Sherlock Holmes for Genealogists

Profound Lessons from  Sherlock Holmes to boost ancestry research.

I have always been a fan of detective stories. My father was a detective for a major city police department during the 1960s. In his later years, I enjoyed listening to his stories of how he could crack the case after careful research and analysis.

4 Profound Lessons from Sherlock Holmes 
Table of Contents

As I read and listened to the Sherlock Holmes stories by Sir Conan Doyle, I noticed that Sherlock used the same strategies as my father.

I thought it would be fun to create a personal research project where I would use Sherlock Holmes as a model. What would Sherlock Holmes do if he were a historian or genealogist? I intended to see if I could uncover and understand the principles and then apply them to my genealogy research practices.

The results of my project were profound for me and dramatically changed my approach to historical genealogy research. I’d like to share with you what I found.

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Sherlock Holmes Understood Analysis

The analysis is a systematic approach to problem-solving. Complex problems are made simpler by separating them into more understandable elements. Sherlock Holmes identified analysis when he said, “When you eliminate the impossible, whatever you have left, no matter how improbable, must be the truth.”

Some analysis is simply common sense. For example, You find a family record that identifies a mother to be younger than her offspring. This cannot be true.

Other situations are cause for careful research and analysis. For example, I have an ancestor named Permitt Lee in the 1780s from Virginia, hoping he was related to General Robert Lee. However, there appears to be at least four Lee families in or passing through Virginia. We are taking each family line one by one and seeking to “eliminate the impossible” so we can focus on the possible.

Throughout the many Sherlock Holmes stories, four main steps are followed for solving mysteries.

  1. Observation – soaking up the facts
  2. Search – getting to the nitty-gritty
  3. Analysis – sorting through the jigsaw pieces
  4. Imagination – the workshop of the mind

Like Sherlock Holmes, genealogical research methods begin with a general concept moving toward a more specific conclusion. This is also referred to as deductive reasoning.

This is the process of reaching a conclusion that is guaranteed to follow, if

  • The evidence provided is accurate.
  • The reasoning used to conclude is correct.

Deductive reasoning involves

  • Using a foundation of known information
  • Analyzing it in such a way as to make valid, objective, educated arguments for an ancestral family connection. Making such a case requires
    • Multiple pieces of information, often with supplementary resources, logically tie personal circumstances together.
    • Consider facts that would otherwise exclude or negate the relationships in question from being established.
  • Deductive research is not a guessing game, a stab in the dark, or a linkage of names simply because you have found someone with a family tree with the same surname as yours.

Deductive Reasoning, Dr. Watson style!

Taking a well-earned break from the detective business, Sherlock Holmes and Watson were on a camping/hiking trip. They had gone to bed and looked up at the sky.

Holmes said, “Watson, look up. What do you see?”

“Well, I see thousands of stars.”

“And what does that mean to you?”

“Well, I suppose it means that of all the planets and suns and moons in the universe, that we are truly the one most blessed with the reason to deduce theorems to make our way in this world of criminal enterprises and blind greed. It means that we are truly small in the eyes of God but struggle each day to be worthy of the senses and spirit we have been blessed with. And, I suppose, at the very least, in the meteorological sense, it means that it is most likely that we will have another nice day tomorrow. What does it mean to you, Holmes?”

“To me, it means someone has stolen our tent.”.. Sherlock Homes from “Study in Scarlet’

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Lesson #1—Observation-Soaking Up the Facts

Sherlock Holmes for Genealogists

Whenever you are faced with any research situation or problem, you must first observe it. To gather the facts, we must first know what we are looking for. No matter what kind of investigation, there are only two ways to obtain data. The first is by verbally interviewing people (taking the history). The second is by carefully scrutinizing objects (the physical examination).

Principle 1 of Observation: Observation Requires the “Eyes of a hawk.”

Think of one of those beautiful, intense, icy glares from Sherlock Holmes as he pans a room taking in every detail.

