2018 June – Writing Proof Arguments

From Confusion to Conclusion: How to Write Proof Arguments

Course Coordinator: Kimberly Powell

Held June 24-29, 2018, at La Roche College, Pittsburgh, PA. Registration Information.

Additional Instructors:

  • Catherine Desmarais, CG
  • Harold Henderson, CG
  • Melissa A. Johnson, CG
  • Karen Stanbary, CG

Course Description

When the research is over, what next? How do genealogists transform the three-dimensional complexity of evidence into a coherent, understandable, written proof argument?  This hands-on course will feature a variety of strategies, tools and techniques for making data understandable in written form, as well as lectures and case studies from a diverse group of published authors demonstrating their strategies and methods for moving from disorganized evidence to a well-structured, convincing proof argument. Sessions will feature proof writing in all of its forms—for your own research, for family, for clients, for certification, and for publication.

Since good writing requires practice, this course will include pre-class writing and reading, as well as a number of short homework assignments and in-class exercises designed to help enhance your learning. We want you to go home feeling confident that you can do this on your own!


  • Familiarity with the concepts presented in chapters 1–8 of Mastering Genealogical Proof (Arlington, Va.: National Genealogical Society, 2013).
  • Familiarity with the first chapter of Evidence Explained: Historical Analysis, Citation and Source Usage, 3rdedition (Baltimore, Md.: Genealogical Publishing Co., 2015), or an earlier edition.


Writing Proof Arguments: An Orientation (Harold Henderson and Kimberly Powell)
We will start the week off with an overview of what you can expect from your time with us, and then delve into a very brief review of necessary topics to make sure we are all jumping in from the same place, including: how to meet the last three elements of the GPS; the differences between proof statements, summaries, and arguments; important terminology; constructive criticism; and reading best practices.

Tools and Techniques for Analysis and Correlation (Kimberly Powell)
This session will explore a variety of tools and techniques—including charts, tables, timelines, spreadsheets, graphical maps, and mind/concept/argument maps—to test information and evidence items from independent sources against each other, to identify connections and contradictions, and to discover patterns, parallels, dissimilarities, and outliers.

Writing Proof Arguments: Finding Logical and Narrative Structures That Work (Harold Henderson)
Every article that is a proof argument is also a story. We can couple the logical and narrative structures for maximum effect. It helps to have a variety of alternative structures in mind as we proceed. Sometimes the material dictates the structure, sometimes trying to force it into one structure makes another structure look good, and sometimes there are free choices.

Communicating Analysis (Harold Henderson and Kimberly Powell)
In this interactive discussion/lecture session, we will walk through the assembly of a basic proof argument, emphasized with in-class exercises.

4 PM – Spreadsheet Tips & Tricks (Kimberly Powell)
Learn a variety of powerful tips and tricks for using spreadsheets to analyze and correlate genealogical data.


How Writing Makes Us Better Problem Solvers (Kimberly Powell)
As genealogists we write not only to communicate information, but also to ask questions, discover what we are thinking, generate ideas, and even argue with ourselves before we commit to a conclusion. This session will explore fundamentals of critical thinking and critical writing, principles of logic and argument, and strategies used by expert writers to get their thoughts down on paper.

Tactics for Pulling It All Together (Melissa A. Johnson)
This lecture will cover one author’s thoughts on and approach to writing a proof argument, from the conception phase through to publication. Using an NGSQ case study as an example, the author will cover choosing the research problem, planning the research, structuring the written piece, selecting information and evidence to include, incorporating the analysis, approaching the written piece, and publication.

Organize Your Writing: What to Include and How to Present It (Kimberly Powell)
Once we complete research and begin to write, it’s time to think about selecting, arranging, and presenting our evidence. This session will cover 12 basic guidelines for writing proof arguments, as well as the use of non-textual elements (figures, tables, etc.) to convey complex information. Examples throughout!

Untangling the Threads: Hands-On Workshop (Harold Henderson and Kimberly Powell)
Learning to write takes practice and that’s what we are going to do! We’ll work through several short proof exercises—turning lists of “evidence,” into completed proof summaries.

4 PM – Assignment of Homework Project (Harold Henderson and Kimberly Powell)


Incorporating DNA Evidence into Proof Arguments (Karen Stanbary)
We will explore how to weave DNA evidence with the documentary evidence into a relationship proof argument. Examples of tables, figures, and source citations unique to the presentation of DNA evidence will be provided.

Getting it Done: Tools for Organizing Your Research and Writing (Kimberly Powell)
Let’s face it. Writing is often a messy business. This session will explore some of my favorite tools for brainstorming, gathering information, organizing ideas, structuring a writing project, editing, collaborating, and writing faster and more effectively. A sample proof argument workflow will include cameo appearances by Scrivener, Evernote, Dropbox, SimpleNote, and more.

Other People’s Ancestors: From Client Commission to Published Case Study (Catherine Desmarais)
Borrowed ancestors can tell us stories and take us to places our own ancestors never would.  Come along as we follow a project through several segments of client research to its ultimate publication in the NGSQ.

Editing Yourself and Being Edited (Harold Henderson)
We’ll look at nine different kinds of editing with examples. Revising drafts is self-editing in action and we’ll have examples of that. Also, the two most powerful micro-tools for making any piece of writing more interesting, and one macro tool.

4 PM – Homework Review & Discussion (Harold Henderson & Kimberly Powell)


Deceptive Quiet: Indirect Evidence and Writing Up Cases with Little or No Conflict (Harold Henderson)
Now it is time for a look at the several ways that indirect evidence works, followed by a fine example of an article structured by “building blocks.” Could it have been done another way?

Does Your Writing Meet Standards? (Melissa A. Johnson)
Learn about the genealogical standards applicable to proof arguments, along with suggestions and tips for producing proof arguments that meet them.

Tools and Strategies for Dealing with Conflicts (Harold Henderson)
There are two stages when we face an apparent conflict. Stage one is to continue researching and see whether the conflict dissolves once an identity is clarified or an assumption abandoned. Stage two is to resolve the conflict applying the tools of corroboration, quality, and explanation (CQE) – and the greatest of these is corroboration.

Walking Through Writing: From Inspiration to Good-Enough-to-Share (Kimberly Powell)
It’s easy to research (and fun!). Writing is hard work. This session will follow the making of a proof argument from beginning to end—covering each stage of the analysis, correlation, conflict resolution, writing, and revising—while demonstrating how research and writing really do go hand-in-hand.

4 PM – Many Ways, One Destination: Recent Adventures in Editing (Harold Henderson)
This session will follow up on Harold’s late Wednesday talk on editing. Class members will see examples of early drafts of in-process articles, discuss a variety of ways to improve them, and see what actually did happen to them in real life. What opportunities were present? Which were missed?


Proving Your Family’s Story (Melissa A. Johnson)
Proof arguments and summaries are often incorporated into larger written works, such as journal articles, genealogical compilations, and BCG’s kinship determination project. Learn first-hand how to approach researching, planning, writing, and publishing a genealogical article that tells the story of a family, while also developing and incorporating proof arguments that are necessary to tell the tale.

Homework Review/Discussion & Where to Go from Here (Harold Henderson and Kimberly Powell)

Certificates, farewell, and lunch

Note: This course will take advantage of the optional 30-minute slots at the end of each day (4–4:30) for a combination of homework review/discussion and extra bonus learning!