Visualizing Information for Analysis and Correlation
The first element of the Genealogical Proof Standard (GPS)—reasonably exhaustive research—calls for digging into the circumstances of a research subject’s life, and identifying sources and strategies that may help provide an answer to a specific research question. Sometimes, even after carefully planning a research path and exhausting a variety of relevant and high-quality sources, we don’t uncover enough information to develop a conclusion or test a theory. Other times, our research results in a variety of records containing information that may pertain to several different individuals with the same name. In cases such as these, how can we effectively analyze the abundance of information discovered, and differentiate among same-name individuals to resolve our research problem?
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Lists and tables are one good way to do this type of information analysis, and I certainly use them. Another good method, especially for very visually oriented people, is the use of a mind map. While traditionally used as a brain storming tool to generate ideas for research, etc., I actually find it very useful for looking at the relationship of all the information I have. For those unfamiliar with this tool, the process starts by putting a brief (few words) description of the research/analysis problem in a center box/circle; e.g. Which Isaac was Esau’s father? Lines are drawn out from this, each leading to a new topic/record box/circle pertinent to the question. This might be done in a number of ways, but for instance by record type might work; census, deeds, directories, etc. From each of these nodes what each of these tells you, whether explicitly or implied, is recorded in its own box connected by a line. When information or its analysis shows conclusions that derive from more than one of these, lines from these items are drawn out to a new box/circle that gives that conclusion. And so on. All the interlocking lines and boxes help you to see where the information and conclusions came from and helps to identify possible gaps in the analysis (whoops, the search wasn’t exhaustive). Boxes and lines can be color-coded in any way you want that would help; e.g. red for negative evidence, green for positive evidence, blue for implied conclusions. Give it a try. Use a BIG piece of paper (or tape multiple sheets together as needed) or if you are more techy, there are a number of programs, some free and some paid, that you can use for this. Different programs have different tools and abilities for what you can do. I use Popplet (free program for desktop or mobile devices – but the two can’t be synced), and not just for this kind of information analysis but also for outlining articles and planning presentations.