“You see, but you do not observe.” ..Sherlock Holmes from “A Scandal in Bohemia”

“The observer who has thoroughly understood one link in a series of incidents should be able accurately to state all the other ones, both before and after.”…Sherlock Homes from “The Five Orange Pips”

As you research any record, hear the answers to family history questions, and read the writings of your ancestors, just allow what is there to present itself to you. Open up your senses. Listen, let the sounds impact you. Notice the smells. And look with the eyes of a hawk.

  • Sharp.
  • Precise.
  • Missing nothing.
  • Be alert to every movement, every clue, and anything out of the ordinary.

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Principle 2 of Observation: Do Not Pre-judge the Situation

When you first start any research project, start with the understanding that you know nothing. For every genealogical problem you research, observe…

In looking, you are learning. When you see with fresh eyes, unclouded by what you think you know, your observation powers become like a wild animal. You are far more alert, your vision is sharper, and there is no interference.

Sherlock Holmes stressed not pre-judging a situation before the facts have been observed and gathered.

“It is a capital mistake to theorize before one has data. Insensibly one begins to twist facts to suit theories, instead of theories to suit facts.” …Sherlock Holmes from “A Scandal in Bohemia.”

Evidence / Sources:

What are types of evidence (sources) can you find?

Primary Evidence

Any evidence or event recorded at (or near) the time of the event, such as a birth certificate or a will.

“There is nothing like first-hand evidence.” Sherlock Holmes from” A Study in Scarlet”

Secondary Evidence

Any statement made by persons (or facts) from personal memory or any evidence recorded at any other time other than when the event occurred, such as a death certificate.

Collateral Evidence

Evidence that gives cause or clues to other records. The purpose of this type of evidence is an integral part of the record without actually proving anything. For example, if a father speaks of his daughter in a will, land record, or deed by another surname, you would look for a marriage for the daughter.

Circumstantial Evidence: Two or more facts might be so related that one may prove a different type of evidence. For example, a record mentions a daughter, and later, he marries again and refers to the daughter as the daughter of a previous wife.” This implies that he had at least one daughter by a previous marriage.

Reported Evidence

Rumor, gossip, family tradition…: this type of evidence can be found in family interviews, family histories, county histories, biographies, etc. This should be considered suspect until proven with primary or original evidence. For example, family tradition says grandma was widowed young and raised her Family alone. Records do not indicate a death (no probate, no change of land ownership, guardianship, etc.) When no proof appears that grandpa died, you might suspect that he ran away from home for some reason.

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Sherlock Holmes for Genealogists

Principle 3 of Observation: View Your Research from Many Different Angles

While we strive to be as objective as possible, the way a thing appears is always affected by the position we view it. To alleviate this flaw, we must observe our research from as many different angles as possible.

“I see no more than you, but I have trained myself to notice.”…Sherlock Homes from “The Adventure of the Blanched Soldier”

What types of resources will I find?

Purists claim that to confirm identity; one must have three independent sources of information, which is not always possible, so one must do the best with what one can get.

Family – Get as much information from people while they are still with us and still have full use of their memory.

Family Documents – e.g., Bibles, prayer books, letters, photos, books.

Church Records

  • Baptism Certificates
  • Marriage Certificates
  • Burial Records

Cemetery Records – Where specific headstones may be found. Headstone dates may be in error, reflect the assumed age, or be rounded, especially for older adults.

Newspapers –

  • Birth announcements
  • Wedding announcements
  • Obituaries
  • Newsmakers

Provincial Records – Need exact information to get

  • Birth Certificates
  • Marriage Certificates
  • Death Certificates
  • Land Transfer Documents
  • Wills
  • Census before confederation (bef 1867)

Federal Records – National Archives/Library in Ottawa; many documents available on microfilm. The service is FREE!

  • Federal Census 1871, 1881, 1891, 1901
  • Some Provincial Records, e.g., census before 1867
  • Some Church Records
  • Passenger lists to about WW I
  • Newspapers
  • City/Provincial directories
  • Lots and lots of other records (letters, reports)

Military Records – Some restrictions apply. The individual must have been deceased for a specified period, and you may have to provide proof of this fact, especially if you are not a direct relative.

