Turning Raw Information into Evidence: Tips for Drawing and Explaining Conclusions

SESSION: W151, TIME & DATE: Wednesday, 8 May, 4:00 p.m.

SPONSOR: Board for Certification of Genealogists

J.H. “Jay” Fonkert

I can’t help it. I like methodology. If you’re still with me…

It’s all about an orderly way of posing research questions, finding relevant information, converting it to evidence, and drawing and explaining conclusions – all in a way that satisfies the Genealogical Proof Standard (GPS).  We sometimes think our genealogy has turned into a madness. Not to worry – the GPS and the concepts that underlie it provide a method for our madness.

The purpose of this presentation is to help you think about the research questions you ask, the evidence you find, and the conclusions you draw. You won’t learn a lot about particular kinds of records, but you will learn why a reasonably exhaustive search is so important, how to evaluate the information you find, and how to build a strong logical foundation for your conclusion.

All successful genealogical research starts with a certain identity – a fully identified person known to be in a specific place at a specific time. We then proceed to follow that identified person through time and link her or him within or across generations.

We will also pay special attention to the importance of informants – the people who, as participants in or witnesses of events, provided the information we find in historical records. We consider how they knew of the event (first-hand vs. second-hand information), their biases, and their motivations. I will illustrate these points with examples from research on the Fawkner family of Kentucky, Indiana, and Illinois.

Finally, we will explore options for assembling and organizing your evidence to support a conclusion, stressing that a conclusion in your head is like an undeveloped photograph – it is of no use to anyone else until it is fixed in words.

This is going to be more fun that it sounds! Join me in St. Charles and learn to think like a genealogist!

BIO: J.H. “Jay” Fonkert, CG®,  has spent 25 years researching migrations of Midwestern families. His favorite research subjects are the Tidballs of southwest England and the Fawkners of Kentucky, Indiana, and Illinois. These odd-ball families have provided the raw material for many articles, including two in the National Genealogical Society Quarterly. He is co-managing editor of Minnesota Genealogist, the quarterly journal of the Minnesota Genealogical Society, where he also currently serves as President.