Monday, May 12, 2014

Tunnel vision

Blog reader Karen Henry sent in a great illustration of why you should not limit yourself when doing database searches.

“I was reminded once again this morning the pitfalls of "tunnel vision" in genealogy. I had been so focused on a few counties in Georgia and rummaging through their historic papers, that I almost missed a very important story. One of my husband's ancestors died shortly after the civil war ended, which he served in for 4 years. He died not long after the war, and without ever having evidence, I had assumed it was most likely a war related injury or illness. Imagine my surprise when I went to narrow down my search results on a newspaper archive site, when I caught a glimpse of the relatives name and the county he lived in a paper from Ohio! As it turned out, he was involved in a knife fight with another man, killing the other man, and was caught before he could escape. Not exactly a wonderful family story, but now I know he didn't die in the war, but possibly from wounds in that fight, or even being hanged for murder. I will still have to narrow searches down for the more common names, but before I do that a lot more sparingly now. I think a great tip for new researchers would be to not only search by name, but search with the name + county/town/city and not have the tunnel vision I had.”

When I do database searches I always start using the tightest search parameters as possible.  I then slowly expand the search outward.  This gives me complete control over the searches and it keeps my hits to a minimum.  I don’t start my search using very broad search terms because I will get a gazillion hits that I will have to wade through.  However, as Karen’s story illustrates quite well, when you are not getting good hits it is important to broaden your search to areas you initially didn’t consider.  Your ancestor might be in a totally different place than where you think he should have been.


Copyright © 2014 Michele Simmons Lewis

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