Much of the hype of genealogical research often surrounds the different kinds of sources. Yes, new sources are always exciting. However, I believe that it is developing and growing research skills that will take your research to higher heights.
A Field With Standards
That’s one reason I recommend that everyone researching their roots have the two books below: Genealogy Standards, 2nd edition, by the Board for Certification of Genealogists and Genealogical Proof Standard, 4th edition, by Christine Rose.
Both are available on Amazon, and are short, easy to read books.
Genealogy is a field with defined standards, processes and methods and we should all strive to adhere to these guidelines. These concepts are not just for professional genealogists, but are intended for all researchers.
They are designed to help your research; not to hinder it. Understanding these concepts makes your research easier–not more difficult.
Chapter 1 of Genealogy Standards tells us that genealogists meet their goals of accurately reconstructing families by applying what is called The Genealogical Proof Standard (GPS).
Our research depends on sources, from which we choose information, that we may then use as evidence. Genealogist Elizabeth Shown Mills has composed a lovely graphic of these elements that you can view at her website.
Within the GPS, there are three defined types of genealogical evidence:
- -direct evidence,
- -indirect evidence, and
- -negative evidence.
In this post I want to show you an example from my own research that uses indirect evidence. The Genealogy Standards book defines indirect evidence as:
“information items that seem to address and answer a research question only when combined”
Let’s see how I applied it to my ancestor Minty.
Minty Simpson’s Family
My enslaved ancestor Minty, born ca. 1790, had a son in slavery named Perry, who was born ca. 1819. Both were likely born in Anne Arundel County, Maryland, where Minty was enslaved by Beale Warfield. Perry married a free black woman in Anne Arundel County ca. 1838, named Louisa, with whom he had at least 6 known children.
The above-stated relationships and associations were not written in any ONE document. I had to piece them together over many years of research.
In other words, I had to correlate many sources in order to arrive at the above conclusions.
Key Sources Utilized
The 1815 inventory of Beale Warfield noted Minty and Perry:
The 1850 Anne Arundel County, Maryland census listed the household of free black Louisa Simpson. Her (presumed) children were Harriet L, Mary C, James W, Joseph W, Martha J, and Mintie L.:
Louisa’s household was just a few pages away from the household of a man named William Warfield.
In the 1860 Howard County, Maryland census for William Warfield, Perry Simpson’s daughter Martha is enumerated in the the household:
The 1867 Slave Statistics for Howard County, indicated Perry Simpson was enslaved by William Warfield in 1864:
Oral history in our family remembered Martha’s father as Perry Simpson, but did not remember the name of her mother.
A family bible page recorded Perry’s death:
Another bible page recorded several of the children of Perry and Louisa, who appeared in the 1850 census household. Notice also daughter Minty Lucinda (spelled with an -ie). That naming pattern is an important clue. Enslaved people frequently named their children after their parents and their siblings:
Making the Case
None of these sources by itself reveals the entire story.
Each source contributed bits and pieces of information. And there were lots of missing pieces.
I used the GPS and logic to reason through and put together a conclusive case regarding Minty and Perry. This is a great example of using indirect evidence to uncover ancestral relationships.
- -There was no marriage record for Perry and Louisa.
- -No death certificate exists for Louisa, Minty or Perry.
- -No source explicitly states that Perry was Minty’s son.
- -No source documents the transfer of Beale Warfield’s enslaved property to his son William.
- -Even the family bible records do not explicitly state the relationships of those contained in its pages.
Some sources will always be missing. Some sources will contain inaccurate information.
But if you understand the central concepts in genealogical research, those circumstances don’t have to be stumbling blocks.
The graphic below shows how I think about it visually. Information is tied together around a central story (i.e., a hypothesis) that withstands logical scrutiny.
(If you’d like to read the more detailed article I published about Minty, you can download it here)
Reasonably Exhaustive Research
Because the GPS requires “reasonably exhaustive research,” I also researched and utilized:
- -probate records
- -land records
- -court records
- -death certificates
- -historical maps
- -marriage certificates
- -local history books
- -historical inventories
- -freedmens bureau records
- -cemetery records (headstones)
- -census records
- -tax records
- -freedom certificates
- -Maryland law
- -DNA tests
I also used the knowledge I had about the lives of enslaved people in Maryland, and the Warfield family. The Warfields were a prominent family in Maryland.
I always thought it odd that the name of the father survived down through this family; its usually the name of the mother that survives. But in this case it made a lot of sense.
Louisa died before 8 September 1863, the date when Perry married Margaret Fleet. (More likely, she died before 1860, since she isn’t enumerated in that census).
As you can see from the bible, Perry didn’t die until 1887. He lived almost 30 years longer than his first wife Louisa.
I always advocate that studying how other genealogists solve problems will improve your own research skills. Here are two National Genealogical Society Quarterly articles that use indirect evidence:
- -Malissa Ruffner, “Indirect Evidence Corrects Parents of Lemuel Offutt of Baltimore County, Maryland,” NGS Quarterly 104 (December 2016): 267-82.
- -Ann Carter Fleming, “Ancestry of Beverly C. Fleming of Illinois, Tennessee and Virginia,” NGS Quarterly 101 (June 2013): 129-36.
Chapter 3 of Genealogy Standards tells us that “the Genealogical Proof Standard requires genealogists to base conclusions on reliable evidence from independent information lines.”
Do you know how to do that?
These cold weather months are a good time to start. I hope this example helps!
I am an engineer by day, but my true passion lies in genealogy. I have been a researcher, writer, lecturer and teacher for over twenty years. This blog is where I share family history methods, resources, tips and advice, with an emphasis on slave research, slavery and its aftermath. This lifelong quest has helped me to better know my family’s past. I’ve taken back– reclaimed– some of that lost memory, especially that of my enslaved ancestors. I hope you’ll sign up to receive my posts—if you do, you’ll get a free PDF with some of my favorite tips! And please do share posts that interest you.
Great post, Robyn! Don’t you cringe when someone take one document and try to tell that ancestor’s complete history around that document. Like you stated, one source alone will not convey everything.
Thanks for commenting. I’m hoping this example will be an “AHA” moment for someone;) Readers can also head over to your blog at rootsrevealed.com and see plenty other great examples of using indirect evidence.