the best resolution method to use? We’d love to hear more.
What To Do Next:
In the next lesson you will write up your conclusions on your research into this particular Irish ancestor (or couple).