Tuesday, February 24, 2015

"Complex Evidence" Webinar by F Warren Bittner: A Case Study Demonstrating GPS

I'm a member of Gen Proof Study Group 37 which is currently studying Mastering Genealogical Proof by Thomas W. Jones. We are learning about GPS or the Genealogical Proof Standard and have each chosen a research question which we are using throughout the course.

Judy Russell, The Legal Genealogist, blogged about a Webinar a few days ago. The Webinar, which took place tonight, was "Complex Evidence" by F. Warren Bittner. I was a little afraid it'd be over my head as it was hosted by the Board for Certification of Genealogists, but it was perfect for me!

He started with explaining the "goal of genealogy" and going over the 5 parts of GPS. Then, he discussed the Evidence-Evaluation Standards including sources, information, & evidence. This was a wonderful review, but the best part of the presentation was his case study.

His main point, in my opinion, was that many genealogy research questions cannot be answered by a single, direct piece of evidence. Instead, you need complex evidence, which he defined as being "established by multiple strands of indirect evidence combined to establish identity and prove relationships."

What I really appreciated was how he went through many pieces of evidence (he showed us about 30 pieces relating to one research question!) and discussed the following with each:

  1. Is the source original, derivative, or authored?
  2. Is the information primary, secondary, or unknown?
  3. Is the evidence direct, indirect, or negative?
  4. What is the complete source citation?
I'll share my research question for my class and how I would answer these questions based on what I've learned both from my Gen Proof class and Bittner's webinar.

RESEARCH QUESTION: Who was the father of Catharine (10 Apr 1804 in PA - 18 Feb 1889 in Clinton Co, PA) who married Adam Close (1797-1865)?

John Longwell will (cited below), page 1
Evidence #1: Will of John Longwell, 1892, which lists his sister, "Catharine Close."
  1. SOURCE: derivative [it was copied into the will book]
  2. INFORMATION: primary [he would have first hand knowledge of his sister named Catharine Close]
  3. EVIDENCE: indirect [it doesn't specifically answer my question]
  4. SOURCE CITATION: John Longwell (1892), Mifflin County Will Book 7: 298, Armagh, Pennsylvania.[Unfortunately, I have a lot of sources that I have never cited and don't have complete information to write a source so I'll have to write what I have on this one] 
[By the way, something very interesting about John Longwell's will is the fact that he lists his 6 sisters... who are all deceased! But, he didn't have any children and I think he actually is intending the money to go to the heirs of his sisters.]

The BCG site says this recording "may be available online at a later date." If you get a chance to listen to this lecture, I'd highly recommend it! And, you can follow the SpringBoard blog to find out about future presentations.

P.S. The BCG site now has this webinar, and others, available to view "on demand" for a small charge. 


  1. Dana - You and I must be on the same track. I bought Thomas Jones' Mastering Genealogical Proof last year and also watched Warren Bittner's webinar. So much to learn, relearn, and put into practice!

  2. By the way, one of my current goals is to go back through all of my genealogical assumptions I've made over the years and work to cite each source properly as I re-evaluate them. A slow-going but worthwhile project!

    1. I need to do that, too. I need to figure out a way to do it in bite-sizes chunks that doesn't seem quite as overwhelming.


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