GREEN VALLEY GENEALOGICAL SOCIETY
From the Green Valley News, Sunday September 20 2009, page B5
Genealogy Today, by Betty Lou Malesky, CG
Twelve Tips for Problem Solving
Fall is just around the corner. Now is a good time to review our
genealogical problems and plan to solve one or more during the winter
doldrums. Okay, it's not that bad in Green Valley, but it does get
dark way too early. The following tips will even work during the next
long hot summer.
- Review your previous research. You may find clues overlooked the
first time around, especially with items found early in your ancestor
hunting. Don't file anything permanently-the more you review the
evidence you've collected, the more you can learn from it.
- Evaluate your sources. Are all of your facts documented? Are your
sources reliable? "Aunt Tilly" is probably not a reliable
source if she didn't witness the event she talks about. An original
source created at the time of an event is the best evidence.
- When original sources are absent, search for several derivative or
secondary sources that are in agreement and you will likely have
- Are there conflicts in your information? Further research is always
necessary to resolve a conflict. Don't ignore any piece of evidence
until you can determine the best evidence from additional
- Have you found evidence to prove or disprove all the family
traditions that are part of your family history? While most traditions
have an element of truth, it's easy to be misled by an
- Study the area in which your problem ancestor(s) lived to make sure
you have found every available record. Don't overlook obscure
sources such as school records, tax records or passport applications to
name a few that are harder to locate but may provide important
- Research areas around that in which you know a family lived.
It's not unusual to find records for a given family in two or three
surrounding counties. County borders appear only on paper.
- Reach conclusions only with evidence to back them up. Sometimes we
want something to be true so badly we can convince ourselves it is. You
can easily waste time researching someone else's ancestor because
it seems likely to be yours. Rely on evidence to prove every
- Avoid making assumptions based on today's values and way of
life. While human nature hasn't changed, the society we live in
has. Learn more about your ancestor's times to better understand
problems and possible solutions.
- Don't overlook court records. Even law-abiding citizens went to
court for many reasons, such as debt, divorce, land disputes, name
changes, sex before marriage and other reasons we can't even
imagine today. Court testimony may provide information found nowhere
- If you're really stuck, read a book related to your problem,
attend a lecture, discuss the situation with a fellow researcher, or
hire a professional to review your research and suggest a plan.
- Remember, not all genealogical problems can be solved. Sometimes
there just are no records, but often a problem can be solved with
non-traditional records that are available. Always perform "a
reasonably exhaustive search" before you give up on finding a
Finally, share your successes. We all like to celebrate whenever a
problem is solved.