Guessing the Easiest to Research Person and Event

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How to figure out which individual event on a family group record to document first. Start with the easiest.

In order to document a family group record the best genealogists select one event in one person’s life on which to concentrate at a time. They work on that event until they document it, and/or exhaust all possibilities trying. They do not research another event until finished with the first. And when they start work on a new event, it is almost always on the same family group record. This strategy of finishing the documentation on the whole family before moving on is fundamental. It builds a collection of clues that can be compared and correlated to judge relevance and reliability of the documentation. It is also an important part of understanding the family and its members in their community context.

Start by guessing the event you believe will be the easiest to document.The easiest to document is usually the most recent event on the family group with a specific date, place, and source cited. The hardest to document is the earliest possible event not even mentioned on the family group and lacking a date, place, or source citation (all of which you will have to guess).

Documentation Hierarchy[edit | edit source]

To help judge easy-to-document versus difficult-to-document events on a family group record, use the following four factors. The factors are listed in order from most important to least important. The list under each factor ranks better to worse options.

1. Completeness of the dates, places, and sources for each event[edit | edit source]

  • Exact dates and places given with an exact source for each event
  • Exact dates and places given with a general source for many events
  • Exact dates and places given without an identified source
  • Partial or approximate dates or places given for an event
  • You must guess dates or places for an event
  • Several likely events are unmentioned and you must guess they even happened

2. Availability of pertinent documents[edit | edit source]

  • Home sources, older relatives’ records, easy-to-use databases, and Internet sites
  • Census
  • Nearby repository has records for the correct date and place of the event
  • Distant repository has records for the correct date and place of the event
  • You must figure out (go hunting for):
    • a new record type to document the event, or
    • a jurisdiction that created pertinent records, or
    • which repositories have the records now
  • Few pertinent records are likely to exist

3. More recent versus earlier events[edit | edit source]

4. Quality of available documents[edit | edit source]

(See the original source with your own eyes wherever possible.)

  • Vital Records/ Town Records/ Civil Registration
  • Church Records
  • Bible
  • Census
  • Land and Property
  • Probate Records
  • Social Security Death Index/ tombstones/ cemetery records/ funeral home records
  • Obituaries/Newspapers
  • Military Records
  • Internet images of original documents
  • Internet transcript based on an original
  • Biographies/ Genealogies/ Histories/ Periodicals/ Society

Figure 1. On the following family record which event would be the easiest, and which the hardest to research?GuessingWhereToStartExample.png

On this family group record the easiest to research event would be the birth of the the oldest child, Genevieve, because (a) it has a good source footnote, and (b) it has an exact date and a complete place. The hardest to research event would be the birth of the husband, Alexander, which has no source, no date, and only the most vague place for the event.

Related Content[edit | edit source]

How to Guess Where to Start

How to Get the Best Research Advice: Focusing Your Research Question

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