Have you ever had a serious case of information overload? That’s what I’m suffering from right now. FGS in Fort Wayne was amazing, but exhausting! Classes all day from 8 am until 6 pm and then off to the Allen County Library for research each evening until 11. It was actually open until midnight Wednesday, Thursday and Friday, but I just couldn’t last that long. Because the 2 hotels that were right downtown had filled up already, I had to stay at a place about 10 miles away and get a shuttle back and forth. That little detail added at least an hour onto each day.
The classes that I chose to attend were mostly in the Methodologies Track, so they were more about the “big picture”, putting it all together, building a case from various bits of indirect evidence and resolving conflicting evidence rather than classes about an individual subject, location or records group. There were many great speakers, but may favorite was Elizabeth Shown Mills, who gave 4 presentations
- Smiths and Joneses: Success with Families of Common Name
- Trousers, Beds, Tacks& Housekeeping bills: Problem Solving with ‘Trivial Details’!
- Identity Crisis: Right Name, Wrong Man? Wrong name, Right Man?
- Finding Fathers: Bridging the Generation Gap
You can start to get the idea just from the lecture names. In each one she illustrated how difficult problems can be solved if we employ the Genealogical Proof Standard, beginning with reasonably exhaustive research, then complete and accurate source identification, skilled analysis and correlation of data, resolution of any conflicts in evidence and finally, last but not least, “a soundly reasoned conclusion or ‘proof argument’. One example in the Smiths and Jones’ lecture yielded a probable identity for the father of a woman by using land records. Not just one land record, but actually plotting all the land belonging to likely families despite the fact that it stretched across county lines and into different townships even within the county. Then correlating that with the road maintenance records from supervisors or commissioners minutes and plotting property of each man named. These records will sometimes name young men still living at home, they might not own the property, but they will be maintaining it! Another research avenue she mentioned also involved land records. Often there is a separate index for grantees and grantors and I have been satisfied to look for the name there and then just go to the particular book and page named. Ms Mills pointed out that sometimes each individual book will also have an index and that index might have quite a bit more detail. Particularly in those places where other things like marriages, indentures, bastardy bonds and other great records are recorded in the deed books. The clerk who compiled the grantee/grantor index might have just left those other little bits out. There’s also the extra layer of transcription that may have introduced more error. In the Trivial Details lecture, a man’s date of death was found by looking through his probate file. The actual date was not mentioned anywhere and the probate had not been promptly opened when the man died. By reading each of the little receipts and bills and other scraps of paper in the probate file she came across a dated bill against the estate from a merchant for multiple yards of “black domestic” and tacks. That invoice for the necessary items to outfit a casket and a house in mourning pinned down the date.
These are just a couple examples of things I learned in 1 or 2 classes. How many brick walls will come tumbling down if I can develop the skill to use the knowledge I received at this conference?