Genealogy Societies – e.g., Provincial and City

  • Help from others on how to …
  • Help searching in that locale
  • Cemetery Headstone Listings
  • Library of local publications
  • Listings of others’ names (and addresses) and their families of interest.

Historical Societies. Suitable for local information.


Others Interested in YOUR Family 

  • May have limited information
  • May have extensive information
  • I May have written a book
  • May have computerized records

Mormon (Later Day Saints) Church – A condition of membership is to know your ancestors. Their records are consolidated in Salt Lake City, but reading rooms abound, and details are available on microfilm. They have scoured the world for civic and church records, and very good for the UK. Specific microfilms can be ordered from Salt Lake City, and there is a nominal charge to cover postage and handling.
Some of the following may be kept at the local Family History room, which is open most evenings.

  • Microfilm
  • Microfiche
  • International Genealogical Index (IGI) on CD-ROM
    Their service is free, and you may have to book time on their reading machines.

City Directories – Tells who lived where and when; may give occupations.

Phone Books – may be helpful for uncommon names.

Books – The “How To …” books may have limited information on people of interest to you, and however, they point the way to other sources of information.

Local Histories – These abound and may or may not have much information on individuals. The older ones tend not to be indexed.

Printed Genealogies – some are available for sale at the time of publication.

Professional Researchers – may be very expensive.

Trading information. Your currency is information. Amateur genealogists are usually willing to swap information for free, especially if you have something new for them. This information may be in a handwritten, photocopied, or printed format. Even more helpful is computerized information.

Common courtesy dictates that you acknowledge, with thanks, all information received and that you seek prior permission to pass that information along to others.

Publicity – You may place an advertisement in a newspaper, genealogical magazine, or Internet Interest Group seeking information on XY (with known dates, places lived, occupation, etc.) and their relatives.

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Principle 4 of Observation: As You Observe, You Soak in the Facts.

You are looking to see the components of the situation or problem. You soak up everything. You ask those questions of everything and everybody. You ask those questions with your senses: searching, seeking, questioning. You become receptive to the answers. You learn the

  • What and why
  • When and how
  • Where and who to glean every bit of information.

“There is nothing more deceptive than an obvious fact.”…Sherlock Homes from “The Boscombe Valley Mystery”

What type of information/facts am I looking for?

Key Genealogy Data

  • Full Name

Dates and Places of

  • Birth
  • Baptism
  • Marriage
  • Divorce
  • Death (Cause)
  • Burial
  • Moves (Emigration/Immigration)

Names of

  • Parents
  • Siblings
  • Spouse(s)
  • Children
  • Grand Parents/Children, etc


  • Anything Else of Interest may tell us what sort of people they are/were.

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Sherlock Holmes for Genealogists

Principal 5 of Observation: Keep Track of Your Observations

As a historian, genealogist, and storyteller, you will use many different resources in your search. Research logs are essential for keeping it straight so you don’t duplicate your work later. Even if you don’t see the need for a research log during the beginning stages, it’s a good bet that eventually, you will forget some of the early records you searched. You can prevent this by indicating essential facts in a research log, such as:

  • The search was conducted (library, archives, family papers, etc.)
  • When the search was conducted (be sure to list the full date, including the year)
  • The record or other research used
  • The information you did or did not find.

How can I keep track of my observations?

Personal Handwritten Systems – above all, be systematic.

Computers are of great help. These may be

  • general word processing (e.g., MS Word), database, or spreadsheet (e.g., Excel) programs;
  • specialty genealogical programs (e.g., Family Roots, Brothers Keeper, Personal Ancestry File, Family Tree Maker).

Features of Genealogical Programs

  • Additions, changes and deletions should be easy.
  • Help prepare index,
  • Automatically link Family relationships.
  • Documentation of sources.
  • Notes of miscellaneous information.
  • Pedigree charts.
  • Descendancy charts.
  • Detect errors (e.g., death before birth)
  • Suggest identity among multiple records based on similar names and nearness of birth dates (e.g., John b 1834, Peter b 1835, and John Peter b 1833 may be the same fellow)
  • Can merge records of individuals that appear more than once.
  • Easy to distribute copies of information.
  • Compatibility with other Genealogy Programs (GEDCOM)

Family Group Record – This is the record of an individual plus spouse, both sets of parents and all children. Appendix 7.1 gives a blank form.

