10-Minute Methodology: What Is “Reasonably Exhaustive” Research?

Let’s look at the searching part of research. As in the last post on research, we’ll see that it’s more involved than just looking.

Genealogy Standards offers this goal of reasonably exhaustive data-collection: “Genealogists attempt to collect all information potentially relevant to the questions they investigate.”[1] Got that? All information. All potentially relevant information. Potentially relevant to the questions under investigation.

Our research question determines what “reasonably exhaustive” research looks like. We start with a problem, most commonly a question of identity or kinship. The individuals, what we want to know about them, the time and place in which they lived, and their life circumstances set the course of our research.

Time and place. Our research subjects lived in specific places in specific time periods. If we don’t know about the place or time period, we have to educate ourselves about history and geography at the least. Relevant considerations include

  • historical boundaries and their changes,
  • migration patterns and routes,
  • what sources are available in the relevant times and places.[2]

Life circumstances also determine the direction of our research. Aside from our subjects’ gender, race, and ethnicity, their life patterns suggest numerous research paths and types of sources. They interacted with legal and governmental entities and religious institutions. They may have served in the military or participated in social clubs. They had financial and trade dealings. They spoke a language and often left traces of their handwriting. They had many or few belongings of different kinds. They were wealthy or poor, free or enslaved. They left a legacy in their descendants’ DNA. Thinking of our subjects as people in families and communities suggests a wide variety of sources to discover and examine. Looking at all these factors in the relevant times and places will potentially lead us to a wide variety of sources that may name or bear on our research subjects.[3]

Quality information. At the outset the list of types of sources to be researched can be quite long. It includes “databases, finding aids, indexes, search engines . . . authored narratives, derivative sources, and documented and undocumented genealogies.”[4] However, we aim, wherever possible, to find the original records alluded to in other works and information provided by informants as close as possible to the events in question.[5] Sometimes this effort draws out our research time and effort considerably, all in the pursuit of “reasonably exhaustive” research.

The idea of testing our hypotheses addresses “reasonably exhaustive” research head-on.[6] Not only do we seek and gather data, but we also compare items to each other. Depending on how they correlate with other information, we accept them as evidence for or against our hypotheses. Some information may conflict, pushing us to research more until we can resolve discrepancies. Reasonably exhaustive research extends beyond searching to the mental effort of evaluating and processing our data to be sure we can test our theories.[7]

If we don’t have enough data to test, we broaden our search. We extend it to include our subject’s family, associates, and neighbors. We then seek out the same types of information indicated above, but for a wider circle of people.[8] This can be very time consuming and result in the accumulation of much data. Within it, however, we may well find the evidence we need to answer our research question.

So how do we know when it’s safe to stop? Watch for the next “10-Minute” post.

 


[1] Standard 19, Data-collection scope, Genealogy Standards (Nashville, Tenn.: Ancestry.com, 2014), 16.
[2] Standard 12, Broad context, Genealogy Standards, 12.
[3] Standards 12, Broad context, and 14, Topical breadth, Genealogy Standards, 12, 13.
[4] Standard 13, Source-based content, Genealogy Standards, 12–13.
[5] Ibid.
[6] Standard 17, Extent, Genealogy Standards, 14–15.
[7] Genealogical Proof Standard, bullets three and four, Genealogy Standards, 1–2.
[8] Standard 14, Topical Breadth, Genealogy Standards, 13.

Results of BCG Trustee Election

The Board for Certification of Genealogists (BCG) welcomes five trustees, two new and three re-elected.

Returning for another three-year term as BCG trustees are Alison Hare, CG; Debra S. Mieszala, CG; and Judy G. Russell, J.D., CG, CGL:

  • Hare, of Ottawa, Ontario, Canada, has been certified since 1999. She presented a lecture on the 1854 London cholera epidemic at this year’s National Genealogical Society conference.
  • Mieszala, of Libertyville, Illinois, has been certified since 2002, blogs as The Advancing Genealogist, and specializes in forensic genealogy, twentieth-century research, and the Midwest.
  • Russell, of Avenel, New Jersey, has been certified since 2012 blogs as The Legal Genealogist, and speaks at conferences coast to coast. Judy serves as member-at-large on the BCG executive committee this year.

