Saturday, 12 April 2014

Can We Step up to the Challenge

How Are Your Analysis Skills?


Pat Richley-Erickson Aka DearMYRTLE posted a challenge to any of her followers/readers on her blog on 2nd April 2014 (1) .
In this post I want to discuss how I approached this, and how on reviewing, I discovered I had issues when analysing my sources.
If you are not aware I am one of the panellists discussing Mastering Genealogical Proof (2) in Study Group 2 a hangout on air recording being held on Sundays. (Schedule available on DearMYRTLE blog (3)) So this challenge is putting any knowledge I have retained from these discussions to the test.


Deciding what to write about to create an interesting but not too lengthy post was my first challenge. I have plenty of sources but which ones do I use and should I approach this as a new researcher should and decide on what question I wanted to answer. One might think this was an easy thing to do but like many new researchers I found these sources with an almost "scattergun" approach and it can take something to look at them outside of what is recorded in the standard genealogy software programs.
After at least one failed attempt this was the question I came up with " Who were the siblings and parents of my grandmother who was orphaned? ".
The 3 documents were a birth certificate, census and orphanage document.

Reasons for not publishing

Before I finished writing my post whilst in the process of writing my citations I realised that 2 of the sources I was about to use had the same author.
Both the Birth Certificate and the letter for the orphanage were created by the Superintendent Registrar for Warminster and he had signed both documents.

My original hypothesis to the question about what siblings my grandmother had would have been incorrect. I only ever knew she had one brother, if you look at the census record she is the youngest of 5 children (4). The next question was why had I only ever known the 1 brother.
I should have laid out what I knew about my grandmother and possibly cited this as personal knowledge. I could have also cited her son and daughters for the additional information they had provided.

Also, in retrospect, I had set a question whose parameters were much too broad.
My research question could have been as simple as When was my grandmother born? or Who were her parents?.

In my attempt to show what I had found I had not considered how I had got there.
The records I have contain a large amount of useful information, much of it can be classed as primary. But the number of documents I will need to cite, to fully build my conclusions for the question I originally posed, will most certainly exceed the three I was initially going to use.

I hope that this exercise has shown that we not only need to analyse the documents that we use but we need to think about how we obtained them and have they answered the question that we originally wanted to answer. Why the records were originally created, is a question we need to ask if we do not wanted to duplicate sources from the same informant.

So are YOU and your ANALYSIS SKILLS up to the CHALLENGE if so then please join in.

We can all benefit from peer review and even if you don't plan to publish your research in a recognised journal it is well worth it for the thought process it takes to put your case.

When I get more time in the coming week I hope to step up to this challenge and I will post a link in the comments. 


  2. Thomas W. Jones, Mastering Genealogical Proof (Arlington, Virginia: National Genealogical Society, 2013), 6. [Book available from the publisher at ]
  3. 1901 census of England, Wiltshire, Warminster, Christchurch parish, folio 37 recto, p.9, household 53, Edmond Compton; digital image, Find My Past ( : accessed 5th April 2014) ; citing PRO RG13 /1943


  1. I think sometimes it is really hard to write a research question after you know (or think you know) the answer with the materials in front of you. It is easier to think of a question and start your search, including reviewing the materials you already have.
    In considering sources it is vital to think about the purpose for which they were created and who created them and/or who was the informant. Your post here illustrated some of the issues. In your writing too, you are also one of the bits of evidence, you knew your grandmother's brother but no other siblings - that is also evidence :) We shouldn't write ourselves out of our own family history.
    I think your original question is fine but you might not be ready to write about it yet as there maybe more research to be done.
    At the moment I am overwhelmed by the A to Z challenge to take DearMYRTLE's challenge on.
    best wishes

  2. I don't have a spare moment right now for any other challenges right now!

  3. Hilary, thank you for this post about proofs. I am a fairly new family historian and am just learning how to do this. I felt it was necessary as I got to ancestors in the U.S. colonial period when the type of documents I was used to working with -- vital records, census, etc. -- do not exist and you have to make conclusions based on wills and land records primarily.

    I tested you approach this morning, on the wife of a great grand uncle. I've never known her maiden name. She was in my tree as "Alice B." Our Easter dinner was late but I did discover her maiden name and more interestingly that her maternal ancestor was a Spanish solider who once owned most of the East Bay area of California, which all has yet to be proved, but I believe to be correct at this time.

    Thank you.


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