Mastering Genealogical Proof Study Group 2: Chapter 2 Homework

Mastering Genealogical Proof by Thomas W. Jones
Mastering Genealogical Proof by Thomas W. Jones

Mastering Genealogical Proof Study Group 2

My Chapter Two Homework Assignment


Thomas W. Jones, Mastering Genealogical Proof (Arlington, Virginia: National Genealogical Society, 2013), 6. [Book available from the publisher at ]

“Dear Myrtle’s” Mastering Genealogical Proof 2 Study Group

Chapter 2 homework involves answering 18 questions. To protect the copyright of Dr. Jones’s book, I am going to answer those questions in my own manner. After all isn’t the purpose of learning to make the new learned knowledge your own? To be comfortable with what you acquired and put it into practice. I hope Dr. Jones understands why I am presenting his material in this manner. I will strive to bring out his key points, as I see them, in the most accurate, creditable and as close to the original as copy write issues will allow. If someone notices an error in my information, please provide a comment with your source and reason why. I will re-evaluate and address all those issues as I would in any genealogical research I would do. I hope my manner of presenting will also help anyone who is struggling to understand Dr. Jones approach to genealogy research.

In preparing to do my homework for Chapter 2, I listened to an interview with Dr. Thomas Jones given by Jane Wilcox of Blog Talk Radio “Forget Me Not Hour” on 19 June 2013 about his book Mastering Genealogical Proof.

The discussion included how the book best aids adult in learning the material. Adults learn in three ways; Visual, Doing and Comparing.

Visual is done by reading the book.

Doing is completing the homework assignments.

Comparing your homework answers to his answers in the back of the book meet the third criteria.

Dr. Jones remains us that no matter what type of research you are doing one of the most important approaches is to answer a focus Question. It can be one of five questions; known as the 5 W’s. They are Who, What, When, Where and Where.

In genealogy research the focus question is broken down to one of three categories, relationship, identity, and activity.   Asking a focus question will guide you in your research with more ease and less drifting off the subject. If the question is too board you are inundated with more information to filter through before you find the correct answer. On the other hand if it is to narrow you will lose information that is important in answering the question accurately. You can add supporting questions to aid in your research.

One focus question in research would be about identifying Mr. ________; “Who are the parents of ______  ______ that died 1811-1812 in Montgomery County, Kentucky? Some supporting questions would include; who his siblings are; who are his neighbors or close contacts, where did he live when he was paying taxes, or what information was found in his will that would be useful in identifying his family.

Focus questions along with supporting questions can help aid in distinguishing between families that may have the same name. Yet they can also aid in determining that maybe they are not three separate people but the same person.

Who are the parents of John Smith who married Jane Doe in Muskegon, Michigan, in 1871, and what became of him after their divorce. Records also have a John Smith that married a different woman in a different state. How do we know he is the same person? We need to chart familiar relationships of the two men; parents, children; neighbors; where lived, what years lived in those areas, why relocate, what is happening in the community at the time that would affect any decisions made? Do you see the emergence of the five “W” questions? (One focus question with supporting questions?)

Making a timeline provides guidance in answering some of those five W’s. War, Health, Religion, family disagreements all come into consideration when evaluating and analyzing a person’s life.

Different sources and record types need to be researched. The informant of those resources helps validity or question the accuracy of those same sources. What reason does the informant have for providing “false” information? Does the informant want to cover up an early birth, or maybe a marriage before an official divorce, are two examples of why the “false” information would be provided. Dr. Jones goes into great detail in determining each “man.”

His homework makes us practice finding the questions that he answered in his research. Questions like;

“Who are the parents of_________ residing in ___________, ____________, who married______________ in the year__________.?

Who is the husband of ______________?

Were ________________, _______________, and _______________ the same person?

What happened to_________________ after the divorce_______________ from ____________in the year________?

When writing a research question for your “bump in the road’ person (some call it a brick wall) you need to keep in mind relationships, individual identity and the activity of the person you are researching. What that person does, who the friends and family are and what community participation will help narrow the field to the correct family member you are researching

Keeping that criteria in mind I have created five research questions for my “bump in the road” person, Alonzo Chase.

  1. Who were the parents of Alonzo Chase, born Hopkinton, New Hampshire in the year 1835?
  2. What year did he marry Kate E Colby of Warner, New Hampshire?
  3. Where did Alonzo and Kate resided when their daughter, Clara Jane, my great grandmother, was born?
  4. Which Alonzo Chase residing in Merrimack County, New Hampshire in the 1860 Untied States Census would become Kate E Colby’s husband?
  5. What branch of service, if any, did Alonzo Chase, who resided in Hopkinton, New Hampshire in 1860 provide?

