14 March 2011

An Interview with Sharon Sargeant, Forensic Genealogist

Where is your plan? Is it up in the air?
Sharon Sargeant, internationally recognized forensic genealogist, will present a Research Planning Workshop at the New England Regional Genealogical Conference in April 2011. Sharon attracted international attention for bringing conflicting evidence to light in the case of Misha Defonseca's autobiography, Misha: A Memoire of the Holocaust Years. She went on to similarly debunk two other self proclaimed Holocaust survival stories. Sharon prepared Module 2 for the Boston University Genealogical Research Program and is currently writing a book about investigative genealogy.

Sharon and I connected last Wednesday via Skype for a conversation about her thoughts on conducting genealogical research and jigsaw puzzles. The session turned into my own research planning seminar. To say that Sharon is passionate about research planning is an understatement. She is equally as passionate about making the Genealogical Proof Standard process accessible and comprehensible. From her teaching experience at Boston University and in workshops, Sharon became aware that both research planning and the Genealogical Proof Standard mystified many of her students. She realized she needed to demystify research plans, provide concrete examples and bring the abstract concepts to her audiences in a simpler way.

Research Planning and the Genealogical Proof Standard

How does Sharon help her students to understand and use the Genealogical Proof Standard? She gets it right out there in the beginning of the research planning so that newer researchers will get used to using it. Or, for more advanced researchers, she has them go back to review or essentially step through their information again with the G.P.S. in mind. Sharon's goal is to bring the standards to the plan and illustrate why they expedite it. Sharon's students learn how to keep the G.P.S. awareness right up front in research planning as a reminder to look at the big picture, keep thinking about the evidence, keep track of sources, extract all information and resolve conflicting evidence.

Research Planning and Puzzles: Do the Edges First
After learning the concepts about how to create a research plan with the G.P.S. as a guide, then what? Sharon tells her students, when beginning to try to solve a genealogical puzzle, do the edges first! Give your problem boundaries. The edges are the pieces of evidence that give proof of time and place. Keep all of the middle pieces, even if you don't think they fit. Keep them just in case. Sharon suggests that if we try to do the middles first, we will be like water circling around the drain, the drain being the holes in our research. She says get the concepts, then do the straight edges. Figure out what you have that is solid evidence and build on that. Don't focus on the holes!

Research Planning Workshop

Any researcher from beginning to advanced would benefit Sharon's upcoming workshop. Beginners will get solid tools for approaching their research. Advanced or experienced researchers will get a better idea of where they are in their process. With a plan in place all researchers will feel less overwhelmed. Sharon's goal is to give her students tools they can use again and again.

Students do not have to prepare anything in advance of the workshop, but they might find it helpful to focus on one problem that they would like to solve. This could be a beginning or a brick wall problem. 

Sharon Sargeant will present her Research Planning Workshop in Springfield, Massachusetts on Friday, April 8th from 8:30-10:30 AM at the New England Regional Genealogical Convference (NERGC). This workshop requires a fee and advance registration. More details can be found in the conference brochure on page 8. 

Scrappy Gen
Let's Remember!


  1. I’ve awarded you the One Lovely Blog Award! Please visit my blog at www.2338wwashingtonblvd.blogspot.com/ to pick up your award!

  2. Thank you Margel. You know I love your blog too!


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