My post on “Writing A Proof: Another Take” contained the phrase “Conduct a complete search of all relevant records that an experienced researcher would expect.”

I’ve been thinking about that phrase, what it really means, and what I meant by it.

The Genealogy Proof Standard (from the Board for Certification of Genealogists’ Genealogical Standards Manual) uses the phrase “exhaustive search” when it discusses the research process and what types of records are searched in answer to a specific research problem. Exhaustive search does not mean a tiring one. The phrase one uses is not what really matters. Too many people get bogged down in semantics when they should be getting bogged down in actual research (at least until they can see through the fog).

What matters is that a search be thorough–whether you say it is “complete” or “exhaustive” is a matter of debate.

What matters is that all relevant records to the problem be searched. It is difficult to define “relevant” exactly and precisely–it depends upon the problem. What is relevant depends upon the context. The key here is “all.” Not just those records that are easy to access and not just those that the researcher has used enough times to be comfortable with, but any record that may address the issue at hand. Any.

And this is where experience also comes in to play.

When I had only researched a few of my families in one location, I simply didn’t have enough experience to solve some of my other more difficult problems. That’s why researching the families of others helps to make our own research better. Researching families outside our own (hopefully) gets us outside our comfort zone, outside our cultural and ethnic biases, and outside our “tried and true” assumptions.  Reading how others have solved similar problems in similar locations can help us get outside our own immediate zone as well. In fact, seeing how others have solved problems, what records they have used and how they have used them is an excellent tool in developing our analytical skills.

And that helps us when we go back to our own research.

So when you are trying to solve that problem, think “what are all the sources that an experienced researcher would use to answer this problem?” Be honest with yourself when using the word “experienced.” to described your research skills.

I didn’t use the word “expert” and I didn’t use the word “professional.” I used the word “experienced.”

That was on purpose. Anyone can style themselves an expert or a professional.

But experience in using the appropriate records is what matters in solving most problems.

Most–not all.

You can also strengthen your research by reading the Board for Certification of Genealogists’ Genealogical Standards Manual




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