I’ve never been a big believer in setting New Year’s goals, objectives, resolutions, etc. I’m also not a big believer in justifying why I don’t believe in them so this will not be a rant about New Year’s resolutions.
I am a fan in clearly stating genealogical problems instead of researching willy-nilly and just seeing what happens. While it’s true that genealogy database surfing does sometimes bring results, it can just as often result in going around in circles beyond the point of being dizzy.
The “goal” of research should be to make some form of genealogical statement. The difficulty is that until research has been completed and information analyzed specific statements cannot be made. Making statements before performing any research is not sound methodology either. Thinking about what sort of statement the researcher would like to make (without being specific about it) will help the researcher to ask appropriate questions and think about the types of records most likely to provide relevant information.
Genealogical statements can be seen as being about an individual or expressing a relationship between two individuals. Genealogical statements about individuals usually are relatively specific as to time and location:
- Johann Schmidt was born in 1845 in Schteenytinystadt, Germany.
- Thomas Rampley purchased property in Coshocton County, Ohio, in 1818.
- James Rampley is buried in Buckeye Cemetery, Hancock County, Illinois.
- Riley Rampley served in Company D of the 78th Illinois Volunteer Infantry from 1861-1865.
Genealogical statements between two individuals generally express a relationship between those two individuals (precise times and locations may not be known but they are helpful in distinguishing individuals from others of the same name):
- James Rampley and Elizabeth Chaney were married in Coshocton County, Ohio, in 1830.
- James Rampley was the father of Riley Rampley who was born in 1835 in Coshocton County, Ohio.
- Conrad Haase was the step-father of Francis (Bieger) Trautvetter who lived in Hancock County, Illinois, from 1851 until 1888.
- The John Tinsley who died in Amherst County, Virginia, in the 1810s was the father of Sally (Tinsley) Sledd whose husband Thomas Sledd died in Bourbon County, Kentucky around 1815.
Statements can also be negative:
- Edward Tinsley, who died in Amherst County, Virginia, in the 1780s was married to Margaret, but she was not the daughter of James Taylor who died in Essex County, Virginia, in 1759.
We use information gleaned as records as evidence to construct a proof that supports our genealogical statement. Because our goal is to construct a proof, we don’t have a specific statement in mind when we are researching. When researchers try and prove a specific statement the tendency can be to work to “prove that statement” at the risk of overlooking evidence that supports other conclusions.
One of the things we do in the pre-trip planning for our annual Salt Lake City Family History Library trip is thinking about statements, what sorts of things we are trying to “prove,” and how to go about that. It’s an integral part of the process and not something one wants to do as one is walking in the door of the library.