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Lesson #2—Search – Getting to the Nitty-Gritty

Sherlock Holmes for Genealogists

When he was on a case, Sherlock Holmes was like a bloodhound. He’d be down on his knees peering at cracks in the floorboards, bounding through windows, over chairs, up to the ceiling. You can picture him now with a magnifying glass in hand; eyes sharply focused for clues.

“He was out on the lawn, in through the window, round the room, and up into the bedroom, for all the world like a dashing foxhound drawing a cover.”
Sherlock Holmes from “The Devil’s Foot”

This is the nitty-gritty aspect of problem-solving down in the dirt. Don’t be afraid of the minutiae. The solution lies in the details.

Return to Lessons from Sherlock Holmes Table of Contents

Principal 1 of Search: Search leads to clues. Clues Lead to Answers.

In genealogy, you have to be willing to plunge into the details. Delve into the primary and secondary records and immerse yourself in searching for the answers.

Principal 2 of Search: Clues Are Found Where You Didn’t Look.

When conducting your genealogy research, it becomes paramount to consider all your options and ask yourself. Where should I look?

“Always look at the hands first, Watson. Then cuffs, trouser-knees, and boots.”…Sherlock Holmes from “The Adventure of The Creeping Man”

A few common mistakes we have all made in our research include:

  • Not using forms (pedigree/lineage or family group/record). These can be manual forms or forms produced by a genealogy software program.
  • Avoid contacting relatives and others working the same lines.
  • Assuming no others are researching your lines.
  • Not using maps for the time \ area where your ancestors lived.
  • Avoiding historical studies of your area \ time frame of the research.
  • Failing to utilize family traditions when researching.
  • Trying to connect to “published/printed” lineages.
  • Avoid using primary / original records.
  • Losing control over your records (comes under the heading of organization).
  • Not following through on clues.
  • Ignoring spelling variants.
  • Announcing you are at a dead-end, brick wall or giving up. Brick walls should be considered “rest stops” in research, not stopping places. This is a time to go back and review your data for new clues.
  • Assuming the census names in one household are all one Family.
  • Assuming John Jr. is always the son of a John Sr.
  • Not keeping an open mind to more than one marriage.
  • Assuming all printed materials are correct.
  • Avoid re-analyzing your work periodically for clues.

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Sherlock Holmes for Genealogists

Principal 3 of Search: See Your Ancestors through the Time They Lived

As historians, genealogists, and storytellers, we often conduct our research from today’s point of view of today, It is essential to know the history, geography, and social customs of the area and people being researched. Knowing the history of the law and the language of an area and its people may also be necessary to understand the facts. When we take time to understand the world they lived in, many clues will reveal themselves and open our eyes to understanding.

In my profession, all sorts of odd knowledge come helpful, and this room of yours is a storehouse.”…Sherlock Homes from “The Adventure of The Three Garridebs”

Have a cigarette, Mr. McFarlane. I know nothing whatever about you beyond apparent facts that you are an asthmatic. Sherlock Holmes from “The Adventure of The Norwood Builder”

“According to my experience, it is not possible to reach the platform of a Metropolitan train without exhibiting one’s ticket.”…Sherlock Homes from The Adventure of Bruce-Partington Plans”

The following are several examples of how understanding the times and seasons can make a difference in your search.

Land records and probate records.

  • They can clarify or establish family relationships.
  • Land and personal tax lists and powers of attorney are often required to prove facts.
  • Migration patterns are reflected in the land records. It’s possible these ancestors could have followed a migration pattern. If so, most persons who settled in the same new area would have migrated from the same place. Therefore, a genealogist should examine pertinent records of both locations.
  • Acknowledgment by the grantor of a deed provides evidence that the person was present at the location on that date, regardless of when the deed was recorded.
  • Acquisition of property in a new location shortly after the conveyance of previous property may develop a chain of evidence to support the genealogical reconstruction of a family’s history.

