2016 July – Advanced Research Methods


Course Coordinator: Thomas W Jones, Ph.D., CG, CGL, FASG, FUGA, FNGS

  • Judy G. Russell, J.D., CG, CGL
  • Pamela Boyer Sayre, CG, CGL
  • Richard G. Sayre, CG, CGL

Held July 17-22, 2016, at La Roche College, Pittsburgh, PA. Registration Information.


Participants will develop advanced genealogical research, analysis, correlation and compilation skills. Hands-on activities, using original records, will enhance this learning. Examples are drawn from American states and colonies and European countries. Before the course begins participants will complete two pre-course reading assignments. Four homework assignments, providing opportunities for advanced skill development, are optional.

Monday, 18 July

8:30 a.m. Developing an Evidence Orientation (Jones)

Differences between genealogical information and evidence; types of sources and evidence, with emphasis on circumstantial, indirect, and negative evidence; getting evidence from sources, especially below the surface level; legal, social, and economic contexts and the evidence they provide; understanding how a records’ purposes and the parties’ motivations provide genealogical evidence; weighing evidence; determining accuracy; determining provenance and authorship; relation of evidence to the Genealogical Proof Standard; using evidence to determine kinship and advance a genealogy.

10:15 a.m. Developing Research Questions and Hypotheses; Planning an Exhaustive Search (Jones)

Pinpointing what a researcher or client wants to learn about an ancestor; strategies for determining which records to consult and where to find them; planning research of sufficient scope to answer a genealogical question convincingly; issues in variety, breadth, and depth of research scope; looking beyond the record of interest; knowing when the obtained evidence is sufficient; re-planning and developing subsidiary questions when planned research is unproductive; incorporating research scope into case building and reporting; testing hypotheses; challenging your own conclusions with alternative hypotheses and expanded research scope.

1:00 p.m. Transcribing, Abstracting, Extracting, Quoting, and Documenting Sources (Jones)

Conventions, principles, uses, and formats for accurate transcriptions and extracts, useful abstracts, and meaningful summaries and quotations; purposes of documentation, including demonstrating evidentiary qualities; transcribing, abstracting, and documenting as part of the research process; citation principles and conventions for genealogists; clear and accurate documentation as part of case building and reporting research.

2:45 p.m. Federal Research: Government Documents (R. Sayre)

Federal depository libraries and the government documents system; types of materials and records, including the U.S. Serial Set and index, congressional and federal agency reports, federal public and private acts; online offerings; guides, indexes, search engines, and finding aids; search strategies; determining when government documents are relevant to an advanced genealogical research problem; locating the material and using it to solve the problem.

Optional: Homework 1, Online Government Documents Assignment (R. Sayre)

TUESDAY, 19 July

Optional: Homework 1 Debriefing (R. Sayre)

8:30 a.m. Military and Pension Records Strategies: Analysis, Interpretation, and Correlation (R. Sayre)

Local, state, and federal military records; officers and enlisted personnel; colonial, pre-Civil War, Civil War, and post-Civil War records; civilians in military records; how to use evidence from military and pension records to reveal relationships and other genealogically relevant information.

10:15 a.m. Archival Research (P. Sayre)

Organization of manuscript holdings by archives and historical societies, with emphasis on the American National Archives (NARA); descriptive pamphlets, preliminary inventories, catalogs, union catalogs, research guides, and other finding aids; under-used but genealogically useful NARA materials; locating manuscript materials in state, local, religious, industrial, occupational, and other historical societies and archives.

1:00 p.m. Census, Census-Substitute, and Name-List Strategies: Analysis, Interpretation, and Correlation (Jones)

Purposes of censuses and census substitutes; differences between them; types of censuses and census-substitutes; direct and indirect evidence in censuses and census-substitutes; emphasis on pre-1850 U.S. censuses and federal nonpopulation schedules; state, religious, military and other specialized censuses and lists of names; genealogical evidence in census instructions and other census-related sources; benefiting from enumerator errors; deriving evidence from lists of names (“list analysis”); how to use evidence from censuses, census-substitutes, and name lists, to reveal relationships and other genealogical data.

