Tuesday, April 26, 2011

To Assume or Not to Assume

"In logic, more specifically in the context of natural deduction systems, an assumption is a proposition that may be used to prove further propositions, in the expectation that the assumption will be discharged in due course by proving it via a separate argument." - definition by Wikipedia

Sometimes we make assumptions when researching our own family history. For example, the 1850 census records the names of everyone in a household, but doesn't provide the relationship between those individuals. So, if there is a man and woman listed, same last name, close in age, we tend to assume they are husband and wife - and hopefully we continue to collect data that will support or disprove that relationship. It's not always easy to find a way to record those assumptions you are making along the way, and what still needs to be done to prove or disprove those details so they don't show up as proven facts.

I am finding that I have to make more assumptions than I would normally to keep my one place study moving along.  For example, if I find the same name in multiple year censuses, and the ages look compatible, and the family make up looks compatible, I record all of those findings under one person in my pioneer database.  If I find someone in a cemetery located within Homer's boundaries, I am currently adding them to the database with the assumption they lived in Homer at some time (that's a big assumption, I know).  As I am working on the 1850 census, if I find children with the same last name, and reasonable ages, listed in a household, I am making the assumption that the adults are the parents of these children.  When I find cemetery records that indicate that someone is the wife, daughter, mother, etc. of someone else, I am going with that assumption in my data base.  Are all of these assumptions going to be right?  Certainly not.  But I also do not want 5 different records for the same person (maybe) in my database - one for each record I find.  I am going to boldly make assumptions - source all of those assumptions, of course - and work towards further proving them (or disproving them) as I collect more information and records.  I feel if I didn't work this way, I would just have a lot of disjointed records and individuals with no clear picture of Homer's settlers.

I am trying to list the types of assumptions I am making on my website so that visitors are aware of the possible errors.  Hopefully some fellow researchers will come forward to share some of their sourced family history to help correct any errors and add information as I reach out to more and more people.

So, To Assume or Not to Assume - I now have to hope that my assumptions don't come back to bite me and prove the old adage - when you assume you make an ass of u and me.

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