How Do I Know?

It’s often referred to as “correlation and analysis” in genealogical methods courses, but a certain aspect of it is fairly simple:

Is this record really my people?

When genealogists gather records, saving them in an organized fashion is crucial. How can you later find it otherwise? It is also important to capture enough information about the record in order to craft a citation. How can you know where you got it and what it really is?

But there’s more. There’s another piece of information that one needs to track as well. How do you know the record is your person?

Sometimes that question is easy to answer and sometimes it is not. That’s why this part of the process is called “analysis.” But it is important. If I find a 1800 census in Harford County, Maryland, for a household headed by James Rampley, why do I think it is the one who died there in 1817? The reason may be fairly easy: the location is the same as given on his will, the will suggests a man who at least is in his fifties (based on the number of married children and grandchildren) which is consistent with the individuals in James’ household, etc. The reasons do not have to be overly articulate and full of fifty-dollar words. They do need to make sense and be consistent with what is known about the person and what is contained in the record or reasonably suggested by the record.

Sometimes the record that has just been located may cause you to re-evaluate what you think you “know” about the person of interest. That is an important part of the correlation and analysis of information.

The “How do you know the record is your person” is a good question to ask whenever a new record is located.


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