How to Analyze a Claim

By | October 10, 2014

“I love Evidentia, but I am just not sure how to write an analysis.”

I have heard this more than once, from users on Google+, in Google Hangouts, and at conferences. Many users feel intimidated by the analysis process, even with the help of books such as Thomas Jones “Mastering Genealogical Proofs”

What I want to try to lay out below is one strategy for analyzing your claims.  It is certainly not the only way, and I don’t claim its comprehensive, but it will get you started to thinking about your claims in the right way.

Step 1 – Write a statement summarizing what you could conclude from this fact as if it were the only source and you were convinced it was accurate.

This is not just a duplication of the claim itself.  This is where you can capture what is implied by indirect evidence, or calculate a birth date based on an age. It’s also where you can clarify what a lack of evidence (Negative evidence) says about the fact.  For example:

Concluding a birth date from indirect evidence, and including a calculated value (I used the Age calculator):

Claim:

The 1830 US Census – Gilford, NH – David Thompson claims that as of 1 June 1830 the household of David Thompson included one male between 70 and 79.

Analysis Step 1:

“Since David is documented as the head of household in this census, the implication is that David was born between Jun 2 1750 and June 1 1760.”

Concluding supporting information about a death based on negative evidence:

Claim:

The 1850 US Census – Gilford, NH – Levi B Thompson claims that David Thompson is not found in the 1850 census for Gilford, NH.

Analysis Step 1:

“This supports the belief that David died before June 1, 1850.”

This is the statement further analysis will try to support or disprove.  It also provides a statement to compare with the other sources.

Step 2 – Write a statement summarizing why you or others might consider this a weak source.

Perhaps this is an authored work with no citations and unknown informant.  Or maybe it is an image of an original source, but the image is difficult to read.

Claim:

The Vital Records, NH – Death – Levi B Thompson claims that David Thompson was born in Saulsbury, Mass.

Analysis Step 1:

“The evidence is direct, however the information is secondary, being provided in the death record of his youngest son, Levi. It reasonable to assume David shared that information with his son, but it is not known who provided that information on Levi’s death record. By itself this data is inconclusive.”

You want to communicate with a future reader that you are aware of any possible weaknesses this claim has.

Because the next steps involve comparing this claim with claims from other sources, it is a good idea to perform Steps 1 & 2 on each claim for this proof BEFORE proceeding to Step 3. Yes we are bouncing around a bit, but remember our goal is to analyze this evidence in the context of ALL the evidence.

Step 3 – Write a statement that indicates how the information in this claim compares to information in other claims.

Is the conclusion that can be drawn from this claim consistent with the evidence in other claims?  Does it say something totally different?

Here is a statement about a claim that is NOT in line with other claims:

Claim:

The Revolutionary War Pension applications for the surname Thompson claims that David Thompson was born ca 1757 Guilford, Stafford Co., NH

Analysis Step 1:

“The estimated year of 1757 is later than that supported by the other evidence.”

Here is a statement about a claim that IS in line with other claims:

Claim:

The 1790 US Census – Gilmanton, NH – David Thompson claims that in 1790 the household of David Thompson included one male over 16.

Analysis Step 1:

“This is consistent with other records that imply that David was about 33 in 1790.”

Step 4 – Summarize YOUR position on this evidence

This is where you will address any concerns raised in Step 2, as well as address any inconsistencies noted in Step 3.  For example,

Claim:

The Revolutionary War Pension applications for the surname Thompson claims that David Thompson was born ca 1757 Guilford, Stafford Co., NH

Analysis Step 1:

“It is unclear who provided the information for the approximate birth year. The evidence is useful as a clue for further research, but it is not reliable for drawing a conclusion. For the reasons noted this evidence is being discounted in coming to the current working hypothesis.”

Repeat Steps 3 & 4 for every claim and now you are ready to write your conclusion!
Maybe. More complex research problems may require more thorough analysis.

Also, feel free to customize this approach. For example, I don’t use Steps 2-4 every time, like in the case of a simple claim based on an obviously solid source. Sometimes I reserve Steps 3 & 4 for the conclusion (more on this later).

This is just one strategy for approaching an analysis, but for those who feel stuck it just might get you moving.