On 13 January 2013 Nancy of the My Ancestors and Me blog, posted a question:
When you find a document that may be about one of your ancestors (or may just as well not be about one of them), what do you do with it?
I have several documents (a will, a census record, etc.) about people who are probably my ancestors but I don’t have enough information (yet) to make a good case for a relationship. I haven’t been adding the names or documents to my genealogy program or to the notes section of my genealogy program, either. But then when I find some other information that might support this person, I have to go searching for the previous information/document I found.
I will respond to this question from the perspective of a professional researcher.
It is important not to actively seek records that do not relate to the problem you are trying to solve. This will cut down on these “other” documents.
There is a very big difference between focused research, that is, searching with a purpose, and “random” searching.
Focused research begins by defining a specific research goal, like a question that you want to answer, and seeking records relevant to that goal, records that will answer your question. These records may provide information relevant to other goals or questions, but you should follow up on these clues by identifying them and pursuing them individually.
If you are researching in an organized, focused manner, you will never have records that “may or may not” be related to your research problem.
Sometimes, when appropriate, you may have to conduct a broad survey of specific records. For example, you may wish to find any person with a certain surname in a certain location at a certain time. This broad survey still fits within the process of focused research, as long as you:
- Have identified a specific question that you are hoping to answer by conducting the survey;
- Keep good records of what indexes or record groups you have searched and what specifically you have searched for;
- Keep good records of all results;
- Analyze each of the results, identifying what information may be relevant to your goal and defining any follow-up research that you may need to conduct in order to meet your goal;
- Conduct all follow-up research in order to bring meaning to the results of the survey.
Searching broadly is not the same thing as searching randomly. Searching randomly produces far more “false positives” than relevant information.
Another aspect of focused research is that genealogy database software is most effectively used differently than many people currently use it. Many users use their software as a “shoebox” to store records that they come across that “might” be related to their ancestors.
I have found it far more effective to use a word processor to gather information and analyze evidence in a file related to a specific research goal. Once I have enough evidence to prove a fact or relationship, I can add that information into my database, either linking it to the separate file or copying the proof narrative into the Notes field. In other words, I use the database to record conclusions, not research-in-progress.
I hope that this explanation helps to answer your question. Please let me know if anyone else has any additional suggestions.
If you would like to cite this post:
Michael Hait, CG, “When you find a document that may be about one of your ancestors …,”Planting the Seeds: Genealogy as a Profession blog, posted 25 January 2013 (http://michaelhait.wordpress.com : accessed [access date]). [Please also feel free to include a hyperlink to the specific article if you are citing this post in an online forum.]