Talk:How to Guess Where to StartEdit This Page

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Revision as of 23:07, 30 November 2012 by DiltsGD (Talk | contribs)

Wrong word used

This question or concern is currently unresolved.
Requesting additional contributor input before rewording

I would like to suggest "determine" instead of "guess" as the many statements below already have expressed my own agreement that 'guess' is not a good word to use here. Claire V. Brisson-Banks 6 Aug 2012.

I greatly deplore the use of the word 'guess' in these articles. A guess, as my dictionary says, is "a judgment or opinion without sufficient evidence or grounds" and it has nothing whatever to do with good genealogical research. Some other word should be found. AnthonyJCamp 18:25, 9 September 2011 (UTC).

I agree with Anthony. A "guess" to me suggests a complete stab in the dark, while the articles in the very least are talking about "educated guesses" or even working out a prediction for a piece of missing information based on the information already found. So would these articles better reflect the skill needed if renamed?
  • How to Decide Where to Start
    • Predict a spelling variation for every name on that family group
    • Predict a place for every event on that family group
    • Predict a date for every event on that family group
    • Predict the easiest (and hardest) person and event to research on that family group
    • Predict the best record types to use for finding information about any person’s event on that family group
This is just a suggestion, I'd be interested to hearing other alternatives or even why "Guess" is the best term to use. --Steve (talk| contribs) 14:36, 10 September 2011 (UTC)
How do we reach the inexperienced, the tentatively interested? Whatever words are used need to be inviting and give confidence to increase skills. I agree that an educated guess is probably better than just guessing.AdkinsWH 20:29, 20 December 2011 (UTC)
Another dictionary definition says guess means "to arrive at a correct conclusion." Reading the articles makes it clear that the "correct conclusion" sense of the word is the way it is used in this series. My reason for using the term "guess" was to teach that a good researcher will use what is already known as the basis for more informed conclusions, but implying luck will sometimes play a part as well. The importance of making informed guesses oozes from every pore of the articles--it is the theme of each. To change the titles would spoil the whole point of the series.
Moreover, there is no better phrase for the point I'm trying to make. The alternatives are much too stuffy and even less elegant than "guess." Sorry, "predict" sounds too much like foretelling the future to me. Look at:
  • How to hypothesize where to start
  • How to make an educated guess about where to start
  • How to deduce where to start
  • speculate
  • suppose
  • estimate
  • surmise
  • infer
The word "hypothesize" is slightly more precise than "guess," but this set of articles is for rank beginners, not scientists. Please do not spoil the whole purpose of these articles by changing the wording of the titles and pretending guess cannot mean "correct conclusion" or pretending that chance has no role in genealogy. Substituting a different word for guess throughout these articles would ruin them. If you cannot abide the way I have used the word "guess" in these articles, please write your own better articles using the words of your choice. DiltsGD 23:25, 20 December 2011 (UTC)

I am sorry to say that I would rather the articles be deleted than that any more encouragement be given to guessing anything in this field, particularly where beginners are concerned. Why cannot the first article be called "Where to start" and the others use the word "find" - "Find a spelling variation ...", "Find a place ...", "Find a date" ... "able to locate some additional" etc. That is not off-putting; 'enticement' does not come into it. Once they have found the Wiki they are looking for information expressed in a simple and direct manner. AnthonyJCamp 09:44, 21 December 2011 (UTC).

Deletion is drastic and final. Wiki policy calls for neutrality in the face of controversy, not censorship. It calls for airing all points of view. Better for those who "greatly deplore" these articles to write alternatives and let readers decide for themselves. I, for one, would welcome a formal article by Mr. Camp explaining why he feels so strongly that encouraging well-informed, thoughtful guessing as an aid to genealogical research should be suppressed. How exactly does one avoid all guesses during research in order to be a better researcher? DiltsGD 18:11, 21 December 2011 (UTC)

Guessing final genealogical conclusions would be stupid. But using guesses (conjecture) as part of the evidence gathering process is wise indeed. One of the most valuable skills a genealogist has is good guessing. Guessing is important because it is one of the steps on the way to verifying. If you cannot guess where and for what to search, genealogical progress would be stymied. A failed search for a document hints at poor guessing skills. A genealogist guesses these things and then he goes out searching for evidence to establish whether the guess was right or wrong. In my opinion it is nearly impossible to "find" anything without a "guess" where to look for it first. The more you know, the better you can guess. But you don't stop with the guess, a good genealogist uses evidence to build on and transform the initial guess into a well-documented conclusion. How do you "find" a spelling variation unless you guess what it might be in order to start the search? How do you "find" the place unless you guess where to look for it first? How do you "find" a date unless you first guess approximately when to search? Making thoughtful guesses guided by what you already know in order to find further evidence is an important genealogical skill to be learned and respected, not some shameful trick to be suppressed. DiltsGD 16:59, 21 December 2011 (UTC)