When researching it is important to understand the need for different types of resources; original, authored and records. Every source is open to error, but the closer to the original and time of the event you are there is less chance of errors.

Dr. Jones mentions an “exhaustive” list of sources in his Appendix A and B for each Research Client. This is a reminder to us of the need to seek different types of sources in our research before concluding that the family member found is “our Family member.” He wants us to become comfortable in identifying the different types of resources. His homework aids us identifying each type.

When we are looking at “Authored work’ we are seeking resources that provide the authors own conclusion. Family genealogies, town histories, and Dr. Jones own book “Merging Identities Properly: Jonathan Tucker Demonstrates the Technique” are just a few authored works.

United States Census, Tax Books, parish Records, Personal Property Tax list, the annual inventory of early colonists are examples of “original works.”

“Derivative works” would include any transcriptions of the original hand written document, it could be posted to a blog, used in your own notes, or you notice the same handwriting for all entries into a family Bible decades after the fact.

Dr. Jones continuously reminds us of the importance of utilizing the original primary information verses secondary information to reduce the risk of errors. The further from the original the transcription becomes the more at risk for error. Not even the original is exempt from error, but it is less prone than each future generation of the document transcription., and other genealogy research site provide us with “clues” to our family records. When you see the record, you believe to be your ancestor, the first thing you should do is order the original. When the document arrives mine it for all it is worth. Birth certificates, death certificates, land deeds, and wills, to list a few, all provide information from what Elizabeth Shown Mills refers to as the F.A.N Club(Family, associates, neighbors.) Many times they are family members or people who help identify your ancestor in that location and time. A good example would be a notation “next friend” in a court document usually meant relative such as father, brother, cousin, etc. Another example would be on a Bond record. Most people, unless they are related to you, would not post a bond involving money.

While looking at the documents you need to recognize if they are “Primary” or “Secondary,” who was the “informant” and type of source. The importance of each of these provides the validity, strength or weakness of the source information.

Primary sources are the strongest where secondary may provide useful information and can be use when no other source is available.

Information we are looking for include occupation, reason someone gets married, number of children, who was subpoenaed, date of death, date of birth are just a few. The source for these could be court records (primary), interview of a family member (secondary), family Bible entries written by the mother (primary), death certificate with the informant as a family member (secondary), War pensions listing children can be either (primary or secondary) depending who the informant was. Mother of the children is primary, an estranged family member secondary.

Other information that is important to seek is: Where someone lived during a certain time, did they pay taxes (property or personal), who are their heirs, when were the christened. Source for this information would possibly be Tax books from the county or town, Deed books listing the property ownership and location, a Parish register could tell who the parents are. Remember that if your “focus question” is not answered from the sources more research is need until you find your answer (exhaustive search), that is when you are done until new evidence is found.

Now, the twist in our research. You haven’t found “direct evidence” of your family member. You have several sources, when combined, confirm who they are, not just one.  It implies that it is the same person/s. The census for several consecutive years list your family member, land deeds list the person as a neighbor to another family member or maybe he is on the tax records for that town where you believe your family lived.

When “not direct (negative) evidence” answers your focus question, it is the absent of evidence itself that is the proof. John Smith was not on the 1810 Census for town “A” family members, yet a John Smith was listed in town “B” census as a family member.  This narrows down which family John Smith was a member of. Comparing and analysis is an important part of all research.


Remember the importance of all sources wither it is an original, authored, derivative work; was it a primary or secondary source; who was the informant, what reason would that informant redirect or provide incorrect information; was the informant not known; was it direct or indirect evidence that answered your focus question; was it tangible evidence or inferred; all need to answer your original Focus Question. You may use supporting question to answer your focus question keeping in mind the importance of Validity strength when doing so. Your Focus question needs to answer a relationship, activity or Identity.


  1. Jane Wilcox Blog Talk Radio “The Forget Me Not Hour” Dr. Thomas Jones interview, 19 June 2013;
  2. Reference:
  3. Thomas W. Jones, Mastering Genealogical Proof (Arlington, Virginia: National Genealogical Society, 2013), 6. [Book available from the publisher at ]
  4. “Dear Myrtle’s” Mastering Genealogical Proof Study Group Chapter 1 HOA
  5. “Dear Myrtle’s” Mastering Genealogical Proof 2 Study Group
  6. : The following two links I found while preparing my homework. They were not in Dr. Jones book. It leads me to want to research them to find the link, if any to the Pritchet family mentioned in Dr. Jones book.

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