Documenting the Essentials


4 February 2014

How many "facts" in the following sentence need supporting evidence?

"Jane Purcell's daughter Sarah Marks witnessed the deed."

We all know the golden rule for documentation: If an asserted "fact" is not "public knowledge," it must be linked to the exact source(s) that provide the evidence. But when we're writing, we're caught up in the flow of the narrative and things slip by.

When our writing (or data entry) is done, we need to reread it. Sentence by sentence. At each assertion in the sentence, we stop and ask ourselves at least two things:

  • Is this assertion linked to a source?
  • If so, does the source actually support everything our text says?

When we follow this strategy, it's amazing how many times we end up saying "Uh-oh!"

yhoitink's picture
I would say three there are

I would say three there are three facts here:

  • Jane Purcell had a daughter Sarah Marks
  • Sarah Marks witnessed the deed
  • The Sarah Marks who witnessed the deed is the same person as Sarah Marks, the daughter of Jane Purcell.

The last 'fact' could even require a proof summary or argument. On the other hand, it could be that the deed itself says that the witness Sarah Marks is the daughter of Jane Purcell, in which case one citation would suffice. 

Yvette Hoitink, CGSM, the Netherlands
Dutch Genealogy Services

EE's picture
Just eight words and yet

Just eight words and yet there are three distinct assertions that have to be documented. Whether we are writing a report or a narrative, it is so easy to insert thoughts and "facts" that are not actually in the document we are discussing. It's especially a problem if we are "traditionally trained" in history and follow its preferred practice of placing reference note numbers at the end of a sentence or paragraph. Thoughtful writers will always, at proofing stage, read their text against their notes with one thought in mind: Have I made any assertion that is not supported by the evidence cited for it?

The Editor

clarker's picture

Is it an authentic deed?