Thursday, June 2, 2011

Inferential Genealogy Course in Second Life - Case Study 1

Tonight I reviewed Case Study 1 presented by Tom Jones in the Inferential Genealogy class that we are reviewing in Second Life on Tuesday and Sunday nights. You can read about this study group in my previous post here. On Tuesday night we learned about how we can use 5 basic steps to conduct an inferential genealogical process to answer a research question. In this Case Study, we saw this process put into practice. 

Step # 1:
We start off with a focused goal. In this case study, the question, or focused goal, was to identify the parents of Maxfield Whiting who married Lettice Johnson in 1753.

Step # 2:
Conduct a broad search of time, location, and associates. In this case study, Maxfield and Martha Whiting were witnesses of a will of an associate. According to Tom, two witnesses with the same last name are almost always related; however I’m not sure I agree with that 110%. In this case, it turned out to be a correct assumption.

Step # 3:
Understand the documents and the motivation behind why they were created; follow their creation process through to the finish, especially when dealing with probate, court, and land records; In this case study, we examined 7 distinct documents and wrote our analysis and findings down in our research journals:
  1. 1779 court document of Mr Fitzhugh, Maxfield Whiting’s landlord which included a deposition of Maxfield Whiting himself in which he said he was 50 years of age, putting his date of birth around late 1720s, early 1730s
  2. Church record stating marriage of Maxfield Whiting to Lettice Johnson, Feb 3, 1753 – Tom Jones said that most males in VA at this time married in their early 20s, making Maxfield’s date of birth about 1730
  3. An associate’s will written 1757 which Maxfield Whiting and Martha Whiting both witnessed – Tom Jones says they are probably related
  4. 1731 Petition of Martha Whiting to use property given her by her father, Maxfield Brown; says she has small children and her husband William Whiting left her – Maxfield Whiting could fit in easily as one of these small children
  5. The will of Maxfield Brown listing daughter by the name of Martha Whiting
  6. Marriage record of Martha Whiting to Daniel Fendleston, 1755
  7. Letter from Maxfield Whiting naming his daughter Martha Whiting – indicates similar naming pattern after his mother, Martha Whiting

Step 4:
After all the documents are understood and analyzed, they must then be correlated. The will of Maxfield Brown above correlates the 1731 petition of Martha Whiting to the court in which she said her father was Maxfield Brown.

In the same token, conflicting documents must also be resolved. Can you see what is conflicting in the documents above?

The 1757 will lists Martha Whiting as the witness along with her son Maxfield Whiting. However Martha Whiting had already remarried to Daniel Fendleston in 1755. How do we resolve this?  

Tom Jones suggests that the clerk made an error in the will because he knew both Martha and Maxfield Whiting and probably knew of their relationship and simply wrote both their names as Whiting. Neither of them could probably read or write their own names, so they just placed their marks. It is possible the clerk was not even aware Martha had remarried. I am not sure how I feel about this conclusion, but the rest of the evidence seems to correlate. That leaves us to the next step.

Step #5:
Write it down! As long as you have your conclusion written down in a manner that makes sense to you and to others and such that someone can carry forth your work then you should be confident the case is solved.

I really enjoyed going through this exercise with Tom Jones and the video and I’m looking forward to discussing it in our next Second Life meeting this Sunday at 8:15 pm EST.  I’m not sure I always agree with everything Tom Jones says, but that’s what makes us unique researchers.

This is also really helping me to focus on my sources, learn how to sort through them, look at them one by one, analyze them and think about their meaning instead of just collecting them and filing them away somewhere. I think this is just what I needed!

Here is a snapshot of our meeting from Tuesday night. It was a full house!

For More Information:
To access the Inferential Genealogy course at FamilySearch click here
To learn more about our Inferential Genealogy study group at Second Life, check out DearMYRTLE’s Genealogy Blog post here.
To download SecondLife click here

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