Mar 10, 2011

Book Review: Evidence!

Evidence! Citation & Analysis for the Family HistorianI just finished reading Evidence! Citation & Analysis for the Family Historian, by Elizabeth Shown Mills. Now before I go on, I know what some of you are thinking: "That book's old and outdated. It was published ten years before the 1st edition of Evidence Explained." The latter point point is true, but irrelevant. The previous sentence is completely false.

What do we consider old in this field? Surely not a 14 year old book. We use century-old scraps of handwritten documents all the time in our research. It's not outdated either; the basics for citing electronic sources are all in there. While Evidence! doesn't have as much information about the internet as Evidence Explained (EE), 99% of the book is as timely as ever. It's more important to get across the purpose of citations than to have an all-inclusive laundry list of of every citation format ever imaginable.

There are other books, both older and newer, that serve the same purpose as EE. However, it's pretty clear to me now it's become the definitive work of the genre. When I first encountered it searching on Amazon, I couldn't tell how EE and Evidence! were differentiated. They're both written by the same author, some years apart, but it wasn't clear whether EE was a replacement for Evidence!, or an altogether new type of work. Then at RootsTech, I heard EE being extolled chapter and verse in nearly every session, and learned most of the major software vendors have templates to input sources in the correct EE format. So I paged through them both, and decided I would buy EE, eventually. I think every serious genealogist should own it. In the mean time, I found a copy of Evidence! at the public library.

The first two chapters alone make the book worth reading and rereading: "Fundamentals of citation" and "Fundamentals of analysis." They clock in at 24 and 16 pages, respectively, and the whole book is only about 100 pages long. The rest of the book is a reference with "Citation formats" and examples of properly cited writing. It's only about 1/8 the size of EE, and therein lies its chief virtue. EE begins with the same basic chapters, albeit reversed, and considerably longer. Each chapter in Evidence! starts with a list of 13 principles, then explains them in clear, concise, plain English. The size of EE alone is enough to dissuade many amateurs from reading it.

I only wish they would publish an update to Evidence!, and put it out in paperback. Very little would need to be changed–merely expanding the number and type of citation formats for electronic sources. (And please, please, include the "Evidence Analysis" diagram from EE. It's a simple, yet brilliant way to visualize the entire process.) I don't know many weekend warrior genealogists who'd be willing to part with $50 for a genealogy reference book. But a second edition of Evidence! in paperback could benefit the whole genealogy community. There are lots of how-to genealogy books for beginners, but few that explain why citations are so vital, and how to make sense of the mess of information we accumulate, which often conflicts.

I personally don't care for Who Do You Think You Are?, but I recognize it's getting more people interested in our field. Thomas MacEntee referred to the period we're living through as "the Third Great Awakening of Genealogy." And with all the influx of newbies, the amount of junk family history on the internet is only going to get worse. For all the benefits of WDYTYA?, its failure to show all the diligent research and analysis going on behind the scenes is its worst flaw. A well marketed, economically priced, paperback edition of Evidence! could help mitigate part of the problem.

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