The genealogical research process.  

Before going into the details of the symbolic language let us review the process of genealogical research, whose basic elements need to be symbolized. This process involves a number of steps, some of which are the tasks and procedures developed through experience as the most productive in the discovery of sources to help describe the family of interest. These procedures in discovery are the heuristic of the process. But once the source is discovered the genealogist must determine its full relevance to the problem and analyze, interpret and finally assimilate the new data to those already accumulated.

The facts accumulated by a genealogist suggest to the experienced genealogist that certain additional sources may exist relating to the better description of the family. This is the hypothesis of the genealogical research process — the assumption for the sake of progress that such and such is the case, which would imply the existence or non-existence of a particular source. The discovery of the hypothetical source and the vindication of the genealogist’s expectations is a major motivating factor in continuing research.

The success of the genealogist can be accounted for by the fact that the relevant sources all describe the same underlying reality, albeit as different abstractions of the same. Some data in a source may be completely extraneous to the genealogist’s immediate interest. Some records are more adaptable to genealogy than others.

It is the elements of a source which are of prime genealogical interest that need to be symbolized. These elements are taken as the meanings of the basic symbols of the calculus. We have the problem of abstracting the relevant and ignoring the irrelevant. Yet, the ingenious researcher will always be utilizing elements at one time felt to be irrelevant to suggest a new hypothesis — a new source not before known to be relevant.

When we construct our symbolic language, we will abstract the basic relevant elements of the source and assign a symbol to each one. With these we can construct a rule of formation that will define a symbol for that source as a concatenation of those symbols. Definitions will be given to the symbols in turn as consisting of still more basic components. These rules describe the process of analysis in geealogical research.

Many steps in the genealogical research will not be so straight-forward to symbolize. These will not be attempted here. The development of a sound heuristic procedure depends critically on a knowledge of source structure (content). The genealogist must also have a feeling for the range of probability for error in the values of certain elements of the structure. Seldom does the genealogist have a source whose assimilation does not call for some judgement as to how best to resolve its conflicts. Such judgements may be linguistic (equivalence of differently spelled names of persons, places), biologic (at what age a mother might reasonable bear children), psychological (under what conditions ages would be recorded most accurately), sociological (what names children might customarily be given), or any of some other types. It may be too much to hope for a language that would be powerful enough to express the myriad judgements of this kind. but the formalization of the process will undoubtedly help point out the areas where a procedure is weak or where it may be unassailable.

Figure 1 illustrates the main steps of the genealogical research process as outlined above. Here we will be concerned mainly with the symbolization of the source, its analysis and interpretation and assimilation into the compilation. There are several things that could be said about the setting up of a hypothesis and the heuristic for locating new sources, but these will not be considered in this article.

Figure 1: The Genealogical Research Process