Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Inferential Genealogy - Case 3

This is my fourth post in the Inferential Genealogy series.  My previous posts can be found below:

Post 1
Post 2

Post 3

The IG study group met on Sunday, June 19 to discuss Case 3.  If Case 2 kicked my butt, then Case 3 was like Mike Tyson.  I have never been so confused, so frustrated, or so intent on solving a case for a class ... it was fantastic!

The case we were given was about Charles D. McLain.  From the introduction, we learn that he married Ida May Tucker in 1871 and divorced in 1879.  He seemingly materialized out of nowhere in 1871 to wed Ida and disappeared afterward.  There was speculation that he had died, changed his name, or moved to Canada.  Finding him and his origin required comparing his records with those of another woman's husband and a man with another name.  Our focused goal was to identify the parents of Charles D. McLain who married Ida May Tucker.  We were told nothing of where they lived, married, or anything.  No sweat.

We were given a series of 10 documents to identify and analyze ... this time without the guiding commentary of Tom Jones, Ph.D., CG, CGL, FASG, FUGA, FNGS.  The documents ranged from marriage records to divorce records to probate records and census records.  There was even a Pedigree Resource File record and an Ancestral File record from FamilySearch.  More on those later.

The identification part (you know, where you just write down all the "pertinent" information in a document) went far smoother than with Case 2.  Maybe I just thought it did because I didn't have Dr. Jones urging me to find something I just wasn't seeing ... maybe it was because we were looking at digital scans of the actual documents ... who knows?  Regardless, I felt a lot better about this case.

Then I started analyzing.  Then I got really confused. 

First of all, the names Charles, David, and James should be outlawed.  Today.

I started a Word document with a list of the documents and wrote out everything I found in each one.  Then I put them in chronological order (no, they weren't given to us that way).  I only got more confused.  So I went through each document and tried to sketch some sort of relationship tree on paper ... 
No, that wasn't it either.  This case was like a Rubik's cube ... just when you think you're solving it, you look from another direction and you've only made it worse!

Maybe the problem wasn't so much the names as it the dates.  I took a hint from Case 2 and (Excel goddess that I am) made a spreadsheet.  It was strictly so I could try to match the men in the case to the appropriate age at the time each document was created.
This was actually quite helpful.  So I figured the evidence showed that we were talking about two different people.

Then I listened to Dr. Jones' conclusion.  Well, let's just say ... not even close.

Ultimately, when we met on Sunday to discuss the case, everyone was just as flummoxed as I was.  I mentioned that I had done a spreadsheet to help figure it out, and another group member spoke up and said that he had done one as well.  So that (and the fact that we determined we had an awful lot of contradictory evidence) led to our next assignment.  Create a more extensive spreadsheet to analyze each document and get to the bottom of this case.  (Again, sorry guys!).  We would meet again on Tuesday (yesterday) and discuss our findings.  I was very impressed with the spreadsheets that everyone put together.  For the most part, they were pretty similar, but each and every one put a slightly different spin on the information and the way it was analyzed.  That was awesome to see, and it helped me see that sometimes you have to look at the evidence from different angles to see the whole picture.

We came to the conclusion that based upon the information contained in the documents we were given (and completely discounting the unsourced, undocumented PRF and Ancestral File information) was inconclusive.  It was basically unanimous.

There were some issues with this one -- maybe not as many as with Case 2 -- but still, some.  For one, the citations for two of the documents we were given were swapped.  That was confusing as heck.  (Only) one of the documents was, we determined, a recreation.  During our Sunday chat, we went and found the actual document - one on and the other on  I know ... how bad can it be, right?  Well, the "recreated" document listed the head of household as "Joe" McLane, where the scanned original listed him as "J." McLane.  When you're looking for someone named "James," it kinda matters.  There were some other issues in the conclusion with assumptions that were made based on evidence we didn't have and not being able to see entire documents.  There was a whole list of stuff we wanted to research further.

There were also a lot of positives from this case.  Here is what I took away from this case:

  1. I learned about how valuable a spreadsheet could be in evaluating evidence in the context of ALL the evidence.  
  2. I learned that in documents there is sometimes information that you can't see.
  3. I learned that even though you may have enough evidence, it may not be the right evidence.
  4. I am proud to be a member of this group with all of these incredible people.  You guys made all the hard work enjoyable!

So now that we're done, we are going to write up our findings about the entire course, compile everyone's thoughts and recommendations, and present them to Dr. Jones.  We meet again next Tuesday at the Just Genealogy Fire Pit to wrap things up.

I want to give special thanks to DearMYRTLE (aka Clarise Beaumont for putting this study group together and being our moderator, instructor, and cheerleader ... and FamilySearch and Dr. Tom Jones for putting these free courses out there for everyone.  All problems with the content of the actual cases aside, I do feel like the inferential genealogy process has helped me learn new ways to think outside the box -- which is a success in my book!


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