Monday, February 1, 2016

Conducting Reasonably Exhaustive Research

This is part of my ongoing series on Educational Preparation for BCG Certification. It is not limited to those interested in certification, but provides ideas for any interested genealogist. There are links to the other articles in this series at the bottom of this post.

GPS Element #1: Conducting Reasonably Exhaustive Research

To understand “reasonably exhaustive research” you may want to study what that phrase means, and all the record types it includes.

Informal study options:

1. Study chapter 3 on “GPS Element 1: Thorough Research” in Mastering Genealogical Proof by Thomas W. Jones (Arlington, VA: National Genealogical Society, 2013).  
  • Note that “six criteria help us temper the exhaustive search to make it reasonable.” (pages 23-26).
  • Don’t miss table 1 on page 25 that covers “Suggestions for Identifying Sources to Answer Genealogical Questions.”
2. Read and study The Researcher’s Guide to American Genealogy by Val D. Greenwood, 3rd edition (Baltimore: Genealogical Publishing Co., 2000). You may have already done this early in your genealogy education, but it is an excellent textbook on the basic sources genealogists use. It deserves a fresh reading every year or two. If there are any records mentioned that you do not have personal experience researching, then get to a local repository or archive and spend some serious time with the records.

Another reason to study this book:
The Board for Certification of Genealogists uses rubrics to judge the seven elements of the application portfolio. The rubric RR2 on page 3 reads:

“Research covered commonly used sources relevant to the problem and extended to those that might illuminate or challenge other findings in the time allowed; and it proceeded in a logical sequence.2

            The footnote #2 states: “‘Commonly used sources’ are defined here as those addressed by
            chapter titles in part 2 of Val D. Greenwood, The Researcher’s Guide to American 
            Genealogy, 3rd edition (Baltimore: Genealogical Publishing Co., 2000).”

You will want to be familiar with, and have experience working with, all the record types that will be included in the evaluation process. Note that the rubric specifies "sources relevant to the problem." You will use your knowledge and experience to determine which sources are relevant to your specific research question. 

3. Read the following articles by Judy Kellar Fox on SpringBoard, the BCG blog:

            Are You Searching or Researching?
4. Read the following articles by Elizabeth Shown Mills on QuickTips, the blog at Evidence

            Reasonably Exhaustive Research: Quantity or Quality?

5. Read the article "A Lesson in Reasonably Exhaustive Research" by Melissa A. Johnson, CG in the November 2015 edition of the NGS Monthly. Members of the National Genealogical Society can access the NGS Monthly at

Formal study options:

6. Michael Hait, CG presented a webinar on “What is a ‘Reasonably Exhaustive Search?” for Legacy Family Tree Webinars. Since this presentation was given BCG has changed the first element of the GPS to be reasonably exhaustive “research” rather than “search.” The recorded version and handout are available to Legacy Family Tree Webinar subscribers at

7. To hear an example of reasonably exhaustive research in a case study, you may want to order a CD of the lecture Reasonably Exhaustive Research: An Immigrant Case Study by F. Warren Bittner, CG, given at the FGS national conference in 2012.  

8. In the past many students took the NGS American Genealogy course (home-study or on CD) to gain experience working with a wide range of genealogical sources. This course is being replaced by a new series of online courses, American Genealogical Studies. This series looks good, but is not yet complete and so does not cover all the records types necessary for reasonably exhaustive research.

There are other courses available, and I would recommend evaluating courses by the thoroughness in the types of records they cover, and if they have assignments to work with records in repositories and archives. Hands-on experience with the records is a better teacher than just reading about each type of record.

9. If you enjoy in-person instruction then I would recommend an intermediate genealogy course at a genealogy institute. These courses generally cover all the records needed to conduct reasonably exhaustive research, and also include some sessions on methodology. Here are some options available in 2016:
  • Intermediate Genealogy course at the Genealogical Research Institute of Pittsburgh (GRIP) 2016 -- Paula Stuart Warren, CG (coordinator)                               

Feel free to comment on other resources you have found helpful in studying the Genealogical Proof Standard.

These are just ideas for you to add to your individual education plan as you choose. They are NOT meant to be a checklist where you have to read/study/participate in every option. 

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