Court minutes or orders

  • Reveal the appointment of guardians for minors and estate administrators.
  • These records sometimes include acknowledgment in a court of minors who attain legal age. Amateur genealogists often neglect these in family research.

Combining History with Records

  • Under British common law during the colonial period, an estate couldn’t be divided until the youngest child came of age.
  • Chancery court records provide evidence of attainment of legal age.
  • Attorney’s filed suits on behalf of minor children naming the other children as defendants.
  • A minor child would first appear in the list of plaintiffs until he attained legal age.
  • He would later appear in the list of defendants in subsequent actions if he had had siblings who were still minors.
  • The history of such a case divulges much family history through proper analysis. Since white males in many jurisdictions became taxable at age 16, their names on tax lists indicate attainment of age.

Understanding Law

  • Law of primogeniture, through which the entire real property of the father passed to the eldest son at the death of the father, there are instances in which the eldest son isn’t even mentioned in the will because the father knew that he would receive the property by law.
  • Therefore, a genealogist cannot assume that every child is mentioned in a will during the colonial period.
  • Similarly, the absence of the eldest daughter in a will may be explained by examining the land records.
  • Her father may have given or sold her a portion of the land for a nominal price at her marriage.

Census Records

  • Census records are notoriously inaccurate, particularly in recording the ages of adults.
  • Genealogists must examine a succession of census records containing the Family’s entries to reveal the likely age.
  • Birthplaces may not be indicated accurately since they frequently represent the childhood residence but not necessarily the birthplace.


  • Newspaper obituary accounts are based on information from persons who may not have precise information about the deceased.
  • These accounts may be used as clues to obtain other data.
  • Persons of the same name in the same locale require careful research to eliminate each one from consideration.
  • This is necessary to prove that an ancestor is the only person in a particular place that could have been related to the family historian.

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Sherlock Holmes for Genealogists

Principal 4 of Search: Change is Constant….Broune Really is Brown

Be aware that in your research, you will come across what will be sources of trouble, but being aware of these issues will allow you to recognize the facts and clues that you might otherwise miss. For example:

Vocabulary – terms used in older wills and other documents may not match current practice.

We accept “senior” and “junior,” referring to a father and son. However, years ago, it could refer to any two men in one community who happened to have the same name.

Dates and the Calendar – Until 1582, the so-called Julian calendar was used. To bring the calendar into sync with the seasons, Pope Gregory then adopted the system we use today. However, Protestant countries such as England and some German states refused to accept a “Catholic” calendar. By 1752, the Julian calendar was 11 days behind the Gregorian calendar, and in that year, England decided to change over.

Handwriting – Most early documents were handwritten. Some letters were written (or printed) differently from today, e.g., the long S (used until 1810), which can be confused with F or P.


  • Family Name Spellings – May change if spelling, not Anglo-Saxon origin and phonetic.

Personal Examples:

  • Given Names – go by first or second name?
  • Johannes Brahms
  • Johann Sebastian BACH
  • James Christopher Frederick YOUNG
  • Given Names – identical for two members of the same Family after the untimely demise of the first; standard with firstborn. It can be very confusing, especially until you know of the death of the first.

Place Names

  • May change
  • Repeated in different provinces (e.g., New Glasgow, NS, PEI).

All Records – All records may be suspect. Church Records are probably the best, then civil. Headstones are not always proper, and census may be out +/- a year or many more
. Primary records (e.g., marriage as found in the church where the event occurred) are preferred over secondary records (e.g., a printed county record) since there will be fewer opportunities for transcription errors.

Illegitimate Children – may be attributed to others, esp grandparents.

Incomplete Data – From all sources. Losses (esp fire) years ago may leave gaps.

Principal 5 of Search: Look Under the Chair

Don’t forget items of everyday use, either. Antiques that are handed down from generation to generation can substantiate your research. A chair may have been a wedding present; a piece of jewelry could have been presented to a new mother by her husband to celebrate the birth of a child. Important clues are often found by simply turning the picture over and seeing what is written.

