I’m sure we’ve all heard it said that, in genealogy, you should start with what you know and work from there.
In The Researcher’s Guide to American Genealogy, Greenwood argues that we “must have a name, a date (at least a period of time), and a reasonably specific place or locality” in order to do effective research. He then describes a method of analyzing what you know in order to generate hypotheses for effective research. I think this is something we tend to do in our heads without realizing it and even Greenwood says it doesn’t necessarily have to be done on paper. But I think it will be interesting to go through the exercise on paper, as it were, and see what evolves. I think that, at the end of the exercise, I’ll have a solid research plan for the person/couple in question.
Greenwood suggests making a T-chart, (I’m going to use a table), with two headings:
- What do I already know?
- What does this suggest?
|What do I already know?||What does this suggest?|
|Barbara’s parents are named as Dave Baxter (birthplace unknown) and Polly Lowery (born in Murray County, GA) on her death certificate.||Polly may have been from Murray County, or at least the surrounding area.|
|I have a marriage index entry for an Andrew D. Baxter and Polly Lowery who were married in 1849 in Murray County, GA. [Two notes: 1) I don’t know yet that this couple were Barbara’s parents. The names may be a coincidence. 2) I thought I had the marriage license. I need to get that.]||His full name may have been Andrew David Baxter. Her name was likely Mary Lowery.|
|Assuming this is the correct couple, then Dave and Polly were married in 1849 in Murray County, GA.||They lived in Murray County, and may be found there on the 1850 census.|
|Murray County is adjacent to Polk County, TN and other Baxters lived in both Murray County and Polk County.||If not in Murray County in 1850, they may be in Polk County.|
|Dave and Polly had three children: Dave, Sarah Caroline, and Barbara.||Three children was not many in 1800s. One of the parents may have died and the other potentially remarried.|
|I haven’t been able to locate Barbara in the 1860 or 1870 censuses, when she would have been 5 or 6 and 15 or 16, respectively.||This suggests to me that her father may have died and her mother remarried, so Polly and her children may be listed under a different surname.|
|Barbara reported multiple birthplaces for her parents in the 1900-1930 censuses:|
1900: Father – South Carolina, Mother – Georgia
1910: Father – North Carolina, Mother – U.S.
1920: Father – Tennessee, Mother – Tennessee
1930: Father – United States, Mother – Georgia
|Her memory likely would have been better in 1900, so the starting place to look for Dave would be Baxter males born in South Carolina and for Polly would be females named Mary/Polly born in Georgia. I can do some search filtering in Ancestry with these parameters.|
|Sarah Caroline married a Chable. I only have derivative records and secondary information on her, but I know that she has descendants who have done genealogy research.||I may be able to learn more about Dave and Polly by researching Sarah Caroline.|
|Sarah Caroline died in 1916.||I should check for a death certificate to confirm her parents’ names, but there likely won’t be one. I should then move on to the census records for 1900-1910 to see what birthplaces she has listed for her parents.|
|Sarah Caroline was born in 1848.||She should be on the 1850 census.|
As I suspected, this was a very useful exercise. It forced me to really think through every bit of information I already knew. The last item in this list is something that I never noticed before. Sarah Caroline was born 1848. I’ve seen it, obviously, because I entered it in my software. But it never occurred to me until today that she should be on the 1850 census. This may the key to locating Dave and Polly in 1850 and if I locate that record, who knows what additional doors will open up?