“Reasonably exhaustive” research as a process of elimination

One of the most difficult concepts to grasp, when we strive to meet the Genealogical Proof Standard, is the “reasonably exhaustive search.” This requirement demands that we conduct thorough research, scouring every possible source of relevant information touching upon our research question.

The following steps present one way to think about this requirement, as a process of reduction, beginning with a large pool of possible sources and systematically eliminating those that cannot hold relevant information.

(1) Imagine every possible source for information (meaning every written record or artifact that holds information from any location or time period throughout history). This initial pool contains billions (or more) possible records.

(2) Eliminate records that could not possibly hold information about the subject–for example, a record from ancient Egypt or medieval France could not possibly hold information relevant to the life of an African American born in the late nineteenth century in Charleston, South Carolina.

(3) Eliminate records that are unlikely to hold information about the subject–for example, records in states that neither he nor any of his family members (including hypothetical ancestors or descendants), business associates, neighbors, ever visited.

(4) Identify what records remain–what records ever existed in the times and places in which the subject lived–which of these records are currently accessible, and how and where.

So far, this process of elimination still leaves a large pool of possible sources. Examining all of them would clearly constitute exhaustive research. Exhaustive research, however, is not the standard. The standard is to conduct thorough or reasonably exhaustive research. Another way to phrase this standard would be to substitute the term “reasonably” with “rationally.” In other words, we should think rationally about our research question, our research subject, and the historical context of the problem (time and place).

(5) Systematically examine every record within this pool of potential sources. Start with the most common records from the remaining pool–census records, vital records, land records, probate records, etc. As more information about the subject becomes available you may have to add or subtract records from the pool. Be liberal in adding and conservative in subtracting. For example, a deed from 200 years later could provide a title history that includes an originally unrecorded transaction. If three census records provide three separate states of birth for the research subject, expand the pool of potential sources to include all three states.

Again, we must use our ability to think rationally and reasonably to build a case. Several points should bear directly on our use of sources:

  • Be sure to examine any record suggested by information in any examined record. So if a census record states that someone owned land or served in the military, check the land records and military records.
  • Give priority to original records and records holding primary information. This is not to say that we should ignore derivative records or authored works, nor that we should ignore secondary information. During the process of analysis and correlation of the collected evidence we will determine which information appears most reliable.
  • Ease of access is not the deciding factor when considering what sources we use. Records that do not appear online may be available on microfilm that can be rented from the Family History Library or borrowed through interlibrary loan from another repository. Original records that have not been microfilmed may be obtained through the mail directly from the repository or through the use of a local hired agent.

Finally, how do we know when we have completed the process? Is it when every single item on the list has been crossed off?

Sometimes. Again, we have to use our reason and rational thought. If we are trying to identify the father of John Smith and we have conclusive evidence that his father was James, then we can stop the search. For example, suppose we have found the following records through our initial research:

  • A death certificate identifying John Smith’s father as James Smith–the informant being John’s eldest son William;
  • A marriage record, informed by John Smith himself, identifying John’s father as James Smith;
  • Three federal census records, in which John was aged 2 years, 12 years, and 22 years, respectively, living in households headed by James Smith;
  • A will written by James Smith in which he identifies his son John Smith;
  • A church baptismal record that provides John Smith’s date of birth and identifies his father as James Smith;
  • A tombstone, containing the date of birth as presented in the baptismal record and the date of death as presented in the death certificate, thus connecting the two records as pertaining to the same individual.

It is probably safe, in this scenario, to stop searching. We are unlikely to locate further information that will contradict the conclusion that John Smith was the son of James Smith. We do not have 100% certainty of course. A court record or DNA testing could reveal that John Smith had been adopted. Perhaps it is reasonably (and therefore necessary) to search these additional records, depending on the collected evidence in the case. On the other hand, it may exceed the standard, depending on the collected evidence, and therefore be unnecessary. Some of the other relevant evidence that should be considered in this case are the norms of the location, family oral tradition (if any), the socioeconomic status of the family, the birth order of John among the other children of James and his wife, etc.

The successful genealogist must have a developed sense of reason. Most problems that we encounter will not be as clear-cut and simple as the case of John Smith son of James Smith. Far more often we will encounter families where these relatively reliable sources of direct evidence were never created or do not survive. These cases require thoughtful and insightful use of vast amounts of indirect evidence. For these more complex cases, we will have to search many more sources to meet the standard of reasonably exhaustive. We often have to collect and correlate material relevant to every aspect of our subject’s life as well as investigating the lives (and records) of known family members and associates. We must be able to recognize when we have examined enough evidence to make a reasoned conclusion possible.

