2018 August – Tackling Tough Problems

Tools & Strategies for Tackling Tough Research Problems

Course Coordinator: Kimberly Powell

Additional Instructors:

  • Angela Packer McGhie, CG
  • Nancy Peters, CG, CGL
  • Karen Stanbary, CG

Held 29 July-3 August, 2018, at Daemen College, Amherst, NY. Registration Information.

This hands-on workshop/practicum for intermediate to advanced genealogists delves deeply into methodologies, strategies, and best practices for solving complex genealogical problems. The focus is on methodology rather than records, explored through a mix of lectures, interactive case studies, and applied learning opportunities. Students should bring a laptop (preferred) or tablet to use for in-class exercises and possible homework.

Since good research requires practice, this course will include a variety of in-class exercises and guided participation designed to help enhance your learning. We want you to go home feeling confident that you can apply what you have learned to your own tough research problems!

Working knowledge of sources, information, evidence, and the GPS, as well as familiarity with a wide variety of record types (e.g. census, tax lists, deeds, passenger lists, probate records, vital records).

  • Familiarity with the concepts presented in Mastering Genealogical Proof (Arlington, Va.: National Genealogical Society, 2013).
  • Familiarity with the first chapter of Evidence Explained: Historical Analysis, Citation and Source Usage, 3rdedition (Baltimore, Md.: Genealogical Publishing Co., 2015), or an earlier edition.


Welcome & Introductions

Methodology: An Introduction (Kimberly Powell)
We will start off our week together by building a foundation for the rest of the course, with discussion on essential topics such as analysis vs. correlation, independent evidence, focused research questions, and a variety of research methodologies.

Document Analysis: What Can a Record Reveal? (Nancy Peters)
The key to solving a tough problem is often buried in a document we have but didn’t take time to thoroughly analyze. Learn strategies for approaching a record with a fresh perspective and making the most of its evidentiary value.

Where Should I Go Next? Developing a Research Plan (Angela McGhie)
Learn how to create a strategy for your tough research problem, including analysis of the starting point information, identification of potential information sources, and the thought process of determining which records are most likely to answer the research question.

Simplifying Complexity: Tools and Strategies for Analyzing and Correlating Evidence, Part I (Kimberly Powell & Nancy Peters)
In this hands-on, multi-session workshop we will dig into a variety of tools for organizing and examining evidence—including timelines, tables, spreadsheets, and maps—and explore which types of problems are best suited for each method.


Simplifying Complexity: Tools and Strategies for Analyzing and Correlating Evidence, Part II (Kimberly Powell & Nancy Peters)
In this hands-on, double session workshop we will dig into a variety of tools for organizing and examining evidence—including timelines, tables, spreadsheets, and maps—and explore which types of problems are best suited for each method.

Creating an Identity Profile of Your Ancestor (Angela McGhie)
Each ancestor is unique, even if they have a common name. Creating an identity profile of the ancestor can help locate them in additional records, sort records for same name individuals, and lead you to additional records that may be relevant.

Cluster Research: Identifying Associates in the Records of Your Ancestors (Kimberly Powell)
Case studies demonstrate the value of considering every individual named in your ancestor’s documents as a potential relative or frequent associate. We’ll cover examples from a variety of records, including buyers at an estate, bondsmen on marriage records, people who lent or owed money, chain carriers, witnesses, etc.

The Truth About Sojourner Truth: A Case Study in Evidence Analysis & Conflict Resolution (Karen Stanbary)
Sojourner Truth used several different identities throughout her life. Learn how to weigh the evidence, resolve conflicts, and merge multiple identities.


Widen the Net: Online “Fishing” Strategies for Finding Unexpected Information (Kimberly Powell)
No matter how thorough our research plan, sometimes the evidence we need is hiding somewhere we never expected to find it. This session will cover strategies for finding, evaluating, and piecing together information gleaned from a variety of online sources, using a variety of broad search techniques.

Using DNA to Tackle Tough Research Problems (Karen Stanbary)
This session explores a number of different ways that targeted DNA testing can help to confirm and advance documentary research, and provides examples of correlating test results and traditional genealogy findings.

Recording Results, Analysis, and Ideas (Angela McGhie)
Keeping track of your research and analysis can be time-consuming, but the goal is to be able to pick up a research problem, even if time has passed, and know what records you have and what needs to be done. This session focuses on strategies for keeping notes on each record, summarizing the evidence, and recording thought processes and ideas.

Obstacle Avoidance: Alternative Paths Around Gaps in Evidence (Kimberly Powell)
A lack of records doesn’t have to mean a lack of evidence. This session will explore some of the reasons for gaps in evidence (missing information or records, interpretation, bias, incomplete knowledge, historic and cultural context), as well as a variety of research strategies for recognizing and filling in gaps in evidence.

4;00 p.m. Hands-On Practicum (Angela McGhie & Kimberly Powell)


Finding Family: Where Did They Come From and Where Did They Go? (Nancy Peters)
Estimates tell us that up to half the U.S. population moved at least once every ten years during the 1800s. No wonder we encounter “lost” ancestors. This session focuses on cluster research as a strategy for tracing migrating families in America.

Common Threads: Get to Know the Neighbors (Kimberly Powell)
Learn how to correlate census records with tax lists, church lists, legislative petitions, road orders, historical maps, deeds, and other records to identify your ancestor’s closest neighbors and associates and “build” a cluster community for researching sticky problems.

Resolving Conflicting Evidence: Identifying the Parents of William Dalton (Angela McGhie)
In this interactive case study we will work together to resolve a major conflict in evidence regarding the parents of William Dalton. This example will include discussions on provenance, reliability of informants, weighing evidence, and various methods of proving the case.

Community Context: Get to Know the Neighborhood (Kimberly Powell)
This session will explore a variety of creative strategies for locating an ancestor’s “neighborhood” on a map, plus methods for using historical and social data to identify community patterns and pinpoint what is “normal” for the time and place.

4:00 p.m. Hands-On Practicum (Kimberly Powell & Angela McGhie)


Testing a Case Against the GPS (Angela McGhie)
In this session we will walk through a case step by step analyzing the documents, correlating information, and resolving conflicts. We will compare it to the elements of the Genealogical Proof Standard to determine when it needs more research and when it meets the standards.

Brainstorm! Fresh Approach = Fresh Answers (Kimberly Powell)
Sometimes you just get stuck. We’ll wrap up the week by exploring strategies such as index cards, mind maps, color coding, etc. for approaching the evidence you’ve collected with fresh eyes in order to make new connections.

11:30 a.m. Certificates, farewell, and lunch