“Reasonably Exhaustive Search”

Many researchers bemoan the concept of a “reasonably exhaustive search” as being to difficult, because they don’t know what qualifies as reasonable.  How do they know when they have researched deep enough or widely enough to call it good.  The simple answer for me is starting with a good question.  The more complicated the questions the more complicated the answer is.   Asking a simple question like “Who are Allen Stultz’s parents?” can prove to have an extremely complicated answer. In this case, I have been trying to prove his parents for many years.  A survey of the on line trees available show that many people have an opinion about who are his parents are but no one seems to know why.  I have received responses to query’s about why they listed so and so as his parents, “It was stated on another on line tree”, or “I have no idea”. When I have a situation like that, I don’t list any father for the person.  Tis better by far to leave it blank than to list someone with no documentation to back up the claim.  I wish that others would do the same.  I do however, have a tree on Ancestry.com that lists the possibilities. I do this so that ancestry can search for clues for me.

When I begin a research query it begins with a good question as narrow as I can make it.  I do this because as I collect documents along the way, more questions are usually brought to my attention that will require further research. To record the information that I find, I use an excel spread sheet to track the person life.  I also use Rootsmagic (although not as much any more) to “file” the documents by person.   I have found since taking Thomas W. Jones class at SlIG that I prefer to use word and excel to track the information.  This way I can write the story as I find it rather than after the fact. I find that it helps me to record the details better and shows me where I need to do further research.  The very act of writing the story forces me to more closely exam what I know.

I took a class by Elizabeth Shown Mills at NGS this year.  In her handout she detailed not only the documents that she found but the physical description as well. Having all the information in a word document helps me to easily identify if I am on the right track or have maybe veered off the family tree to another branch.  Also, her concept of FANs has helped me to see the family in concept of a family and part of community not just names and dates on a piece of paper.

At NGS, I also came upon a new website called ResearchTies.com which is basically an online spreadsheet that allows you access anywhere you have internet access but it has tools that help you form the questions you are asking and plan your research.  It’s an interesting concept I plan to explore further.

To me, a “reasonably exhaustive search” is on going.  Although, I may draw conclusions today based on the information that I have access to, it might all change tomorrow when new information comes to light.  The internet is an excellent resource for finding information on your ancestors. There is so much more information available today then there was when I first began.  I appreciate all the people willing to donate their time and talents for helping to index records, thereby making them available to all of us. Some websites that are very helpful is finding information in your search are:

Familysearch is not only a great repository of records but also a wonderful learning tool.  The wiki is very helpful when researching a new area, trying to learn how to use a new tool in your research or understanding how to read the census record you found on your grandparents.  They have videos as well as documents.  And if you would like “live” research help you can call in and receive help over the phone from those who have experience in the areas you are researching. The best part is that it is all provided free of charge.  They add new records if not daily, at least weekly. They also have Facebook pages set up by states and countries where you can ask questions of the community and interact with other researchers in the area you are researching. An example of a page on facebook I follow is the Indiana Genealogy Research page. It helps me to keep up with all the changes occurring in Indiana research.

Another good resource is New England Historic Genealogical Society. It has fantastic databases that are expanding all the time. It does costs to join the society but it is well worth it.  There are free databases to search but the members section is very helpful plus it provides you with a subscriptions to American Ancestors Magazine as well as The New England Historical and Genealogical Register both interesting publications that can help you further your research.

These are just two examples of the many websites available to help you in your research quests. While the internet is an excellent resource don’t underestimate the value of “boots on the ground”.  Going to the places that your ancestors lived will help you get the whole picture of your ancestors life.  The important thing is to do enough research first so as to not waste you time and money on your research trip.

This is just the tip of the iceberg so to speak involving the subject.  I hope to explore it more as I study.  I look forward to others insights and ideas.  If you have internet research sites that you love please share them in the comments as well as why you love them.

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My interest in Genealogy.

Ruth Jane Tillotson graduation picture, from Brookston High School, Brookston, White, Indiana

When I was 16 years old, my aunt Ruthie invited me to travel with her from my home in New Boston, Michigan to Chicago, Illinois, where I could then spend several weeks visiting my sister, Nancy. I was very excited to have the opportunity to visit my sister and spend some time that summer with her.  Unbeknownst to me, my aunt, who was an avid genealogist, had several stops planned along the way.

I don’t remember much about the car ride or what we talked about.  But I will always be grateful to her for taking me with her, on that particular trip. My father’s family came from Danville, Vermilion, Illinois. My grandparents married there (although not proven for many years) and my father was born there.  Our family has always been very interested in their heritage and  I grew up listening to many wonderful stories concerning our family history.

On this particular trip, we stopped along a highway close to the Illinois/Indiana border.  There was a hill off to the side of the road that my aunt had me climb and report back to her what I saw.  When I had climbed  to the top of the hill, there were several large trees but nothing but  grass was visible. From the top I could see a farm house that stood in the distance at the bottom of the hill, on a side road, off of the highway.  I relayed this information to my aunt and she had me come back down the hill.  We then drove to the farm house to see if they had any idea where the old Tillotson cemetery was located.

When we asked the man who lived there if he had any idea of the location of the cemetery, asked if we were just up on the hill?  To which we replied that we were.  He then stated that I had been standing on the cemetery, but that no stones remained as years ago someone had removed them to build a patio.  Then he said, ” But I have something you might like to see”, and he proceeded to show us the original land grant that granted the property to my great grandfather.  land grant Luther Tillotson Crawfordsville, Indiana 1

Although I can tell those details, that is all I remember. Not where the house was located, not where the cemetery was located or even for sure if it was my great grandfather, or my great great grandfather.  Fortunately, I did pay enough attention to my aunt and her discussions with my dad that now when I find documents and information, it is confirming the stories that I had grown up hearing.  How I wish I had paid more attention when she was alive. But I will always be grateful that she took me on that particular trip with her.  She inspired me to seek after my ancestors, to learn my heritage and to pass it on to my children.

I learned a few things from this trip that apply to the Genealogical Proof Standard and family research in general.

  1. Just because there is no evidence in front of you doesn’t mean you might not be on the right track. Although the tombstones no longer marked the graves of my relatives, I was still standing where they were buried.
  2. Don’t be afraid to question everyone you can.  You never know what gems are waiting to be found. If we hadn’t stopped at the farm house I would have never seen the original land grant. Turns out it was for my great great grandfather, Luther Tillotson and was in Crawfordsville, Montgomery, Indiana not Danville, Illinois. At least, that’s the only land grants I can find for the area. Since I didn’t write down the information, I may never know for sure. But I does mean I can do some further research to see what I can find.  I now need to platt the land grants, see just where the land is and go from there.
  3. Sometimes we aren’t aware of the questions that we should be asking.  It never occurred to us to find the farm they lived on only the cemetery where they were buried
  4. Spend time with those who knowledge while they are alive, ask questions, write down the answers. How I wish I had kept better track of the information gathered on the trip with my aunt.
  5. Write the story as it occurs, not years later when the details become fuzzy.