Evidence Analysis or “What did I know and when did I know it?”

Before documenting my Texan discoveries, I’m backing up to set the stage. Below is a list of sources in hand before I departed; they are in the format I used for my September ProGen (online study group) evidence analysis homework. (1) Bear with me…

Before documenting my Texan discoveries,  I’m backing up to set the stage.  Below is a list of sources in hand before I departed; they are in the format I used for my September ProGen (online study group) evidence analysis homework.  (1)  

Bear with me for the brief genealogical introduction.  You might even enjoy it!

Each source must be analyzed three different ways.  The reliability and strength of each source is determined by weighing the values of each element, and its correlation to other sources.   No single source is ever sufficient to establish a fact.

1. Sources can either be original or derivative.  Original sources are those created relatively close to the events being described and can include artificats, gravestones, as well as more traditional records and documents. Abstracts, transcriptions, and published histories are examples of derivative sources.  Original sources, if available, are always preferable. 

2.  Sources contain either primary and secondary information; that depends on the status of the informant.  Was the informant an eyewitness to the events being described?  Sources can contain both primary and secondary information; one common example is a death certificate.  The legal informant is typically presenting primary information as to the circumstances of death but secondary information as to the circumstances of the decedent’s birth. 

3.  Sources offer direct or indirect evidence;  that will depend on the relationship of the information to the objective of the inquiry.  A piece of evidence may explicitly state the fact that one seeks to establish, or it can imply it, when considered in context. For the purposes of this post, I am seeking to establish the father-son relationship between Jesse G. Williams and Jesse D. Williams, our known great grandfather.

Here’s a complicating factor: Williams is a relatively common name – not as burdensome as Smith or Jones but, nonetheless, it presents identification issues. I need to make sure that the Williams being described by sources are our Williams. 

One more thing — just to make it interesting — an original source with primary information offering direct evidence can be totally ERRONEOUS

Source #1 was my first clue, notes from Melvin McBride, a cousin of Mom’s; the rest are listed in chronological order of creation.  Take a look at the notes – they are key!

Melvin_mcbride_to_elizabeth_williams_ruffner_p2

Source #1

Content

Original or derivative source?

Primary or secondary
information?

Direct or indirect evidence?

Personal notes provided by Melvin McBride

List of Jesse G.’s children and some dates (Amanda: died 1892, Henry: 1861-1891, Jesse D.: born 1863, Dora: born 1865); statement of Jesse G.’s 1864 death in Missouri, “believed to have been killed at Battle of Little Blue,”  and undated newspaper clipping obituary of Dora Williams’ husband, Charles McBride; Dora identified as Melvin’s grandmother

Notes and obituary are original

Notes contain secondary information; obituary is a combination of both types of information

Direct evidence of sibling relationships and their relationship to Jesse G. Williams (although not explicitly stated by McBride, that seems to be his intent)

Citation:  Melvin McBride, Murrells Inlet [STREET ADDRESS FOR PRIVATE USE] to Elizabeth Ruffner, letter, undated; Williams Research Files; privately held by Malissa Ruffner [STREET ADDRESS FOR PRIVATE USE,] Baltimore, Maryland.

Analysis:
  Reliability of the secondary information provided by Melvin McBride is unknown, but Dora Williams was his grandmother so the information could have come directly from her.  If so, it’s more reliable than if removed several generations. The obituary is relatively reliable regarding the circumstances of McBride’s death and his survivors, one being his widow Dora Williams McBride.

Source #2

Content

Original or derivative source?

Primary or secondary information?

Direct or indirect evidence?

1860 Census, Hempstead Co., Arkansas; Ancestry.com images 

Jesse G. (23) & Christian Williams (23) with minors Ellison (3) and Amanda (1), listed in the same household as James M. Williams (27) and Sarah A. E. Williams (27) with Synthia E. (8) and James (5)

Original

Informant is always unknown for census, so appropriate to categorize it as secondary

Indirect evidence of relationship between the two Jesses  although direct evidence of a relationship between Jesse G. and Amanda Williams

Citation: 1860 U. S. Census, Hempstead County, Arkansas, pop. sched., Spring Hill Post Office, p. 803 (stamped), household 789, Jessee G. Williams; digital images, Ancestry.com (http://www.ancestry.com : accessed 2 June 2010); citing NARA microfilm publication M653, roll 42.

