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Archiver > TMG > 2003-01 > 1041911525

From: "Darrell A. Martin" <>
Subject: Re: [TMG] Sort dates, reply to Bob (medium)
Date: Mon, 06 Jan 2003 21:53:13 -0600
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At 07:37 PM 1/5/03 -0500, Bob Velke wrote:
>Darrell said:
>> Outside the TMG community, "February 15, 1959" would never be
>> a possible answer to the question, "name a date that is after
>> February, 1959". But TMG thinks it could be.
>If you don't allow for any imprecision in the use of the term "after",
>then I have to wonder when you would ever use it with anything other than
>a year, month, and day?

Hi, Bob:

(I presume, by my reply, that this discussion is of practical
interest to you. I have said before, and it bears repeating,
that I do not see TMG's date sorting as something that merits
an immediate allocation of scarce development resources. But
I *would* like to see it "fixed" someday....)

The issue is not imprecision in any absolute sense. Whether
"after February, 1959" means any date 1 Feb 1959 or later,
or any date 1 Mar 1959 or later, the level of precision is
the same. It does not bother me that "after" is imprecise.
Even with a year, month, and day, we still have 24 hours of

But this question is a good one. And my answer is that if TMG
provided me with two different date modifiers, one of which
meant "after"; and the other of which meant "on or after", or
"during or after"; and both of which generated output that
was consistent with their meanings; I most likely would have
very little use for "after" with imprecise dates.

>Or, more to the point, I wonder why you think other researchers do? Why
>would a researcher ever say "after 1959" instead of "after 31 Dec 1959"
>(or after some other precise date) if that's what the evidence
>supported? And how often does genealogical evidence really support a
>conclusion that the event happened precisely "after" Dec 31st? When
>dealing with genealogical evidence, the term is imprecise by its nature.

The term itself is not, or at least it shouldn't be, imprecise
in meaning. It is the date it modifies that may be imprecise.
Further, if the *evidence* is unintentionally imprecise, or
its spelling is poor, or it is illegible or contradictory, I
may be constrained by its limitations; but, I am not required
to duplicate its flaws.

I think most people use "after" with an imprecise date in
order to avoid implying unwarranted precision for the date
after which the event in question must have occurred. No, I
would not use "after 1959" instead of "after 31 Dec 1959", if
the evidence supported precisely 31 Dec 1959 as the latest
date on which the event could not have occurred. However, I
also would not use "after 31 Dec 1959" instead of "after 1959",
if my evidence supported only that the event in question
occurred in 1960 or later. To do so would imply some event on
precisely 31 Dec 1959.

And I expect, and so far my experience supports, that other
careful writers express themselves similarly. (I would not
be at all surprised if that included you.) But TMG does not
provide me with a structured date format that means "in 1960
or later", or any recognizable version thereof, for **both**
sentence output **and** for sorting tags. I am forced to
choose between two structured dates, one of which creates
output that means what I want, but sorts a year earlier; and
the other of which creates output that is not what I mean,
but sorts correctly. Or I can use an irregular date, or take
pains to make the date, and the sort date, different.

>If a child isn't shown with his family in the census and the researcher
>knows that the census date was 7 August 1820, then is it likely that he
>would record the child's birth as "after August 1820" without the day?


>Or would he really record it as "after July 1820" and add a week of

Same answer as to the previous question.

>No, if he doesn't reference the actual census date then it is likely that
>it is because he didn't know it - which leads to the inevitable conclusion
>that by "after August 1820" he meant "after some unknown day in the month
>of August 1820." Inclusive.

Not only is that conclusion not inevitable, it is not even the
best explanation of the phrase as one might actually encounter
it in good research writing. A better conclusion would be that
"after August 1820" meant "some unknown day in the month of
September 1820, or later" and I would expect evidence to be
cited that precluded August.

**IF** a researcher used the phrase "after August 1820" in the
circumstances you have suggested, I would suspect him of being
a sloppy thinker, or careless writer, or both, especially if
there were a pattern of such usage. I would expect him to say,
rather, "after the census in August 1820", or "in or after
August, 1820".

Much more important than the usage of others is the level of
precision of expression that I want in my own published work.
If I didn't care about that, among other things, I wouldn't be
using TMG.

>Even if you would not record that child's birth as "after August 1820" (or
>even "after 1820"), I think that you do your research a disservice if you
>deny that other researchers very commonly do so

I do deny that such usage commonly finds its way into published
research worth reading. I repeat yet again my challenge to
provide me with evidence that such usage is in any way usual
among those whose writing is worth emulating.

> or if you insist that the practice is limited to "the TMG community."

The practice that I suggested is limited to the TMG community,
is thinking that "February 15, 1959" could be a possible
answer to the question, "name a date that is after February,
1959." And I believe thinking that it could, is not all that
common *within* the community, either, outside of the program
itself. A significant number of TMG users seem to have put at
least some thought into methods that *avoid* that approach.



Darrell Allen MARTIN
a native Vermonter currently in exile in Addison, Illinois

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