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Lesson #3—Analysis – Sorting Through the Jigsaw PiecesSherlock Holmes for Genealogists


The brilliance of Sherlock Holmes often came in the analysis of putting the jigsaw puzzle of clues and facts together to solve the mystery.

When you have eliminated all that is impossible, whatever remains, however improbable, must be the Truth.”… Sherlock Holmes from “The Adventure of The Blanched Soldier”

Think of a jigsaw puzzle. When you have all the pieces, and they are all the right way up, you can then analyze where they go and how they fit together. The more pieces you have, the easier it will be to infer the big picture. So the more angles you have observed a problem from, and the more facts you have gathered about it, the more likely you are to be able to see the final solution. Let’s take a look at how one might approach putting together a real jigsaw puzzle:

  1. Take all pieces out of the box.
  2. Using both hands, turn pieces face-up on the table and spread them out as you go.
  3. Fix the lid of the box so that you can see the picture.
  4. Separate the edge and corner pieces and put the border together using the box lid picture as a guideline.
  5. Find the edges and identify the four corners.
  6. Hold each edge piece up to the picture to determine whether it’s a north, south, east or west edge, then place them towards the like edge of your table in line with the edges to the outside.
  7.  Divide the remaining pieces and organize them into groups such as
    • Colors
    • Patterns
    • Textures
    • Shapes
  8. Start placing similar pieces together until they fit and begin to form small parts of the larger picture.
  9. Connect clusters once you can, and keep looking at the box lid picture to find the locations of the groups of pieces.
  10. Finish the puzzle, connect all pieces, and decide whether to glue the puzzle or take it apart and start another.

Important lessons when putting together a jigsaw puzzle together.

  1. Use a table that you can keep a puzzle on for a few days or longer.
  2. Keep checking the box lid to remember the overall picture and figure out where a particular piece might go.
  3. Avoid getting frustrated. Puzzles are supposed to be challenging but not overly frustrating. Walk away and come back later to try again.

How is this like genealogy?

You take the pieces of the jigsaw, the facts, and you begin to think about how they fit together, how they relate to one another, how one links to the other and what effect that has on the overall picture.

“Each fact is suggestive in itself. Together they have a cumulative force.” Sherlock Holmes in “…Sherlock Holmes from “The Adventure of the Bruce-Partington Plans”

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Principle 1 of Analysis: Study the Merits of Any Information You Receive

To study the merits of your information, try this:

  • Actual Truth (proof is specific)
  • Probable Truth (proof is probable, but not specific)
  • Supposed evidence (you suspect this is true, but you can’t be sure). Give reasons why you suspect this is true.
  • Ridiculous (utter nonsense, but it can’t be ignored)

“It has long been my hypothesis that the little things are infinitely the most important. “Sherlock Holmes from “A Case of Identity”

“One drawback of an active mind is that one can always conceive alternate explanations that make our scent a false one.” Sherlock Holmes from “The Problem of Thor Bridge”

Sherlock Holmes for Genealogists

Use the 5 W’s: Who – What – Where – When – Why

method of analyzing which concept can be applied to every document and source you acquire.

Who? before you start your search, Define the who.

  • Was the surname spelled differently during different times?
  • Was the spelling changed at the time of immigration?


  • What do you want to know?

Where? is probably the most crucial fact, after “who.”

  • If you don’t know where,” you’re not going to find anything!

When? Give a time frame or period, so you know where to search for records.


  • Why did your ancestor immigrate from Germany to the US?
  • Why did they move from Illinois to Wyoming?
  • Why are there so many German (or Irish, Italian, etc.) people?
  • Why did grandma have her first child at 15 and grandpa was 32?
  • Was he married before??


  • How do I answer all these questions?
  • How do I find the records I need?