Analysis:   The first census breakthrough was this family with a (presumed) father Jesse G. and (presumed) daughter Amanda; relationships are not explicitly stated. However, Ellison is not listed in Melvin McBride’s notes. It’s a match on surname and two given names, and one birthyear, in a known state of origin.

Source #3

Content

Original or derivative     source?

Primary or secondary information?

Direct or indirect evidence?

1870 Census  Columbia Co, Arkansas, image in Ancestry.com

James Williams (38), Sarah A. E. (38), Cynthia (18), James (15), Susan E. (9), Mary E. (6), Ida V. (2), Robert E. L. (1).

Original

Informant is always unknown for census, so appropriate to categorize it as secondary

Indirect evidence of  relationship between Jesse G. and one person with a name from the list of offpsring

Citation: 1870 U. S. Census, Columbia County, Arkansas, pop. sched., Falcon post office, p. 333 (stamped), p. 150 (penned), dwelling 110, family 113, James M. Williams; digital images, Ancestry.com (http://www.ancestry.com : accessed 21 June 2010); citing NARA microfilm publication M593, roll 50.

Analysis:  This household tracks the composition of the 1860 household headed by James M. Williams.  Offspring Cynthia and James have been joined by Susan, Mary E., Ida V., and Robert. E. L..  A household headed by Jesse G. Williams cannot be located, nor could a household with his widow or any of his offspring.

Source #4

Content

Original or derivative     source?

Primary or secondary information?

Direct or indirect evidence?

1880 Census Hempstead County, Arkansas; images in Ancestry.com

James M. (48), son Jas. A. (24), daughter Mary E. (15), daughter Ida V. (13), son Robert E. L. (10), son Leon S. (8), married daughter Susan (19), married daughter Elizabeth (28), niece Dora Williams (15)

Original

Informant is always unknown for census, so appropriate to categorize it as secondary

Direct evidence of relationship of Dora Williams to uncle James Williams

Citation: 1880 U. S. Census, Hempstead County, Arkansas, pop. sched., Spring Hill, enumeration district (ED) 105, p. 323 (stamped), p. 105 (penned), household 70, family 70, James M. Williams; digital images, Ancestry.com (http://www.ancestry.com : accessed 21 June 2010); citing NARA microfilm publication T9, roll 46.

Analysis: James’ wife Sarah has apparently died but, otherwise, the household composition for James M. Williams is consistent with both 1860 and 1870 censuses.   Cynthia E. has most likely become “Elizabeth.” Relationships are explicitly detailed in the census, and Dora is listed as James M. Williams’ niece, most likely the same James who lived adjacent to the household of Jesse G. Williams twenty years earlier.

And, just for the record, the death certificate of Jesse D. Williams sheds no light on the question of his parentage.  The informant, our grandfather, Jesse C. Williams, was unable to provide the names of either his grandfather or his grandmother. (2)

In short, my evidence consisted of a family in the 1860 census that could have been our Williams ancestors — before the birth of our great grandfather — and possibly a collateral family in 1880 providing a home to our 2nd great aunt, Dora. 

And now on to Texas!

————————————————————————————————————————————————-

(1) The summary of evidence analysis concepts is taken from Donn Devine’s Chapter 17, “Evidence Analysis,” in Elizabeth Shown Mills, ed.. Professional Genealogy: A Manual for Researchers, Writers, Editors, Lecturers, and Librarians, Baltimore: Genealogical Publishing Company, 2001.  I am also heavily dependent on: Mills’ Evidence Analysis: A Research Process Map, Washington, DC: Board for Certification of Genealogists, 2006.  I am also indebted to members of my ProGen study group for their feedback on my work.

(2) Jesse D. Williams, death certificate (37) 18167 (2 April 1949); digital images, Footnote.com (http://www.footnote.com : 13 December 2009); citing records of the Department of Health, Bureau of Vital Statistics, Texas State Library.

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