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Some people eat, sleep and chew gum, I do genealogy and write...

Monday, September 12, 2011

A too hasty conclusion

In talking to people day after day about their family research, I get asked about every question you can imagine and many you cannot. One of the statements in the Genealogical Proof Standard caught my eye after a discussion, that a reasonably exhaustive search minimizes the probability that undiscovered evidence will overturn a too-hasty conclusion. The part that caught my ear was the "too-hasty conclusion." My concern is that many researchers (using the term loosely) draw a conclusion from almost no evidence, much less waiting until they have performed an exhaustive search.

One of the recent discussions centered around a friend's research for a great-grandfather. He found the individual in a Census record in North Carolina and although the ancestor had died in Arizona, the person in North Carolina had the same name and birth date. After years of research, he had moved back generations with the North Carolina line only to find out that the North Carolina person, a well known resident of the town, had died and was buried in North Carolina and could not have been living in Arizona at any time. Only a little bit more research on the North Carolina person would have prevented the misdirection and saved years of research. You could say, oh well, some one will benefit from the research. That may be true, but now the incorrect research is recorded by many family members and has been perpetuated in files across the Internet.

By its very nature, poor or incomplete research always causes the same type of problem. Like the comment from another friend who went on New FamilySearch and was excited to tell me that his family line went all the way back to Adam! (oh no, not again). I am starting to wonder if I have some sort of a magnet that attracts poor researchers who don't want to be told anything about proper and reasonable procedures. Here are some of the practices that I consider to fall into the category of too hasty conclusions:

1. The Same Name = The Same Person Syndrome. I have watched while people find an "ancestor" who has the same common name as the real ancestor and immediately without further research conclude that the two are the same person.

2. The U.S. Census never lies syndrome. It might be possible to chalk this one up to inexperience but I watch otherwise competent genealogists talk to patrons in the Mesa Regional Family History Library and tell the patron that they have absolutely identified the patron's ancestor with six children, when there is no other evidence that the person in the Census is related to the patron.

3. Two strikes and you are on to the next batter. As soon as the researcher has two documents showing information about the target ancestor, they are through with their research and moving on to the next generation. I hear about this when the researcher can't find any information about the next generation and keeps looking and looking without backtracking to find out more about the children.

4. My Notebook is bigger than your Notebook syndrome. This type of research collects paper copies of everything, but never looks at them. They have no idea who they are researching and when the try to explain where they are in their research, they flip back and forth endlessly through the pages arranged in lovely sheet protectors. They may have enough evidence to prove their ancestry, but no one will every know because they never look at their documents, they just throw the paper in garbage and move on to the nex task.

At the other end of the spectrum, is the researcher who never reaches a conclusion and who his always trying to update everyone in the family. There is no blanket solution to the problems. You just have to use good sense and don't settle for a half-way effort.

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