Conveying Accuracy

I’ve mentioned a few times that I plan to get my Genealogical research onto a website eventually. One of the things I’ve been considering for the design of my website is how to convey the accuracy of the information; after all, genealogical research is fraught with accuracy issues.

This is described well in 5 Ways To Tell If Your Genealogy Research Is Accurate.

I think there are several types of accuracy I’ll wish to convey about the records I’ll have used. Here are my thoughts on them.

Transcription Accuracy

I use a range of records, from those I have seen photographs of the original document and made my own transcriptions (5 star) through to facts I’ve been told by other people without any documentary evidence to back it up (1 star). I can imagine a rating scale something like this.

Star rating Meaning
☆☆☆☆☆ I have seen the document, or a photograph of the document that the transcription was made from.
☆☆☆☆ Full transcription provided by someone else without a photograph, e.g. Ancestry website Scottish census records.
☆☆☆ Partial transcription provided by someone else without a photograph, e.g. Ancestry website Scottish Old Parish records.
☆☆ Fact provided from someone else with a note of the record where they found it, but without any transcription.
Fact provided from someone else without any documentary evidence to back it up.

Recording accuracy

There are various ways to look at the accuracy of the recording; the distance in time since the event, e.g. age on a death record; the likelihood of the informant knowing the information, e.g. a neighbour instead of a relative; the kind of record, e.g. a statutory record versus something less formal or rigorous. I can imagine a rating scale something like this.

Star rating Examples
☆☆☆☆☆ Birth/Marriage/Death date from Statutory record of the same.
☆☆☆☆ Age from Statutory Marriage Record.
Parents marriage date on Statutory Birth record of child.
☆☆☆ Age from Statutory Death Record if recorded by a relative.
Age from Census Record.
☆☆ Age from Statutory Death Record if recorded by a neighbour.
Any other record/fact not listed above.

5 stars

Overall accuracy of a Fact

There therefore needs to be a formula that conveys the likely accuracy of any one fact recorded for a person, for example if the birthdate comes from a Statutory Birth Record that I have seen the image of, that would be 5-stars on both of the above scales, and therefore the best possible score, however if it doesn’t match all the other records for the same fact, like all the ages on census returns, then that should reduce the score. I suspect I’m going to have some fun trying to come up with said formula!

Overall rating for a person

Having given each fact a score, the average of all the scores could be used to convey an overall rating for each person.

I suspect these ideas will solidify over time and, especially, when I try to put them into practice when I get to the point of creating my website. I will no doubt find other examples that need rated, and complications to any formula that I come up with. Should be fun though!

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6 thoughts on “Conveying Accuracy

  1. Please continue in this fashion. I like what I see so far. It helps those reviewing the data or person’s profile to get a good idea of where the data is at. So often when one is researching on their own it’s hard to assess progress on compiling a person’s data. Knowing another researcher has found some data faulty or incomplete is a big help.

    • I think my idea to do this came out of a similar frustration as a researcher when looking at other sources. I hope I always remember what it is like to be a new researcher as that viewpoint is invaluable.

      • Morag, the system of using the stars as a rating system is also a very big help for researchers who have limited time to devote to their family history project. This visual element says it all!

  2. Really helpful post! I had been debating how to reflect this. As a historian by training, I definitely prefer to see the confirmatory record and I’ve found several instances where matches made in related trees aren’t right. But equally, there may be other offline sources others have used e.g. Gravestones containing supplementary info. So I like the system you propose!

    >

  3. Great article Morag! I’ve been doing my Family History since 1996. Prior to that I had a career in the US Army as a Morse Code Interceptor, a component of the Military Intelligence System. Source Reliability was always vital and over the many years a matrix was developed for use Army wide and other US forces as well as the UK. For your consideration and information for others, here is that matrix:

    Field Manual No. 2-22.3 (34-52)
    Headquarters Department of the Army
    Washington, DC, 6 September 2006
    Human Intelligence Collector Operations
    Appendix B
    Source and Information Reliability Matrix
    https://rdl.train.army.mil/catalog-ws/view/100.ATSC/10492372-71C5-4DA5-8E6E-649C85E1A280-1300688170771/2-22.3/appb.htm

    SOURCE RELIABILITY
    B-1. Reliability ratings range from “Reliable” (A) to “Unreliable” (E) as shown in Table B-1. In every instance the rating is based on previous reporting from that source. If there has been no previous reporting, the source must be rated as “F”. [NOTE: An “F” rating does not necessarily mean that the source cannot be trusted, but that there is no reporting history and therefore no basis for making a determination.]

    Table B-1. Evaluation of Source Reliability.
    A Reliable No doubt of authenticity, trustworthiness, or competency; has a history of complete reliability
    B Usually Reliable Minor doubt about authenticity, trustworthiness, or competency; has a history of valid information most of the time
    C Fairly Reliable Doubt of authenticity, trustworthiness, or competency but has provided valid information in the past
    D Not Usually Reliable Significant doubt about authenticity, trustworthiness, or competency but has provided valid information in the past
    E Unreliable Lacking in authenticity, trustworthiness, and competency; history of invalid information
    F Cannot Be Judged No basis exists for evaluating the reliability of the source

    INFORMATION CONTENT
    B-2. The highest degree of confidence in reported information is given to that which has been confirmed by outside sources, “1”. Table B-2 shows evalua¬tion of information content. The degree of confidence decreases if the information is not confirmed, and/or does not seem to make sense. The lowest evaluated rating of “5” means that the information is considered to be false. [NOTE: A rating of “6” does not necessarily mean false information, but is generally used to indicate that no determination can be made since the information is completely new.]

    Table B-2. Evaluation of Information Content.
    1 Confirmed Confirmed by other independent sources; logical in itself; Consistent with other information on the subject
    2 Probably True Not confirmed; logical in itself; consistent with other information on the subject
    3 Possibly True Not confirmed; reasonably logical in itself; agrees with some other information on the subject
    4 Doubtfully True Not confirmed; possible but not logical; no other information on the subject
    5 Improbable Not confirmed; not logical in itself; contradicted by other information on the subject
    6 Cannot Be Judged No basis exists for evaluating the validity of the information

    • Ed that’s brilliant! Thank you so much for sharing. Those are great ways to convey the reliability of family history sources too. I think I be basing mine on that as a starting point. Thanks again.

Morag would love to hear what you think. Leave a comment here.

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