With planning “reasonably exhaustive” research, according to the criteria for thorough research in Mastering Genealogical Proof by Thomas W. Jones¹, does not have to be thoroughly exhausting. In Chapter 3 Dr. Jones explains and makes plain the first element of the Genealogical Proof Standard (GPS), “thorough (“reasonably exhaustive”) searches in sources that might help answer a research question”.²
Homework: Measuring My Research
The homework for this chapter asks us to evaluate a research report against the criteria for thorough research. It becomes increasingly difficult to complete these assignments with the goal of sharing them online as I feel I am walking a fine line between sharing my thoughts and sharing too much of the book’s content. I also tend to overthink things and worry ahead, traits I have thoughtfully handed down to all three of my children. For this public homework assignment I will be taking another look at my great, great grandfather, William Henry Brainard. Does my research yet live up to the “reasonably exhaustive” goal?
The original challenge I had with William was mentioned in Not Who We Thought We Were, the catalyst for which is found on page 150 of Vol. II of the Brainerd-Brainard Genealogy, “William Henry Brainerd of Mystic, Conn., had his name changed to Brainerd from Shailer. He m. Harriet E. Lamb, of Groton, Conn. He was son of Henry and Elizabeth (Cushman) Shailer, 2ch.”³ This conflicting evidence for William’s name and parentage led me to form the following research questions.
Who were the parents of William Henry Brainard, who married Harriet E. Lamb 19 February 1879 in Stonington, Connecticut? Where and when was he born?
Let’s see if my research meets the six criteria for “reasonably exhaustive” as laid out in Mastering Genealogical Proof.
1. Two or more independent “Evidence items in agreement”4 for birth place, time & parents:
For the year of William’s birth, several sources provide independent evidence all reporting that he was born in 1853. These include the 1860 and 1870 censuses for Colchester, Connecticut5 and the 1880 census for Groton, Connecticut.6 Also providing evidence of his birth in 1853 is his 1879 Groton marriage record to Harriet E. Lamb.7
Two sources have information providing evidence in agreement for William’s birth in Stafford Springs, Connecticut. These are the 1879 Groton marriage record and his 1902 death record.8
Two evidence items identify William’s parents as Henry and Elizabeth (Cushman) Shailer. One is the mention in the Brainard genealogy. The other is a later book, Genealogy & Record of the Shailer, Shaler, Shailor, Shaylor family : ...lineage and narrative based upon computerized, detailed, but incomplete records as of February 15, 1997 9 Are you judging this book by its title? You should be. It gives a clue as to whether or not these two works might be reporting information provided by the same person or work. Is the later Shailer genealogy based in part or in whole on the previous Brainard work? Is the earlier Brainard work based in part or in whole on any of the works cited in the Shailer genealogy? In fact several items in the Shailer genealogy are dated before the date of publication of the Brainard one. These two items of evidence cannot be included as part of a “reasonably exhaustive” criteria until all of the sources cited within the two genealogies have been investigated.
2. Did I check all of the sources a competent genealogist would view and analyze?10 No
I already know that I need to check the sources listed in the Shailer and Brainard genealogies, so the simple answer is no. There is more to do. When I added Stafford Springs and a possible new identity for William, it was necessary to research the new potential sources for a new surname and locality. This needs to happen whenever we begin a new research project. After we have crafted our genealogical research question, our first steps involve researching the time and place of the question as well as the surname or surnames involved. Dr. Jones gives suggestions for this step as well as a table on page 25.
Google Tip: Want to speed your research for a locality? It is possible to search multiple websites for results for a specific search term. Here are a few examples [please don’t limit to the following sites]:
- "New Hampshire" AND "land records" site:familysearch.org OR site:ancestry.com OR site:worldcat.org OR site:americanancestors.org OR site:godfrey.org OR site:cyndislist.com
- Libbey AND Portsmouth AND “New Hampshire” site:genealogybank.org OR site:newspapers.com OR site: site:chroniclingamerica.loc.gov/search/titles/ OR site:newspaperarchive.com
- (Shailer OR Shailor) AND genealogy AND Connecticut site:archive.org OR site: books.google.com OR site:worldcat.org OR site:jstor.org
3. Do I have any primary information? No.
The answer to this question is no, I do not. Even though I have a great two page 1874 affidavit by William describing the events leading up to his birth, this does not count as primary. He would only know what was told to him. Primary information for William’s birth would need to be reported by someone who witnessed the event, i.e. his mother or someone else in the room. In other words, not even William could provide this and to date Elizabeth and Henry remain shrouded in mystery.