I fundamentally dislike any approach to history of whatever kind by a process of guessing, i.e. making judgments without sufficient evidence or grounds (the main meaning of the word, in England at least). A genealogist does not guess the name of his/her father or grandfather, he or she works from the evidence about one to the evidence about the other. To say that guessing plays a part in research sends out all the wrong signals. I have seen references in the Forum in the last year to genealogy being just a series of 'best guesses'; another writer there referred to a process of 'guessing and believing'. Such people have obviously no idea of the concepts of evidence and proof and the need for proof at every stage of their research and, frankly, they should not be doing genealogy until they have taken some lessons on those subjects. Unless they think along these lines right from the start they will continue to construct the type of pedigree based on ignorant guesswork for which FamilySearch is sadly notorious. Of course there is an element of chance or luck in all research but genealogists must not be encouraged to guess at any stage of their work, least of all when they start out on the road.AnthonyJCamp 17:58, 24 December 2011 (UTC).


Hey, folks, lighten up!  I think we're all interested in the same outcome - helping someone learn more about their ancestors.  That means we are on the SAME TEAM!  I'm sorry that I wasn't aware of this page's discussion when I made the edits to the article Family History for Beginners. I did post my comments to that page, got no response, and so decided to move ahead. I agree that "guess" really isn't what you're suggesting, and isn't an approach we should be encouraging, ESPECIALLY with beginners. (I've got way too many anecdotal examples of convoluted family trees because someone guessed.)  It seems to me that the entire series of articles is really about 'deciding' (based on best available information).  Guessing isn't an issue in the search, only in coming to conclusions. Removing the repetitive "guessing" from the bulleted list in the main article helps direct the focus away from the word "guess" and may be a happy medium between deletion and status quo.

I'm not sure if style requires that links match article titles exactly.  If not, I would suggest that Family History for Beginners not lead with the words "Featured Content" (whether or not it impacts SEO) and that the bullets remain "trimmed" so that emphasis is placed on the content, not the word "guessing" (which is the unintentional impact of featuring the word five times in succession).  And for the record, I don't agree that "A failed search for a document hints at poor guessing skills."  Many well-reasoned (not "guessed") approaches don't yield the desired record because the record was destroyed, never created in the first place, misfiled, misspelled, burned, captured by enemy forces, or some other reason that has nothing at all to do with the skill of the person searching for the record.

Thoughtful dialogue is an essential difference between a bound volume and a wiki.  We don't really want multiple articles on the same topic, we want the very best that we together can create. Keep discussing, please!  We'll get this! Lise 14:41, 27 December 2011 (UTC)

Thanks to David for giving your reasons and thinking behind the language used in the article. I do understand the meaning of the word "guess" that you intend the reader to learn, but I do feel that this is ambiguous even after reading the article in full. Maybe it's a cultural difference but a British meaning of the word "guess" is "to form or express an uncertain estimate or conclusion (about something), based on insufficient information".
If the word "guess" was modified to read "educated guess" or "informed guess", I think that make the intended skill clear. David suggests that changing these in the article titles would make them less elegant, but I would prefer this than having a reader misunderstand what is intended. --Steve (talk| contribs) 08:36, 28 December 2011 (UTC).


I accept the primary definition that "guess" means making a preliminary judgment without sufficient evidence—provided that "preliminary" is allowed to be inserted when referring to genealogical research. And I wholeheartedly agree that genealogists work from a little bit of evidence toward building more complete evidence—that was the whole point of the original series of “guessing” articles. My motto is, “The more you know, the better you can guess” because I see good guessing as a natural part of uncovering the best evidence. Guessing used for the purpose of finding evidence is not an enemy of evidence, but rather dependent upon evidence, and normally an inseparable part of finding more evidence.

Even British genealogy involves situations where insufficient evidence is available to make a sure and certain judgment about where to search for more documentary evidence. So a researcher guesses (preliminary judgment with insufficient evidence) where to search and then tries it. If that fails, he guesses again and again until he discovers better evidence. Can Mr. Camp deny this? Sometimes to make progress the researcher must of necessity "guess" without sufficient evidence a name, date, place, relationship, which document to seek, where to look for documents, or the relevance of a source. But hopefully by and by, the researcher will gather more evidence that eventually can corroborate or deny those preliminary guesses and turn them into well-grounded conclusions. It is no crime, nor is it shameful when circumstances require it, to guess in order to seek more evidence. Good guessing, when used properly as the means to find better evidence, is praiseworthy.

