Dealing With Genealogy “Matches”

First off, I’m not really convinced that “match” is the right word to use when a search is performed in a specific database for an individual. The results that are returned matched your search query–that’s true. But there’s never a guarantee that a “match” is your actual person of interest. But there are some things you can do to help you analyze your “matches:”

  • Track how you find your “matches.” What were the search parameters used, etc. Problem-solving to see if you missed people cannot be done if you have not tracked how you searched in the first place. It also increases the chance you keep performing the same search repeatedly expecting a different result. Full disclosure: I only track how I found my matches for those instances when I can’t easily find people and determine that I have the “right one.” Tracking the search process takes time and in many situations it’s not necessary.
  • List all the “matches” that could be your person of interest. Remember that none of them may actually be the person of interest. There is no guarantee that the true person of interest rests among your “matches.”
  • See if you can find these “matches” in later records–starting in the same locality where you found them in the first place. Start with the “matches” that appear have the highest probability of being the person of interest or have highest probability of being found in other records. If a search for naturalizations for your Bernard Dirks who lived in Adams County, Illinois, turns up one in Tazewell County, Illinois–make certain there’s a not a Bernard Dirks living in Tazewell County at the exact same time your Bernard Dirks is living in Adams County.
  • Is this other information on the “match” consistent with what is known about your person of interest? If it is not, you probably can eliminate the “match” as being your person of interest. Keep a list of these eliminated matches–along with the reason why you eliminated them. You may need to refer to that reasoning later.


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