Joining them are two newly elected trustees:

  • Judy Kellar Fox, CG, of Aloha, Oregon, has been certified since 2007, co-edits BCG’s blog Springboard, and specializes in Pennsylvania, Virginia, and German research.
  • Richard G. Sayre, CG, CGL, of Herriman, Utah, has been certified since 2007, serves as BCG booth coordinator, and teaches military records, land records, using maps in genealogy, urban research, and government documents.

All fifteen trustees are Board-certified, and all serve without compensation. Five are elected by certified associates each year. The new trustees’ terms of office will begin at the end of the 10 October 2015 trustees’ meeting in Salt Lake City.

For questions or more information contact: Nicki Birch, CG, office@BCGcertification.org.

CG, Certified Genealogist, CGL, and Certified Genealogical Lecturer are service marks of the Board for Certification of Genealogists, used under license by Board-certified genealogists after periodic competency evaluation, and the board name is registered in the US Patent & Trademark Office.

Coming from OnBoard in September 2015

OnBoard: Newsletter of the Board for Certification of Genealogists is scheduled for publication in September 2015. We’re privileged to offer a preview of the content.

“Planning Effective Research”

Laura Murphy DeGrazia, CG, understands how some genealogists struggle with the idea of planning ahead in their research. If you are sometimes less efficient than you’d like in online searches or when visiting a repository, Laura has some practical advice for maximizing your effectiveness with advance preparation and sound research-plan design.

“Genealogy Experiments: Indirect Evidence Up Close”

If you’re stuck in your research with no apparent way over the brick wall, Harold Henderson, CG, may have an answer for you. He tells us how adopting an “experimental attitude” to genealogy might be the key to a breakthrough in a tough problem. His article dissects a case of migrating, common-surnamed individuals and describes how evidence mining and correlation led to identifying parents.

OnBoard is published in January, May, and September. A subscription is included in annual associate fees and for applicants “on the clock.” Subscriptions are also available to the general public for $15.00 a year (currently) through the BCG website. Issues back to 1995 can also be ordered online.

CG, Certified Genealogist, CGL, and Certified Genealogical Lecturer, are service marks of the Board for Certification of Genealogists, used under license by Board-certified genealogists after periodic competency evaluation, and the board name is registered in the US Patent & Trademark Office.

BCG Education Fund Announces New Trustee

Trish Hackett Nicola, CG

The trustees of the BCG Education Fund announce that Patricia “Trish” Hackett Nicola, CG, of Seattle, Washington, will join the board as a trustee. Trish is an accomplished genealogist specializing in nineteenth- and twentieth-century family history research and historical research in Washington State. Since 2001 she has volunteered with the National Archives-Seattle Branch, which holds the Chinese Exclusion Act case files. Her blog, Chinese Exclusion Act Case Files, shows the types of information that can be found and how researchers can access it. Trish has a Bachelor of Science in accounting from the University of Colorado and is a retired CPA. She has a Master of Science degree in library service and worked as a reference librarian before becoming a full-time professional genealogist. The skills Trish honed as a CPA, librarian, and archive volunteer will benefit the BCG Education Fund. BCG Education Fund trustee Debbie Parker Wayne, CG, CGL, said, “We are fortunate to welcome a colleague of her caliber, and we look forward to working with her.”

Trish replaces  Kathy Gunter Sullivan, CG, resigning in her eighth year of service with the BCG Education Fund. Kathy led the trustees in creating the Education Fund’s substantial presence in genealogical education.

CG, Certified Genealogist, CGL, and Certified Genealogical Lecturer are service marks of the Board for Certification of Genealogists, used under license by Board-certified genealogists after periodic competency evaluation, and the board name is registered in the US Patent & Trademark Office.

