Saturday, January 4, 2020

Genealogy Case Studies Learning by Example

As you sift through the records of your own ancestors to build your family tree, you may find yourself with questions: What other records can/should I search?What else can I learn from this record?How do I pull all of these little clues together? The answers to these types of questions generally come through knowledge and experience. What is so eye-opening about the research of others, especially if the individuals  or places  in question  have nothing to do with your own family? There is no better way to learn (aside from your own hands-on practice) than through the successes, mistakes, and techniques of other genealogists. A genealogical case study can be as simple as an explanation of the discovery and analysis of a particular record, to the research steps taken to  trace a particular family back through several generations. Each one, however,  gives us a glimpse into research problems that we ourselves may face in our own genealogy searches, approached through the eyes and experience of leaders in the genealogical field. Genealogical Case Studies Elizabeth Shown Mills, a wonderful lady and genealogist, is the author of  Historic Pathways, a website packed with decades of her case  studies. Many of the case studies are organized by type of problem -- illegitimacy, record losses, cluster research, name changes, separating identities, etc. -- transcending the place and time of the research, and of value to all genealogists. Read her work and read it often. It will make you a better genealogist. Some of our favorites include: Applying the Preponderance-of-the-Evidence Principle to a Southern Frontier Problem- While preponderance of the evidence is no longer used to describe how genealogists analyze and weigh evidence, this is an excellent example of how to document family relationships in situations where no document directly gives the answer.The Search for Margaret Ball  - Three burned counties, repeated name changes, two generations of illegitimacy, and a pattern of migration through several states stumped genealogists researching Margaret Ball for years until Elizabeth Shown Mills came along to widen the net.Unraveling Balls of Yarn: Lessons in the Use of a Skeptical Eye  - We can each learn from the dangers of assuming that previous researchers have carefully avoided renaming individuals, merging identities, or marrying people to partners they have never met in real life. Michael John Neill has  presented  numerous case study examples online over the years. Many of them can be found through his website Casefile Clues, found at The latest columns are available only through a paid quarterly or annual subscription, but to give you an idea of his work, here are three of his favorite case studies from past years: Fishing for Clues in John Lakes EstateMichael explores  what an estate record can tell us even when none of the deceased individuals children are listed.Where O Where is Abraham?How a missing 1840 census enumeration was right under  Michaels nose.Turn the PageLearn how  three consecutive deeds were analyzed to reveal a potential relationship among the sellers and the buyer. Juliana Smith is one of our favorite online authors because she brings humor and passion to everything she writes. You can find many of her examples and case studies in her archived Family History Compass column and 24/7 Family History Circle  blog  at, as well as on the blog. Tips from the Trail of Tobin Hatters  - Juliana  uses passenger arrival records, obituaries, and some more unusual records, and stumbles across some startling surprises.Straw Goods, Artificial Flowers, and Feathers: Seeking Common Threads in City Directories  - Juliana  tackles the daunting task of tracking her Kelly ancestors (now thats a common name!) in New York City directories. Certified Genealogist Michael Hait has published an ongoing series of genealogical case studies related to his work on the African American Jefferson Clark family of Leon County, Florida. The articles originally appeared in his  column and are linked to from his  professional website. Researching the Family History of Potential Slave Owners, Part One  - part of a continuing case study into the roots of former slave Jefferson Clark of Leon County, Florida More Case Studies While online case studies provide a wealth of knowledge, many  tend to be short and extremely focused. If youre ready to dig in even further, most  of the in-depth, complicated  genealogical case studies are found published in genealogical society journals and, occasionally, in mainstream genealogy magazines (similar to the examples shared above from Elizabeth Shown Mills  Historic Pathways). Good places to start are the  National Genealogical Society Quarterly  (NGSQ), the  New England Historical and Genealogical  Register  (NEHGR) and The American Genealogist. Years of back issues of NGSQ and NEHGR are available online for members of those organizations. A few excellent online examples by authors such as Elizabeth Shown Mills, Kay Haviland Freilich, Thomas W. Jones and Elizabeth Kelley Kerstens, can also be found in the  Sample Work Products  provided online by the Board for Certification of Genealogists.

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