Pedigree Analysis: Start With What You Know

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.

I’m going to look at Dave Baxter and Polly Lowery, the parents of Barbara Baxter.

Greenwood suggests making a T-chart, (I’m going to use a table), with two headings:

  1. What do I already know?
  2. 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?

Related posts:

Share this article!


  1. says

    Great demonstration and I agree, you are always very organized and thorough. As you mentioned, I tend to do this in my head. I need to do this on paper, so that I can visually see what I know, what I don’t know, and possible places to look.

  2. says

    Twitter: genealogycircle
    I agree whole-heartedly with both comments above. Tonia you are an inspiration in research methods and organization! I learn so much from you. As you mentioned, I do this in my head as well, but seeing your “aha moment” in your last paragraph makes me realize I need to do some analysis on paper. I’ll bet something jumps out at me too!
    Thank you for this blog post!
    Cindy Freed (@GenealogyCircle)´s last blog post ..And a Happy Civil War Saturday to you!!

  3. says

    Twitter: LeavesOHeritage
    I like the chart idea. It really helps to break down the information. Two things, though. You don’t know for certain that Barbara was the informant on the census records, so perhaps the person reporting the information was unfamiliar with where Barbara’s parents were from. It is not necessarily a testament to her memory. Also, why do you think you would not be able to find a death certificate for Sarah Caroline? Surely by 1916 civil registration would have been a fairly common practice. If not a death cert, maybe at least a church or cemetery record?

    Good luck, and thanks for sharing!

    • Tonia Kendrick says

      Hi Angela. No I don’t know that Barbara was the informant. But until I find her parents on a census record, these are the best clues I have of where to look.

      Regarding my comment about the death certificate: civil registration was not at all common in the South in 1916. It was not instituted in GA – where Sarah lived – until 1919 and not enforced statewide until 1928. Since I wrote this post, however, I have found a death index entry for her in Florida. I’m not sure what she was doing there.

      Thanks for commenting.

    • Tonia Kendrick says

      Thanks Angela. This is the death index entry I referred to in my previous reply. Thanks again.


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <strike> <strong>

CommentLuv badge