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Creating a Strong Foundation for Your Research

   Whenever you build something it’s important to have a strong foundation.  Building your family tree is no different...a weak foundation can cause your tree to collapse.  Whether you are just starting or trying to fix some earlier problems (we all have them) focusing on the basics can help get back on track.

   Most of us have had the experience of looking at an online tree, only to find that the information presented doesn't make sense...a child born to a mother who is 6 or 86; immigration before birth, siblings born 40 years apart.  How is it, that the person putting the information online doesn't see the inconsistencies?  They're likely adding people of the same name who are not part of their family, yes, I'll say it, collecting names, without analyzing the information or correlating it to what they have already found.  

   The Board for Certification of Genealogists (BCG) developed the Genealogical Proof Standard in the 1990s and it's something that all researchers should follow.  The five elements are:

        A reasonably exhaustive search

        A complete and accurate citation to the sources

        Analysis and correlation of the collected information

        Resolution of conflicting evidence

        Soundly reasoned, coherently written conclusion

   I encourage you to go to the BCG website and review these elements.  Even if you never plan to become a certified or professional genealogist, I'm sure you want your work to reflect the best practices.  This site also provides a wealth of articles and skillbuilding exercises. You might also be interested in the BCG Standards Manual.

   One thing I can guarantee you (just like death and taxes) you will find conflicting information during  your research.  One source does not constitute proof.  You need to review multiple sources, compare them, and if information conflicts, you must resolve the conflict, not just ignore the part that doesn't fit with your theory or previous knowledge.  My grandmother received her naturalization through my grandfather.  The application states that she was born in Aberdeen, Scotland on 10 August.  Their marriage license also states her birth as Aberdeen, Scotland.  Had I stopped there, I would have been searching for her birth record in the the wrong location, and if it had been a common name, might even have grafted a wrong branch onto the family tree.  I had always heard that my grandmother was born in Ireland and we celebrated her birthday on 12 December.  I found a voter registration card that listed her birthplace as Ballyshannon, Ireland on 12 December and through that documents, was able to find her birth registration in Ireland.  

   When you begin working with a new source, the FIRST thing you should do is create a source citation.  (I think that Elizabeth Shown Mills book, Evidence! Citation & Analysis for the Family Historian is a must for all researchers.)  Whether you find anything useful or not it should be listed in your research log.  Have you ever found a source that you think will solve a problem, only to discover the information looks familiar?  You've been there before, found nothing helpful and neglected to make a note of it, so you duplicate your efforts by pulling the source a second (or third) time.  

   With each new source wring out all the information it has to offer.  Each piece of information can direct you to another source.  If your ancestor was born in another country and his death certificate states he was a citizen you should be looking for naturalization papers; a notation that he was a veteran would tell you to look for military records.  

   Make sure you can write a conclusion from your research.  If you make a habit of writing out your conclusions you'll find that inconsistencies will become evident and holes or conflicts can be researched.  

   Happy Hunting!


Just a reminder on the 2012 Dublin Research Trip.  The group is filling up, so get your application in.  Let others know who might be interested as well.

© Donna M. Moughty 2007- 2013