Evidentia is a different kind of genealogy software, designed to help you implement the Genealogical Proof Standard (GPS) rather than build a family tree. I tested the program with a recent line of research I was working on and found the program to be useful.
As a reminder, the GPS lists five requirements of a solid genealogical proof. They are:
- a reasonably exhaustive search;
- complete and accurate source citations;
- analysis and correlation of the collected information;
- resolution of any conflicting evidence; and
- a soundly reasoned, coherently written conclusion.
Earlier, before I actually used Evidentia I wrote about what I imagined a GPS program might do. In this review I’ll focus more on whether Evidentia does what the developer says it will do and if it was a useful tool. I may throw in a feature request or two, though.
Initial window for Evidentia
When you start Evidentia you are tossed right into the Document a Source screen. This immediately tells you that you are in a different kind of genealogy program, but it makes sense with the GPS. Unlike family tree programs, you have to enter the source details before you enter the information. You have to eat your vegetables before you get dessert. This is in keeping with the GPS, though, which requires accurate and complete source citations. Fortunately, though, Evidentia does help you with the citations, via templates for common source types. You can also create your own source types for things you run across a lot to save you even more data entry. The mechanism is similar to that of RootsMagic, with a little less detail. Also, when documenting the source you will indicate it’s provenance, such as Original, Image Copy, Transcript, etc. This will help you judge it’s reliability later on.
By the way, before you get started in Evidentia it will really pay off to read the help pages and especially to go through the video tutorials. I normally dislike video tutorials because I can read faster than I can listen, but the ones for Evidentia do a great job at explaining the philosophy and reasoning behind the program. Once you understand that Evidentia is pretty easy to use.
So after you have entered a source and an associated citation, you can then enter a claim, such as “John McKelvey lived in Oakland County, Michigan Territory in 1830”. This is free-form. You then assign a quality value for the information, with the choices being Primary, Secondary, or Unknown. You will also assign the claim to one or more subjects, which is a fact type combined with a person (or place). In this case my subject was “John McKelvey (b. 1789) (Residence)”.
So to build your proof you first need to do a lot of data gathering and entry. This is the way serious genealogical research is supposed to work. If you don’t have the sources before you do your analysis your analysis will not be as reliable, and Evidentia’s approach helps you do genealogy right.
There is one thing, though, that would improve Evidentia’s support for the reasonably exhaustive search, and that is some sort of to-do list or research plan support. That way I could enter the kinds of sources I’m going to search for and then check them off as I finish each one. Once everything is checked off and I don’t have any other sources to add then I know I’m done. I can do this on my own in a file but it would be a nice feature for a future version.
Analyze Evidence for John McKelvey
So once you have finished your reasonably exhaustive search and documented your findings you are ready to analyze your information. The Analyze Evidence window lets you pick a subject and claim, such as John McKelvey, Residence and see all of the claims that are made for that subject. The assertions are all listed on the left. For each assertion you assign an Evidence Quality of Direct, Indirect, or Negative. Finally you will also write up an analysis of that assertion, based on the quality of the source, information, and evidence.
Note that this means that you are proving one kind of thing at a time. In my case I was trying to prove who the father of John McKelvey was, and I ended up having to do three proofs, one for John’s residence to get back to his birthplace, one for his birth date, and finally one for his parents.
Once you have finished the analysis the Summary Conclusion box is then enabled and you can write up your results and resolve any inconsistencies. These last two steps are pretty much up to you, as the program just gives a text box for you to write your conclusions, but I’m not real sure how a program would help here anyhow.
Evidentia report on the birth of John McKelvey
Once you have written your summary you can then produce your report. I have provided a link to the birth report above. The proof report lists the summary of findings at the top, followed by an itemized list your your claims with findings, and finally a list of citations. This is helpful to get all of your work into one place, but I’m not sure it is useful to useful to give to someone as a final product. While the claims are footnoted with citations, the summary of findings, the part a person would read, is not. It is up to the reader to connect your analysis in the summary with the big list of findings and then the source. This puts needless work on the reader. Being able to add footnotes to the summary of findings would make a much more useful final product.
There are also other reports summarizing information by subject and source. These will be helpful to find gaps that need filling in, but I did not do much with them.
So after all this the question is, does Evidentia improve the GPS process? Overall I would say it does. Family tree programs let you enter a lot of facts, but they do not arrange them for analysis as well as Evidentia does and they do not enforce the entry of quality ratings. RootsMagic is better for the GPS than other family tree programs in that it lets you mark facts as proven and gives you a place to write your proof, but this proof is buried deep down in individual facts. Evidentia lets you pick the kind of fact you want to prove and focus on it.
Even though I made a few suggestions as to how Evidentia could be improved, using it to go through the GPS process was helpful for me and I actually bought a copy of the program tonight after having used the free download. Doing a proof with the GPS requires a different mindset, and Evidentia helps support that mindset.