Genealogical Gambling

by Ruby Coleman

A genealogy friend recently told me she was going to gamble that spending $10 on a genealogical record would produce results. I had never thought about genealogical research in those terms, but perhaps we are all gambling that our research will produce positive results.

In that gamble we need to know exactly how we are going to place the bet. Who is doing the bidding? Your options are that you do it or somebody else does it for you. In other words, you can research personally by going to the location of the record or your can read copies of the record, preferably in the form of microfilm or microfiche. Obviously by going to the location of the record, as a researcher you will make the decision. By using a copy you are relying on the expertise and qualifications of somebody who made the copy.

It is more interesting and fun to do your own research, but at times we must rely upon somebody else. At these times we ask for help from volunteers or from qualified professional researchers. Comparing those is like comparing your personal research to using a copy. There are volunteers who do thorough work, but many times you have no idea if they if they have missed something you would have found.

Perhaps genealogical research is a gamble. Is luck in our corner when we personally do the research? Or is it with us when we request a record for $10? Genealogical research is more than a gamble and more than luck. It also involves educating yourself so that you are qualified to locate what you need, to solve the mystery of your ancestry and move on to the next problem area.

Analyze your genealogy by looking at what is missing. Are you missing names, places, dates, events? Decide what is needed to fill in those blanks. The two types of records are original and derivative. Obviously luck is in your corner if you use an original record. However, sometimes we must use derivative records, such as a probate record that has been copied into a bound volume found on the shelf in a courthouse. The original probate record is not in that bound volume. Perhaps you will locate it eventually in a docket file somewhere within the courthouse, but for now you are forced to use a derivative record found in the bound volume.

Once you have located the record, analyze the information contained within it. When was the record created, who created it and why? Primary information is found within a record created at the time of, or shortly after, the event or circumstance occurred. Secondary information is found within a record created from memory or at a later date or material copied or compiled from other sources.

Both primary and secondary information are valuable in our research. Many times secondary information provides clues to enhance our research and cause us to look further.

Use the information found in a record or document or testimony of witnesses. This is the evidence which can be indirect or direct, depending on how it is applied to the genealogical problem. Evidence is used to prove or disprove an alleged fact. Indirect evidence is useful, but does not pertain directly to the problem, whereas direct evidence does pertain directly to the problem.

Indirect evidence allows us to infer a conclusion. Through that inference we can progress to another type of record (original or derivative) that contains information (primary or secondary) and evaluate more evidence which may be direct or indirect. Eventually we hope to arrive at a substantiated conclusion. To evaluate that evidence ask yourself these questions ...

  • When was the record created?

  • Who created the record?

  • Why was it created?

    Research is repetitive. No set rules apply over and over because you are working with records created for and by human beings. We are none alike, even if we share common ancestors. Over and over, we place our bid, rely on our knowledge and perhaps luck. In your research make sure your knowledge tips the scales heavier than luck.

    Of course, that luck adds spice to our research. It is when we find information in the least sought after circumstances and places. ItŐs after hours of tedious reading and searching we can finally yell BINGO.

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