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Noted Genealogist Michael J Neill Depends on Evidence Explained, by Elizabeth Shown Mills

Evidence Explained Genealogy Review

Reprinted from 15 December 2014,

“Why I Like Evidence Explained,” by Michael John Neill

There aren’t many genealogy reference books that I use on a regular basis. And the ones I have that are nearly falling apart from almost daily use are rarer still.  One of those books is  Evidence Explained by Elizabeth Shown Mills.

The book is not cheap and it’s not small–it’s nearly 900 pages. Chapter 1 provides an overview of evidence analysis and chapter 2 provides an overview of citation theory. The chapter on evidence analysis is one that it sometimes doesn’t hurt to read over more than once. The chapter 1 and chapter 2 of my book are littered with penciled in comments and notations.

I’ll be honest. The world won’t end if you use a comma instead of a semicolon in a citation. Seriously. It really won’t. But the section on evidence analysis (chapter 1) gets at some ways to avoid mistakes in research–and that’s something many of us could benefit from reading. Even if you take a “less formal” approach to your research, there are a lot of things to carefully consider in chapter 1.

And it all gets at trying to present as accurate a picture of our ancestor as possible. And that’s always a good thing.

Remember that the majority of us who follow as best we can the tenets of  Evidence Explained are not members of the Genealogy Police

The rest of Evidence Explained has citation guides for a variety of records around the world. Even if you don’t follow the citations to the letter, the discussion of the sources, while broad, can be very helpful for advanced beginning and intermediate researchers. The discussion of the citation sometimes gets at how the records are frequently organized–always a good thing to know.

The discussion of county-level records for the United States as a whole must be broad and general (that’s a large territory with significant variation)–but there’s still a great deal of learning that some researchers can do in those sections. The discussion of federal records is also strong and any US researcher would be well served by reading that section, even if they had no intention of following the citation guide down to the letter. I don’t follow  Evidence Explained to the letter in Casefile Clues, either. I try to use it in spirit–not as dogma. Mills does suggest that her tome is a guide, not an edict . . .

And my copy of  Evidence Explained is written in all over. It’s one of those books that’s a working copy, not an archival copy and as a result my print copy looks used.

You might even want to consider putting Evidence Explained on your holiday list.

Michael John Neill is a genealogical researcher and writer who pens Genealogy Tip of the Day ( and blogs about a eclectic mix of topics on ( Michael has a master’s degree in mathematics and is on the faculty of Carl Sandburg College. He lectures nationally on a wide variety of research topics and was the 2015 Advanced Methodology Coordinator at CSI-Genealogy being held in Galesburg, Illinois.