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Principle 2 of Analysis: Compare All the Evidence

It’s relatively easy to compare data. Get your data together, arrange it in usable form (chronological or group), compare and contrast the information. If there are differences, note them until you can prove the differences one way or another. I prefer to keep all of it… and make the appropriate notes such as This is a family tradition, but it was disproved by (and state the source).

“Circumstantial Evidence is a very tricky thing. It may seem to point very straight to one thing, but if you shift your point of view a little, you may find it pointing in an equally uncompromising manner to something entirely different.” Sherlock Holmes from “The Boscombe Valley Mystery”

The research you have previously completed may contain more clues than you might think.
When we are new and starting our research, we grab anything and everything we can find and never look at it again. For now, many of the answers we are looking for maybe in those records and notes, and you could find materials previously missed.

Just remember when looking at the documents you so painstakingly acquired, to

  • Use them
  • Reuse them
  • And then use them again.

Principle 3 of Analysis: Check for Warning Signs

Your research should be critically analyzed for accuracy and completeness at each search phase. As you analyze your records and research, be aware of the warning signs that may denote that your information is off the mark.

“My dear Watson, you as a medical man are continually gaining light as to the tendencies of a child by the study of the parents. Don’t you see that the converse is equally valid? I have frequently gained my first real insight into the character of parents by studying their children.” Sherlock Holmes from “The Adventure of The Copper Beeches”

For example, let’s consider the common warning signs we see in pedigree charts and family group sheets:

  1. Do you have blank lines?
  2. Is there incomplete information on the children?
  3. Is circa (CA) or about used too often?
  4. Are dates too close or too far apart to be correct?
  5. Check for historical impossibilities.
    • If a child was born in 1860, there is no way he would have served in the Civil War. On the other hand, look for historical possibilities.
    • What war could he have served in?
    • Was there a massive migration?
    • Check the timelines to see what was happening in the world, state or county when this ancestor was alive?
  6. Do you have the wrong locations or missing locations?
    • No county or town listed, just the state?
  7. Any other missing information?
    • Marriages of children?
    • 2nd marriages?
  8. Each line on that form serves a purpose.

Principle 4 of Analysis: Draw Your Conclusions

Once you have done the above, you are ready to decide. This means you have found solid, indisputable proof that will extend your pedigree. Then there are the “maybes”… you need to work on these more, but perhaps they will prove accurate. And finally (this is my favorite for putting), “might be.” You keep these and review them occasionally because they may fit in when you get additional information.

“It is of the highest importance in the art of detection to be able to recognize out of a number of facts which are incidental and which vital. Otherwise, your energy and attention must be dissipated instead of being concentrated.” Sherlock Holmes from “The Reigate”

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Lesson #4—Imagination – The Workshop of the Mind

Sherlock Holmes for Genealogists

Sherlock Holmes often sought seclusion to help him solve a problem; he would remove himself right away from all disturbances to use his imagination to explore the problem from all angles freely.

As with Einstein, Holmes would take up the fiddle to help himself relax. While one part of his mind would be occupied with playing the violin, the more significant part of his mind was able to roam free and form new ideas.

Holmes referred to the imagination as the mother of Truth. In his trance times, he could allow the interplay of ideas to generate new insights into whatever case was taxing him at that time.

So there you have it. You are just as much a genius as Sherlock Holmes.

Keep an open mind when you evaluate your “evidence.” The research process can be defined in five steps.

  1. Gather data to define the problem(s) accurately.
  2. Look for answers in more than one source to draw conclusions from all evidence.
  3. Then look for other alternatives.
  4. Follow clues to their conclusions to make decisions based on facts.
  5. Gather more data.

Your research should be critically analyzed for accuracy and completeness at each search phase.

Just remember when looking at the documents you so painstakingly acquired, to

  • Use them
  • Reuse them
  • And then use them again.
  1. What are they trying to tell you?
  2. What were they used for?
  3. Remember the time frame and the context within that time frame.
  4. Search for clues.
  5. Eliminate the impossible.
  6. Check out the possibility to come up with the probable.
  7. Then look for substantiating documentation.

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Additional Resources to Expand Your Knowledge

Consider expanding your knowledge for storytelling and ancestry research.


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