As I was working through entering my sources into Evidentia, I came across something that I thought might be interesting to those folks using Evidentia – and maybe even folks that aren’t.
First – what is “negative evidence”? Well, in Evidence Explained (2nd ed.) Elizabeth Shown Mills defines it as
For example, if Joe Smith was supposedly born in 1908, but he is not found with his family on the 1910 census, this would be considered “negative evidence.”
Negative evidence is just as important as all the other information you’ve gathered when it comes time to analyze your evidence. In the example above, Joe Smith SHOULD be with his family on the 1910 census, but he isn’t. Does this mean he died before 1910? Do we have the wrong birth date? Is he living with other family members? Are we looking at the wrong family? Negative evidence leaves many questions to be answered. This is why we can’t just ignore it and move on.
So when it comes to putting your information into Evidentia, how do you handle this negative evidence? Fortunately, it’s relatively easy. You handle it just like any other piece of information.
Let’s consider the 1910 U.S. census record for my great grandfather, Thomas P. Slowey:
Here, we see Thomas’ father John Slowey with his wife and 8 children. We can also see that Theresa has 12 children, 9 of whom are still living. With that information, we can infer that (1) at least one of her children is still alive, but not listed with the family; and (2) three of her children are no longer living.
When I enter this information into Evidentia, I have to change the direction of my thinking. Instead of approaching it from a standpoint of “What question does this information answer?” I approach it as “What question does the absence of this information create?”
Because I was already aware of the names of John and Theresa’s 12 children (all born before 1907), I entered the claim “Theresa Slowey is the mother of 12 children, 9 of whom are still living as of 15 Apr 1910.” Then all I had to do was add subjects and claim types:
The first subject I entered was Theresa (Burns) Slowey and assigned claim type “child.” Now, when I print a proof report to show the children of Theresa, this information will be included in the analysis.
Next, I added birth, death, residence, and parent claim types for each of the children who died. I did not include the living child as a subject for this particular claim, because I know she is listed with her husband on another page. However, I did add a separate entry stating that “Catherine Slowey is not enumerated with her family on the 1910 census” … with a census claim type and a residence claim type. Now if I need a proof report on Catherine’s residence, this evidence will serve to strengthen my analysis of her enumeration with John Nooney 2 pages before her parents.
I added a separate entry for each of the three deceased children stating that they were not enumerated with the family and added death and residence claim types, as well as a child claim type for John Slowey.
When we look at the Analyze Evidence screen in Evidentia, we will see that we have a few options under “Evidence Quality”: Direct, Indirect, and Negative.
I’ve used the residence of Anna Slowey as an example. Here, we see the claims I entered from the 1910 census. The first entry, about Theresa’s 12 children, does not directly answer the question “Where did Anna Slowey reside in 1910?” Therefore, this is indirect evidence. If we look at the second entry showing that Anna wasn’t enumerated with her family, this would be considered negative evidence. It answers the question negatively. Simplistically, “Anna did NOT live here in 1910.”
I’m not going to do any actual analysis of this evidence here today, because I don’t have everything entered yet.
Once you start looking, you’ll be surprised how much negative evidence you can find in the documents you already have. You never know, it may just help you break down a brick wall!
If you still haven’t tried Evidentia, check it out here (affiliate link).
Do we share ancestors? Email me: lostancestors AT gmail DOT com
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