Home > Supplementary Glossary from Evidence Explained

Below are terms and definitions provided in Elizabeth Shown Mills' Evidence Explained, "Appendix A: Glossary." Please refer to the original work for a her complete glossary and in depth understanding of the terms and concepts. This substantial extraction from Evidence Explained for the BetterGEDCOM project was approved by the author. [1]

[1] "Use of Glossary of Terms ...," Elizabeth Shown Mills, CG, CGL, FASG to Greg Lamberson, E-mail of 30 Nov 2010."

See also, BetterGEDCOM Glossary of Terms.

abstract: (academic context) a brief summary or a précis of principal points in an essay or a thesis.

abstract: (notetaking context) a condensed version of a record, preserving all important detail in original sequence. An abstract may contain verbatim
extracts (quotes) of passages from the record, in which case the material that is copied exactly should be placed in quotation marks inside the abstract.


analysis: the process of examining evidence. For students of history, this typically involves (a) studying individual pieces of data for inherent clues, strengths, and weaknesses; (b) correlating details from different sources in search of patterns; and (c) determining whether the whole body of evidence amounts to more than the sum of the individual parts.

assertion: a claim or statement of “fact.”

assumption: a conclusion unsupported by evidence.


best evidence: an original record or records of the best and highest quality that survives. At law and in history research, a derivative source (q.v.) is rarely considered sufficient for documentation when an original or a derivative closer to the original form exists.

beyond reasonable doubt: a legal standard applied in criminal cases, requiring virtual certainty.

bibliography: a list of sources relevant to the subject at hand, citing each source in full. An annotated bibliography is one that discusses the sources in addition to providing full citations. A bibliography typically does not cite individual manuscripts or documents; rather, it cites a collection or series in which the manuscript appears. Also see source list.


circumstantial case: (historical context) a reasonable conclusion reached by assembling, analyzing, and explaining—with thorough documentation— numerous pieces of indirect evidence.

circumstantial evidence: (legal context) testimony based on deductions drawn from various information that can be documented.

citation—the statement in which one identifies the source of an assertion. Common forms of citations are source list entries (bibliographic entries), reference notes (endnotes or footnotes), and document labels.

(to) cite: the act of identifying one’s source(s) for statements of fact—not to be confused with the words site (as in website) or sight (as in eyesight).

claim: an assertion of “fact” for which no evidence is supplied or else the evidence is insufficient or not yet adjudged.

clear and convincing evidence: a legal standard interchangeable with beyond reasonable doubt (q.v.) in some jurisdictions; elsewhere, an intermediate standard between beyond reasonable doubt and preponderance of the evidence (q.v.).


conclusion: a decision. To be reliable, it must be based on well-reasoned and thoroughly documented evidence gleaned from sound research.

confirm: to test the accuracy of an assertion or conclusion by (a) consulting at least one other source that is both independently created and authoritative; and (b) finding agreement between them.

conflicting evidence: relevant pieces of information from disparate sources that contradict each other.

copyright: the exclusive right to copy, distribute, or license a creative work or to exploit it in any other manner. The term should not be rendered as copywrite. The issue at law is that of rights, not writing per se.


deduction: a conclusion inferred from aggregated clues. “definitive source”: a false concept based on the presumption that a certain source is always reliable or represents the “final word” on an issue.

derivative source: material produced by copying an original document or manipulating its content. Abstracts, compendiums, compilations, data- bases, extracts, transcripts, and translations are all derivatives—as are authored works such as histories, genealogies, and other monographs that are based on research in a variety of sources.

direct evidence: relevant information that states an answer to a specific research question or appears to solve a research problem all by itself. See also indirect evidence.


document—noun: (legal context) any piece of writing submitted into evi- dence; (historical context), a piece of writing, usually official, that has evidentiary merit.

