Here a Fact, There a Fact, Everywhere a Fact

[modified from a post on our old blog site]

I struggle with terms and definitions.

In this blog post, I muse on “statements.” This is not meant to be an edict, but rather an attempt on my part to work through terminology and definitions in order to make my work as accurate, clear, and consistent as possible. I’ve only reviewed this blog post twice–so there’s a chance I’ve written something that is inconsistent.

Creating definitions is never easy. And there are situations when spending more than a certain amount of time on definitions becomes an exercise in herding cats.

The problem is that some words get clearly defined, discussed, and debated and certain others get bantered around and used with nary a whit of virtual ink spilled in an attempt to define them. My present personal frustration is with “sources” and “information.” We will start with a general definition and work from there.

I’ve borrowed the definition of “statement” from one used in other disciplines. This is how one usually defines statement in a logic course or a similar setting.

Statement: Something which is true or false. Statements do not contain opinion.

“Grandma was too fat to raise all those kids,” “Grandpa should never have had children.” “Aunt Martha should have been institutionalized.” These items are not statements. They contain opinion.

“Kevin Sanders was born in Ohio in 1900.” “Thomas Rampley married Christianna DeMoss in 1920.” “Susan Hendersondotter was the mother of Henrick Svenson.” “Ronald Reagan was on the Mayflower.” These items are statements–because they are true or not true.

“Ronald Reagan should have been on the Mayflower” is not a statement.

In math and the sciences it is easier to determine if something is a statement and if it is true or false. Either 2+3=5 or it does not. Either an item weighs four ounces or it does not. Oxygen is required for a certain chemical reaction or it is not. Statements of these types are a little easier to show than “Eric Swenson was born in Ostergotland, Sweden, in 1856.”  But it remains that either Eric was born there on that date or he was not.

When we say that statements are true or false, we are differentiating them from statements such as “Eric Swenson should have immigrated in 1880.”

It seems that statements for genealogical purposes should be more precise and there should be a little more direction other than that they are “true or false.” There still is a certain level of vagueness to our definitions no matter how precise we may like to make them.

Genealogical Statement: A precise type of statement involving individuals, relationships, or locations. A genealogical statement should either express a single relationship (biological, legal, social, or cultural) between individuals or indicate the existence of an individual.

A genealogical statement can express a relationship that exists between (or among) two (or more) people, possibly at a certain time and possibly in a certain geographic location. The time and location are not always necessary, especially when expressing relationships. “Susan Smith was the mother of Henry Smith” is such an example. Other genealogical statements usually need a geographic location. “Thomas Jones and Susan Smith were married in 1830 in Coshocton County, Ohio,” James Tinsley, Jonathan Fowler and Isaac Rucker were witnesses John Rucker’s 1780 Amherst County, Virginia deed” are all examples of genealogical statements.

A genealogical statement can also indicate a person existed in a certain location at a certain point in time. “Riley Rampley lived in Hancock County, Illinois, in 1850,” “Susan Jones lived in Chicago, Illinois, between 1890 and 1930,” are both examples of genealogical statements.

Statements do no contain opinion but genealogists may have differing opinions as to whether a specific statement is true or not true. That’s where analysis comes to play.

Where do we get genealogical statements? From genealogical sources and documents.

Genealogical sources contain words that we often vaguely call “information.”  Information is primary or secondary, but one has to be careful with how broadly one paints information with the primary or secondary brush. Any one document or source can have information that is primary and secondary. Each piece of information has to be analyzed separately in light of it’s stated or perceived informant.

Information is either primary or secondary depending upon the perceived knowledge of the perceived informant. It comes down to who sure the researcher are the informant is and how sure the informant is that the informant’s knowledge was reliable. Sometimes that is a tall order.

There’s information in a document that directly provides details from which a statement can be constructed. There are other times where information can be inferred from a document–that inferred information allows us to make a statement.

Direct statements are those that are explicitly stated in the document, such as when a birth certificate indicates the age of the father is twenty-five or that his name is William Miller. Direct statements may be either true or false–they are called direct only because of the way they are stated on the document.

Implied statements are those statements that are implied by the source and not explicitly stated. “William was at least twenty-one when he was married in 1851” is an implied statement from the record because the record does not mention William being under age or needing consent to marry. The lack of such a statement that William was under twenty-one implies that he was over twenty-one at the time of the marriage. There are other types of implied statements contained in documents. Different genealogists may disagree upon what statements a document implies and their reasons why they believe the document implied those statements. That does not change our definition of what an implied statement is.

Whether we view statements made from a document as being true or false depends upon our analysis of those records, the perceived reliability of the source, etc. As we research, we extract genealogical statements from records.

After we have conducted an exhaustive search, we should have a collection of genealogical statements (which we can classify in two ways as being “direct” or “indirect” and “primary” or “secondary”). From those genealogical statements have collected, we choose those we believe to be reliable and credible ( referring to them as our “evidence”), in order to combine them with our logic, reasoning, and analysis so that we can construct a proof argument. And of course, we cite our sources along the way.

What’s a “fact?” We’ll leave that to another post.

One genealogical document contains no “proof.” Genealogical documents contain genealogical statements.

Proof is a lot more than one statement in one record.

And that’s a fact.

I think.


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