2012 – Advanced Research Methods

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

Instructors: Claire M. Bettag, CG, CGL
                      Richard G. Sayre, CG

See photos below.


Participants will develop advanced genealogical research, analysis, correlation and compilation skills. Hands-on activities from original sources will enhance this learning. Examples will be drawn from American States and colonies and European countries. Before the course begins, participants will complete two pre-course reading assignments. Three in-course homework assignments will be optional.

Tom Jones on the first day
Some of the Advanced Methods students



Claire Bettag, CG, CGL, is a genealogist based in Washington D.C. Certified since 1997. She conducts research in Washington, DC, Louisiana, and France. Bettag has taught family history for more than ten years at the National Archives, IGHR, NIGR, and at national and regional conferences and institutes. A contributing author to Professional Genealogy, she has also written for NGSQ, APGQ, the Louisiana Genealogical Register, and other publications. She is on the editorial board of NGSQ and has served as a trustee on the BCG, the director of NIGR, a co-editor of NGSQ, a director of the APG, and a director of the NGS. She earned a B.A. in French at the University of Southwestern Louisiana and an M.A. in French at Columbia University (Woodrow Wilson Fellow). She spent a year studying at the University of Toulouse in France (Fulbright Fellow). 

COURSE REQUIREMENTS: You should have some familiarity with the Genealogical Proof Standard (GPS), and terms such as original and derivative sources, primary and secondary information, and direct and indirect evidence.

NOTES: Optional homework will be given. Bringing a laptop to this course is optional. This course begins 15 minutes earlier on Wednesday, Thursday, and Friday.



8:30–9:45 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

10:15–11:30 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

1:00–2:15 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

2:45–4 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


8:30–9:45 a.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

10:15–11:30 a.m.  Archival Research (Bettag)

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.

1:00–2:15 p.m.  Military and Pension Records Strategies: Analysis, Interpretation, and Correlation (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

2:45–4 p.m. Federal research: Government Documents (Bettag)

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.

4:00–4:30 p.m. Optional online homework assignment 1 (Bettag)


8:15–8:45 a.m.  Homework assignment 1 debriefing (Bettag)

8:45–10:00 a.m.  Federal Land Records: Analysis, Interpretation, and Correlation (Bettag)

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

10:15–11:30 a.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

1:00–2:15 p.m.  Rural and Urban Map Strategies: Analysis, Interpretation, and Correlation (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

2:45–4 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

4:00–4:30 p.m. Optional homework assignment 2 (Jones)


8:15–8:45 a.m.  Homework assignment 2 debriefing (Jones)

8:45–10:00 a.m.  Bringing Law to Bear on Complex Genealogical Problems (Jones)

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

10:15–11:30 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

1:00–2:15 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

2:45–4 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

4:00–4:30 p.m. Optional online research homework assignment 3 (Jones)


8:15–8:45 a.m.  Homework assignment 3 debriefing (Jones)

8:45–10:00 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

10:15–11:30 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

11:45 a.m. to 1 p.m.  INSTITUTE WRAP-UP AND LUNCHEON