(to) document—verb: to supply reliable evidence in support of a claim. document label: a citation (q.v.) of source placed upon or appended to a


duplicate original: a copy officially made at the same time as the official “original.” Examples: The grantor’s and grantee’s copies of a deed, simultaneously made; or the multiple copies of a census schedule that enumerators were required to make in certain years.


edition: the version or form in which a publication is presented. It may be identified as an ordinal (e.g., first edition), as a descriptive term (e.g., revised edition, image edition), or a media format (e.g., CD-ROM edition, microfilm edition).


endnote: a reference note (q.v.) that is placed at the end of an essay, chapter, book, or other piece of writing.

evidence: information that is relevant to the problem. Common forms used in historical analysis include best evidence (q.v.) direct evidence (q.v.), indirect evidence (q.v.), and negative evidence (q.v.). In a legal context, circumstantial evidence (q.v.) is also common.


extract: a portion of text quoted verbatim out of a record and enclosed in quotation marks. An extract is more precise than an abstract. Unlike a transcript, it does not represent the complete record.

fact: a presumed reality—an event, circumstance, or other detail that is considered to have happened or to be true. In historical research, it is difficult to establish actual truths; therefore, the validity of any stated “fact” rests upon the quality of the evidence presented to support it.


“fair copy”: a term used by the U.S. Bureau of the Census to describe the duplicate originals (q.v.) enumerators were asked to submit. Practically speaking, it meant a “reasonably accurate” copy.


footnote: a reference note (q.v.) placed at the bottom or foot of the page on which its corresponding “fact” appears.

fair use principle: an adjunct of copyright law, defining conditions under which one may use or reuse portions of copyrighted material.


first reference note: the first citation (q.v.) for a particular source, at which time the source is cited in full, with any descriptive detail or discussion needed for identification and analysis. See also subsequent (or) short reference note.


genealogy: the study of families in genetic and historical context; the study of communities in which kinship networks weave the fabric of economic, political, and social life; the study of family structures and the changing roles of men, women, and children in diverse cultures; the study of biography, reconstructing individual human lives and placing them into family context across place and time—otherwise, the story of who we are and how we came to be as individuals and societies. [As defined by the Board for Certification of Genealogy (http://bcgcertification.org : consulted 31 March 2007]

GEDCOM: an acronym used for the GEnealogy Data COMmunications file format developed by The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints to allow the exchange of genealogical databases between various data- management programs.


hearsay: typically oral information that is secondhand (secondary), thirdhand (tertiary), or otherwise not original; it may be handed down through the generations or passed around among contemporaries.

hypothesis: a proposition based upon an analysis of evidence at hand; not a conclusion but a premise to focus research more narrowly in an effort to prove or disprove a point.


image copy: a digital, film, or photo image. In historical research, it is typically treated as an original, so long as no evidence suggests that the image may have been altered.

indirect evidence: relevant information that does not answer the research question all by itself. Rather, it has to be combined with other information to arrive at an answer to the research question.

indirect source: a term used by some writing guides to refer to the source from which our own source obtained its information. Many careful researchers prefer “source of the source” for this concept. Because source and evidence are terms frequently confused, researchers of the school this manual follows use the term indirect only with the word evidence, and not with the term source.

inference: a “fact” deduced from information that implies something it does not state outright.

information: a statement offered by a source. Information exists in two basic weights, primary information (q.v.) and secondary information (q.v.).


liber: the Latin term for book. In various jurisdictions, the term has been used for local civil records. Example: a deed register might be referred to as “Deeds, Liber 4.”


manuscript: a piece of writing in its native, unpublished state. Derived from the Latin meaning written by hand, the term is also applied in modern times to unpublished typescripts (q.v.).


Master Source List: a term used by some relational databases to refer to a “pick list” or “master list” of sources.


negative evidence: an inference one can draw from the absence of information that should exist under given circumstances.

original source: a source that is still in its first recorded or uttered form. The term is also more loosely applied to image copies of an original record when produced by an authoritative or reliable agency—as with microfilm or digital copies produced to preserve the originals or to provide wider access to them.


plagiarism: the presentation of someone else’s words or ideas as one’s own, without attribution—whether copied exactly or paraphrased; an ethical issue not to be confused with the legal issue of copyright (q.v.), based on the premise that the ideas and words of others cannot be ethically used without attribution.
preponderance of the evidence: a legal standard acceptable in civil cases, whereby evidence on one side of an argument outweighs, at least slightly, evidence on the other side of an argument.