BCG Education Fund: Kathy Gunter Sullivan Retires from Board

After eight years of volunteer service, Kathy Gunter Sullivan, CG, of Charlotte, North Carolina, has retired from the BCG Education Fund board of trustees. From 2007 through 2014, Kathy was the Education Fund secretary and streamlined its administrative procedures. She led the trustees in planning and executing its programs, which are the annual Putting Skills To Work workshop, the biannual Helen F. M. Leary Distinguished Lecture series, and the Mosher Award for Colonial Virginia Research. She secured exclusive one-year rights for the Education Fund to outstanding lectures by Thomas W. Jones and Elizabeth Shown Mills. She promoted incorporating additional topics into the Education Fund’s offerings, such as law, proof arguments, and genetics. In 2015, Kathy stepped forward to serve as treasurer pro tem. Her forward thinking and organizational skills contributed to the Education Fund’s substantial presence in genealogical education.

Kathy Gunter Sullivan, CG

Kathy is celebrating her twentieth year as a BCG associate. In addition to a 1992 history of her German-descent Dellinger ancestors, she edited and published nine volumes of original records of five different North Carolina counties. Her work was recognized in 1990 and again in 2003 by the North Carolina Genealogical Society with its Award of Excellence in Publishing and by the North Carolina Historical Society’s 1990 Award of Excellence. She created the Lincoln County Tax Records Project 1778–1840, making it available on  North Carolina GenWeb. She frequently teaches, presents, and publishes in her geographical region. Numerous articles have appeared in the North Carolina Genealogical Society Journal, and she is presenting a webinar for the Society on 18 September 2015. Kathy is an assistant editor of OnBoard, BCG’s in-house publication, and co-administrator of a private Dellinger family website.

CG and Certified Genealogist are service marks of the Board for Certification of Genealogists, used under license by Board-certified genealogists after periodic competency evaluation, and the board name is registered in the US Patent & Trademark Office.

Free BCG Webinar: Manuscript Gems with Shellee A. Morehead

Tuesday, 21 July 2015, 8:00 p.m. EDT, Shellee A. Morehead, Ph.D., CG, will present ”Diamonds in the Rough: Finding and Using Manuscript Collections.”

Unique, unpublished materials can be valuable resources for solving those pesky genealogical problems and adding insight and flavor to our family histories. Research is not complete without looking through unusual and one-of-a-kind materials that may be available for the time and place our ancestors lived. Diaries, letters, journals, scrapbooks, and other ephemera can be found in a variety of repositories across the United States. A genealogical society, public or private library, historical society, university, or other entity may have that one piece of paper that illuminates our family’s history. But how can we  find it?

Shellee Morehead, Ph.D., CG

This lecture describes the types of collections that may be hiding in plain sight and how to access them online and in person. Materials that may be found in manuscript collections include maps, photographs, genealogists’ research notes, unpublished histories, business ledgers, journals, and vertical files. Shellee gives examples of how these materials provide insight into our families’ lives and neighborhoods and provides suggestions on where to find the “diamonds in the rough.”

Shellee A. Morehead, Ph.D. (evolutionary ecology), CG, researches, writes, and lectures on family history. Recently she has written about using DNA to reveal the Ulster origins of Thomas Hamilton, progenitor of a colonial American family. She has spoken at The Genealogy Event in New York and at various local societies. She also appeared in a 2010 episode of the Danish television adaptation of Who Do You Think You Are?

Attendance is limited for this free webinar. Once registered, please sign in early to avoid disappointment.

To register for Shellee A. Morehead, Ph.D., CG, “Diamonds in the Rough: Finding and Using Manuscript Collections” on 21 July 2015, 8:00 p.m. EDT (7:00 CDT, 6:00 MDT, 5:00 PDT): https://attendee.gotowebinar.com/register/1093371223246598658.

After registering, you will receive a confirmation email containing information about joining the webinar.

BCG Webinars will be on vacation in August 2015. We will resume broadcast in September 2015.

CG and Certified Genealogist are service marks of the Board for Certification of Genealogists, used under license by Board-certified genealogists after periodic competency evaluation, and the board name is registered in the US Patent & Trademark Office.

10-Minute Methodology: Are You Searching or Researching?

Are you up to date? From the old Standards Manual to the new Genealogy Standards the first component of the Genealogical Proof Standard (GPS) is different. Have you noticed? We used to say, “We conduct a reasonably exhaustive search.”[1] That’s still true, but there’s more. We conduct reasonably exhaustive research.[2] Those two added letters bring much more to what others expect of us as genealogists and what we must expect of ourselves.

