Gathering Genealogical Evidence to Prove a Theory

Episode 19 Video and Show Notes

Live show air date: August 6, 2020
Join me for Elevenses with Lisa, the online video series where we take a break, visit and learn about genealogy and family history.

Genealogy Consultation Provides a Strong Hypothesis

My 45-minute consultation with a genealogy expert Kate Eakman at Legacy Tree Genealogists broke things wide open on my Irish family lines and gave me the information and resources I needed to make all of the progress I shared in this episode. It’s the best investment I’ve made in my genealogy in a long time. They have experts in all areas. Learn more about how easy it is to book a consultation here.

After my consultation I needed to update my research plan and get to work collecting more genealogical evidence.

Let’s quickly recap what happened when I started working on my brick wall last week in episode 18:

  • Margaret Lynch’s death certificate said her parents were James Scully and Bridget Madigan.
  • Her obituary said she was born in Limerick Ireland.
  • There was one couple by those names in Limerick, having children and the right time. There is a gap in the records where Margaret should be.
  • Her husband Michael Lynch dies in Stillwater MN. St. Michael’s Catholic church. Found their marriage record in Stillwater. It was a large booming town, and a good place to focus. The Lynch family had a farm across the river in Farmington, Wisconsin.

My research question: Was this couple we found, James Scully and Bridget Madigan, who married in Kilcolman, Limerick, Ireland in 1830, the parents of Margaret Scully?

What Kate Eakman of Legacy Tree Genealogists helped me do in my 45-minute consultation:

  • Become acquainted with a variety of excellent Irish research websites
  • Located the indexed marriage record for James and Bridget
  • Located the original marriage record for James and Bridget
  • Located the indexed baptismal records for all of the children who had James and Bridget listed as their parents.

A Genealogy Research Plan for Collecting Evidence

After the consultation I developed a new research question: Are the children that we found records for in Ireland the siblings of my Margaret Lynch?

My research plan included:

  1. Verify if there were any other couples by the names James Scully and Bridget Madigan married in Ireland, particularly in the time from of circa 1830. (Location of source: RootsIreland.ie)
  2. Search in the U.S., starting in the area where Margaret lived, for each child. I’m looking for records that name these same parents, and show the child at an age that correlates with the baptismal date.

I identified several sources I believed would help me accomplish my goals.

Marriage Records – I conducted a search for James in Bridget in all counties in Ireland. I discovered that the couple Kate found during my consultation is the only couple in the RootsIreland database with those names married in Ireland. This gives me more confidence that I have the correct couple. 

U.S. Records – Armed with the names and ages of the children of James and Bridget, it was time to return to America. I needed to search U.S. records to see if any of the children came to America (perhaps living near Margaret) and if these parents were named. 

Records to look for:

  1. U.S. Federal Census (Ancestry, FamilySearch), and State Census (Minnesota Historical Society, Ancestry, FamilySearch)
  2. Death records (Minnesota Historical Society, FamilySearch.)
  3. Newspapers, particularly obituaries possibly naming parents or Limerick. (Minnesota Historical Society, Newspapers.com)

Before I began my search I created an excel spreadsheet to capture the information. I included columns for what their ages should be in each census. 

Excel spreadsheet for genealogy research

Using a spreadsheet to track my findings.

Now I was ready to start the genealogical hunt!

U.S. Census

Search each sibling one at a time in the census.

  • Focus on Washington Co., Minnesota (marriage and death location for Margaret & Michael Lynch)
  • Move on to Polk County Wisconsin, and greater Wisconsin.
  • Search both U.S. Federal Census & State Census
  • Top locations identified for this search: Ancestry.com, Familysearch.org, Minnesota Historical Society

Results:

  • Found individuals matching the sons in Stillwater and Baytown (Washington County)
  • Found Bridget Scully (Mother) living with various sons in various census records.
  • Immigration years listed for some of Margaret’s siblings.
1870 us federal census genealogy

Found in the 1870 U.S. Federal Census: James, Thomas, Daniel and Bridget. 

I created folders for each sibling marked MAYBE and collected the records on my hard drive.
Learn more about hard drive organization in Elevenses with Lisa episode 8.

Searched FamilySearch and the Minnesota Historical Society for a death record for each son.

  • Found Thomas and James.
  • James Scully and Bridget Madigan listed as parents
  • Ages matched
  • Next step: order the death certificates

Newspapers

Next I searched the Minnesota Historical Society website for newspapers.

Results:

  • 170+ articles
  • Two obituaries for Bridget Scully! (8 children, immigration year, husband died in Ireland implied)
  • Found James Scully working with his brother and his obituary

Research Tip: Look at a map and identify nearby towns and larger cities. Expand your search to these areas.

