Monday, September 3, 2018

Methodology Monday-Reasonably Exhaustive Research

You've read about it. Know it's part of the Genealogical Proof Standard, but do you understand what it means?

Reasonably Exhaustive research means we look for all the information that would help to answer a specific genealogy question. 
Once you know exactly who or what you are looking for, you can brainstorm what type of records may contain the answer and where you may find them. Then you need to begin looking for the documents on your list to see what they can tell you about your question.

For instance, you may have the question "Who were the parents of "John Doe" who was born in "Some Year" in "Some County, Some State, Some County." You know which John Doe you are looking for. Add more information if you know it to fine-tune your research subject even more if needed.
This approach is much more successful than "I want to find out everything about my great grandpa, John Doe."

What types of records may give you the answer? Make a list. It may contain those below and others. What is on your list will depend on the area and laws for creating them.
This is an example, but many more could be added.
1-Death Certificate
2-Birth Certificate
4-Church Records
5-Census Records
6-Bible Records
7-Probate Records

You get the idea!
Now list where you could find them and make a plan to begin researching.

Should you celebrate when you discover an answer on the first or second record and call it quits? After all, the death certificate you just found records the names John Doe's parents and wasn't that the answer to your question? Unfortunately, no.
Reasonably Exhaustive Research means locating ALL records that may be available that may shed light on your research question.

Why? Records of any kind may be incorrect. A wide variety of documents can help ensure you have the most correct information. You may discover you have records with conflicting information. If that happens, you need to figure out why if you can. 
Was there a transcription error, or did someone accidentally recording a wrong name? There could be many reasons why your records have differing information. 
What if the name of one or both of the parents is wrong on that newly discovered death certificate? If you hadn't continued researching until you were confident you had looked for anything that would give you the facts you need the chance of a mistake is high.
You could end up researching the wrong line or building your own brick wall.

When do you know you've done enough? When you have found as much as possible to help answer your question. There is no magic number of documents needed to come to a conclusion.
Simply do your best to discover as much as you can from various record groups.

Reasonably Exhaustive research means being reasonable in your efforts. There will be documents that were never created or records that have been lost or destroyed.
Making sure you have exhausted all the possibilities will give you confidence in your answers and your help you move up your family tree. If and when other records are found that weren't available to you during your research process, chances are your conclusions will be upheld instead of crumbling in light of a new source. 

The first step in the Genealogical Proof Standard, Reasonably Exhaustive Research is meant to help you produce the most reliable results you can by collecting everything available to answer your research question.

What has Reasonably Exhaustive Research helped you to discover?

Thanks so much for stopping by!

Helping you climb your family tree,


  1. The problem with "reasonably exhaustive search" particularly for newbies is that we don't know what we don't know. If we do not know that certain records exist we won't look for them. For instance, as a beginner, I did not know that many 18th and 19th century church records would have birth and death information and that traveling priests and ministers kept extensive records. It is a long learning process.

    1. You are so right! It's very important to learn about the area and time period to understand what records may be available and where they may be located. Thanks so much for reading and taking the time to leave a comment!

  2. "When do you know you've done enough?" Great question...I'm still finding new links ten years into my research. I wonder if you can ever have done enough.

    1. Right? The good thing about doing reasonably exhaustive research is that when these new links to records become available they should help our case and not blow it out of the water! Thanks so much for reading and leaving a comment @

  3. I think we need these reminders now and then, as it's too easy to become complacent. Thank you.

  4. This post is a great reminder. I always wonder if research is like home renovation--hardly ever truly complete.

  5. I've been learning about what records are available and what questions to ask of them by reading bloggers who detail their methodologies in what I think of as case studies.

    1. That's great! The more we learn, the better researchers we are! Thanks so much!

  6. Great post with great information always worth hearing over and over. Thank you for the reminder ~ Sharon

    1. Thanks, Sharon! We all need reminders as we work up our trees!

  7. Great post, Cheri! Always a good reminder that we need to keep digging even when we think we have an answer. Agree with the comment by Vera. You have to know the history of the area to know what records may be available.

    Sue (KindredPast)

    1. Thanks, Sue. Yes, learning about the area is the only way to make sure you have looked at all the records that may be available for that time and place.