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Basics of Research: Step 8 - Evaluate and Decide

Step 8 in the research cycle covers evaluation of records and decisions about the next puzzle to solve.


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Remember the song, "I Am My Own Grandpa?" Sometimes, the stuff seen on family group sheets isn't that far off. A great-grandfather married to his mother-in-law? A child born to a woman two years younger than himself? A man born in 1798 the father of a man born in 1873? Siblings born 5 months apart? Do you have similar problems in your pedigree? How do you prevent such errors?

You prevent or clarify them in Step 8 of the research cycle. Step 8 requires the evaluation of both family data and documents you acquired doing during the first 7 steps. As a result of that evaluation you will decide on the next genealogy problem you want to solve and map out a solution.

Those who use Personal Ancestral File (PAF) can do much of the evaluation electronically. (Back up your database before doing any of these things!) Other software programs also have evaluation functions. If you have PAF, use Match/Merge to combine duplicate entries. Also use the Merge Duplicate Sources and Citations function.

Print out "Possible Problems" from the List menu of PAF. Be sure your printer has plenty of paper in it because the errors will roll right out, especially if you downloaded a lot of material from the web. Resolve these problems before doing anything else.

Then just eyeball each family. Are the same names repeated often? Good. Are the places consistent with migration patterns? Are occupations consistent? Good and good. Or are there solid reasons for deviations?

When you have resolved an issue, make a note in the database, so others don't have to fix the same problems over and over. The great-grandfather born 1798 above, really was the father of my grandfather born in 1873. It's documented and noted in my database. The other scenarios need re-searching.

As part of your evaluation, go back to the documents you collected and analyze them with a more experienced eye. For example, from the obituary of Elizabeth Dilfill Cummins from the Springfield, Ohio News-Sun of July 1988, I entered her birth and death, sisters and husbands and other information into my database the first time around. What can these ten lines of obituary reveal the second time around? She died at Kettering Medical Center. Medical records can be searched. She was born in Napoleon, Ohio in 1916. Court, civic, school records may exist for her. She sang in the Presbyterian Church choir for 25 years. Church records can be searched. And that's just the beginning.

After evaluating both data and documents, you probably have a pretty good idea of what you want to know next. Write it down and map out a way to find it. has a terrific chart matching what you want to find with where you might find it. For example, for birth data, it lists vital records, censuses and other documents. You can access A Guide to Research by going into, pushing on "View maps, forms, guides, and other research helps." Click on "Sorted by Title" then "A Guide to Research." Scroll down to "Selecting Record Types" and there you are.

Step 8 is essential. It gives you confidence. It prepares you for your next tour around the research steps. Remember to start with Step 1, "Obtain a few materials." Do you have the materials you need to solve the next puzzle? Maybe you need to purchase membership to an online library such as or You might need a CD of the 1870 Kansas census. Obtain the materials, and you are on your way through the steps again.

Readers send me great ideas. One reader, J. Doxsee, suggested I create a check-off page for the eight steps. That will be the next column, and it will be on my website as soon as it is up and running. The address will be, and you will find additional freebies on it. It's under construction right now.

Last Saturday I discovered another powerful reason to publish (see Step 7). I lost my genealogy database as well as the program. Never happened before. But it was gone, my tens of thousands of names, my life's work was gone. So publish your genealogical information in order to keep it safe. (I did eventually find all those names in the recycle bin and restored them.)

LaRae Free Kerr, still shaking from losing her database, can be reached at

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 5: How Many Marys Did David Merry Marry?
Step 6: Genealogy Detecting
Step 7: Publish Or All Your Research May Perish

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.

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