Genealogists are better off to admit there is some guessing in the early stages of research. Scientists do not fear to admit they hypothesize. They glory in it as an essential part of the scientific method. Genealogists should not hide the fact that some hypothetical guessing goes on for the purpose of judging on skimpy evidence where to search for genealogical evidence. The purpose of the guessing series of Wiki articles is to teach beginning genealogists to use the best available evidence to best advantage when creating a well-informed hypothesis of where to start looking for evidence. New scientists taught to hypothesize do not seem to infer that a scientific theory is proved by hypothesis alone. So let's give genealogists credit for the ability to comprehend the same parallel concept in genealogy.

And from time to time even British genealogy involves situations where insufficient evidence is available to make a sure and certain conclusion about a pedigree. After well-conducted research, if there is not enough evidence, a good genealogist will acknowledge the problem and openly state the uncertainty of preliminary conclusions until more evidence can be found. The more frank exposure of problems will result in better genealogies.

In the zeal to teach the importance of using the best available evidence and careful analysis of the evidence, it is a mistake to totally denounce or cover up the guessing required to find that evidence. I gladly proclaim to all the world that it is bad to do too much guessing without admitting it when a researcher is drawing final conclusions about a pedigree. I also admit far too much supposedly finished genealogy has been accepted by the public on far too little evidence—if you like call it bad guessing. But denial that guessing plays an important role in good genealogy distorts the truth and is therefore unbecoming a good genealogist. Rather, I hope my fellow genealogists embrace and openly acknowledge the proper role of good guessing especially in the exploratory and preliminary stage of research. It is by recognizing and discussing our weaknesses that we can gain power over them. Just as we strengthen our case by discussing contrary evidence, so we strengthen our case by discussing the proper role of guessing. Rather than deny any guessing should take place, a good genealogist will take every opportunity to explain exactly where guessing happens as a means of making it clear and believable that guessing was not part of drawing the final well-grounded conclusion. Sunshine kills mildew better than darkness. Discussing the proper role of guessing in genealogy will do more to eliminate its inappropriate use. I suggest Mr. Camp (or anyone else) can do more for the field of genealogy by openly discussing the proper use of guessing in genealogy than by denying it should be allowed or denying that there is any proper use for good guessing in genealogical research.

Please do not presume three people are all the consensus you need to go changing titles, meaning, or purpose of the “guessing” series of articles in the Wiki. DiltsGD 21:24, 31 December 2011 (UTC)

I am not sure that this argument can come to any conclusion unless Mr Dilts undertands that in England there is no such thing as a good guess or a bad guess; all guesses are equal, no judgment is required, any outcome is entirely random. Perhaps the word has some other meaning in Canada, but because it has this meaning in England I believe it should not on any account be used in advice on genealogical research. The Atlantic seems to become wider every year. AnthonyJCamp 19:19, 13 January 2012 (UTC).

Please don't make this an issue of the US vs England. There were 3 US folks who essentially agreed with the 2 England folks--it is just a matter of individual preference. I come from a hard science background. One of our fundamental postulates is to define terms. I agree with the intent of "guess" as expressed on this talk page However, few readers of the wiki will come here to determine the intent, and many will miss interpret the word. The term needs to be explained as part of the article itself. Klk3 18:21, 15 May 2012 (UTC)

I believe a wiki is a collective work. No single individual should be allowed to thwart the feelings of the collective. Any suggestions on how to break this impasse? Would the disagreeing parties agree to some form of arbitration? --Robert 17:13, 30 November 2012 (UTC)

Mr. Camp, please write a Wiki article explaining your views on this subject. I invite and encourage you to do this because I believe the Wiki genealogical community would be better for it. (This discussion page is unlikely to attract many readers). I would be happy to create good links from these pages (about guessing) to your contrary pages because I would like to have our readers consider the merits of both views and decide for themselves. This would be a proper Wiki solution.
I deplore the idea of taking down or gutting Wiki pages (censorship). Removing or changing key concepts or phrases (as suggested on this discussion page) would be high-handed and contrary to the Wiki policy of airing opposing viewpoints. The “collective” may not violate Wiki policy without losing all credibility. Even if a 5000 to 1 vote were taken the “collective” does not have the right to suppress one viewpoint in favor of another.
Language is by nature flexible. Therefore, the assertion that there is only one way that the word “guess” could possibly be used properly in Britain is unlikely. Toward resolving the issue, I will more carefully define or explain how I use that term at the start of the article, in hopes that will ease some of Mr. Camp’s concerns.
I condemn Mr. Camp for calling me and the people I work with at FamilySearch stupid, and ignorant, or claiming that I treat guessing like it is a new found religion. His name-calling behavior reflects on the character of British genealogists. DiltsGD 23:07, 30 November 2012 (UTC)