2:45 p.m. Tax Roll Strategies: Analysis, Interpretation, and Correlation (Jones)

Purposes of tax rolls; local, state, and federal tax rolls and the genealogical evidence they contain; poll taxes, land taxes, personal property taxes, income taxes, hearth taxes, taxation on window panes, and other forms of taxation; tax assessments compared to tax payments; relevant chronological issues; how to use tax rolls to discover age, relationships, and other hidden evidence.

Optional: Homework 2, Transcription (Jones)


Optional: Homework 2 Debriefing ( Jones)

8:30 a.m. Rural and Urban Map Strategies: Analysis, Interpretation, and Correlation (R. Sayre)

Types of maps useful to genealogists, including land ownership, insurance, military, and topographical maps; map repositories, online and off; European maps in American repositories; integrating evidence from maps with other data

10:15 a.m. Federal Land Records: Analysis, Interpretation, and Correlation (R. Sayre)

Federal land acts and their genealogical relevance; public-land states and federal land offices; land-entry files and private land claims, bounty-land-warrant application files; locating federal land records; gleaning and using genealogical evidence in federal land records

1:00 p.m. Local Land Records: Analysis, Interpretation, and Correlation (Jones)

Common-law and other legal principles affecting the holding and use of land; land-related terminology; metes-and-bounds and rectangular survey systems; fee simple, fee tail, leases for lives, and other types of land holding; headrights, patents, warrants, grants, lotteries, deeds, and other ways of acquiring land; surveys, chain carrying, processioning, and other ways of measuring land and establishing boundaries; taxes, deeds, minutes, orders, and other court records pertaining to land; land platting, family and community reconstruction, and mapping; evidence that can be gleaned from records of all the above and how to use it to solve genealogical problems

2:45 p.m. Probate Strategies: Analysis, Interpretation, and Correlation (Jones)

Purposes of estate records; petitions, wills, intestates, guardianships, inventories, sales, accounts, years support, distributions, partitions; provisions for widows and minors; primogeniture, dower, and other common-law principles affecting a deceased person’s property; evidence that can be gleaned from records of all the above and how to use it to solve genealogical problems.

Optional: Homework 3, Cammack Problem (Jones)


Optional: Homework 3 Debriefing ( Jones)

8:30 a.m. Bringing Law to Bear on Complex Genealogical Problems (Russell)

Sources for common law, civil law, statute law, canon law; provisions of these kinds of law applicable to genealogical methods; codes, session laws, digests, reporters, and other law books of value to genealogists; finding laws, cases, and ancestors in law books; how to use laws as evidence to solve genealogical problems.

10:15 a.m. Special Problems I: Finding Immigrant and Migrant Origins (Jones)

Problems hindering success; push, pull, and personal factors motivating immigration; getting genealogical evidence from “chain” migration; sources identifying origins; emigration and immigration records and finding aids; strategies when no source specifies a person’s origin; tracking families, neighbors, churches, and other groups rather than individuals; hidden clues to origins; strategies for “unfindable” locations; separating a migrant from others of the same name.

1:00 p.m. Special Problems II: Identifying Female Ancestors (Jones)

Strategies for identifying wives and mothers in the absence of marriage records; laws regulating females’ land ownership, inheritance, and other rights that may yield genealogical evidence concerning them; tracking men to learn about women.

2:45 p.m. Special Problems III: Identifying Landless, Enslaved, Peasant, and Other Impoverished Ancestors  (Jones)

Sources in which these groups are likely to be named or listed anonymously; mining them for evidence; tracing the landlord or slave owner; locating and mining landlord and slave-owner records to learn about their tenants and slaves.

Optional: Homework 4, Buss Problem (Jones)

FRIDAY, 22 July

Optional: Homework 3 Debriefing ( Jones)

8:30 a.m. Correlating Sources, Information, and Evidence to Solve Genealogical Problems (Jones)

Analysis and interpretation principles applicable to any kind of genealogical source; working with evidence from many sources; seeing patterns, parallels, and conflicts in evidence; resolving conflicting evidence; working with records in a series (including censuses, tax rolls, rent rolls, city directories, communion lists, guardian and estate accounts); timelines, matrices, and other ways of graphically arranging evidence; explaining how records correlate and using correlation to build a convincing case.

10:15 a.m. Continued Advancement (Jones)

Strategies for continued development of advanced methodological skills; scholarly journals; study groups; writing for publication; credentialing; peer review; lecturing and teaching.

The course concludes on Friday before noon with Certificates and Lunch.