I have been listening to the confirmation hearing for Christopher Wray, the nominee for Director of the FBI, being held before the Senate Judiciary Committee today. Wray said that “process is important to confidence in the outcome. If there is something there, the process would have found it.” The process provides direction and order.
My belief is that most things apply to genealogy research and its need for authenticity and results. So let me re-state my genealogy position—I use a genealogy research process, which to date has guaranteed an unusually high success rate. And an order of searching documents which supports that process:
A Marriage-Oriented Research Strategy: It will separate out for you more than one family or person by exactly the same name. Multiple people combined into the same person or family is the most common genealogy problem–in the past and today.
Extract onto family group worksheets, each marriage for your surnames of interest. Get them all out of the records at the county (or town) level, where they can be compared for fit and match. You can do this manually on paper charts or digitally on charts included in your genealogy software. Major rule: ONE–one family per chart, one source per chart.
- Search the marriages first. Start tentative family units by extracting each marriage on a family group worksheet–each marriage on its own family group. Sort by census year so each married couple can be located in the next census after the marriage and followed each census year. Watch for names of men who marry the daughters.
- Search census records or census substitutes second. Extract all the entries for your family surname from the census records–census decade by census decade–So you add to and build the family units as you go. Extract all the men who marry the daughters
- Interim Analysis–identify the re-marriages, especially for the women. Which families appear to move away? Which ones stay in that locality? Look for “Gretna Green” marriages—where the couple runs away to be married or chooses a distinctive place for their marriage. Spot middle names which are surnames. Identify unusual given names–Permelia, America, Mahala, Europa, Cinnamon, Trauma, and so on. Watch for given names that are repeated in each family unit, each set of children regardless of gender, or each generation. Watch for other families who marry into these family groups.
- Set aside family units which clearly don’t fit, for later consideration.
- Plan follow-up searches–in the marriage records for those re-marriages you spot. In the probate records–if the head of house is elderly, look for a will, inventory, or estate settlement. If the head of house is a farmer, look at the deeds–what lands did he own or farm? Where are the lands located? How did he acquire his lands? If there are young males in the household, search the tax rolls. If there are males age 16-18 years old in 1820–check the militia lists. And so on. You don’t have to wait until you have searched all the county records to do these searches. As you discover the evidence follow it up.
- Search the rest of the county records—probates, land and tax rolls, vital records. At any point in the process, consult local county and town Heritage Books—historical treatments of families written by descendants of those families.
- Search the cemetery records last. You need additional information on the connections your ancestor made during his life along with the names of the persons he knew and associated with to locate the proper entry in cemetery databases—especially if your ancestor has a common name.
- Keep a careful record of the sources you search: include a description of the source, whether or not the index is complete and accurate, which library or archive has the source, and what names you searched for.
This process is unusually thorough—if a kinship connection or if a place of origin is mentioned this process will identify the evidence for you to follow-up. Your favorite genealogist, Arlene Eakle http://arleneeakle.com
PS I use such tools as timelines, surname targets, pedigree charts, maps (always) within the process to keep track of who the players are and how they are related. I take the evidence apart, as it applies to each and every player. And I build the family and the pedigree as I go through the records—I don’t want to follow the wrong lineage.