Collaborative Family History

April 4, 2007

Source Analysis in a Collaborative Environment

Filed under: Collaboration, Family Pursuit, Genealogy, Research, Source Citation — Michael Martineau @ 12:28 pm

One of the focal points of Family Pursuit involves source analysis in a collaborative environment. We want to give people the ability to collaborate not only on researching their ancestors, but also on the sources that document their ancestors’ lives.

One of the problems we have faced as we have designed the Family Pursuit system, is how to manage sources in an environment where users are working together, each with their own notions on how a source and evidence provided by a source should be analyzed, classified and weighted. Many genealogists classify a source as original, primary or secondary evidence supporting a particular fact or relationship. Experienced genealogists know how important it is to carefully analyze their sources to determine the validity of the information contained in the source. They have taken the time to understand how to analyze sources and how to classify them. Thus, when they determine that a source provides direct primary evidence for a conclusion, they know what that means. Depending on their skill, they are consistent (hopefully) in their definitions of what primary, secondary, original, direct etc. means. What happens now when multiple people are working together, each with their own pre-conceived definitions for those terms? Often the differences in definitions are subtle, causing collaborating researchers to think they are talking about the same thing, only to find later they had defined the terms differently. Miscommunication of this type can lessen the effectiveness of a collaborative environment.

In the Family Pursuit system, not all of our users are going to be experienced genealogists. Not everyone will have read books or taken classes on the proper way to cite sources. Even experienced genealogists sometimes forget to consider pertinent details in their analyses of a source. How do we deal with this?

After consulting with experienced genealogists and published works on the subject, and after considerable thought into the subject, we have decided to largely remove those “words” from the vocabulary of Family Pursuit and approach the problem from a different angle. We believe we have developed a solution that will enable both experienced and novice genealogists to work together and understand one another. Time will tell, as we get feedback from our beta testers starting in June.

By the way, one of the books we consulted was Evidence!: Citation & Analysis for the Family Historian by Elizabeth Shown Mills. I recommend this book, especially the section on “Fundamentals of Analysis”, to anyone wanting to become a better researcher.

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