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 revised, 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.

Standards Books

Genealogy is a field with defined standards, processes, and methodology 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 types of genealogical evidence:

  • -direct evidence,
  • -indirect evidence, and
  • -negative evidence.

I want to share an example from my own research that utilizes 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 the information in many sources in order to arrive at the above conclusions.

Key Sources Utilized

The 1815 inventory of Beale Warfield in Anne Arundel County, Maryland noted 30-year-old Minty and 2-year-old Perry:

The 1850 Anne Arundel County, Maryland census listed the household of a free black woman named Louisa Simpson.

The image below is faint, but Louisa’s (presumed) children were Harriet L, Mary C, James W, Joseph W, Martha J, and Minta L.:

Louisa’s household was just a few pages away from the household of a (white) man named William Warfield.

Howard County, Maryland was formed from Anne Arundel County.

The 1867 Slave Statistics for Howard County indicated that Perry Simpson was enslaved by William R. Warfield in 1864:

1867 Slave Statistics

William R. Warfield was the son of Beale Warfield, whose 1815 inventory above named Perry.

Oral history in our family remembered Martha’s father as Perry Simpson, but did not remember the name of her mother.

Bible Records

A family bible page recorded Perry’s death:

Perry’s death

Another bible page recorded the births of Perry and Louisa’s children Notice also daughter Mintie Lucinda:

That naming pattern is an important clue. African Americans frequently named their children after their parents and their siblings.

Making the Case

None of these sources alone 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 is no marriage record for Perry and Louisa.
  • -No death certificate exists for Louisa, Mintie or Perry.
  • -No source explicitly states that Perry was Mintie’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 information will almost always be missing. Some sources will also contain inaccurate information.

But if you understand the central concepts in genealogical research, these circumstances don’t have to be stumbling blocks.

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
  • -newspapers
  • -death certificates
  • -historical maps
  • -marriage certificates
  • -local history books
  • -historical inventories
  • -Freedmens Bureau records
  • -cemetery records (headstones)
  • -census records
  • -tax records
  • -freedom certificates
  • -manumissions
  • -Maryland law
  • -DNA tests

Over two decades, I’ve researched 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 (Perry) survived down through our family. But in this case it made 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.

Closing Thoughts

Studying how other genealogists solve problems will improve your own research skills. Here are two National Genealogical Society Quarterly articles that illustrate the use of 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!


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