Genealogy Today, by Betty Lou Malesky, CG
How Reasonable is an Exhaustive Search?
Last month I wrote about the Genealogical Proof Standard (GPS). The next few columns will address the five steps of the GPS. Once you understand these steps you are on your way to proof via stronger, more accurate research conclusions.
The first step is a "reasonably exhaustive search" for all information pertinent to the relationship, event, identity, or situation in question. An exhaustive search would never end, but what is a "reasonably exhaustive search?" How do you know when you have searched far and wide enough?
For example, when trying to prove parentage, do you find a birth record naming parents and end your search? We’ve all seen birth records with incorrect parents’ names, child’s name, even a wrong birth date. How can we ever be sure information on a record is correct? Only when we expand our research to include all known records that might provide the information and compare the records found to all other records bearing on the problem can we be "reasonably" sure. In the case of parents’ name, the search might include probate, land, church, marriage and sibling’s records to name a few depending on the area, time period, and circumstances. When a particular record seems to provide the answer, we still need to test it by comparing it with other records to confirm its accuracy.
The researcher’s experience level actually determines how far the research will extend. A more experienced researcher is better equipped to find lesser known records. Your ability increases as your experience increases. When you aren’t sure your research has included all available records consult a professional or someone familiar with the area for assistance. Local societies and libraries are good sources for help.
Read the scholarly journals to learn the types of records their writers have used to solve problems. Quarterly journals of the National Genealogical Society and the New England Historic Genealogical Society and some state societies are included with membership. Another excellent journal, The American Genealogist is available by subscription. Most are found in major genealogical libraries, including the Langley Family History Center in Tucson.
Attend conferences, workshops or classes to improve your skills. On February 20th the Green Valley Genealogical Society will feature an all-day seminar with nationally known speaker, John T. Humphrey, cg, an expert in use of U.S. and German records. Humphrey is the author of several books including Understanding and Using Baptismal Records.
Study Marsha Hoffman Rising’s Family Tree Problem Solver, a book that presents solutions to numerous common research problems. The Family History Center in Sahuarita is currently conducting weekly classes using Rising’s book as a resource. The book is available from Amazon.com and other online booksellers.
Review and write about some of your past conclusions for insight into how you arrived at your proof. Only when you have considered a wide range of sources can you be sure you have not overlooked a source that might change your conclusion. Remember an erroneous conclusion can lead you to spend time and money researching someone else’s ancestor—and that’s a tragedy we all want to avoid.
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