Planning Reasonably Exhaustive Research

Does anyone besides me get overwhelmed when thinking about “reasonably exhaustive” research?  What exactly is reasonably exhaustive?  How much is enough?  When do you stop?

I attended a great lecture at FGS, by Tom Jones, that addressed these issues.  As the title says, the lecture focused on “Planning Reasonably Exhaustive Research,” so, of course, it was all about the research plan.  I am currently not using research plans, but I do intend to start soon.

Here are some of my notes from this lecture:

  1. Start with a focused research question.  The key word here is focused.  It should be about a person with a unique identity who is documented in a time and place.  Example:  “Who were the parents of Philip Pritchett who died in Montgomery County, Kentucky, in 1811-12?”
  2. Assess your starting-point information.  Is it correct, corroborated, documented, from the least-error-prone sources, interpreted correctly?  Is the prior research complete?  Are your assumptions defensible?  If the answer to any of these is “no,” then the research question is premature.
  3. Identify relevant sources.  Figure out which sources are likely to contain the information you seek.
    • Reasonably exhaustive is a subset of Likely Relevant Sources.
    • One source is never enough.
    • When planning sources, check the FHL catalog for what kinds of sources are available (example:  do a locality search).  Available means accessible to researchers.  It does not mean easy, convenient, or inexpensive.
    • No search is adequate without examining land and probate records. (I have a star by this in my notes – very important point.)
    • Indices and databases are finding aids that lead to sources.

Ultimate Plan Target

  1. Two or more independent sources that are in agreement.
  2. RES must contain all sources that competent genealogists would examine.
  3. Primary information – at least one source
  4. Original source – at least one
  5. Relevant derivative sources and/or secondary information are replaced by findable originals and primary information (if the indexer found it, why can’t you?)
  6. All findable sources suggested by relevant sources or indices.  Don’t be satisfied by references to sources.

This was an excellent class and I took seven pages of notes; the information above is merely the highlights.  If you have a chance to hear Tom Jones speak, run, don’t walk.

Source:  Jones, Thomas W.  “Planning ‘Reasonably Exhaustive’ Research.” Lecture presented at the annual conference of the Federation of Genealogical Societies, Knoxville, Tenn., 20 August 2010.

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    • Tonia Kendrick says

      Tom Jones is on my must-see genealogy rockstar list. Just an hour fills my brain up. I can’t even imagine a whole week!

  1. says

    Tonia, thank you for this check list via Tom Jones. I’ve copied your URL so that I can refer to this regularly. It’s a goal that I probably can never meet, entirely — but that doesn’t mean I won’t aspire towards it. What I can immediately remember is “two or more independent sources,” because that sounds like the rule in movies about journalism and newspapers: a corroborating source. Wow! Genealogical standards are much more exacting than newspaper standards, though.
    Mariann Regan´s last blog post ..And the Walls Come Tumbling Down


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