I found a James Scully in the 1860 census with Bridget and his brothers, and working with Thomas in many newspaper articles.

Bridget’s obituary said she came to America with 8 children. 7 had baptismal records in Ireland. James and Margaret were not found in the baptismal records but were confirmed in U.S. records to have the same parents. That would be a total of 9 children. It’s possible one of the daughters that have not yet been found in U.S. records may have died in Ireland prior to their leaving for America.

I then combed back through my Lynch binder – I might spot something that I marked as unsure, or that might jump out at me now that didn’t 20 years ago.

  • Found History of the St. Croix Valley I had photocopied a section. Names Daniel Scully (who I have since found in the census, newspapers and death records) and says his parents are James Scully and Bridget Madigan!
  • Looked the book up in Google Books. It’s fully digitized. Now I can extensively read and search it.

Tech Tip: Clip and combine newspaper clippings with SnagIt software

Clipping and saving newspapers poses a unique challenge for genealogists:

  • Clipping a small portion of a very large digital newspaper page can result in a low resolution file. 
  • If you clip an article you don’t always capture which newspaper and issue it came from
  • Articles often continue in different locations on the page or pages, making it impossible to capture the entire article  in one image. 

I use SnagIt software to clip my newspaper finds. I can then save them to Evernote or archive them on my hard drive. SnagIt can save your clippings in wide range of file types and can even clip video. You can get your copy of SnagIt here. It’s a one time fee and download – no subscription! (Thank you for using my link – it financially supports this free without any added expense to you.)

How to combine multiple clippings with Snagit:

  1. Clip the paper title and date
  2. Clip the article
  3. Clip any additional applicable sections of the article
  4. In the SnagIt menu under Image click Combine Images
  5. Drag and drop the clippings into the desired order
  6. Click the Combine button
  7. Save the combined image: In the menu File > Save As (you can select from a wide variety of file types)
SnagIt https://tinyurl.com/snaggems

Use SnagIt to combine newspaper clippings – https://tinyurl.com/snaggems

Research Tip: Using Street Addresses in Google Earth

When you find a street address, whether in a newspaper, city directory, census or other genealogical record, use it to find the location in the free Google Earth software program. You can then save an HD quality image of the location.

How to find a location in Google Earth (on a computer):

  1. Type the address into the search field in the upper left corner
  2. Click the Search button
  3. The map will automatically “fly to” the location and a pin will mark the general spot.
  4. Hover your mouse pointer in the upper right corner of the to reveal the navigation tools. Click the plus sign to zoom in closer.

How to view the location with Street View:

  1. Zoom in relatively close so that the street and buildings are distinctly visible.
  2. Just above the zoom tool you will find the Street View icon (the yellow “peg man”). Click on the icon and drag it over the street in front of the building / location. Don’t release your mouse. It may take a second or two for the blue line to appear indicating that Street View is available in that location. If no blue line appears street view is not available.
  3. When the blue line is visible, drop the Street View icon directly onto the blue line in front of the location you want to view. by releasing your mouse. If you miss the line and the picture looks distorted, click the Exit button in the upper right corner and try again.
  4. Once on Street View, you can use your keyboard arrow keys to navigate. You can also click on further down the street to move forward that direction.

How to save an image of a street view location:

  1. Position yourself in the best view of the desired location using your mouse and keyboard arrow keys as described above.
  2. In the toolbar at the top of the screen, click the Image icon (it looks like a portrait-oriented page, near the printer icon)
  3. A Title and Description box will appear at the top of the screen beneath the toolbar. Click it and type in a title and description for your image if desired.
  4. You can adjust the size (resolution) of the image you will be saving by clicking the Resolution button above the title box.
  5. When you’re ready to save the image to your hard drive, click the Save Image

Learn more about using Google Earth for genealogy in Elevenses with Lisa episode 12.

how to use google earth for genealogy

Order the video training series at the Genealogy Gems Store featuring 14 exclusive step-by-step video tutorials. The perfect companion to the book The Genealogists’s Google Toolbox by Lisa Louise Cooke.

After a week of post-consultation research:

Question: Who were the parents of Margaret Scully born in Limerick Ireland on approximately July 9, 1840?
Answer: James Scully and Bridget Madigan, married in Limerick, Ireland June 13, 1830. (Though I feel confident about this, I still have additional records I want to find in order to further solidify this conclusion.)

Question: In what Parish was Margaret Lynch born?
Answer: Most likely Kilcolman based on the baptismal locations of her siblings.

