Monday, May 11, 2009

Methodology Monday with Calvin Snell

Most of us have learned how ancestors can be proved -- sometimes have to be proved -- by combining a wide range of documented indirect evidence into a case and writing out the argument, when no document appears stating the relationship in question straight out. But what happens when there is such a direct-evidence document, and the less formal sources all contradict it?

In the March 1995 issue of the National Genealogical Society Quarterly, Tom Jones documented just such a situation in the case of Calvin Snell of Lake County, Ohio, and concluded that the will was wrong or at best misleading. First he had to establish that there was no evidence of two different Calvin Snells in the area at that time. Then he had to correlate the various kinds of secondary information and indirect evidence that contradicted the will. The tables systematically comparing what different sources said are worth some study.

Those of us who have just worked our way out of the habit of trusting everything we find tend to become "evidence snobs." It's interesting to note that some of the information the author ferrets out and analyzes comes from what looks to be, and is, a fairly low-quality source: sketchy material on the Snell family compiled by an unknown person at an unknown time from unknown sources. The point is that good genealogists don't believe anything without reservation -- even an original signed will -- and they also don't decline to examine anything either. You just have to document its character as well as possible and weigh it in the balance along with all the other clues gathered.

Read the whole thing. This was the first article discussed by the Transitional Genealogists Study Group last year.


Christy said...

Calvin Snell! It's like seeing the name of an old friend after a long time. (grin)

Still love your blog!
Christy (in Utah)

Sheri said...

"Evidence Snob" - I like it Harold!