Monday, June 29, 2020

Why a Reasonably Exhaustive Search
will not Kill Us

Monday morning: time for a research team pep talk. It's been two weeks since it first occurred to me that I can combine clues from family trees of triangulated DNA matches to smash through my husband's brick wall ancestor roadblock in County Kerry, Ireland. And yet, though the records have been handily brought to me through the technological wizardry of digitization, search capabilities in the face of abysmal handwriting styles have been a reminder of point one of the Genealogical Proof Standard: the "reasonably exhaustive search."

Whenever I have attended genealogical conferences and heard a speaker launch into details of applying the "reasonably exhaustive search" for a case study, I get exhausted just listening to the recounting of the effort. And yet, as Robert Raymond of FamilySearch pointed out, "The GPS does not call for exhaustion, it calls for reasonableness."

Granted, not everyone is precisely clear on what constitutes a "reasonably exhaustive search," given our current research capabilities, as James Tanner of Genealogy's Star discussed nearly a decade ago. Some researchers, such as Michael Hait, advocate expanding one's resources by exploring additional finding aids and pertinent repositories related to the research question at hand. Some, like Melissa Johnson, remind us that what might seem like the overkill of "exhaustive" may indeed prevent us from falling short of finding the correct answer to our research question.

Still, no matter what it is, "exhaustive" makes me...well...exhausted. This is where the grunt work of research resides. It takes work to find some answers. But the real question is: c'mon, now, do we really want to find the answer?

Of course it's yes. That's what kept us going up to this point. Why stop now?

If we have made it past those first few generations, pinpointing names and dates and places for a geometrically-expanding cast of players in our family, it will not kill us to continue the process (even though it feels like it will). Just think of this challenge as a concentrated dose of everything that brought us this far.

We are motivated by finding answers to our family history questions. Moving further down this research path may challenge us to develop new skills, but the tension of mounting the learning curve propels us closer to succeeding in overcoming the challenge. Much like the "no pain, no gain" of those who glory in physical training, this quest becomes the mental calisthenics to put our family tree in tip-top shape.

Research pep talks may help us re-invigorate our will to succeed at mounting that brick wall problem, but sometimes, we need a bit more. That's where the next step comes in: gaining a bit of encouragement from finding others along the same path. Benefiting from the company of others dealing with the same issue brings its own kind of motivation. We'll visit another researcher, tomorrow, who is tackling much the same problem as what our Kelly-Falvey research roadblock may require of us.


  1. One of the first things David Rencher showed us last week was how to take every instance of a surname in a baptismal register of a parish and put it on a spreadsheet then sort the sheet by father mother sponsor and townland to find the family units. It sounded great. I think I went blind in the first hour! Check out the Albert Casey papers I think they cover the area you are looking at too

    1. Yes, agreed! It is hard going on the eyes, indeed, Kat. But that is where I need to keep going. The spreadsheet format will help sort through the hidden patterns, hopefully. Sounds like you have been getting some great input from your class! Thanks for sharing that.

  2. hi Jacqi, I don't know if you saw John Grenham's recent blog but this resource would cover both Killeentierna and Kilcummin parishes

    1. Excellent resources, Kat! Thanks for mentioning both of those. What's great about it is that...once I finish this challenge...the records may also help me work on another family puzzle, from a different branch of my father-in-law's tree.


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