Research Methods

by Michael Hait, CG

The goal of this Library is to share information about tracing your Lowcountry African-American ancestors. The articles presented here will discuss general methods necessary for accurate research, and will use these methods to examine specific Lowcountry examples.


What is the Genealogical Proof Standard (GPS)?

The GPS, as outlined in Genealogical Proof Standard: Building a Solid Case by Christine Rose (San Jose, Calif.: CR Publications, 2005), consists of five steps:

1. Conduct a reasonably exhaustive search for all information that is or may be pertinent to the question for which you are seeking an answer.

2. Completely and accurately cite every source of information discovered in this search.

3. Analyze and correlate the collected information to assess its quality as evidence.

4. Resolve any conflicts caused by contradictory items of evidence or information contrary to your conclusion.

5. Arrive at a soundly reasoned, coherently written conclusion.


What Constitutes a Source Record?

Under the current standards of genealogical proof, source citation and analysis are supreme. But what constitutes a genealogical source record? Some genealogy extremists hold to the unreasonable opinion that only government-issued records are reliable sources for information. These extremists obviously do not research African-American families. READ MORE

Evaluating a Source Record

One important aspect of the Genealogical Proof Standard is its focus on the principles of sound record analysis. Using these principles, you will be able to distinguish between different types of records, information, and evidence and use these distinctions, together with other factors, to determine the reliability of your facts. READ MORE

Evaluating a Record By Itself

In the last article, we discussed the various terms and considerations necessary to properly evaluate source records. Here we will apply this process to a record relating to the Lowcountry. READ MORE

Corroborating Evidence

In the previous entry of this column, we examined the Freedmans Bank deposit slip for an African-American man named Robert S. Tarleton. To gather more information on this person, we will examine the federal census records.

We will examine the 1870 federal census record in order to corroborate the information contained within the Freedmans Bank record, and gather any additional information that it may contain. READ MORE

Creating a Research Plan

The first step in the Genealogical Proof Standard states that one must conduct a reasonably exhaustive search for all information that is or may be pertinent to the question for which you are seeking an answer. Has this been completed? Having only examined two records, we are far from conducting a reasonably exhaustive search. But how does one know when a reasonably exhaustive search has been achieved? Simply put, only experience in research will provide the insight to be sure. A well-crafted research plan, however, can help you to achieve this goal. READ MORE

Gathering More Information – the Next Step

As previously mentioned, the first part of the process comprising the Genealogical Proof Standard is to conduct a “reasonably exhaustive search” for all records relevant to your research problem. We have already discovered and analyzed two records regarding our subject Robert S. Tarleton. While these two records begin to build our body of knowledge about Robert S. Tarleton, it is clearly not enough. The last post described steps to creating an effective research plan.

At this point, we already know several facts about Robert S. Tarleton, including his parents and siblings’ names. So for the purposes of this research our goal will be simply to learn as much as we can about Robert S. Tarleton and his life as a free man following the Civil War. READ MORE

Gathering More Information – Researching from Your Research Plan

In the last entry, we created a brief research plan for several record groups available online. Having completed the research, the information located, and citations for the sources searched, appear in our research log.

Note several aspects of this research log:

  • full source citations have been included;
  • where no information was located, the type of search/search terms were included;
  • abstracted information does not appear in quotation marks, but quoted information does.


Pulling the Most Out of Your Records

The records we have located thus far provide both direct and indirect evidence that Robert S. Tarleton’s parents were Joseph and Sarah Tarleton.

Our tendency may be to jump back to this earlier generation and start working on Joseph and Sarah. However, this is the surest way to build ourselves an impassible brick wall. READ MORE

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