Board for Certification of Genealogists to release new Standards Manual

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

FROM: Board for Certification of Genealogists, P. O. Box 14291, Washington, DC 20044

www.BCGcertification.org

DATE: 12 December 2013

SUBJECT: Genealogy Standards Updated in New Manual

FOR MORE INFORMATION: Office@BCGcertification.org

Washington, DC, December 12, 2013 – In honor of its fiftieth anniversary, the Board for Certification of Genealogists® (“BCG”) has issued Genealogy Standards, a manual for best practices in research and assembly of accurate family histories. This revision completely updates and reorganizes the original 2000 edition of The BCG Genealogical Standards Manual.

“Accuracy is fundamental to genealogical research,” writes editor Thomas W. Jones, Ph.D., CGSM, CGLSM, in the introduction. “Without it, a family’s history would be fiction. This manual presents the standards family historians use to obtain valid results. These standards apply to all genealogical research, whether shared privately or published.”

The 83 specific standards cover the process of researching family history and the finished products of the research. Based on the five-part Genealogical Proof Standard, the standards cover:

  • documenting (standards 1–8);
  • researching (standards 9–50), including planning, collecting, and reasoning from evidence;
  • writing (standards 51–73), including proofs, assembly, and special products;
  • teaching and lecturing (standards 74–81); and
  • continuing education (standards 82 & 83).

The 100-page book includes appendices: the genealogist’s code, a description of BCG and its work, a list of sources and resources where examples of work that meets standards are regularly published, a glossary, and an evidence-process map distinguishing the three kinds of sources, information, and< evidence.

“We are delighted to provide this new edition, which is meant for all genealogical researchers and practitioners as a way to recognize sound genealogy,” said BCG president Elissa Scalise Powell, CG, CGL. “We appreciate the many hands that helped bring this new edition to fruition and look forward to its widespread usage in the field.”

SAVE 20%! To place a specially-priced, pre-publication order with delivery in the first part of February 2014, visit http://www.bcgcertification.org/catalog/index.html. Regularly priced at $14.95, the pre-publication price is $11.95 before January 27, 2014.

Board for Certification of Genealogists. Genealogy Standards, 50th anniversary edition. New York: Turner Publishing Co., 2014. 100 pp., paper, ISBN 978-1-63026-018-7, $14.95.

###

Georgia Genealogical Society seeks support for the Archives

A few short months ago, the Georgia Archives was in deep trouble. Through the efforts of archivists, librarians, historians, genealogists, and others across the country, the Archives was saved. Though the doors are no longer in danger of closing, the Archives is not quite out of the fire yet. Due to the budget issues, the Georgia Archives is unable to provide all of the services it might like.

The Georgia Genealogical Society recently made the following announcement:

The 2014 project is to support educational programs at the Archives by funding a part time employee to develop and implement educational programs at the Archives. By action of the GGS Board, we have added a line item to our budget to receive funds for this project. It reads “GGS Georgia Archives Education Fund.” All funds donated specifically to this line item will be given to the Georgia Archives. The Director has stated that in 2014 this would be used to hire a part time employee to develop and implement educational programs at the Archives, upgrade educational facilities, and provide educational materials.

If you wish to contribute to this project, checks should be made payable to Georgia Genealogical Society, with “Archives Education Fund” in the notes section, and mailed to Georgia Genealogical Society, Post Office Box 550247, Atlanta, Georgia 30355-2747. GGS is a 501C3 organization and a letter of donation will be provided for tax purposes. It is our plan to present a check to the Archives on our 50th Anniversary, 3 June 2014, and another at the end of 2014. This opportunity to support the Archives is open to everyone, not just GGS members.

As a member of the Georgia Genealogical Society, I plan to contribute to this project. If you are able, I hope you will also consider doing so.

Online State Resources for Genealogy e-book version 3.0 now available!

I am pleased to announce that my popular ebook Online State Resources for Genealogy has once again been updated, and version 3.0 is now available for purchase.

