Write It Down!
The final standard of the Genealogical Proof Standard states:
• A soundly reasoned, coherently written conclusion
One of the things I’ve learned through the years, is writing a report clarifies your research. As I started doing client work, I would research for nine hours of a ten hour assignment, and then spend five hours (or more) writing the client report. Not a very profitable way to do business. But it was in writing the report that I would find missed research and clues. It took a while, but I finally learned to write as I went along.
After extracting the information from the record, I would write an analysis of my findings, and make a list of next steps. This made finalizing a report for my client much easier. With my own research I do the same thing but put my report in the “notes” field on my genealogy software.
Last week I used the example of Patrick Moughty and the conflicts over his birth date. An analysis of each document under “Next Steps” provided additional (or conflicting) information and suggested additional Next Steps. Patrick’s obituary, for example, mentioned he was born in Westmeath [one step closer to the information needed for Irish research], and that he had a sibling, Mrs. Ann Ledwith of Westmeath, still living at the time of his death (information not already known). His Naturalization gave his birth date as 18 Oct 1889, however his birth certificate recorded the date as 20 Oct 1888, and also provided his mother’s maiden name, Mary Lynn, and the townland of birth, Aughnaboy. His baptismal record showed his birth as 16 Oct 1888 and his baptism as 17 Oct 1888.
Writing a report to yourself outlining your research is also an effective way to identify possible missing records. Remember to note both positive and negative results. In the example at the top, Clarence F. Finiels was a collateral in my family tree. My mother's sister married a Finiels, and this was her husband's uncle. After coming across my tree online, a client approached me to determine whether her grandfather, William Finiels, was the same person as Clarence Finiels. This part of the report reflects the census research...at no time did both Clarence and William appear in the census in the same year. Clarence appeared in 1900, 1910. William appeared in 1920 and 1930, and then Clarence reappeared in 1940. The key piece of information was after his death. His 5th wife who survived him applied for a military headstone and indicated that he had served in the military under both the name Clarence and William.
Writing up your research can also help you begin your book (you are going to write a family history some day, right?). Seriously, we collect all of this information and what is going to happen to it? Will it be lost in your computer or file cabinets? I joke about the fact that my children will likely cremate my file cabinets with me. But how often do years of research disappear after the death of an individual. Even if you don't "publish" a paper book, there are many ways to make sure that your research survives you, but you have to write it down. Not just names and dates (the hatches, matches and dispatches) but also the family stories. For those doing Irish research, the written records can end early, but you can still research the locality and it's history and add that to your family story. What was happening in the area when your ancestors lived there.
You can "publish" the information as a digital book, or scrapbook; you can produce it as a blog; you can write the stories on a web platform such as FamilySearch Family Tree; and you can provide copies of the information to a library, genealogical society or historical society where your ancestors lived. Don't forget to send copies to the Family History Library and the Allen County Public Library.
If you follow the Genealogical Proof Standard...
•. A reasonably exhaustive search
•. Complete and accurate citations to all the sources
•. Analysis and correlation of the collected information
• Resolution of conflicting evidence
•. A soundly reasoned, coherently written conclusion
you’ll be more successful with your genealogical research and possibly break through some of your brick walls.