My Next Research Steps:

  • Browse search through the baptismal parish records at NLI 1839-1842 for Margaret, and 1834-1836 for James Scully.
  • Look for marriages of Margaret’s female siblings, and family burials.
    (Contact St. Michael’s church, Stillwater, MN.)
  • Go through newspapers.com – there are several Minneapolis and St. Paul papers running articles from Stillwater.
  • Resume my search of passenger list records with the newly revised date of c. 1851.
  • Search for the death record of Bridget’s husband James at RootsIreland and NLI.

How to Book a Genealogy Consultation

My 45-minute consultation with a genealogy expert Kate Eakman at Legacy Tree Genealogists broke things wide open on my Irish family lines and gave me the information and resources I needed to make all of the progress I shared in this episode. It’s the best investment I’ve made in my genealogy in a long time. They have experts in all areas. Learn more about how easy it is to book a consultation here.

Learn More:

For more step-by-step instructions for using Google Earth read my book The Genealogist’s Google Toolbox available at the Genealogy Gems Store.

Recommended Genealogy Gems Premium Member Videos with downloadable handouts:

Learn more about Genealogy Gems Premium membership here.

 

Genealogy News: Free Webinar

Watch the free video recording of my session on the MyHeritage Collection Catalog here.

 

Resources:

Live Chat PDF– Click here to download the live Chat from episode 19 which includes my answers to your questions. 

Genealogy Gems Premium Members:

Become a Premium Member here

 

Genealogical Evidence and Proof: How to know if you’ve compiled enough evidence

The Genealogical Proof Standard tells us that we need to conduct reasonably exhaustive research in order for our work to be credible. If you’ve ever wondered just what constitutes “reasonable” (and if your family tree is up to snuff) my guest author Kate Eakman, professional genealogist at Legacy Tree Genealogists, has answers.  

genealogical evidence and proof

Professional Genealogist Kate Eakman explains evidence on the Genealogy Gems blog.

Genealogical Evidence: Have You Got What It Takes?

How do we know when we have compiled enough evidence to constitute proof?

Is a birth certificate or an autosomal DNA test result sufficient to declare this person is the child of that person?

Must we collect every record regarding an individual – the deeds, the tax lists, the newspaper clippings, the census reports – before we can declare a familial connection?

The Genealogical Proof Standard (GPS)

The Genealogy Proof Standard (GPS) directs us to perform reasonably exhaustive research, which requires that we identify and review all available records related to an individual.[1] This is being as thorough and accurate as possible and is a goal toward which we should all aspire in our genealogical research.

But, let’s be honest: most of us do not want to spend weeks or months (or even years) documenting one person before moving on to the next individual. We don’t want to know every detail of grandpa’s life before we turn to grandma.

We want to build a family tree which accurately provides us with the names of our ancestors so that we can identify our immigrant ancestor, or join a lineage society, or enjoy the satisfaction that comes from a balanced tree extending back a hundred years or more.

We want to be thorough and accurate, but we also want to make some progress. How do we balance the need for accuracy with the desire for results? How do we determine the necessary quality and quantity of evidence for our research?

Below are some guidelines to demonstrate how we can go about compiling the necessary information to say with confidence “this person is my ancestor.”

Genealogical Evidence Guidelines

1. One record/source is never enough.

Any one piece of data can say anything. A mother might lie on her child’s birth certificate for a number of reasons. A grieving spouse might not correctly recall the information for a husband or wife’s death certificate. There are typos and omissions and messy handwriting with which to contend. Even a lone DNA test is not sufficient evidence to prove a family connection.

We need multiple sources, and different kinds of sources, which corroborate the details of the others.

marriage license genealogy

A single source is not enough. A marriage license does not guarantee that John and Griselda married. Photo courtesy https://newspapers.com.

A census report and autosomal DNA test results.

A deed and a will.

A birth certificate and an obituary.

Or, better still, a birth certificate, a census report, a deed, a will, an obituary, and autosomal DNA test results.

2. The more contemporary the source is to the person or event in question, the better.

Records of events made immediately after the event tend to be more accurate, and provide better details, than records created months or years later. As time passes, details become fuzzy, two events can be confused with each other, and our memories fade.

The passage of time between an event and the record of the event also allows for some revisionist history to creep in.

Here are some examples:

A birth year is adjusted to make someone appear older or younger in order to avoid the draft, enlist in the military, mask a dramatic age difference between spouses, or conceal an out-of-wedlock birth.

An obituary ignores the deceased’s first marriage because of some embarrassment associated with that marriage.

