Thursday, October 16, 2014

Guest Post: Using A Proof Argument To Break Through Brick Walls I

Townland of Origin is delighted to welcome back professional genealogist Lisa Walsh Dougherty. Her previous posts, How a Professional Genealogist Found Her Townland Of Origin (Part 1 & Part 2), were widely read, with the part one post having the highest number of views since the blog was launched. In this post, Lisa writes about using a Proof Argument in your research. On Tuesday (21st), you will have a chance to read an example where she used a Proof Argument in her family history research.

Lisa has been an avid family history researcher for nearly 20 years.  Since 2009, she has shared her knowledge and experience with many through her volunteer hours, workshop trainings, and commissioned research.  A member of the Association of Professional Genealogists and a graduate of the ProGen Study Group, she specializes in helping people with Irish roots discover their “Townland of Origin”.  Lisa is based in Upstate New York near Albany, and provides a free consultation toward assisting you in finding your own unique family story! You can find out more about Lisa's work on her website, Upstate NY Genealogy and her Association of Professional Genealogists profile.

To say the road our ancestors took to get from Ireland to the United States (or the UK, or Australia, etc) was a long and winding one would be an understatement.  They endured many hardships and obstacles along the way, but still they persevered.  The road back from the 21st century to the Ireland our ancestors knew can be just as long and in many ways, more complicated.  The return journey is not for the faint of heart, only the most persistent and determined will reach their ultimate goal of a townland of origin.

Sometimes the luck of the Irish will be on our side, and we will find that long-anticipated place name in the first document we examine.  Others may unearth record after record over many years before even the smallest clue is yielded.  Either way the Irish family historian is all too often left with questions about the place they have found.  What does it all mean?  Is it a townland or parish?  County or Poor Law Union?

The real work in Irish genealogy begins once that mysterious location is found.  Then the researcher must make the effort to find out what they can about that place.  What type of place is it?  Does it still exist?  Where can it found on a map?  What kinds of records exist for that place?  What is the corresponding parish for that place and when do those records begin?

There is rarely a single document that gives all the answers about an ancestor.  Most often there is a combination of documents and sources, a variety of items that together form the circumstantial evidence those of us researching our Irish origins get used to seeing.  Melding these divergent pieces into a comprehensive whole that tells the story of our Irish ancestors takes real skill.  In genealogy, this gathering, analysis and summarizing is called a proof argument. 

The Board for Certification of Genealogists defines a proof argument as "a detailed, written explanation of the evidence and reasoning used to reach a genealogical conclusion."[1] If ever there was a genre of genealogy made for the proof argument, it would be Irish genealogy.  The majority of the records pertaining to our ancestor in their adopted country usually say nothing more specific than “Ireland”, records kept in Ireland itself vary greatly in quality and scope, and the names of our ancestors are so common it can be nearly impossible to tell one “John Ryan” from another.  Assembling and analyzing large amounts of data is an essential procedure toward discovering our ancestor’s home, and to skip these vital steps would do our research a great disservice. 

In the computer, tablet and smart phone era that we live in, we get used to instant gratification.  The proof argument simply is not something that can be achieved by plugging a surname into Google.  Its origins involve gathering, sorting, categorizing, contemplating, analyzing, savoring, and finally, recording information that sometimes takes years to accumulate.  While sources for Irish genealogy and other ethnicities are exploding online and are far more readily available than they were even a few years ago, an effective proof argument, and therefore an accurate family story, can only be achieved with patience and diligence.  Our ancestors would have been familiar with these qualities; they mastered them and started a new life that we are all benefitting from. 

[1] Laura A. DeGrazia, CG. Skillbuilding: Proof Arguments. Onboard. No. 15. January 2009. pp. 1-3. Available online at accessed 17 September 2014.
Onboard is the newsletter of the Board for Certification of Genealogists

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