Research connotes more than search. It covers searching, of course—careful and thorough searching in a wide variety of sources. It also includes planning, critical thinking, and evaluation. And research includes strategies that go considerably beyond identifying relevant records and searching for a name of interest.[3]

Let’s look at how the concept is presented in reference works we use often.

The Encyclopedia Britannica dictionary includes in its definition of research

  • “careful or diligent search” and
  • “studious inquiry or examination, especially critical and exhaustive investigation . . . having for its aim
    • discovery of new facts and their correct interpretation;
    • revision of accepted conclusions . . . in the light of newly discovered facts;
    • practical applications of such new or revised conclusions.”[4]

The glossary in Genealogy Standards describes research as “an investigation designed to discover or interpret facts and thus to advance knowledge.”[5]

As genealogists, we examine sources and collect information, always subjecting both to critical evaluation. Standards 35 and 36 advise us to “appraise [the] likely accuracy, integrity, and completeness” of our sources and information.[6]

We also interpret the information we find. We think about it and decide if it becomes evidence to support our hypotheses. Standards in “Reasoning from Evidence” apply to the mental processes we perform on our collected data to turn it into evidence and to use that evidence to draw conclusions.[7]

Evidence Explained sheds more light on the concept of research:

  • “As history researchers, we do not speculate. We test. We critically observe and carefully record. Then we weigh the accumulated evidence, analyzing the individual parts as well as the whole, without favoring any theory.”[8]
  • “Research is much more than an accumulation of data. It is a process that requires continual comparison of new information against the old.”[9]

This first element of the GPS, even the word research alone, carries in it the sense and the value of the whole standard. The words of the GPS define us as not just lookup artists, no matter how skilled or experienced. We are more. As researchers we collect data, subject it to rigorous evaluation, compare and contrast it with other data and conclusions, and propose new information or conclusions. That’s a big responsibility. The GPS takes us there with the mindset of researchers, not just seekers.


[1] The BCG Genealogical Standards Manual (Orem, Utah: Ancestry Publishing, 2000), 1.

[2] Genealogy Standards (Nashville, Tenn.: Ancestry.com, 2014), 1.

[3] The author is grateful to Elizabeth Shown Mills for input to this paragraph and encouragement overall.

[4] “Dictionary,” Encyclopædia Britannica (http://www.britannica.com/dictionary/research : accessed 28 June 2015), s.v. “research.”

[5] Genealogy Standards, 76.

[6] Ibid., 21, 22.

[7] Ibid., 23–29.

[8] Elizabeth Shown Mills, Evidence Explained: Citing History Sources from Artifacts to Cyberspace, 3rd ed. (Baltimore: Genealogical Publishing Co., 2015), 15.

[9] Ibid., 16.

Welcome, Amanda Gonzalez, CG

Amanda Gonzalez’s family is firmly rooted in the Delmarva (Delaware-Maryland-Virginia) area. All her ancestors but one were from colonial Pennsylvania and the Delmarva Peninsula. She first became interested in genealogy when her great-grandmother explained about membership in the Daughters of the American Revolution. Amanda followed in her footsteps, joining at age eighteen. A lifelong love of history translated into a degree in history from the University of Delaware. Then followed work for the New Castle [Delaware] Court House Museum and the Hagley Museum, where she offered tours and researched for exhibits. Employment at the New Castle County Library system and the Palomar College Library in San Marcos, California, increased her awareness of the multitude of research resources available and how to access them. Amanda also worked briefly for Genealogists.com.

Amanda Gonzalez, CG

Through bookstore/publisher Colonial Roots’s Facebook page, Amanda met former publisher F. Edward Wright, who engaged her to transcribe court orders. This resulted in two publications, Westmoreland County, Virginia, Court Orders 1726–1729 and Westmoreland County, Virginia, Court Orders 1729–1731.[1] She expects to continue the series with one or two more publications.

Amanda’s personal genealogical research takes her on two different paths. Her own colonial family challenges her with a puzzle of mis-attributed paternity. A Y-DNA tester from her maiden name line, Warren, most closely matches West-surnamed testers. She hopes to narrow down, through documentary research and more DNA testing, when and where the West-Warren link occurred.

