Monday, May 18, 2009

Methodology Monday on the far side of the Ohio River

I suppose all genealogists start out looking for records that will tell them the answers to their questions. And sooner or later we encounter ancestors who thoughtlessly failed to leave any such records. At that point we either have to take up tiddlywinks or figure out how to build a convincing case from what a lawyer might call circumstantial evidence, using what the pros call the "genealogical proof standard."

But it's one thing to rattle off the 5 elements of the GPS (research exhaustively, cite, correlate, resolve contradictions, and write) and it's another thing to actually do it. When is the proof good enough? I need examples, and the March 2009 issue of the National Genealogical Society Quarterly opens with a nice one by Sarah R. Fleming on "indirect evidence for the parents of Joseph Rhodes [1809-1851] of Graves County, Kentucky." (No, it's not on line. If you or your library don't subscribe, why not?)

No known evidence says who Joseph's parents were, perhaps because Graves County had two 19th-century courthouse fires. But Benjamin and Sabrina (Edens) Rhodes were married in time to be his parents and were in the area when he was born; a young man in his age range was in their household in 1820 and 1830; Joseph and Benjamin bought adjacent parcels of land in Graves County in 1831 . . .

There's more but that will do for a start. As the evidence piles up the question begins to form in your mind, if they weren't father and son, what were they?

Read the whole thing to see how it adds up -- and how the author unearthed the puzzle pieces in the first place by "backtracking Joseph's possible relatives across state and county lines for four generations and finding pertinent records." Nobody ever said it would be easy.

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