Monday, May 19, 2014

Methodology Monday with a golden oldie in Kentucky (NGSQ)

It just takes a while for people to "get" indirect evidence. I read and annotated and discussed "The Parents of Joseph Rhodes of Graves County, Kentucky" in the March 2009 NGS Quarterly five years ago. Most of my notes have to do with picking at the details, and I may have been looking for a full account of the family rather than a proof.

When I read it now I'm trying to figure out the logical skeleton of that proof. Tom Jones identifies four common logical skeletons in Mastering Genealogical Proof: single hypothesis, multiple hypotheses, building blocks, and "syllogisms" (AKA if-then statements). Basically the article follows the subject, Joseph Rhodes, forward from his first known record appearance in 1831. Then it follows an older 1831 neighbor, Benjamin Rhodes, forward from his revolutionary war service. There's direct evidence here involving his Benjamin's Edens in-laws, but in the end the author has sifted out eight shiny nuggets of indirect evidence that Benjamin was Joseph's father.

Each individual piece could be explained away; to explain away all eight would be a heroic task. Still, I know good genealogists who don't quite seem to believe in indirect evidence. It just seems fragile somehow -- although it would be much harder to forge, especially given the diversity of records involved in this case.

Reading the article now, I can't help but think the author had a hypothesis in mind for Benjamin as soon as it appeared he was nearby and the right age to be Joseph's father. But the article is presented  more in a building-blocks format, in which first Joseph's and then Benjamin's life stories are surveyed for evidence pro or con. The way the building blocks are constructed -- mostly following the two lives in chronological order -- may make it easier to grasp than other articles with the same skeleton.

Sarah R. Fleming, "Indirect Evidence for the Parents of Joseph Rhodes of Graves County, Kentucky," National Genealogical Society Quarterly 97 (March 2009): 5-15.

Harold Henderson, "Methodology Monday with a golden oldie in Kentucky (NGSQ)," Midwestern Microhistory: A Genealogy Blog, posted 19 May 2014 ( : viewed [date]). [Please feel free to link to the specific post if you prefer.]

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