With all the farmers in both Mike’s and my ancestry, one would think there’d be a good “harvest” story out there. But no, there’s no plague of grasshoppers marching through the fields, no crop wiped out by a hail storm or tornado, or even a harvest pulled into the barn just in the nick of time. I don’t have old photos of filled hay wagons, family working in the fields or other harvest time images. Heck, I even had to bum a photo off my 2nd cousin (once removed), Maria, because all my garden photos had been purged!
The best I can manage is this description of my 2nd great grandfather, John M. Bruder, losing part of his arm in a farm accident (Military):
“for loss of left arm above the Ellbow . . . said Arm he lost on August 23, 1884 while sitting on a Grain Reaper intending to cut his Wheat, and while he was unable to notice and see an obstruction in his way . . . was thrown from the Reaper and in the cutting part of said Reaper.”John M. Bruder (Pvt., Co. D, 6th Wis. Inf., Civil War), pension no. S.C. 859,952, Case Files of Approved Pension Applications …, 1861-1934; Civil War and Later Pension Files; Record Group 15: Records of the Department of Veterans Affairs; National Archives, Washington, D.C.
It was harvest time, and was somewhat dramatic, but that brief mention in his pension application file doesn’t paint much of a picture. The week was winding down, and I still didn’t have a plan. As I harvested the crabgrass in my yard, so I could sow some real grass seed, it occurred to me that I frequently find myself harvesting records for my ancestors.
Now, the Genealogical Proof Standard (GPS) strongly encourages us as genealogists (professional or otherwise) to follow the 5 components (below) of the GPS as we research:
- reasonably exhaustive research;
- complete and accurate source citations;
- analysis and correlation of the collected information;
- resolution of any conflicting evidence; and
- a soundly reasoned, coherently written conclusion.¹
Since 2000, the Board for Certification of Genealogists has compiled and refined detailed standards in each of those areas for us to use as guideposts as we research. Their goal (I assume) wasn’t to be rigid, demanding, elitist, or judgmental—it was to provide “a guide to sound genealogical reserch and a way to assess the research outcomes”² produced.
Many of my blog posts utilize those 5 components as I work through a question about particular person’s life. I expand my research, make sure what I have is correctly documented, analyze what I’ve found (or haven’t!), try to resolve conflicts or gaps, and write a (hopefully?) semi-coherent explanation of where everything stands, regarding that. Even without a full resolution or decisive conclusion, I usually feel pretty good about what has been accomplished.
The recommended research process is to create a well-defined question and stay focused on that. The 52 Ancestors challenge lends itself to that, since I am usually focused on one person or story. Sometimes, though, I fall off the wagon while researching and find myself harvesting information as quickly as I can, instead of following a more logical research plan. Why would I do that?
Sometimes the situation simply demands it. If a subscription site has a free access window, I need to get in there and be as efficient as possible, locating and retriving source records in that brief time. If it’s Find My Past, I’m looking for Mike’s Irish and British documents. Even if I’ve searched there before, new databases may have been added, so I need to search those.
Similarly, if I’ve made the 5½+ hour trip to the Manitowoc, Wisconsin, courthouse, I need to process through as many on-site records as possible in my limited time there. I need document images, source citations, and a quick assessment of whether there are additional records to look up, based on new information. Serious analysis is pushed to the back burner, after I’ve returned home.
Occasionally, I find myself researching a family I know very little about. In that situation, I need to sift through the various families to see who is connected, and how. Pulling all the matches for a particular name, from a particular database seems to work for that. I harvest everyone, but keep them unconnected until a solid connection appears.
Example: I was trying to piece together a cousin’s family—the side we don’t connect on. I knew very little about them, but there was another very large family with the same surname, not far away. Were the two families related? I had no idea, but the surname was unual enough to make it worth checking, I thought. I searched for the surname in Cook County, Illinois, documenting everyone in a brand new file. The databases?:
- 1930 census (free access at the time) to create family groups and obtain addresses
- WWI draft records—to get actual birth dates for a lot of the men. Also picked up some parents’ names
- 1920 census, for more family groups
- 1910 & 1900 census —at this point, some of the family members were younger and living with parents, instead of on their own
- obituaries. Those linked together some of the families (which were mostly islands) when children were listed as survivors. Or parents were listed for them. Islands merged left and right. I also obtained maiden names for a number of wives, which helped when I started looking at . . .
- marriage record databases. There were a lot of Marys and Louisas, so having a maiden name helped!
- Social Security Death Index—having exact birth dates from WWI draft or obituaries helped confirm I had the right person’s record
- birth indexes were made meaningful now that I had maiden names for mothers, and addresses from census records.
- the 1880 and 1870 census records
As I finished harvesting each of the databases, the family tree shaped up better and better. But my ancestors wouldn’t harvest their crops and let them lie in the fields. They needed to haul the crops into the safety of a barn. Neither could I keep on harvesting, forever. I also needed to “do something” with all my new-found data. Where were the gaps? Who was missing? Where did I need to look, next? Was I making a mistaken assumption?
That project is a still a work in progress. I have islands I cannot connect, yet. I haven’t found a relationship between the two families, either. It may not exist! If it does, I believe it will be in Germany. The two emigrant ancestors could be siblings, cousins, an uncle/nephew combination—or no relation. Having sorted through the databases so thoroughly, I have dirctions I can go for later searches. I have established their FAN clubs, giving me other people whose records may contain the information I need.
I used a similar technique in Detroit, with Mike’s Kuklers. I was unaware of other family members possibly emigrating with his ancestor, so I hoped looking at all the Kuklers I could find might help me find answers. I’d settle for a town in Bohemia, but no luck, yet.
So even though wholesale harvesting may not the *best* genealogy research strategy, it has its place and uses. We need to recognize its limitations, and compensate for them with additional analysis and research.
¹ “Ethics And Standards”, Board For Certification Of Genealogists, 2019, https://bcgcertification.org/ethics-standards/; accessed 6 October 2019.
² Board for Certification of Genealogists, Genealogy Standards, second edition (Nashville, TN: Ancestry, 2019), xxiv.