He­len Os­born

Re­veals how your ap­proach to sources, plus a bit of de­tec­tive work, can help you un­cover the truth about your an­ces­tors

Who Do You Think You Are? Magazine - - FOCUS ON -

It is of­ten nec­es­sary to care­fully ex­am­ine the ev­i­dence we col­lect dur­ing our fam­ily his­tory re­search in or­der to break down a brick wall, or to prove re­la­tion­ships. The work of gath­er­ing all avail­able ev­i­dence and weigh­ing it up can be just as painstak­ing as good sci­ence or po­lice work.

Those who are the best ge­neal­ogy de­tec­tives solve mys­ter­ies and smash down brick walls by work­ing at a very pre­cise level with orig­i­nal doc­u­ments to build up a case for proof. Mak­ing out a strong case in­cludes weigh­ing up the ev­i­dence ac­cord­ing to the type of doc­u­ment, think­ing about who gave the in­for­ma­tion or wrote it down, check­ing all de­tails us­ing doc­u­men­tary sources, mak­ing sure each ‘ fact’ about a per­son has a source, and look­ing at a va­ri­ety of dif­fer­ent sources for each fact.

the doc­u­ments Here’s a step-by-step guide to en­sure you tease ev­ery clue out of you have gath­ered dur­ing the course of your re­search cer­tifi­cates, in­clud­ing mar­riage wit­nesses and house­hold mem­bers from the census. If you add in­for­ma­tion that is un­cer­tain into the chronol­ogy, try us­ing a dif­fer­ent colour to dif­fer­en­ti­ate it. Then you can eas­ily tell the stronger ev­i­dence from the weaker. Fi­nally, look for sup­port­ing facts. What events are miss­ing and what has not been con­firmed from an orig­i­nal doc­u­ment. Com­pare ad­dress in­for­ma­tion from cer­tifi­cates, census and parish reg­is­ters. Do they match or are there con­flicts? Are wit­nesses fam­ily mem­bers? Think about any other sources you could use to find the same in­for­ma­tion. Gather records and doc­u­ments to­gether, and get ready to an­a­lyse what you have. Put any doc­u­ments or in­for­ma­tion where you can’t an­swer the ques­tion ‘where did it come from? ’ or ‘what is it? ’ to one side. Th­ese are clues, but not ev­i­dence un­til you can ver­ify the source. Write out a chronol­ogy of events in a per­son’s life, us­ing your records, and not­ing the source. This will high­light any records that con­flict, for ex­am­ple, some­one in two places at once. Put in the full date of each event along with the place and the name the per­son was recorded with at the time. Add all the peo­ple who ap­pear on live in many dif­fer­ent parts of the coun­try and changed oc­cu­pa­tion fre­quently, or all of the above. Th­ese types of sce­nario can leave you scratch­ing your head. Why are there so many mys­ter­ies and does all this ev­i­dence even re­late to the same per­son? How can you build an ev­i­dence case to en­able you to get to the truth about some­one’s life, or at least feel hap­pier that you have ident ti­fied the right per­son?

There are ways to achiev ve this. First, re­view all your ex­ist­ing ev­i­dence. De­spite the fact that much of what we col­lect is held elec­tron­i­cally, it is very worth­while get­ting all your pa­per doc­u­ments to­gether, in­clud­ing notes yo ou have, and also print­ing out records that are stored on youry com­puter. Most peo­ple read things more eas­ily once they are printed. Ex­am­ine it all thor­oughly and an­a­lyse what you have. Is your work based on trees given to you by other peo­ple? Have you taken their word for some­thing? Have you re­lied on in­dexes

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