Sunday, September 16, 2012

Have I Exhausted Available Sources?

Is My Search Reasonably Exhaustive? Check the Checklist

I live in a world where no avenue is ever closed off, no door ever completely shut behind me. I always have to see more, learn more, find out what’s behind the next corner. I can never die because I’ll always want to know what will happen tomorrow.

In genealogy, this trait is treacherous. Families' times, places and people theoretically go back to Adam and Eve, or maybe the Big Bang. I'll keep digging in case I find one more source, one more record that puts every fact in its proper place. Then I’ll break out the Champagne and call it a day.

In the real world that one perfect record doesn't exist, but a reasonably exhaustive search is crucial to the Genealogical Proof Standard. The standard allows me to stop looking but when?

·       I just found my great-granddad’s birth and death certificates. They’re only a little bit different, so now I’ve got him nailed down as much as I need to.
·       My grandmother is all over the society column in her local paper. What an interesting life she had! I’ve downloaded the articles; they’ll tell me what I want to know.
·       My great-grandparents came over from Germany to Ellis Island. I have the ship name, their names and ages, their contact in the U.S. Get a few marriage records and death certificates and I’ll be done.

If you know this isn't all, if you keep on searching, you'll probably do this.

First gather all available documents and stories from your family and friends. Then check online censuses, genealogies, databases, articles and books. Find out what town, county and state records were required at each place and time, especially birth, death and marriage records, and look for those. Examine land records, church records, county histories and newspapers. Keep checking online databases to see if anything new has popped up.

Sounds good, but you’re not done. You’ve made significant progress, but as to an exhaustive search, blog posts, webinars, how-to’s and podcasts offer different definitions. The question remains, sounding a little desperate now, How much is enough?

The only answer I know is in three words: Use a checklist. Once I’ve checked off everything on the list that applies to a person, place and time, I can believe I’ve exhausted the research possibilities. Here are snips from some of the lists I’ve found online.

This list from the St. Louis Genealogical Society is actually a worksheet. It has a grid for notes on the sources and the information they contain. But this isn’t an exhaustive records checklist.

This list from  Magnolia Manor Genealogy has four columns of small print. If I checked all these sources I think I could rest for a while.

This list from the Heywood County (NC) Historical and Genealogical Society is shorter than some, but it has a checkoff for each item and lines to add more sources.

Here’s a long list from the Puget Sound Genealogical Society, two pages of four columns each.  

You get the idea. The search is never done, but I get to declare victory ... and start on the next search.