A census report enumerates everyone in the household as natives of Stepney, London, when they really were born in Stepney, and Hackney, and Whitechapel, which explains why the baptismal records can’t be found in Stepney.

newspaper obituary

According to this obituary for Griselda, she was the widow of Willis Tenney, not John Wise. It appears Griselda and John did not marry after all. Photo courtesy https://newspapers.com.

According to this obituary for Griselda, she was the widow of Willis Tenney, not John Wise. It appears Griselda and John did not marry after all. Photo courtesy https://newspapers.com.

This is particularly true when it comes to autosomal DNA testing. My autosomal DNA is more useful for identifying my ancestors than is my son’s because I am one generation closer to those ancestors. This is the reason we encourage people to test the oldest members of their family first: their DNA has the potential to be the most useful simply because they are from an earlier generation (or two).

3. It is okay to make appropriate assumptions, but be careful!

In genealogical research we must sometimes make assumptions. When research theories are based on logical reasoning, it is perfectly acceptable to make those appropriate suppositions.

Determining which assumptions are appropriate can be simple: the two-year-old child enumerated in the home of a 90-year-old woman in the 1850 census can safely be eliminated as a biological child of that woman; the man born in 1745 could not have been buried in 1739; the person with whom I share 3150 cM of DNA is my sibling.

The challenge is to avoid making what seems like an appropriate assumption but is really based on faulty reasoning or bias. For instance, we presume that every child listed in a household in the 1860 U.S. Census is son or daughter of the two adults listed first. However, the household could include step-children, cousins, or individuals not even related to the family who were erroneously assigned the same surname.

Other inappropriate assumptions can include:

  • the notion that a baby was born within a week of his baptismal date;
  • a woman’s reported surname on her marriage certificate is her maiden name;
  • there is only one person in any village, town, or city with the name of your ancestor;
  • someone who shares 2000 cM of DNA with you must be your grandparent, aunt or uncle, niece or nephew, half sibling, or grandchild (they could be a ¾ sibling, the child of one of your parents and the sibling of the other parent).

4. All of the data from the various sources must correlate, and there can be no unresolved contradictions.

When the birth certificate says Richard was born in 1914, the 1938 newspaper article about his wedding reports Richard was 24 years old and the 1942 World War II Draft Registration card notes Richard’s date of birth occurred in 1914, we can confidently declare Richard was born in 1914.

If the wedding article declared the groom was 23 years old the contradiction could be explained by the time of year in which the wedding occurred – before or after Richard’s birthday.

But if his birth certificate reported a 1914 birth, and the newspaper article noted Richard was 32 years old, while the World War II Draft Registration listed his year of birth as 1920, we have some important contradictions. It is most likely the records are for three different men with the same name.

genealogy record Tenney

 

additional genealogical evidence

By collecting additional evidence, we finally learn that Griselda and John Wise did marry, and after his death Griselda married Willis Tenney. If we had collected only one of these four records we would not have had the most accurate information regarding Griselda Paul. Photos courtesy https://familysearch.org.

It’s important to remember that once we have accomplished that initial goal of building out our tree a few generations (or identifying our immigrant ancestor, or determining if we are related to that historical person) we can – and should – go back and collect other sources related to that person. This will result in uncovering a more complete story of their lives in the process.

As we can see from the four documents regarding Griselda Paul’s marriages, her story is much more than a simple list of birth, marriage, and death dates. As we identify, review, and analyze the other available sources, Griselda’s story will come alive with the facts and details we uncover.

A Fresh Set of Eyes on Your Genealogy Brick Wall

Sometimes the wrong evidence or assumptions can push us into a brick wall. A fresh set of expert eyes can help you identify the problem, and recommend the sources you need to pursue in order to compile trustworthy evidence.

If you are looking for some assistance in your genealogical research, Legacy Tree Genealogists can help. Our affordable ($100 USD)  Genealogist-on-DemandTM Virtual Consultation service provides you with the opportunity for a 45 minute one-on-one discussion of your research with one of our expert genealogists. We can help guide you in evaluating evidence and determining research strategies to move forward with your research confidently. 

 

 

 

About the Author: Kate Eckman

Legacy Tree guest blogger Kate Eakman grew up hearing Civil War stories at her father’s knee and fell in love with history and genealogy at an early age. With a master’s degree in history and over 20 years experience as a genealogist, Kate has worked her magic on hundreds of family trees and narratives.

Kate Eakman Legacy Tree Genealogists

Professional Genealogists Kate Eakman

 

[1] “Genealogical Proof Standard (GPS),” Board for Certification of Genealogists, https://bcgcertification.org/ethics-standards, accessed March 2020.

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