Casefile Clues

04 March 2014

Benjamin Butler, Grandma, and Exhaustive Searches

"Reasonably exhaustive research---emphasizing original records...for all evidence that might answer a genealogist's question...." (p. 1  of 50th anniversary edition of Board for Certification of Genealogists' Genealogy Standards ).


I am inclined to think that "reasonably exhaustive searches" are very relative to the problem at hand. If I am searching for the death date of my grandmother in Bradenton, Florida, in 2008, how exhaustive should that search be? Do I need to see "everything" such as:

  • death certificate
  • funeral home records
  • business records of the "retirement community" where she lived
  • social security death index entry
  • tombstone
In the case of my grandmother, I may have an interest in all those records, just because of "what else they might say." But if I'm documenting the death of a more distant cousin who also died in Florida in 2008, do I need all that? 

Probably not. There's the issue of time and money. In most cases in this time period, the death certificate or maybe the social security death index entry will suffice. Could they be incorrect? Yes. But as long as I completely cite the source I have used someone else will be able to judge the reliability of my information. I just don't think it is possible to research "everything" on "everyone." There's a limit to how much I can spend, how much time I have to research, and how much information I can process. 

And in the case of Grandma, how much of that information is really repeated? Most likely (with the exception of transcription or typographical errors) the information on the death certificate, funeral home records, social security death index, and tombstone all have the same "original" informant. 

Are there cases where I want to go totally all out to be exhaustive?

Yes. 

I'll get every piece of information I can on Benjamin Butler who was born about 1819 in New York State and lived in Michigan, Ontario, Kansas, Nebraska, Iowa, and Missouri before dying in the 1880s. Benjamin is an entirely different problem in an entirely different time period. In his case, when I think of an exhaustive search, I think of totally, get everything, no stone unturned, try and research every neighbor and associate kind of research.

That's not necessary on Grandma or on most people who died in 2008. Some perhaps, but all. 

When records are scant, less direct, and less detailed, exhaustion is important. I don't think it's always necessary on more recent individuals. But like everything else--what's "exhaustive" is situational.

Exhaustive searches on people who don't need exhaustive searches leaves my brain and my wallet exhausted.

And that makes it more difficult to research the early 19th century New York natives like good ol' Benjamin.
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