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Saturation Research

In the pre-1866 period in Hampshire county, there are no usable, extant records. This means the direct approach is unworkable. If you are not fortunate enough to stumble across another researcher working your family with family papers to fill the gaps, you must do serious in-depth research.

This type of research is often referred to as "Saturation Research." In doing saturation research one does *exactly* what the name implies: one saturates oneself in the records of the county.

This is always time-consuming, always produces eye-strain and backaches and headaches, always turns up some tidbits of trivia, and sometimes pays off royally.

Let's say I'm searching for the parents of one Mary Elizabeth Carlile, born 1856 died 1900. This birthdate is before Hampshire's records become legible (the 1853-55 records exist, but are simply not legible on microfilm and are nearly as bad in the originals). The death date falls within the legible, extant records, but for the year of her death the record did not ask the names of her parents.

Step 1.

I gather up all known documents which refer to her. These are : her marriage certificate, the 1880 census, her gravestone, a cemetery readings book, a letter from her youngest son, and notes from an interview with her second daughter's oldest daughter. These documents share a lack of information on her parents.

Step 2.

Do an inventory of all records which exist in the county for the time period from 5 years before her birth to 10 years after her death. Consult the WPA inventories, the county clerk's office, the state archives, the state University, and the LDS' FHLC. Combine these lists into one inventory.

Step 3.

Prioritize these records. I prefer to move from least to most, so I read the smaller record groups first. Others make judgments about which record groups are MOST likely to have the information sought and read those first. You may prefer to simply alphabetize them with County Court Minutes coming before District Court Docket, and both before Tax records which are before Wills.

Step 4.

Begin reading these records according to your own priority list, noting on your list whether you found a lead and the date of finishing the record group. Then move on to the next item, until you either find Mary Elizabeth's parents, you go blind, or you run out of records.

Many who do this kind of research make copious cross-referencing notes on 3x5 cards; some simply key each record into a document, index the document, print it off and publish it.

Whichever method you prefer, it is VITAL that you keep lists of names; this method repays you best when you find the link by collateral names. (In other words, in Mary Elizabeth's case, I am more likely to find her in a GARRETT document than in CARLILE document, and more likely in Frederick co VA than in Hampshire co WV, because the suspected mother was married to a Garrett in Frederick county around the time of her projected birth.)

Step 5.

Switch your focus to a neighboring county and Repeat from Step 2 onward.

NOTE that this can take decades, involves mountains of tedious documents, with poor handwriting, bad microfilming, obscure phrasing, and ad hoc spelling. Note too that few if any professional genealogists will undertake such a project for you, but if they do, expect to pay at least $25 an hour.

A Partial Inventory for Hampshire County

This sounds like a short list, but ... One newspaper of the four that serve her area covers 18 reels of microfilm. A second newspaper provides an additional 6 reels.

Yes, but--

What am I looking for in these records?

You're looking for a clue. Very similar to finding a gold needle in a haystack. Or, similar to the old math problem: Your fact is one of an unknown number of kinds of data which contain an unknown number of facts hidden in an unknown number of drawers -- how many facts must you read to find a match?

Collateral relatives often appear in funeral writeups where the names of those attending are listed. A man you never heard of may have left his granddaughter Mary Elizabeth a spoon or his love. Mary Elizabeth is named in a lawsuit, among the heirs of someone or the next, Dec'd, who are suing the trustee or executor. You know her maiden name, you know her husband, you know where they lived after their marriage and who were their neighbors on the 1880 census. You are now hunting for something where she, her husband, or a child is mentioned as being related to some other person.

Sometimes, what you think is a needle turns out to be a pin, or worse, a petrified straw.

Why not hire this done?

First reason, few professionals will agree to do it.

The second one is, no one knows as much about your family as you and your family know. To demonstrate this, ask one of your family, preferably one who does not do genealogy, to make a list of all his or her family members. Now ask another relative to make a similar list. And finally, YOU make a list of all the "family" of both of those relatives. Notice the differences -- these are the things that someone doing saturation research needs to know.

Consider, if you will, Great-Grand-Aunt Tillie. Tillie was born a Blueknows; she's married to Butch Rowlph. But what about her first marriage to Bill Baily, which lasted 5 years, until he died in the Great War? Granted they had no children, but the year before Bill was killed, his maternal grandmother died and left Bill and Tillie something valuable for their oldest daughter. And grandma pointedly mentioned Tillie's father, Claude. No one knows as much about your family as you do. YOU might pick up that Charles V. has been a family name for 3 centuries, and when the name shows up on another family surname, YOU would pursue it -- but would you remember to tell another researcher to watch for it? And if you did, would the other researcher remember it as he/she was reading along?

Saturation Research

is neither easy nor fast. At best it is lengthy, time- consuming, back-breaking task. At worst, it is all that and fruitless besides.

Is Often a Necessary Evil.

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© 1998, 2000 Cheryl Singhal