The Online State Resources for Genealogy ebook was originally released in January 2011, containing links to online record indexes and images. Unlike many resource guides the focus of this ebook is on those websites that contain record indexes and images but are not genealogy-based sites. You will not find references to Ancestry.comFamilySearchU. S. GenWeb, or Find-A-Grave.

Instead you will find links to resources found on the websites of state and county archives, county clerks, historical societies and museums, university libraries, public libraries, and others. These sites contain many records that have never been previously digitized or made available online. Many of these have never even been microfilmed.

In its 1,100+ pages, Version 3.0 provides information for over 600 repositories, containing over 9,000 links!

In addition to the new links, all of the previously listed links have been verified and updated when necessary. I have also introduced two new chapters to accompany the individual state chapters, focusing on National and Regional sites.

I would also like to announce the debut of a companion blog, also entitled Online State Resources for Genealogy. This blog will explore one or two individual resources from the book each week. Subscribe at http://onlinestateresources.wordpress.com and expect the first post in the next few days.

To purchase version 3.0 of Online State Resources for Genealogy, visit http://haitfamilyresearch.com/onlineStates.htm.

Finding a house in the UK census

There’s little worse than looking for a family in a census and not finding them. Especially when you have other records, and you know exactly where they were living at the time. I recently experienced this again while searching for a family in the 1851 census of England.

James Farmer, his wife Nabby, and at least a few still-unmarried daughters and an infant son should have all been living somewhere in Wigan, Lancashire. Yet the family did not appear in the indexes to these records on FamilySearch, Ancestry.com, or FindMyPast.com. On each site I tried numerous variations, “soundex” settings, wildcards . . . with and without birthdates, with and without surnames, with and without given names. Nothing worked.

I knew that the family was living in Scholes. The birth registration for a son born in 1848 reported their address at that time as Wellington Street.[1] I looked at a map of Wigan and found Wellington Street. I read the enumeration district descriptions on the first page of the census for each nearby district and thought I had found where Wellington Street was likely to have been enumerated. Yet I did a page-by-page search of these districts and still no Farmer family.

Finally, I solved the problem using an online finding aid provided by the National Archives [UK]: the Historical Streets Project.[2]

For each census from 1841 through 1901, the Historical Streets Project provides a listing for each street within each registration district. You will need to know the district in which the street lay in order to browse directly for the appropriate street, though it is also possible to use the wiki search engine to find references to the street name. Each street listing identifies a nearby street, and, more importantly, the NA reference number and folio of that street’s enumeration.

To find the Farmer family, I simply had to go to the street index for the 1851 census, focus on the Wigan registration district, and look for Wellington Street. The Historical Street Project revealed that the street was enumerated on HO 107/2199, folio 252–257. The reference “HO 107/2199″ corresponds to several enumeration districts within Wigan. Folios 252–257 appear in enumeration district 1I in Wigan. Looking through these six pages was quite simple, and the family appeared exactly where they should have![3]

Interestingly enough, the handwriting on the entry is quite clear. I am still not sure why none of the online indexes contained this Farmer family by name.

SOURCES:

[1] England, birth certificate for James Farmer, b. 6 October 1848; citing Volume 21, page 763, entry 372, Wigan Union registration district, County Lancaster; General Register Office, Southport.

[2] “Your Archives:Historical Streets Project,” The National Archives, Your Archives (http://yourarchives.nationalarchives.gov.uk/index.php?title=Your_Archives:Historical_Streets_Project : accessed 4 November 2013).

[3] 1851 U. K. Census, Lancashire, Wigan Borough and Township, St. Catherine’s Ecclesiastical District, folio 257 (stamped, verso), page 31, household 105, Wellington St., James Farmer household; digital images, Ancestry.com (http://www.ancestry.com : accessed 1 November 2013); citing Class HO107, Piece 2199.

NGS seeks nominations for the 2014 Genealogy Hall of Fame

The following announcement was received from the National Genealogical Society:

Would your society like to honor a genealogist whose exemplary work lives on today? Perhaps there was a notable genealogist in your state or county whose name should be memorialized in the NGS Hall of Fame.

If so, the National Genealogical Society would like to hear from you. NGS is seeking nominations from the entire genealogical community for persons whose achievements or contributions have made an impact on the field. This educational program increases appreciation of the high standards advocated and achieved by committed genealogists whose work paved the way for researchers today.

