Monday, October 8, 2012

18 Days with Sherlock – Day 17 - Ah, Tangents!

Oh dear! I am afraid that I am very guilty of this one. I will be working on an ancestor and discover their spouse (or a sibling) seems like an interesting person so I just can't help but to do a little sleuthing down that line. Before you know it, I have spent the entire day working on someone that isn't the person I was supposed to be investigating! I do this with cemeteries too. I will find someone I need in a cemetery but then I just can't resist figuring out who everyone in the cemetery is. Going off on tangents like this is a double edged sword. Sometimes it is essential to go off on tangents because that is the only way you will learn more about your ancestor (back door approach better known as collateral or cluster genealogy). But, if you routinely go off on tangents because you have a hard time keeping to the task at hand (me) then it can impede your research a bit. All research is useful though so don't be too hard on yourself. I was working on someone last week and I found that this man and five of his brothers all went off to the Civil War together. Of course that was just too much for me to ignore and I had to get all of their compiled service records and find out what happened to them. Four of the six died in the war. One of the brothers received the Confederate Medal of Honor (Southern Cross) which is pretty cool. It was a tangent I know but it just couldn't be helped :)

In the quotes below, Holmes is actually talking about a different sort of tangent. He was trying to explain that when you examine the evidence you need to be careful to not follow a false lead. Sometimes you find pieces of evidence that just aren't relevant to your case (same/similar name, wrong person). It is important to evaluate all of the evidence and decide what is relevant and what isn't. You don't want a false lead taking you down the wrong investigative path. It is very important to document WHY a certain piece of evidence was found to be not relevant. People that read your research need to see that you evaluated everything that you found.

"It is of the highest importance in the art of detection to be able to recognize, out of a number of facts, which are incidental and which are vital. Otherwise you energy and attention must be dissipated instead of concentrated.” [Holmes to Watson, "The Reigate Squire"]
"Having gathered these facts, Watson, I smoked several pipes over them, trying to separate those which were crucial from others that were merely incidental.” [Holmes to Watson, "The Crooked Man"]
“The principal difficulty in your case lay in the fact of there being too much evidence. When was vital was overlaid and hidden by was irrelevant. Of all the facts which were presented to us, we had to pick just those which we deemed to be essential, and then piece them together in their order, so as to reconstruct this very remarkable chain of events.” [Holmes to client Percy Phelps, "The Naval Treaty"]


Copyright © 2012 Michele Simmons Lewis

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