Analyzing Your Research
Written and Submitted by Linda Lambert
What exactly is analysis? It is the separation of information into parts to examine and fully document your research. To quote Sir Conan Doyle writing as Sherlock Holmes in “The Beryl Coronet," “When you eliminate the impossible, whatever you have left, no matter how improbable, must be the truth."
Genealogy can be done just like that, too. Use the Who - What - Where - When - Why method of analyzing. Define the “Who” before you start your search. Was the surname spelled differently during different times? Was the spelling changed at the time of immigration? “What” do you want to know? “Where” is probably the most important fact, after “who." If you don’t know “where," you’re not going to find anything! “When”... give a time frame or time period so you know where to search for records. “Why” is a fun subject. Why did your ancestor immigrate from Germany to the US? Why did they move from Illinois to Wyoming? Why are there so many German (or Irish, or Italian, etc.) people in the area? Why did grandma have her first child at 15 and grandpa was 32? Was he married before? “How” do I answer all these questions? How do I find the records I need?
The "Who," "What," "When," "Where," and “Why” concept can be applied to every document / source that you acquire.
Recognize the jurisdictions that apply. Are the records in national records, state, county, parish, town, precinct records? Know where you need to look. Establish search boundaries. Realize those boundaries could have changed over the years.
Here are some common genealogical mistakes (I hate to use that word, but I can’t think of a better one):
- Not using forms (pedigree / lineage or family group / record). These can be manual forms or forms produced by a genealogy software program.
- Avoiding contacting relatives and others working the same lines.
- Assuming there are no others researching your lines.
- Not using maps for the time \ area where your ancestors lived.
- Avoiding historical studies of your area \ time frame of research.
- Failing to utilize family traditions when researching.
- Trying to connect to “published / printed” lineages.
- Avoiding using primary / original records.
- Losing control over your records (comes under the heading of organization).
- Not following through on clues.
- Ignoring spelling variants.
- Announcing you are at a dead end, brick wall or giving up. Brick walls should be considered as “rest stops” in research, not stopping places. This is a time to go back and review your data for new clues.
- Assuming the census names in one household are all one family.
- Assuming John Jr. is always the son of a John Sr.
- Not keeping an open mind to more than one marriage.
- Assuming all printed materials are correct.
- Avoiding re-analyzing your own work periodically for clues.
Evidence / Sources:
There are five types of evidence (sources).
- Primary Evidence: Any evidence or event which is recorded at (or near) the time of the event such as a birth certificate or a will.
- Secondary Evidence: Any statement made by persons (or facts) that are from personal memory or any evidence recorded at any other time other than when the event occurred such as a death certificate.
- Collateral Evidence: Evidence which gives cause or clues to other records. The purpose of this type of evidence is an important part of the record without actually proving anything. For example, if a father speaks of his daughter in a will, land record, or deed by another surname, you would look for a marriage for the daughter.
- Circumstantial Evidence: Two or more facts might be so related that one may prove a different type of evidence than the other. For example, a record mentions a daughter. Later he marries again and refers to the daughter as “daughter of a previous wife." This implies that he had at least one daughter by a previous marriage.
- Reported Evidence: Rumor, hearsay, family tradition...: this type of evidence can be found in family interviews, family histories, county histories, biographies, etc. This should be considered suspect until proven with primary or original evidence. For example, family tradition says grandma was widowed young and raised her family alone. Records do not indicate a death (no probate, no change of land ownership, guardianship, etc.) When no proof appears that grandpa died, you might suspect that he ran away from home for some reason.
Weigh your evidence / sources for their value:
- Study the merits of any information you receive,
- Compare all the evidence, and
- Draw your conclusions.
These three steps are analyzation.
To study the merits of your information, try this:
- Actual Truth (proof is certain)
- Probable Truth (proof is probable, but not absolutely certain)
- Supposed Evidence (you suspect this is true, but you can’t be sure). Give reasons why you suspect this is true. Grandpa was “in his cups” and made a statement, but you can’t prove it.
- Absolutely Ridiculous (utter nonsense, but it can’t be ignored)
It’s relatively easy to compare data. Get your data together, arrange it in usable form (chronological or group), compare, and contrast the information. If there are differences, note them until you can prove the differences one way or another. I prefer to keep all of it... and make the appropriate notes such as: “This is family tradition, but it was disproved by (and state the source).”
Draw your conclusions: once you have done the above, you are ready to make a decision. Let’s use our Forum term “bingo." This means you have found solid, indisputable proof that will extend your pedigree. Then there are the “maybes”... you need to work on these more, but perhaps they will prove to be true. And finally (this is my favorite for putting), “might be." You keep these and review them from time to time because they may fit in when you get additional information.
Don’t forget items of common use, either. Antiques that are handed down from generation to generation can substantiate your research. A chair may have been a wedding present; a piece of jewelry could have been presented to a new mother by her husband to celebrate the birth of a child.
Keep an open mind when you evaluate your “evidence." The research process can be defined in five steps.
- Gather data in order to define the problem(s) accurately.
- Look for answers in more than one source in order to draw conclusions from all evidence.
- Then look for other alternatives.
- Follow clues to their conclusions in order to make decisions based on facts.
- Gather more data.
Your research should be critically analyzed for accuracy and completeness at each phase of your search. Document each statement. Research which you have previously completed may contain more clues than you might think. When we are new and starting our research, we grab anything and everything we can find, and never look at it again. Many of the answers we are looking for now may be in those records and notes. You could find materials previously missed.
Here are some warning signs when you look at your pedigree charts and family group sheets. Do you have blank lines? Is there incomplete information on the children? “CA” or “about” used too often? Are dates too close, or too far apart to be correct? Check for historical impossibilities. If a child was born in 1860, there is no way he would have served in the Civil War. On the other hand, look for historical possibilities. What war could he have served in? Was there a massive migration? Check the time lines to see what was happening in the world, state or county at the time this ancestor was alive? Do you have wrong locations or missing locations? No county or town listed, just the state? Any other missing information? Marriages of children? 2nd marriages? Each line on that form serves a purpose.
Just remember when looking at the documents you so painstakingly acquired, to use them, reuse them, and then use them again. What are they trying to tell you? What were they used for? Remember the time frame and the context within that time frame. Be a detective! Search for clues. Eliminate the impossible. Check out the possible to come up with the probable. Then look for substantiating documentation. Remember the Sherlockian phrase I cited at the beginning of this presentation... “When you eliminate the impossible, whatever you have left, no matter how improbable, must be the truth."
I hope you have fun analyzing your research... happy sleuthing!
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