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

Saturday, August 13, 2011

Skipping the evaluation of records

The Research Process Steps from the FamilySearch Research Wiki use under the Creative Commons License. Click on the image to enlarge it.

One of the first things a genealogist should learn about is the research cycle. Usually, the cycle is depicted as having five or maybe, six steps. Here is a link to a page in the FamilySearch Research Wiki about the research process with links to further explanation. The Wiki's outline of the process is as follows:
  • Identify what you know
  • Decide what you want to learn
  • Select records to search
  • Obtain and search the records
  • Evaluate and use the information
In my experience, Step No. Five is very, very commonly ignored especially by novices, but often by experienced researchers. How much time do you spend looking at and thinking about the records you already have? Here are some questions to ask about each record:
  • When and where was the record created?
  • Who created the record?
  • Why was the record created?
  • Who provided the information for the record?
  • How was the information recorded?
  • How was the record preserved?
  • What kind of information is missing or incomplete in the record?
  • Are there any other records that are usually associated with the record?
  • Which records came just before and after this record and would they give further information?
  • Is the record part of a series of records that may contain further information about the family?
  • Where are other associated records located?
  • How reliable is the information contained in the record?
  • What other information is suggested by the record but missing?

I think you might get the point. I used to use a handout from the Family History Library with a list of many of the types of information you could use for research, i.e. birth, death, burial etc. with a suggested type of record to search. When I was starting out, this kind of list is helpful. I would suggest that today you can get the same kind of list by looking at the Research Wiki and thinking about the categories of records listed for any given location. Look at Illinois for an example.

Too many of the researchers I see, find a record, copy it into their pile and move on without even spending a minute to think about what they have just found. Maybe there is a gold mine of information already in the documents you have copied? You might also want to look at Evaluate the Evidence in the Research Wiki.

1 comment:

  1. James, you very nicely describe the process of evaluating data and placing it in the context of applicability as to its weight as pro/con evidence. The difference between data (or, arrgh, "sources") and evidence is so often not understood!

    I have enjoyed your series, and am glad you have come to this meaty aspect of genealogical research.