Monday, September 17, 2012

Portfolio Choices for BCG Certification, Part 4 of 5: Case Study

The complex-evidence case study may be the hardest piece of the portfolio to choose; it was for me. We have to pick a non-trivial problem and solve it -- and the problem has to involve either conflicting direct evidence or conflict between direct and indirect evidence, or only indirect evidence. I personally recommend finding a problem of the first two types. (There are plenty of problems for which there is no relevant direct evidence, but you cannot tell which they are at the start.)

If you think that the problem is finding conflicting evidence -- as I did four and a half years ago -- you probably aren't ready to submit. As I was told at the time, "If you haven't found a conflict, you haven't done enough research." Just make sure the conflict is significant. A straightforward simple census error or a disagreement of one day over a date would not normally qualify (in my opinion).

For many of us, doing this part of the portfolio is an important step in our journey from what Craig Scott calls "people doing genealogy" to "genealogists." Part of it is learning how resolving conflicts is fundamental to genealogy, not just an annoying thing that happens sometimes. Another part is learning and displaying how to put the Genealogical Proof Standard to work and in particular how to gauge when we have conducted reasonably exhaustive research.

Yet another part is learning how to structure the argument so that our case for the conclusion makes sense and is convincing. This may be hard because it's unexpected. Genealogists are often very detail-oriented people, and that's good. It's a necessary condition, as the philosophers would say, but not a sufficient condition.

Nit-picking has great value, but it can't substitute for being able to present a convincing case to the jury of our peers. If this is hard for you as it is for most of us, check the work samples on the BCG site; check any issue of the NGS Quarterly over the last 20 years or so; and try writing some up from research you've already done just to get a better feel for what it demands.

So all we need to do is choose a case study that is difficult enough to show that we can meet a challenge, and easy enough for us to solve it. Again, the rule of "Never Use Your First" rears its head. If you have done a few projects involving conflicting evidence, you'll be able to choose the one (quite possibly the most recent!) in which you feel you finally began to "get it." Among other things, that will be one that you can put away in a drawer for a month or two, and then pull it out and reread it and still like it.

Don't hurry. The time saved will soon be gone; the flawed work that results will last.

Tomorrow: Requirement #7, the kinship-determination project.

Harold Henderson, "Portfolio Choices for BCG Certification, Part 4 of 5: Case Study," Midwestern Microhistory: A Genealogy Blog, posted 17 September 2012 ( : accessed [access date]). [Please feel free to link to the specific post if you prefer.]


Geolover said...

Harold, does the Case Study absolutely have to be about a problem-solved? Can it be about a no-stone-unturned study that did not answer the main question as to the end of a person's life-path? Sometimes the written evidence for a solution was never created. I have one of these that has had me gnawing for years on possible approaches, none of which proved out.

This is a great series!

Harold Henderson said...

Geolover -- Thank you for writing. As others may be interested and as my time is short, I will answer this good question in tomorrow morning's post. FYI the short answer, in my non-authoritative opinion, is "Yes." More anon. -- Harold