presumptive evidence: (legal context) evidence that may not be conclusive but may be reasonably accepted unless demonstrated otherwise.

prima facie evidence: (legal context) evidence that appears valid on the surface, without explanation, and—if not contradicted—can be reasonably ac- cepted.

primary information: statements made or details provided by someone with firsthand knowledge of the facts he or she asserted. See also secondary information.

primary source: a traditional concept within the humanities that is variously defined as an original record, a contemporary account, or a firsthand account, but not necessarily all three simultaneously. The term is no longer used in sound genealogical analysis because any source (and any statement within a source) can be a combination of both firsthand and secondhand information. For the Research Process Map by which genealogists classify sources, see the endpapers of this book.

printed primary source: a historic record that has been printed, in full or edited form; it may be an original source (q.v.) or a derivative source (q.v.), and it may be based on either firsthand knowledge or hearsay, so long as it was created by a person contemporaneous with the times discussed or at least peripherally involved in the incident. Examples: published congressional records, published presidential papers, etc.


proof: a conclusion backed by thorough research, sound analysis, and reliable evidence.

parenthetical reference: a source citation placed in parentheses within the text of a piece of writing; typically used for scientific-style citations to published works, with the parenthetical reference noting just the surname of the author and the year the work was published, while the text is followed by a bibliography (q.v.) or source list (q.v.) in which all the referenced sources are fully cited.

proof argument: a well-reasoned, meticulously documented paper in which a researcher describes a research problem, the process by which it was solved, and the evidence that supports the conclusion.

record—noun: an account of an event, circumstance, etc.; a piece of writing created to preserve the memory of certain “facts.”


reference note: a citation (q.v.) or comment placed at the bottom of a page or at the end of a piece of writing and keyed to a particular statement in the text; its purpose is to identify and/or discuss the source of the specific statement made in the text.

repository: an archive, government office, library, or other facility where research materials are held.

secondary information: Details provided by someone with only secondhand (hearsay) knowledge of the facts. The term secondary is also generically used for tertiary (thirdhand) and other levels of knowledge even further removed from the original source.

secondary source: a traditional term in the humanities that is variously defined as a copy of a record, an account created long after the fact, or hearsay. The term is no longer used in sound genealogical analysis because any source (and any statement within a source) can be a combination of both firsthand and secondhand information.


sic: a Latin term literally translated as so or thus. Placed in square editorial brackets after a word or phrase that is copied from another source, it is used to inform readers that the text has been copied exactly even though it may appear to be questionable or erroneous.


source: an artifact, book, document, film, person, recording, website, etc., from which information is obtained. Sources are broadly classified as either an original source (q.v.) or a derivative source (q.v.), depending upon their physical form.

source list: a bibliography or list of sources used for an essay or in a research project.

source list entry: an individual citation within a source list (q.v.).

speculation: an opinion unsupported by evidence.


subsequent (or short) reference note: an abridged identification of a source that is used to conserve space, once a source has been cited in full in the first reference note (q.v.)

surety: (legal context) a person who agrees to serve as a guarantor of a debt or a bond; (genealogical context) a term adopted by developers of some relational database software to place a numerical value upon the level of confidence a researcher may have in a source.


tertiary information: formally, thirdhand information; in everyday use, the concept of tertiary information is usually incorporated into the term secondary information (q.v.).

theory: a tentative conclusion that is drawn after a hypothesis (q.v.) has been extensively researched but the evidence still seems short of proof (q.v.).


verify: to test the accuracy of an assertion by consulting other authoritative and independent sources; the term may be applied to the process of searching for that independent evidence or the act of finding that independent evidence. Also see confirm (q.v.).


vetting: in the context of historical research: the process of evaluating a scholarly paper to ensure its quality.


working source list: a list of sources consulted or to be consulted in a research project. A working source list typically contains descriptive or analytical details that will not be published in a final bibliography, unless the final work presents an annotated bibliography. A working source list may also contain references that will not be considered valid or appropriate to the final research product.