11 March 2014

MGP 2 – My Chapter 2 Homework Thoughts – Crafting a Genealogical Question

This post is part of DearMyrtle's Hangout on Air series, MGP2 Study Group 2, studying Mastering Genealogical Proof by Thomas W. Jones.¹ Hangouts are every Sunday morning at 10:00 AM Eastern US time. Join us to learn more about the discipline of genealogical work and how adhering to its standards will improve your family history results. Your family will thank you. 

As a hanger for Study Group 2, one of my responsibilities is to post my completed homework for each chapter. Because the answers are found at the end of your book, I will not post them (which would also violate copyright), but will post my thoughts about each question. If you have not already done so, I highly recommend that you purchase and use this text. I am not being compensated for my endorsement, although I am enjoying the benefit of the author's wisdom. 


It All Starts With a Question

How do we begin genealogical research? We ask ourselves a question. What do I want to know? Perhaps the answer is everything about the Burrell family from Weymouth, Massachusetts. This is a noble question, but one which might require a lifetime of research to answer. Unless embarking on a major project or possessing limitless time and funding (i.e. we won the lottery), our question must be simple and straightforward.

Crafting a Genealogical Question

1. Who is your person of interest? “a documented person”²
2. What do you want to learn about this person? 
     “specific information”³

In the case of my Burrell family from Weymouth, my person of interest is my 4x great grandfather, Alvan Burrell. My crafted genealogical question answers the two questions above:

1.   Who? the Alvan Burrell, who married Nancy Tirrell                  Burrell on 6 August 1825 in Weymouth, Massachusetts 
2.  What? Who were his parents?

and becomes, "Who were the parents of Alvan Burrell, who married Nancy Tirrell Burrell on 6 August 1825 in Weymouth, Massachusetts?"

Parentage is a relationship question. According to Dr. Jones, there are two other possible general genealogical question types; activity and identity.⁴

My third great grandfather is also named Alvin [i and a are interchangeable for both father and son] Burrell. There are many sources, which include information about an Alvan Burrell in Weymouth. The identity question is which one? In order to identify the correct Alvan Burrell, I would ask, “Which Alvan Burrell is referenced in the 9 Jan 1873 Deed from Thais Burrell to Alvan Burrell.”

An activity question answers a question about something your person of interest did; immigrated, performed military service, lived in a place, etc. About Alvin Burrell, the son, I might ask, “Did Alvin Russell Burrell, born 24 March 1830 in Weymouth, Massachusetts, serve during the Civil War?”

Crafting our genealogical questions leads to better and more effective genealogical search results. How do you craft your questions? Feel free to post one in the comments below.


¹Thomas W. Jones, Mastering Genealogical Proof (Arlington, Virginia:                National Genealogical Society, 2013).
²Jones, Mastering Genealogical Proof, 7.
³Ibid., 7.
⁴Ibid., 8.

Jennifer Shoer aka Scrappy Gen
Let's Remember!

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