Analyzing and Interpreting Information

by Bob Brooke

Accurate genealogy is based upon facts, which can be proven. Accuracy demands being alert to each clue as a detective searching for each element of a case. Just as an attorney who must present his or her case in a court of law, so must a genealogist have competent evidence to prove his or her facts. Information from many sources must be correlated and conclusions drawn.

Thus, it's necessary for genealogists to refer to all sources-author, title, publisher date, volume, page-and persons interviewed-name, address, age, and relationship to the individual. It's also necessary to have a knowledge of the history, geography, and social customs of the area and people being researched. Some knowledge of the history of the law and the language of an area and its people may also be necessary to understand the facts.

It's essential for any genealogist to assemble all records which pertain to his or her ancestry, including court records, personal records, and census records.

First, the material should be arranged in chronological order, and then arranged by name or place. A review of the information may disclose cases of implausible circumstances, such as births of children after the mother has reached the age of 50, or the death of an individual beyond the age of 100.

Land records as well as probate records may be required to clarify or establish family relationships. Proof by land records is usually incontrovertible. Land and personal tax lists and powers of attorney are often required to prove facts. Migration patterns are reflected in the land records. It's possible these ancestors could have followed a migration pattern. If so, a majority of persons who settled the same new area would have migrated from the same place. Therefore, a genealogist should examine pertinent records of both locations.

Acknowledgment by the grantor of a deed provides evidence that the person was present at the location on that date, regardless of when the deed was recorded. Acquisition of property in a new location shortly after conveyance of previous property may develop a chain of evidence to support genealogical reconstruction of a family's history.

Court minutes or orders reveal the appointment of guardians for minors and estate administrators. These records sometimes include acknowledgment in court of minors who attain legal age. Amateur genealogists often neglect these in family research.

Under British common law during the colonial period, an estate couldn't be divided until the youngest child became of age. Thus, chancery court records provide evidence of attainment of legal age. Attorney's filed suits on behalf of minor children naming the other children as defendants. A minor child would first appear in the list of plaintiffs until he attained legal age. He would later appear in the list of defendants in subsequent actions if he had had siblings who were still minors.

The history of such a case divulges much family history through proper analysis. Since white males in many jurisdictions became taxable at age 16, their names on tax lists indicate attainment of age.

Because of the law of primogeniture, through which the entire real property of the father passed to the eldest son at the death of the father, there are instances in which the eldest son isn't even mentioned in the will because the father knew that he would receive the property by law. Therefore, a genealogist cannot assume that every child is mentioned in a will during the colonial period. Similarly, the absence of an eldest daughter in a will may be explained by an examination of the land records. Her father may have given or sold her a portion of the land for a nominal price at her marriage.

Census records are notoriously inaccurate, particularly in recording the ages of adults. Genealogists must examine a succession of census records containing the entries of the family to reveal the likely age. Birthplaces may not be indicated accurately since they're frequently representative of the childhood residence but not necessarily the birthplace.

Newspaper obituary accounts are based on information from persons who may not have precise information about the deceased. These accounts may be used as clues to obtain other data. Persons of the same name in the same locale require careful research to eliminate each one from consideration. This is necessary to prove that an ancestor is the only person in a particular place that could have been related to the family historian.

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