Since 1986 when Donald Lines Jacobus became the first genealogist elected to the National Genealogy Hall of Fame, twenty‐five outstanding genealogists have been recognized for their contributions. The 2012 honoree will join this select group of distinguished members. This year’s selection, and the society that honored the nominee, will be feted at the 2014 NGS Family History Conference to be held 7-10 May 2014 in Richmond, Virginia. Nominations for election to the Hall of Fame are made by genealogical societies and historical societies throughout the United States.

Guidelines for nominations:

  • A nominee must have been actively engaged in genealogy in the United States for at least ten years, must have been deceased for at least five years at the time of nomination, and must have made contributions to the field of genealogy judged to be of lasting significance in ways that were unique, pioneering, or exemplary.
  • The National Genealogy Hall of Fame is an educational project in which the entire genealogical community is invited to participate. Affiliation with the National Genealogical Society is not required.
  • The National Genealogy Hall of Fame Committee elects one person to the Hall of Fame annually. Those elected are permanently commemorated in the Hall of Fame at Society headquarters, Arlington, Virginia.
  • Nominations for election to the Hall of Fame are due by 31 January each year. Official nomination forms are available from our website, www.ngsgenealogy.org, Awards & Competitions, or by contacting the National Genealogical Society, 3108 Columbia Pike, Suite 300, Arlington, VA 22204‐4304; phone 1‐800‐473‐0060.

SLIG 2014 Early-Bird registration ends on October 31, 2013!

The following press release was received from the Salt Lake Institute of Genealogy:

SLIG’s Early-Bird Registration ends on October 31, 2013! Ensure you get yourself a spot in one of the few remaining courses. The following courses still have seats left:

· American Research and Records: Focus on Families

This intermediate level course covers 19th-21st century U.S. records and strategies beyond the basics with a specific emphasis on researching families and individuals. Don’t miss a chance to spend a week with nationally known instructors Josh Taylor, from the Genealogy Roadshow; Debra Mieszala, CG; and Paula Stuart-Warren, CG. This course is certain to help you break down those brick walls!

· Credentialing: Accreditation, Certification, or Both?

Accreditation or certification? This course will explore both options. The topics will guide you through the processes of applying and determining which one (or both) are right for you. Spend a week with credentialed instructors who provide expert guidance and advice and who are available to answer your questions.

· Researching in Eastern Europe

Millions of people immigrated to North America leaving family and generations of ancestors behind in Eastern Europe. Descendants find it hard to trace their origins due to foreign languages, difficult records and multiple changes in the political landscape. This course brings together several of the most successful Eastern Europe genealogists to teach you the important information you need to succeed in such complex research.

· Advanced Evidence Analysis Practicum

This hands-on course is an opportunity for advanced genealogist to put their research skills into practice. Participants will work on at least five complex genealogical research problems—a new one each day. There is nothing like directed case studies and practice to further your genealogical knowledge and expertise.

· Problem Solving

Have a brick wall in your research? This unique course is tailored to your individual research needs! Enhance your problem solving skills while working on your personal research project for a particular ancestor or ancestral couple. Don’t miss the opportunity to spend a week dedicated to researching your family!

· Utilizing Social History

This exciting new course–offered for the first time in 2014–is designed to help you put the flesh on the bones of your ancestors and bring them to life. No longer is genealogy about simply listing the begets, it is about telling your ancestor’s story.

Immerse yourself in a specific genealogical topic for a week-long educational opportunity that is unparalleled. Many of the courses are interactive and highlight on site research at the Family History Library (FHL) as well as one-on-one consultations with the course coordinators and instructors. These individuals are genealogical experts and provide guidance and insight that may help you overcome those brick walls and move forward with your research.

Attendees have time to explore Salt Lake City’s many attractions as well as spend time outside of the course researching at the FHL. The library is a short walk from the Institute’s location and, if available, the Radisson often provides shuttle service to the library.

Another benefit of joining SLIG this year is the ability to attend the Association of Professional Genealogist’s Professional Management Conference (PMC), which will be held the Friday and Saturday before the Institute begins. You can experience two great events being held back-to-back at one location!

Sign-up before October 31st and you will save over 10% off your registration. Become a member of UGA and increase your savings even more. The registration page can be accessed at http://www.infouga.org/aem.php?lv=r&eid=8. More information on each of the tracks can be accessed at http://www.infouga.org/aem.php?lv=p&epg=51.

 

–Debra Hoffman

SLIG Publicity Chair

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 2,746 other followers

%d bloggers like this: