Saturday, January 5, 2013

Saturday Sampling – Evidentia

Last week several blogs that I read mentioned a new software program called Evidentia.  The authors of Evidentia, ed5becy, LLC, describe the software as “a Source Centric genealogy tool” that, unlike most genealogy programs, focuses on a source instead of an individual person.  The authors also claim that the software follows the Board for Certification of Genealogists (BCG) Genealogical Proof Standard.  That is, the software forces you to document your source, perform a reasonably exhaustive search, resolve conflicting evidence and so on.

When I first read about the software, it sounded interesting, but also seemed like it was unnecessary given how I use The Master Genealogist (TMG), my genealogy database of choice.  For instance, Evidentia is supposed to be Source Centric.  Instead of entering a person and their details (birth, death, residence, etc.), you enter a source and then each claim the source makes.  This is actually how I use TMG.  While I may be looking for information about Ernest Solomon Davis, once I find a source of information, I document the source first in the Master Source List, then create a single entry (“tag” in TMG speak) for each “fact” on the source, even if it applies to someone other than Ernest.

Evidentia is also supposed to allow you to easily see conflicting evidence.  For instance, different birth dates for a subject should show up so that you can see the conflict and resolve it by analyzing your sources.  I can also do this with TMG by looking for multiple birth tags for single person; however Evidentia did make it easier to see the sources of the conflicting information.  In TMG, I would have to open each tag to view my sources and the values I attached to them indicating my analysis of if the source provided primary or secondary evidence.  With Evidentia, the screen displayed all sources, along with if the source was primary, secondary, original, derived, and so on.

One of the major reasons that I use TMG is that it is fully customizable.  While the base install does come with many templates for sources, tags, locations, and more, I can also create or modify templates as needed.  I was pleased to see that Evidentia templates could also be customized.

What did I dislike about Evidentia?  Nothing really.  It took a few minutes to get used to the interface, but that happens with any new software application.  The interface is actually very clean and intuitive, and the software forces you to step through each process before moving on to the next.  The tool tips that appear when you hover over an element were handy for learning the interface.

What did I like about Evidentia?  It did force me to slow down while looking at evidence on a source.  For instance, in TMG, if I find evidence of birth information, I would create a birth tag, fill in the date and place if they were shown, and save the data.  With Evidentia I followed the process of “Complete this sentence: The source asserts that…” for every piece of evidence.  For instance, Ernest’s birth information on his death record was listed as 10 May 1873 in Londonderry, Vermont[1].  I typed two sentences on the Catalogue Claims screen: “The source asserts that Ernest Solomon Davis was born on 10 May 1873” and “The source asserts that Ernest Solomon Davis was born in Londonderry, Vermont”.  I actually created 20 different claims from information found on a single index card documenting Ernest’s death.  In TMG I found that I had cited the same card only 8 times.  Part of this, I think, relates to having dates and places recorded in a single tag in TMG, while recording them as separate claims in Evidentia.

The big question, of course, is did I find Evidentia useful enough to purchase?  I can definitely see it being a useful piece of software to help solve complex cases.  I liked the interface and how it forced me to look at each piece of evidence.  I also liked how the software was designed to do exactly what it says.  There weren’t any unnecessary additions that I could see during my trial use.  For folks using genealogy databases that only allow the recording of a single “fact” for things like births and deaths, I can see the software being helpful to look for conflicting evidence.  For me, I think TMG is still sufficient for my needs, though I may have to think about splitting some tags to be more detailed in my analysis.

[1] Ernest Solomon Davis Death Record (1933); digital image, Vermont Death Records, 1909-2008, database online, (accessed 30 Oct 2012), citing Vermont Death Records, 1909-2003, Vermont State Archives and Records Administration, Montpelier, Vermont.

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