Casefile Clues

27 August 2011

Exhaustive Searches are Also for Learning

Sound genealogical research requires an "exhaustive search" of the records available on the ancestor or family in question.

I've never been entirely clear on what "exhaustive search" really means other than "search everything." I personally think that what qualifies as an exhaustive search really depends on the time period, the people, and how confusing the family structure is. And even when a researcher searches most materials and information is completely consistent, there is always the chance that one more record throws all those conclusions into questions.

That is why a researcher should always completely cite everything that they've used so that another researcher can decide if, in their eyes, "exhaustive" has been met.

But this post really isn't about that.

There's another reason why an exhaustive search is important, especially for beginning and intermediate level researchers. That reason is simple: education.

My maternal families are fairly well documented during their time in the United States from the 1850s and on. Church records, vital records, census records, all are pretty much in agreement. Rarely do I locate "new" family members or relationships in land, court, or probate records--at least in these families. And yet I always searched all the courthouse records on these families--even when I didn't think it would tell me anything.

Why?

Well--I'm nosy, and I know that I never know what I'll find in a record until I look. But another benefit is that I learned a great deal about land, court, probate and other records searching for families when I "knew" everything about the families. The "unexplained" things in the documents, the unstated relationships that sometimes made things more clear, were things I already knew. Researching land, court, and probate records on families where I knew quite a bit about the family helped me learn about the records.

And that's helped me greatly when I've researched land, court, and probate records on other families where I did NOT have church records, vital records, census records, and other materials to explain things about the family. I had seen similar records before. I had seen terms before and I knew what they meant.

Exhaustive searches are necessary to make certain some vital clue has not been overlooked. But they also help the genealogist to learn about the records being used when the family is already "documented." And learning is never a bad thing.