Today on her Facebook page for Evidence Explained, Elizabeth Shown Mills posted a “thought prompt:”

Your Best Advice in Four Words or Less

My contributions to the effort were:

  • There’s always exceptions.
  • No one knows everything.
  • Break every rule once.

I stand by those. Others suggested the importance of the law, citing your sources, taking breaks, and other ideas that were similar to the three I posted.

Then I thought of one more:

Follow the money.

It probably should say “follow the things worth money,” but that would have been too many words. Even though I suggested “breaking every rule once,” I decided to follow four words or less rule. There are many times when following the money is a good research strategy. How property was acquired, how property was sold, how estates were settled, how people supported themselves, and  answers to similar economic issues can solve some research problems. I have one ancestor who in his early twenties had enough cash to purchase nearly two hundred acres of real estate sans mortgage. That’s a question I wish I could answer concretely instead of just putting forth some conjecture.

Not every piece of advice solves every problem just like every tool will not solve every problem.

It’s ok to have four word rules.

Just make certain to have more than four of them.





4 Responses

  1. Having run into a couple of brick walls that are still upright and intact, and thinking – okay, maybe there is a “rule” I’m unaware of that might be worth breaking, What rules have you broken with a positive gain?

  2. Okay Ruth, I’ll take your challenge:
    1. Stick to direct line.
    2. Collaterals are a timesink.
    3. Trivial details don’t matter.
    4. Small segments are useless.
    5. Proof requires three sources.

    (And you will, of course, note that I’ve just conformed to both Michael’s and my parameters. 🙂 )

    • Thanks so much. Those “rules to break: helped me think of some new avenues to try – when I have time. Not wanting to lose the ideas though I have jotted them down on my genealogy “to do” note pad. If you don’t keep one of those, it can come in handy!

    • The devil is in the details. Fine-tuning citations and wrapping up loose ends often bring about the biggest discoveries or “aha” moments.

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