On the other hand, the Gonzalez surname strongly suggests Hispanic roots, and in fact Amanda’s husband’s family is Mexican American. Preparing to trace their ancestry means Amanda will be learning more Spanish and studying colonial Spanish handwriting.

Amanda based her portfolio preparation on a thorough knowledge of three books, Genealogy Standards, Evidence Explained, and Professional Genealogy.[2] She read, re-read, and did more re-reading of the standards and the portfolio requirements. Seminars, conferences, and Facebook pages sponsored by local genealogical societies filled in blanks. She took her time, paid attention to every detail, and became more critical in her research process.

Amanda’s father accompanied her on research trips to archives and cemeteries. Before his passing he gifted her the fee for BCG certification, keen to support her interest and career path. With certification under her belt Amanda now feels ready to take clients and looks forward to a thriving genealogical service business. She can be reached at adgulf@cs.com. Welcome, Amanda!


[1] Amanda Gonzalez, Westmoreland County, Virginia, Court Orders 1726–1729 (Millsboro, Del.: Colonial Roots, 2013). Amanda Gonzalez, Westmoreland County, Virginia, Court Orders 1729–1731 (Millsboro, Del.: Colonial Roots, 2013).

[2] Genealogy Standards (Nashville, Tenn.: Ancestry.com, 2014). Elizabeth Shown Mills, Evidence Explained: Citing History Sources from Artifacts to Cyberspace, 2nd edition (Baltimore: Genealogical Publishing Co., 2009). Elizabeth Shown Mills, ed., Professional Genealogy: A Manual for Researchers, Writers, Editors, Lecturers, and Librarians (Baltimore: Genealogical Publishing Co., 2001).

CG, Certified Genealogist, CGL, and Certified Genealogical Lecturer are service marks of the Board for Certification of Genealogists, used under license by Board-certified genealogists after periodic competency evaluation, and the board name is registered in the US Patent & Trademark Office.

Patti Hobbs, CG, New BCG Education Fund Trustee

One of our new BCG associates has recently joined the Board of Trustees of the BCG Education Fund. This non-profit charitable trust furthers BCG’s standards-based education goals. It funds lectures and workshops and provides incentives for study and scholarly research.

Patti Hobbs, CG

The trustees of the BCG Education Fund announce that Patricia “Patti” Lee Hobbs, CG, of Clever, Missouri, joins the board as a trustee. Patti is an accomplished genealogist specializing in DNA analysis and working with original records. She is particularly interested in genealogical education, as evidenced by her longtime position as Local History and Genealogy reference associate at the Springfield-Greene County Library District, where she has taught classes on genetic genealogy and traditional research methodology. This summer she will teach in the genetic genealogy course at the Genealogical Research Institute of Pittsburgh.

Patti’s teaching and library experience, her skill as a webmaster for the ProGen Study Group, and her leadership roles with the Ozarks Genealogical Society all will benefit the BCG Education Fund going forward. We are fortunate to welcome a colleague of her caliber, and we look forward to working with her.

by Debbie Parker Wayne, CG, CGL
on behalf of the BCG Education Fund Trustees

CG, Certified Genealogist, CGL, and Certified Genealogical Lecturer are service marks of the Board for Certification of Genealogists, used under license by Board-certified genealogists after periodic competency evaluation, and the board name is registered in the US Patent & Trademark Office.

Welcome, Barbara Ball, CG

Earlier this month, BCG granted the designation of Certified Genealogist to Barbara Ball of Tucson, Arizona. SpringBoard invites readers to meet Barbara through this interview with editor Judy Kellar Fox, CG.

Who are you, Barbara?

Daughter of a psychologist and a Presbyterian minister, I was born in Montana and moved to Arizona as a toddler.  I’m a Westerner.  I was a tomboy, a motocross racer, and a bookish nerd.  I played the flute, marched in the band, rode horses, and read every book I could get.  I walked barefoot in the desert, loved the summer rains, and became a passionate nature and animal lover.

