Research Serendipity and your Genealogy

If you have looked at my presentation on Genealogy Media (under “articles” on my Home Page) or at the whole power point (over 160 slides) with their hot links to online genealogy resources…

If you are a subscriber to The Genealogical Helper and you take advantage of the hot links for all of the websites reviewed or mentioned in those articles…

If you surf the genealogy internet sites and click through the links to militia lists and cemetery inscriptions and census transcriptions…

If you research thoroughly, searching individual databases as well as checking the general indexes…

Then you have found serendipity one or more times.

Sometimes, all it takes is just one good bit of information to unlock a pedigree that has been stopped for years.  Or one data-set to prove that the family tradition really is true.  And serendipity can do that!

For the rest of your 10 million ancestors, you need a more thorough approach.  At least, you need a research approach.

Most of the information now available online is just that–information.  Data.  Individual documents.  Scanned into digital format so you can read the whole document.  You still have to read the whole document.  Lots of documents.  And fit them all together.

It is the process of fitting them all together that serendipity cannot do.  Careful analysis of the documents and the evidence they present is the real research skill.  And you will expend three to four times more effort reading the documents, understanding the documents, placing the documents in their context, matching the evidence in one document with others that apply to the same people or the same event.

I believe, and I operate my genealogy research on this belief–that you need to examine the documents for all of the James Howes in each jurisdiction where he lived before you can determine which one belongs to you.

This was much easier, in my opinion, when we started on the first page of the census schedule and read every entry on every page for the whole township. Or the whole county.  When we began our search of tax rolls two years after the ancestor disappeared from the jurisdiction and went back in time, until he first appeared on the roll.  Examining every person with the same surname, and those who carried the same given name or nickname or lived on the same named tract.  In  short–anyone similar to the ancestor.

Once you have reviewed the candidates for the position of ancestor–you are in a better position to decide who gets the gig, in my opinion.

Peeping into an index (even one that is well-done and appears to be complete and correct) then reviewing just the entries that carry the ancestor’s name–is like plucking the daisy.  This one is my ancestor.  This one is not my ancestor.  On and on.

I offer index-searches for one ancestor.   To use serendipity for that ancestor.  To locate that ancestor in a place not yet researched.  To identify family members that are called “strays” (those who are born, married, and died in places you would not normally look).  You get the benefit of my knowledge of where to look.  Or the chance that a different source, you haven’t yet searched, might contain the information you seek.

I also offer the whole research process applied to the places your ancestor lived, the sources that have not been examined page by page, the households of persons with the same name or the same origins or the same occupation, or the same Church affiliation.  You get the benefit of my experience of what to look for and how to interpret the evidence.

“Your clients must pay you a lot of money to do all that work,” a person said to me in a phone conversation this afternoon.  Thorough research does take time.  The thorough analysis of the data, remember, always takes three to four times more effort (and thus more time).  Even when you chart (and evaluate) as you go through the records, analysis always takes more time than finding, gathering, searching, and copying the data.

My knowledge and my experience in genealogy research combined prove to me that errors in a genealogy come from too few data and too little analysis. Your favorite genealogy evidence guru, Arlene Eakle

PS  Remember to log-in to my NEW Tennessee Blog on 17 Mar 2009.  I have some new details to share on an old topic–one that is often overlooked.

PPS  Click onto my Virginia Blog for your very own “Genealogy Economic Stimulus” Package.

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