Sunday, April 26, 2009

CVGS Spring Saturday Seminar Review - Part 1: "Doing a Reasonably Exhaustive Search"

The Chula Vista Genealogical Society held the fourth annual Spring Saturday Seminar on 25 April at the Chula Vista Civic Center Branch Library from 10 a.m. until 3 p.m. The "Finding Your Elusive Ancestors" program announcement is here. There were 40 genealogists in attendance, including 12 non-members of CVGS.

The first part of the program was an 80 minute presentation by CVGS member, past-President and current Newsletter editor Randy Seaver on "Doing a Reasonably Exhaustive Search." The PowerPoint presentation was in two parts - an educational segment about the Genealogical Proof Standard and then a Case Study illustrating the elements of doing a reasonably exhaustive search, and where that search led him in his pursuit of life events of his second great-grandfather, Devier J. Smith.

In the first segment of the talk, Randy defined the terms Data, Information (Primary or Secondary), Source (original or derivative), Evidence (direct or indirect), and Proof. He then described the Genealogical Proof Standard (GPS) developed about ten years ago by the professional genealogy community. The first item in the GPS is to perform "a Reasonably Exhaustive Search for all Pertinent Information." The rest of this segment of the talk was concerned with:

* What records should be found -- including home, vital, burial, legal, government, directory, military, immigration, newspaper and published material.
* Where should the search be performed -- including libraries, societies, court houses, town halls, churches, other repositories, and online.
* Web sites for online record and family tree searches -- including subscription databases, free databases, user-submitted data, message centers, book collections, and search engines.
* Perils of online searches -- emphasizing that not all genealogy data is online, and never will be, that online data can be unreliable and should be used only as a finding aid, and that there never will be a "mother of all genealogy databases."
* Five favorite search techniques combining online, repository and distant locality research.
* Eight general search strategies for effectively and efficiently doing research
* Using cluster research techniques to find associates of the target persons to research.

This is information that most professional and experienced genealogists know about and understand, but the great majority of local society members have rarely heard about, especially the Genealogical Proof Standard and the techniques used in its' application.

The segment of the talk was a Case Study showing what Randy has found to date about Devier J. Smith (1842-1894), who was born in Jefferson County NY, grew to manhood in Dodge County WI, married to Abigail Vaux there, sired five children, moved to Iowa, Missouri, Kansas and Nebraska while raising his family, dying in Red Willow County, NE and is buried there. Randy showed the family Bible pages, the papers written by Devier's wife, the census records, the business items from a family scrapbook, his obituary, funeral parlor bill, etc. He then asked the question: "Have I done a reasonably exhaustive search?" Everyone that raised there hands said "yes" and no one said "no," despite the exhaustive list provided in the GPS handout.

Having gathered a fine consensus of opinion, Randy showed just what information had not been found yet (including probate, land, church, tax, newspaper records). To the shock of almost everyone, he proceeded to describe how he found evidence that Devier J. Smith was actually the adopted son of Ranslow and Mary (Bell) Smith, and his birth name was Devier J. Lamphier. The net result was that Randy has lots more research to perform to find the birth parents of Devier, that he lost about 50 ancestors of Ranslow and Mary (Bell) Smith in the process, and relearned some lessons about getting ahead of one's self in researching ancestors.

The final portion of the second segment was a summary of how Randy has searched for records of the birth and/or parents of Devier J. Lamphier. He was unable to find any record in online databases for the birth or existence of Devier Lamphier. Using census records for 1820-1860, and listing entries in guardianship, probate, and deed records in Jefferson County NY (using FHL microfilms), he is compiling a list of potential parents of Devier Lamphier.

All that in 120 slides in 80 minutes left Randy breathless and the audience thinking about how the information and his experience applied to each of them. Randy's purpose, of course, was to inform about the subject matter and to introduce the principles of the Genealogical Proof Standard and demonstrate by examples how it can be used to find elusive ancestors.

Randy had a three page handout that covered the first segment of his presentation - you can obtain a copy by emailing him at

After this session, the group filed through the Conference Room, picked up sandwiches, fruit, chips, dessert and water and took them out to the nearby park for lunch and conversation in the sun.

1 comment:

Janet Iles said...

Randy that sounds like a great day. Do you know the research experience level of those in attendance? Was it a mix? If there were beginners, did they feel overwhelmed? What kind of feedback did you receive?

I am starting to teach a genealogy course this week at night school, I am planning to introduce them to GPS the first night. I don't know yet the experience level of those who will be in attendance.