Am I drifting or doing Inferential Genealogy?


I am following the Mastering Genealogical Proof Study Group presented my Dear Myrtles’ Genealogy Blog. The Mastering Genealogy Proof book is written by Dr. Thomas Jones who also has presented lessons on Inferential Genealogy that I have listened to in the past.  The term drifting has come up on each of our class discussions and on Mondays with Myrt.  Do I drift? The answer is yes. Is it productive? The answer is no, but like drifting in a Hot Air Balloon you see a Board angle. The angle is so board you can’t make out the individuals below until you come closer to land.  I sometime spend hours trying to find those drifting moments that gave me a clue I didn’t know I needed until later on in my search.  Do I do Inferential Genealogy? The answer is I make every effort to do so, but I am human.

I have written about the importance of following a lead in my own blog postings. I do not accept a single source as the truth until I have verified it with other sources. So how do I know that I am not drifting when I follow those other leads?

I will approach the answer by giving my definition of drifting.  Drifting is following a lead without purpose. I know I do drift and have drifted, especially when I first started doing my family history. I would find an interesting name or article while researching a certain surname and follow up on that intriguing item. I have no valued reasons to follow that lead other than it interested me. I sometimes would note the source but more often I would just read the article and return to my original search.  So drifting to me means following an interesting aside without purpose or record keeping.

Inferential Genealogy,  as I approach it,  means:

  1. I have a set goal establishing to identify a person or a relationship to that person.
  2. Like the board view you have with drifting, my research may bring me to asides like, location, neighbors, business acquaintances, family or friends or even to a different generation in time, but all are related to the original goal of identifying my person or relationship.
  3. I make every effort to record my sources. I note what the source provides me towards answering my research goal. Does it confirm or deny the information and why.
  4. I may have to research several types of document to reach that goal. I will be checking birth/death certificates, multiple years of census records, business records, land records, court records, letters, journals and maybe interviews with someone who knew the person or family. All the sources would provide clues, some more accurate than others, but all related to my main purpose.
  5. I will contrast and compare those sources to confirm or disprove my goal. If I see a conflict I will try to resolve it or discard with a notation as to why I did so.
  6. I remember my Nursing School instructor telling me the importance of not making assumptions without confirmation; Assume = Ass/u/me. That has stuck with me in whatever research or goal I set for myself. Who wants to be known as donkey rear-end? No me that is for sure.
  7. Finally I record my results to help others who follow me not to stumble into a roadblock, but easily follow a logical trail of events of the person in question.

The bottom line is, yes I still drift sometimes, but not as often. I mainly look for a specific goal; follow the leads to where they take me in regards to reaching that goal; confirm or discard information as needed; record the comparisons and conflicts; record the resolutions; record the final analyzed results. After an exhaustive search of the available information I can provide a well informed family member to add to my tree.

Another thought came to mind:  I follow the Genealogical Proof Standard in my Inferential Genealogy search.  A good practice to follow even if you don’t realize you are doing it because it is core to your process.



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