This past week, I had two very similar situations raised by patrons at the Mesa FamilySearch Library. In both instances, the patrons were looking at a pedigree on FamilySearch Family Tree and wondering where to begin research. Patron #1 have marginal computer skills but did manage to remember her login and password. She was looking at her husband's line which ended with ancestors in the mid-1800s. The end of line ancestor was supposedly born in New York State and then moved to Iowa on a farm, but the death date and place were in Arkansas. The challenge was to find both his and his wife's parents. Because the birthplace was listed simply as New York, I suggested that before looking for parents we needed to find out more information about the known individual.
We moved back to the end of line ancestors children and immediately found in 1870 US Census record with the father 50 years old living on a farm in Iowa. Even with the small amount of information it was extremely doubtful that the ancestor died in Arkansas. The issue here was not the lack of information at this point but the fact that the patron had absolutely no clue as to the next steps to take to find additional information about her husband's ancestors. In short, she had gone from interest to action but had no idea how to proceed.
Patron #2 was a young adult male who was also interested in beginning his genealogical research. He had vastly superior computer skills compared to the other patron, but was in exactly the same position with regards to how to proceed with research into his family lines. We began by examining his father's line and discovered that, just as with the first patron, the line ended in the mid-1800s. To me, of course, it was obvious that we could do exactly what I had just done with the other patrons and look at the US census records to give an idea of the accuracy of the information that had already been recorded. It was also clear, that this patron was also lacking in any ideas concerning what information was needed and how to go about researching the information that was lacking.
In both cases, the patrons focused immediately on the missing individuals in their pedigree. Like many researchers, they concluded that the research should begin at the point where people were missing. However, in both cases the information up to the point where the ancestor was missing in the pedigree chart was incomplete and/or vague. Since the ancestor in the first instance at a birthplace listed in New York State with no further specific location, finding his father would be an insurmountable problem. It was interesting to me that the second patron that they had exactly the same situation. He was missing ancestors and immediately assumed that he should begin the search for those ancestors.
This in each case it was necessary to go two generations forward from the end of line ancestor in order to find information that had been marginally verified. Neither of the ancestors had any source records cited in support of the events listed. Because there were no source records, it was impossible to assign a degree of probability that the information already in the file was correct. This sort of situation is extremely common. Upon examining a pedigree for a patron it becomes quickly evident that there is little or no verified information about the end of line individuals. In both these cases, I experienced some initial reticence on the part of the patrons to backtrack because they did not understand the connection between establishing a verified factual base before attempting to discover further unknown generations.
In genealogy we have a common saying; always move from the known to the unknown. This may seem trite to experienced researchers but it is very commonly overlooked by those beginning their ancestral research for the first time. It is much more enticing to look for the unknown relative than to verify information on the known relatives. In some instances, other than the two mentioned here, I have had to backtrack almost back to the individual patron before finding any information that could be verified by the patron as accurate.
The question posed in the title to this blog post is simple; began with the information that is known before moving to information that is unknown. I might mention that in both these cases finding the initial information about the families that were lacking information was fairly easy.