Archive for February, 2008

I just discovered a website that I plan to put on my list of favorites. The site is owned by Mark Turner from Scottsdale, AZ (USA). Mark is a software designer by day and an avid genealogist every other waking moment. I recommend his visual map of the Genealogical Proof Standard as a quick guide. It can be found at www.thinkgenealogy.com.


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Last posting, I began a deeper meditation on the first step of the Genealogical Proof Standards which reads:

conduct a reasonably exhaustive search in reliable sources for all information that is or may be pertinent to the identity, relationship, event, or situation in question.

Here, I want to continue that focus to describe my interpretation of reasonably exhaustive, but in less abstract terms. I uploaded a checklist of resources that are commonly used in genealogy research. At its core are the categories of resources that Val Greenwood developed. I included a few additions of my own. Reasonably exhaustive is not a term, however, that exists in a vacuum, which Step 1, above, suggests. Reasonably exhaustive is partly defined by two factors: (1) the research question for which you seek an answer, and (2) the records that still exist from the time and place in which your focal ancestor(s) lived.

From a research methodology perspective, there are two approaches to searching sources: (1) start with the most likely source first and expand outward as each of the more likely candidates fail to produce the needed information and (2) start with the widest possible list of sources and exclude those that are not relevant. The former strategy is one that many researchers follow. Within a given source, I, too, will use this strategy. But when pursuing the reasonably exhaustive goal, I use the latter approach. With the former approach, if you find the desired information in the 1st or 2nd source of several potential sources, there is a tendency to think that you’ve “exhausted” the sources. You did, in fact, find the event, etc in those searched sources, but you have not met the reasonably exhaustive criteria. There is more work to do. So I take the latter approach which meets the criteria only when all the sources have been examined. Let’s look at an example.

I research ancestors who lived in a fairly small region of South Carolina throughout the 19th century. All record types on my “master list” are potential resources for that reasonably exhaustive
search. At this point, a step-wise methodology for research actually begins to emerge. I review the list of record types and ask two questions of each record type: (1) Do records of this type still exist for the time and place in question, (2) Might records of this type contain information relevant to my research question? If the answer to both questions is “YES,” I mark that record type as “MUST RESEARCH.” If the answer to either question is “I DON’T KNOW,” then I will mark the record for research later. But, I don’t exclude it from further consideration just yet. If there are a lot of record types to explore, then I might prioritize them, but—and this is important—I will explore all that meet my criteria for inclusion—even if I locate the desired information in those records searched first.

A further example:

If I am looking for proof that Melinda Ann MOORE (b. ~1839) was the daughter of Daniel MOORE (b. ~1790), I know that marriage records were not recorded in South Carolina prior to the 20th century. However, deeds, wills, estate packets, marriage bonds, church records, even private papers of notaries, all might provide that information. Although tax lists did exist for the period, they would not contain relationship data, so I would exclude those records from my final list.

So my search list might include:

  1. Federal Census (1850 and later)+
  2. Vital Records –
  3. Civil Registrations +
  4. Church records +
  5. Cemeteries –
  6. Bible and family records +
  7. Funeral home records –
  8. Newspapers*
  9. Obituaries +
  10. Town records +
  11. Probate records +
  12. Land and property records +
  13. Military pensions +
  14. Guardianship records +
  15. Notarial records*
  16. Diaries, Journals –
  17. Letters –

Those record types with the plus sign (+) exist, but no information on the relationship could be found. Thos record types with a minus (-) at the end do not appear to exist. As it turned out, the 1850 census reported a daughter, named Mary Ann, born ca. 1839 in Daniel’s household. Not exactly a true hit. A newspaper notice of Melinda’s marriage to James Hamilton (no mention of parents’ names) give us evidence that her maiden name was MOORE. But a notary’s journal gave us the names of the bride and groom’s fathers. Daniel was Melinda’s father.

There are numerous systems out that that help you organize the research of sources, recording what you looked for in each source. I’m not going to discuss particular systems or software. I advise each researcher to find a system that works the way they think about their research. However you organize your work, use it consistently.

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