Reasonably Exhaustive Research


Find the Needed Evidence

The first element of the Genealogical Proof Standard is reasonably exhaustive research.[1] I have been pondering this statement since I realized that genealogy is more than a hobby; it is a discipline.  The Genealogy Standards Manual does not provide much help.  It simply says,

“emphasizing original records providing participants’ information—for all evidence that might answer a genealogist’s question about identity, relationship, event, or situation.”[2]

The Glossary in the Standards Manual does provide more guidance:

“. . .research thorough enough to meet five criteria: (a) yield at least two sources of independent information items agreeing directly or indirectly on a research question’s answer, (b) cover sources competent genealogists would examine to answer the same research question, (c) provide at least some primary information and direct, indirect, or negative evidence from at least one original record, (d) replace, where possible, relevant authored narratives, derivative records, and information  that is secondary or undetermined, and, (e) yield, where possible, data from sources that indexes and databases identify as potentially relevant”[3]

Whew!  Now you can see why you need the Standards Manual at hand.  The Glossary defines all those italicized terms. 

Why do you need to be concerned with reasonably exhaustive research?  You may say, “I am just doing this for myself or my family, I do not plan to ever seek an AG® or BCG® Certification.” Or “I just want to know what village in Germany my 4th Great Grandfather came from.” To do that, you need to be sure you are following the right family line.  It has happened to all of us, we are going along happily adding family when you suddenly realize, “This is not my family” and you must delete a few or many people and start over.  Reasonably exhaustive research will help you avoid the loss of time and the frustration caused by making these kinds of errors. 

“Reasonably exhaustive research is not simply a search for the name of interest in all known records.”[4]

How do we conduct reasonably exhaustive research?  We are back to our old friends, the Research Plan (see my SKCGS Blog post of 4 May2020), the Research Log, and the Research Report. 

Start by asking a question you hope to answer with genealogical research.  I inherited these pictures from my mother and my maternal grandmother:


Grandpa Dean

Grandma Dean

The Mystery

Who were Grandpa and Grandma Dean? The only clue on the photos is the name of the photographer and his location. Quick internet research helped date the photos. The photographer, Newton Briggs, was active in Galesburg, Illinois from 1861 – 1868.[5] The time frame is correct for the persons I am seeking. The handwriting on the back may be that of my maternal grandmother, but I am not certain. Her father’s death record identifies his mother as Abie Dean born in Illinois. That would make her my Grandmother’s Grandmother.

After a week of research, and lopping a complete branch off my family tree, I identified Grandpa and Grandma Dean as Samuel and Julia Hahn Dean. They had a daughter, Abigail, who married –wait for it—Edward Hahn. Their son, Samuel Ellis Hahn, was my Grandmother’s father whose death certificate had provided the initial clue. It also named his father as Edward Hahn, which I previously had not paid much attention to.

Further Research Needed

“Who were Grandpa and Grandma Dean?”, has now evolved into a project requiring reasonably exhaustive research. The only record I have for Samuel and Julia is an image of their marriage record. I need to find birth and death records for them and daughter Abigail. Illinois generally did not require vital records until the twentieth century, but if the events occurred in McDonough County, I may be in luck because they have earlier records. I anticipate using records that I have not used before.

What about DNA, you say. I have not thoroughly explored my matches, but this line does not seem to be into DNA testing.

This case is an example of how answering one research question leads to opportunities for further research. I will write this Research Report before opening a new one for the next phase of research.

I urge you to discipline yourself to use a Research Plan, Research Log, and Research Report. Even though you feel that it is slowing you down now, it will save you so much time in the future.

Wishing you successful searching!

Barbara Mattoon                           

[1] Board for Certification of Genealogists, Genealogy Standards Second Edition, (Nashville:, 2019), 1.

[2] Ibid.

[3] Ibid. pp 85-86.

[4] Rachel Mills Lennon, “Southern Strategies: Merging Identities by Mapping Activities and Linking Participants—Solomon Harper of South Carolina’s Lowcountry,” National Genealogical Society Quarterly 107 no.3 (September 2019 : 184.

[5] Treadwell, T.K. and Darrah, William C., Photographers of the United States of America, (National Stereoscopic Association, 1994), digital images, : accessed 21 September 2020.


  1. I've been on a merry chase at McDonough County for a death record of my great grandfather who died either 1880 or 1882. Don't get your hopes up.


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