4. Do I have at least one original record? Yes or no.
The two genealogies are both authored works, so are not original. The census records are digital images of originals, but are used as original. The marriage record is a microfilm of the original, but is also used as original. The same goes for the microfilm image of the 1874 name change, image of the original. Do you notice a pattern here? I have all digital or microfilm images of original records. It would be worth a trip to Connecticut to look at the originals. One reason for this would be to see if there were any later additions or corrections to the marriage record [done after the imaging was completed]. Another reason for a trip to Connecticut would be to look through the divorce papers, the group in which I found William’s name change petition. I am still wondering if Henry and Elizabeth ever divorced. That is why I looked in the divorce papers. The notation at the beginning of the film indicated that the papers were NOT filed in any order, date or name or otherwise. It would be smart to look at this record group again for evidence of a divorce.
5. Have I replace authored works or derivative records with originals if available? If primary information is findable, get it. Don’t settle for secondary.11 No
Accuracy depends on eyewitness information recorded soon after an event took place. The primary informant for William’s birth time and place would be, most commonly, his mother. It could also be a birth attendant or another family member if we had evidence that they were present for the birth. I don’t think it likely that I will find primary information giving evidence of William’s birth and parentage. There are more records to examine including church records and several indexes for vital records available at the Connecticut State Library. These are also on my ‘to do’ list.
As previously discussed I have two authored works whose sources need to be researched and analyzed. I have a photo of the grave [original record with secondary information], but I haven’t looked at the cemetery record. I do have digital images of William’s death record as well as of the coroner’s report. The death record contains secondary information providing direct evidence that William’s mother was Elizabeth Cushman. The father’s name is blank.
6. Have I tracked down all findable sources that relevant sources and indexes suggest?12 No
Hopefully it has become clear by now that I have not conducted a “reasonably exhaustive” search for William’s birth and parents. I don’t have enough proof to make an accurate statement answering my research question. There are also a couple of pieces of conflicting evidence to continue to try to resolve.
¹Thomas W. Jones, Mastering Genealogical Proof (Arlington, Virginia: National Genealogical Society, 2013).
²Jones, Mastering Genealogical Proof, 8.³Jones, Mastering Genealogical Proof, 23-32.
3Lucy Abigail Brainard, The Genealogy of the Brainerd-Brainard Family in America 1649-1908, 7 vols. (Hartford, Connecticut, 1908), II: Miscellaneous Records: 150; digital images, Google Books (http://books.google.com : accessed 13 March 2014).
⁴Jones, Mastering Genealogical Proof, 23-24.
5 1860 U.S. census, New London Co., Conn., pop. sch., Colchester, sheet 66, dwell. 480, fam. 560, William Barnard. 1870 U.S. census, New London Co., Conn., pop. sch., Colchester, sheet 30, dwell. 201, fam. 226, William H. Branard.
61880 U.S. census, New London Co., Conn., pop. sch., Groton, ED 2-101, sheet 18, dwell. 134, fam. 182, William Brainard.
7Groton, New London County, Connecticut, Records of Births, Marriages, Deaths, 1876-1895, v. 5, FHL microfilm 1306249, item 5: 314-315.
8Groton, New London County, Connecticut, Records of Births, Marriages, Deaths, 1896-1910, FHL microfilm 1309869, items 2-4: 54.
9Lawrence L. Shailer, Genealogy & Record of the Shailer, Shaler, Shailor, Shaylor family : ...lineage and narrative based upon computerized, detailed, but incomplete records as of February 15, 1997 (Chapel Hill, North Carolina, 1997), 101; digital images, Family Search (http://familysearch.org : accessed 14 March 2014).
10Jones, Mastering Genealogical Proof, 24.
11Jones, Mastering Genealogical Proof, 24-26.
Jennifer Shoer aka Scrappy Gen
[Book available from the publisher,
http://www.ngsgenealogy.org/cs/mastering_genealogical_proof in both print and Kindle versions.]