Blog 2021 08 05 What is “Reasonably Exhaustive Research?”
One of the tenets of the Board for Certification of Genealogists is the first of five elements of the Genealogical Proof Standard which is, “A reasonably exhaustive search.” But what does that mean?
It means several things. To start, do not stop proving something simply because you found one document that supports it. I have a family Bible that says my Great Great-grandparents were married on 2 November 1880 but the county marriage license and the register shows 1881. [i] Had I stopped at the Bible records I would have the wrong answer.
A recent Genealogy Scavenger Hunt I am running shows the famous silent movie director, Clarence Leon Brown in the 1900 U. S. Census at age 10 living with his father, Larkin H., born in Pennsylvania, and his mother, Catherine, born in Ireland. [ii] However, the birth register shows Larkin was born in Georgia. If you assume either one is correct alone, you have not conducted “A reasonably exhaustive search.” We must always try to find no less than two but preferably three documents to support the event.
We must also weigh the specific document to determine which we trust over the other. In the case of Clarence, the enumerator did not note who gave him the information, and census records are typically less reliable than others. However, in this case, it is correct. Using several other records including the 1870 U. S. Census from Delaware County, Pennsylvania, shows a 4-year old Harry, born in Pennsylvania along with his younger brother Hugh, living with his parents and older siblings all of whom were born in Georgia. [iii] To be honest, several documents had conflicting information but the above 1870 census is closer to the fact than the others and does corroborate statements later made by Leon.
In the case of my ancestor’s marriage, the primary reason may have been to conceal the fact that she was already pregnant at the time of their marriage.
When doing research, once again, I reiterate, look for no less than two documents to support the fact and preferably three or more. If there is any conflict between the three, then further research is required to determine the truth and document the reason for that determination.
[i] For particular reasons I cannot divulge the specific names involved here. Family Bible personally held by author.
[ii] 1900 U. S. Census, Worcester County, Massachusetts, population schedule, Grafton Town. Supervisor District 1940, Enumeration District 1633, page 4 (inked) B, Dwelling 77, Family 88, household of Brown, Larkin H., image, FamilySearch (www.familysearch.org : access 30 July 2021), citing NARA publication T623. Roll 692.
[iii] 1870 U. S. Census, Delaware County, Pennsylvania, population schedule, Borough of South Chester in Chester Township, Village Green Post Office, page 29 (inked), Dwelling 218, family 223, household of Brown, J. M., image, Ancestry.com (www.ancestry.com :accessed 30 July 2021), citing NARA publication M593, Roll 1336/1337.