Welcome, Evidence Explained, 3rd edition!

The third edition of Elizabeth Shown Mills’ Evidence Explained: Citing History Sources from Artifacts to Cyberspace was released last month. Just as weighty as its predecessors, EE3 can be intimidating, particularly for those who are just beginning to work with source citation. It’s tempting to “grab and get out”–find the first index entry or QuickCheck model that more or less fits and slap down a citation. If you do this, though, you’ll miss a lot of the valuable insight and education that Elizabeth has built into her book. I hope that the remainder of this post will help you get the most out of EE.

As a new user, your first step should be to read the QuickStart Guide inside the front cover. As the QuickStart Guide says, you should next read and assimilate the first two chapters. You may profit from reading these chapters more than one time, especially if you are relatively new to genealogical research and citation. As you read, refer to the Evidence Analysis Process Map inside the front cover. You will notice that each of these chapters has a gray title page, and that the back side of the title page lists the chapter’s major subtopics and the numbered sections into which the chapter is divided. This pattern is used throughout the book and provides a great way to navigate.

Once you have read Chapters 1 and 2, survey EE‘s table of contents and familiarize yourself with the types of records the book covers and how it organizes them. Note that the book has two appendices, a glossary and a bibliography, and two indexes, a general index and an index to the QuickCheck models included in each of the chapters that cover sources and records.

Congratulations! You now have an idea of what EE contains and an appreciation of the principles of evidence analysis and citation. You are ready to start using EE in your research and writing.

Let’s say you have located a piece of information–say, a birth date for an ancestor–and you are ready to use EE to create a source citation. Your first step is, take a deep breath. Ask yourself, “What am I holding on my hand? What is the source that gives me the information for which I am creating this citation? What kind of source is it?”

If the information is your ancestor’s birth date, and you got the information from a paper copy of a Pennsylvania birth certificate. This is a state-level birth registration/vital record. Looking in EE‘s table of contents, you will notice that Chapter 9, “Local & State Records, Licenses, Registrations, Rolls & Vital Records,” covers this kind of record. Go to Chapter 9. (The gray title pages you noticed initially will help you locate the start of each chapter within the book.) When you find the gray title page for Chapter 9, you will see that the front of the title page lists a something called QuickCheck models. The QuickCheck models are a handy reference feature of EE that provide patterns and examples for frequently encountered sources and records. As in Chapters 1 and 2, the back of Chapter 9’s title page gives the subtopics and section references for the chapter. The QuickCheck models for the chapter, also gray, follow the title page.

Reading the title page and chapter contents, you notice that there is a Quick Check model for State-Level Vital-Records Certificate as well as coverage of state-level vital-records certificates in chapter section 9.41 on page 467. Those will be your guide.

The first time (and possibly the first few times) you use an EE chapter for a category of records, I recommend reading the Basic Issues and Citation Issues sections of the chapter before you grab a format and start creating your citation. (If you don’t do this, you’re missing a significant piece of the genealogical education EE provides.)

“But,” you say, “I can just check the index for the type of source I have.” Yes, of course you can, but, when you don’t read the explanatory material EE provides, you’re missing an opportunity to be educated.

Citing the paper birth certificate is a simple example, but it illustrates the process:

  1. Identify the kind of source you’re citing.
  2. Locate the section(s) or QuickCheck models in EE for that kind of source.
  3. Read explanatory material such as Basic Issues or Citation Issues in the applicable EE chapter.
  4. Choose the appropriate model for your citation.
  5. Create the citation.

Every serious genealogist should have and use Evidence Explained. You can get your copy at Amazon.com or Genealogical.com. You can also purchase the electronic edition at the Evidence Explained bookstore.

Elizabeth has a whole website devoted to evidence analysis and citation at EvidenceExplained.com. The website provides information about the book, along with QuickTips, QuickLessons, and forums where you can discuss citation issues, evidence analysis issues, and record usage and interpretation–all for free. There is also an Evidence Explained Facebook page you can like and follow.