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Basics of Research: Step 5 - How Many Marys Did David Merry Marry?

If John Dough's occupation in the 1870 census was baker, and the 1880 census shows two John Doughs, one a store keeper and the other a doctor, which of the 1880 John Doughs is most apt to be the same person as the 1870 baker?

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Type: Article
Resource: GenWeekly
Prepared by: LaRae Kerr
Word Count: 745 (approx.)
Labels: Beginner's Guide 
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If John Dough's occupation in the 1870 census was baker, and the 1880 census shows two John Doughs, one a store keeper and the other a doctor, which of the 1880 John Doughs is most apt to be the same person as the1870 baker?

If county records show three David Merry marriage licenses in three years, how many David Merrys married?

And here is a real-life riddle: If Mary Utie is married to Anthony Drew and having his children, can she be the wife of Richard Perkins and having his children at the same time?

Step Five in the genealogical cycle, Process the Collected Information, sheds light on these questions. Processing the information collected in previous parts of the research cycle can be done in three steps - analyze, evaluate and plan.

Analyze each bit of information by asking, "does this person match what I know of my ancestor?" Keep in mind three genealogical absolutes:

1. A person can be in only one place at one time. If Mary Utie is living with Anthony Drew, she cannot be living with Richard Perkins at the same time, at least not publicly. By the same reasoning, there are probably at least two David Merrys, maybe three.

2. Work from the known to the unknown. If you do not start your research with a proven ancestor, you may be building the wrong family tree. Wise researchers start with themselves and prove they exist with certificates before going backwards. No amount of analysis can get you into the right family, if the starting point is incorrect.

3. People tend to act in predictable and meaningful ways -- to them. If John Dough, the baker, changed his occupation, he was more apt to become a store keeper than a doctor. As you work your family, you begin to get a feel for the kind of people they were. You begin to sense what is totally out of character for them. Besides, you're related -- you have inner insight.

Analyzing the information means matching and extending, matching and extending. Where possible match with at least four pieces of information, like this. If the new information matches at least four data bits from the old data, accept it until disproved (which sometimes happens). Let's say the name matches (though spelled differently), the death date matches, the marriage place matches and a child's name is the same. That's four matches, so it is probably the same person. The more matches of data bits, the more apt it is to be the same person. A matching name alone is not enough. When a match is found, add the additional new information to the family records. That is extending.

Evaluate to discover the information you want next. If the name, marriage place, death date and a child match, you may want to find the death place, the marriage date and the names of additional children.

Then, plan how to find that information. If the person died in the 20th century, you will want a death certificate. You may plan a trip to the courthouse to get the marriage license, and you may decide to check the 1930 census for additional children.

Here's a brief example of how processing the records works. Thomas Terry, who is a proven ancestor, said his paternal grandmother was Elizabeth Terry. When searching court records, the Orphan Court Records and Administrations of Estates indicated her name was Rebecca with more than four matches: the husband and three children, the place and time period.

People act in predictable and unified ways. Thomas' grandmother Merkins was named Elizabeth. Maybe he had Elizabeth on his mind, and assigned that name to both grandmothers. When evaluating the results of the search, finding the marriage record became important. So Pearl Day, the great Terry researcher went looking.

She found Newton Presbyterian Church Records and the Faires Family Bible, which included information on the family, but no marriage record. So she analyzed the records she had found by matching and extending; then evaluated the records to see what was needed next and planned ways to get the information she needed.

After processing the information collected in research Steps 3 and 4 by analysis, evaluation and planning, you are ready for Step 6: Genealogy Detecting.

Other Articles in the Series:

Step 1: Genealogy Can Be A Cheap Hobby
Step 2: Documentation Saves Pedigrees
Step 3: Family Records Are the Best!
Step 4: Survey Sets Up Research
Step 6: Genealogy Detecting
Step 7: Publish Or All Your Research May Perish
Step 8: Evaluate and Decide

Source Information: GenWeekly, New Providence, NJ, USA: Genealogy Today LLC, 2004.

The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of Genealogy Today LLC.

*Effective May 2010, GenWeekly articles that are more than five years old no longer require a subscription for full access.

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