Barbara Ball, CG

As an adult, I’ve been a bookkeeper, medical transcriptionist, code writer, scientist, cartographer, genealogist, and lifetime student.  I have three university degrees.  I’m a wife, mother, and grandmother.  I still play the flute, do needlework, sew, quilt, play bridge, garden, do jigsaw puzzles, draw, read, and swim.

Tell us about how your academic career has informed your genealogical work.

I was a GIS (geographic information systems) analyst, mapping endangered species habitat.  I loved this work, which involved geographic location of plants and animals, analysis of historic maps, production of current maps, and spatial analysis of patterns found in migration and habitation.  Maps are so crucial to genealogists, and I suppose I will always strive to find a niche in the world of genealogy that involves incorporating more geography and demographics into our work. Oh, I could write a book.  Maybe I will.

You have already published an article about GIS for genealogists, right?

Yes, “Geographic Information Systems for Genealogists,” Association of Professional Genealogists Quarterly (APGQ) 32 (June 2014), 78–81. Another is forthcoming in the June 2015 issue of APGQ.

Why do you pursue genealogical research?

Originally it was a fun hobby when I lost my university job.  After I completed the Boston University Online Certificate in Genealogical Research, I realized genealogy could be another career.  Now I see it as I did my academic work—a field of research that is just beginning to develop into a potential academic discipline on its own merits.  While I don’t know exactly how that might happen, I find it a fascinating possibility.  The field is rigorous enough to satisfy my need for academic/scientific discipline, not only in the research process, but also in the logically supported approach to solving a problem or reaching a conclusion.  The hypothesis-research-conclusions process appeals to me.  The field is wide enough to encompass those who just want to click on the leaf as well as those who want to engage in intellectual stretching.

How did you prepare for certification?

Education.  I went through the National Genealogical Society [NGS] American Genealogy: Home Study Course, then the Boston University course, then a ProGen Study Group.  I’ve attended the Salt Lake Institute of Genealogy Advanced Evidence Practicum course every year it has been offered, and that has been extremely valuable.

About four months before my due date, I listened to a seminar by Judy Russell, J.D., CG, CGL, about writing the Kinship Determination Project [KDP].  She was adamant that you should never do a KDP without access to onsite research.  I was so unhinged that I immediately scheduled a last-minute and rather expensive trip to Ohio, where I spent four days in the basement of a county courthouse that I had been in already twice before!

Who are your genealogical heroes?

My personal heroes would be Angela McGhie and Kimberly Powell.  These two ladies are busy with their own work and their own lives, yet they always have time to offer support, encouragement, and a smile. They make the profession human. I can’t forget Harold Henderson, Michael Hait, and Melinde Lutz Byrne.  Thank you.

Generically speaking, as a former academic, I have a great deal of respect for those genealogists who have retired from their academic careers and brought that rigorous discipline into the genealogy field.

What is your most satisfying genealogical work?

I love building up a picture of a family system.  While producing the KDP required for my portfolio seemed akin to writing a master’s thesis, it was one of the most interesting things I’ve done.  I love solving a riddle, but more satisfying is just the continual process of describing a family and how their dynamics resulted in a particular descendant, whether it be a family member of mine or a client.

What’s your most frustrating work?

I have two ancestors from Ireland that drive me batty.  I also have a fellow named Ball that seemed to have dropped out of the sky.  My most interesting brick wall involves the members of a very tangled family in England. I have letters from them in my archives, and a whole book of unlabeled photos that I’m sure would help me straighten them out!

How do you see yourself in five years, Barbara?

My husband’s retirement hobby is photography, so I see us taking many trips to areas where I can do research and he can wander around any nearby wildlife areas taking pictures.  I would like to do more client work, and I really enjoy helping my friends with their family research. I hope to be able to move further into the professional realm of genealogy. I would like to do more mapping and spatial analysis projects, demonstrating the value of these tools, as well as writing articles that will be educational for other genealogists.

Congratulations on becoming a BCG associate, Barbara. Welcome!

 Barbara Ball, CG, can be reached at barb@copestoneresources.com and http://www.copestoneresources.com.

CG, Certified Genealogist, CGL, and Certified Genealogical Lecturer are service marks of the Board for Certification of Genealogists, used under license by Board-certified genealogists after periodic competency evaluation, and the board name is registered in the US Patent & Trademark Office.