When researching family history one must always look at the facts. They are (generally) clear cut and give us the information we need. So-and-so was born on this date, at this place and these were his/her parents. He/she was married or didn’t marry. He/she had children or didn’t have children. He/she died. It’s not really that complicated until we add indirect evidence. And it’s indirect evidence that results in conjecture.
Indirect evidence such as a commonly used name, an unusual collection of family photos or people with the same name living in the same location may lack explanation or physical evidence on the face of it but ends up forming a collation of evidence which, in turn, become theories. While I have no doubt that some indirect evidence can be put to one side if it occurs sparsely, I firmly believe that when you have one piece of information, and then another, and then another, it begins to look less and less like an accident and more and more like a connection. The problem, however, is that genealogically speaking, a whole bunch of indirect evidence will never really be enough to prove your theory. While casting it aside may be true to the facts and the “right” way to research, I can’t help but be frustrated by my own lack of hard-core evidence and endless supply of indirect evidence. How much indirect evidence is needed before it can be accepted as having some truth?
The family on my tree with the biggest amount of indirect evidence is by far the Nicholson family. Everything adds up and strengthens my theory but there’s no solid proof to actually confirm it once and for all. My goal this year was to crack the puzzle and though I’ve done a lot of work, I’m still no closer to discovering who Edward Nicholson’s (my 2nd Great Grandfather) parents were. It is beyond frustrating. I still have my theory and this essentially stems from the indirect evidence which points to one family who descend from William Nicholas/Nicholson and Te Hemopo Ngaropo (also known as Ellen Deacon).
I have previously spoken about the indirect evidence relating to Edward in the post ‘Who was Edward Nicholson?’ There was the use of the name Rees by both Edward and William in naming their children as well as the use of the nickname ‘Ned’. There was also a common occupation in the fact that both Edward and William were exposed to sawmills at some point in their lives. The biggest piece of indirect evidence by far came fairly recently from the Gosnells Local History Collection. I contacted the Local History Librarian and though there wasn’t a huge amount of information about my family (they seem to have been a quiet bunch, much to my dismay!) I was however given some clues that added further weight to my theory.
Agnes Elizabeth Nicholson (nee McCarthy – Edward’s wife) owned land on Wheatley Street in Gosnells (Lot 179). Lots 177 and 178 next door were owned jointly by JE Nicholson and EM/EN Nicholson. The ownership of these blocks occurred in the late 1920s and early 1930s.
While it doesn’t sound like much, the next titbit had me hook, line and sinker. EM/EN Nicholson was likely a woman as it’s noted in the records that she changed her surname to Rees. Her postal address was also changed in 1939 to Kapanga Road in Coromandel, New Zealand. JE and EM/EN remained joint owners of the lots until around 1942 when they sold them. Interestingly, William and Te Hemopo’s son (Rees Nicholson) and grandson (Rees Patrick Nicholson) all lived in Coromandel and in particular, on Kapanga Road.
Deceased was a son of Mr. and Mrs. J. Nicholson, of Kapanga Road, Coromandel.
In my mind, this simply has to be the same family and though I am tempted to declare that Edward is the son of William and Te Hemopo, ultimately, I continue to face that all important point; I still have no proof.
What about you? Do you share my frustration? Do you have indirect evidence within your family tree which, when combined, gives rise to various theories?
- 1949 ‘BE A Detective.’, Chronicle (Adelaide, SA : 1895 – 1954), 13 October, p. 32, viewed 21 November, 2014, http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article93753370
- Information concerning the land owned by the Nicholsons at Gosnells courtesy of the Gosnells Local History Librarian and the Gosnells Local History Collection.
- New Zealand Herald, Volume LXIX, Issue 21374, 24 December 1932, Page 8 (http://paperspast.natlib.govt.nz/cgi-bin/paperspast?a=d&cl=search&d=NZH19321224.2.44&srpos=3&e=——-10–1—-0kapanga+coromandel+nicholson—)
4 thoughts on “Swayed by Indirect Evidence”
I do know firsthand about indirect evidence and how it cam complicate things. However I have a few lines that I would welcome any type of indirect evidence. Because it sure beats having nothing. 🙂
Thanks for stopping by and leaving a comment. 🙂 You’re right, something is definitely better than nothing. Good luck with your family history research.
Jess, your indirect evidence seems quite compelling – and a lot more detailed and thought-out than a number of online family trees I’ve seen. My own Palmer family tree includes suppositions that the family moved from one Kent village to another nearby. I would dearly love to find proof, but I don’t think I will.
I’ve been reading about the Genealogical Proof Standard. On the website of the Board for Certification of Genealogists http://www.bcgcertification.org/resources/standard.html it states,
“Proof is a fundamental concept in genealogy. In order to merit confidence, each conclusion about an ancestor must have sufficient credibility to be accepted as “proved.” Acceptable conclusions, therefore, meet the Genealogical Proof Standard (GPS). The GPS consists of five elements:
* a reasonably exhaustive search;
* complete and accurate source citations;
* analysis and correlation of the collected information;
* resolution of any conflicting evidence; and
* a soundly reasoned, coherently written conclusion.
Each element contributes to a conclusion’s credibility in a different way, described in the table below, but all the elements are necessary to establish proof.”
Would you say your conclusions meet the five elements? From your post you seem to have the last four elements at least.
Thank you, Andrew for your detailed comment regarding the Genealogical Proof Standard. Most of the time I certainly feel as though I’ve exhausted all avenues with regards to the Nicholsons but there are actually still a few others to try. Cost is a very strong factor with one avenue but at the same time it should give me the full names of JE and EM/EN. The full names are what I’ve been focusing on at the moment. I think with them I may be able to progress onto whether or not they come from Rees Nicholson’s family. Thanks again. You’ve definitely given me something to think about and focus on. 🙂
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