Negative Evidence of Sophia’s Living

Negative evidence is not bad.

Negative evidence does not mean something bad has happened.

Negative evidence is when something you would expect to appear does not appear.

It takes a familiarity with the records being used and the context in which they were created in order to determine if negative evidence exists.

In earlier posts about Sophia Elisabeth (Derle) Trautvetter’s date of birth, I realized that there was some negative evidence and I had overlooked it. That sometimes happens with negative evidence: because it’s not written in the document.

The reasonable question was posted of whether or not the child born in 1807 had died as a child. In reviewing the records, I realized I had negative evidence that she did not. I knew the family had continued to live in the Helmershausen area from the 1807 birth through the marriage of Sophia Elisabeth Derle to Johann George Trautvetter in Helmershause in 1832.

In reviewing other baptismal entries from this same village, I realized that the pastor would make a notation on the baptismal entry for those who died as children. There was no such notation on the 1807 Sophia Elisabeth Derle baptism. The absence of a death notation on the baptismal record is negative evidence that she probably survived childhood.

Negative evidence can exist about a positive event.

It is negative evidence because I am basing my conclusion on something that does not appear–when if the child died young, there would be a notation.

The determination of negative evidence requires a good working knowledge of the records being utilized and what those records contain. That’s why it’s imperative for researchers to look at records for families besides their own.

Perspective matters and that’s hard to develop if one only researchers a very small number of families.


2 thoughts on “Negative Evidence of Sophia’s Living

  1. Lisa Gorrell says:

    I would also make sure she did not appear in the death register. The pastor could also have been forgetful about entering the information on her baptism page. But I have seen many of those entries in German baptism records. But it’s a great example of negative evidence, especially when it is so hard to really explain!

    • That’s a good point. Chances are if she died as a child it would have been in this parish–if the parents were still living there.

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