Eight Tips for Deconstructing an NGSQ Case Study
Melissa Johnson February 13, 2015
- Find the research question. Each NGSQ case study begins with a distinct research question. The question may be one of identity, relationship, or situation. The title of the case study often sheds light on what question is being asked. For example, the September 2014 issue of NGSQ includes an article by Shirley Langdon Wilcox, CG, FNGS, titled “Finding a Father for Isaac Young: A Virginia Native in California.”
- Pinpoint the research subject(s). The research question in a case study must pertain to a specific individual or individuals. Who exactly is the research subject? Wilcox includes specific details about Isaac Young that differentiate him from others by the same name. Isaac is the man who originated in Virginia and died 23 May 1872 in California.
- Determine the known facts. Each case study lays out what is initially known about the research subject. In addition to the facts that differentiate Isaac Young from others with the same name, the case study also provides information about Isaac’s time in Texas and Kentucky, introduces his son Leander, and presents clues from family sources. These known facts establish the research subject and form the basis for the research question and the argument that is presented.
- Understand the issues. Why is the research problem so complex? Were there massive record losses in burned counties? Did the records left behind by the research subject fail to identify his or her parentage? The issues faced by the author are often the same issues faced by other researchers. Wilcox researched individuals who had significant name changes, lived in multiple states, and left behind records of varying reliability.
- Study the argument. The argument is the key part of a case study. In most cases, it will include several proof summaries that build upon each other. Pay attention to how the information is presented and analyzed. How does one piece of information tie into another? In Wilcox’s case study, the author establishes a connection between Isaac’s family and Martha Jane (Young) Boggs. Researching Martha in Bath County, Kentucky, led to information that connected Isaac Young to Sinnett Young.
- Categorize the evidence. Did the researcher assemble his or her argument using indirect evidence? Does the article present a resolution to conflicting evidence? Is negative evidence used in some way? Wilcox uses a variety of types of evidence to identify the father of Isaac Young as Sinnett Young.
- Identify the methods used to solve the problem. Each case study has a teaching value. The way that one author solves a research problem may be useful to hundreds of other researchers. In some cases, a focus on collateral lines may help determine a research subject’s origins. In the case of Isaac Young, a network of associates in California led to his origins and parentage.
- Read the conclusion. The conclusion to a case study often summarizes the methodology used, the key elements that contributed to solving the problem, and the research subject’s overall story. Finding the father of Isaac Young relied not only on his network in California, but also on the ability to distinguish him from other men with the same name. Key elements included name changes authorized by the Kentucky state legislature, and tax, land, and court records. The evidence gathered reveals Isaac’s overall story: he was born out of wedlock, used the surname Whitson until 1838, married three times, and left a family behind in Kentucky.
Click here and log into the NGSQ Archive to read Wilcox’s article.
Is there some way just to print the article without all of the ads, etc.? I am not able to sit at the computer and read, but I can print out things to read as my eyes will permit.
We just added a print button that will allow you to print the individual articles without the text from the sidebar. Thanks for your feedback!
Melissa, What an auspicious beginning to a new offering from NGS. I love it already. Also many congratulations on your new role as editor. You’re bringing some helpful material to us all.
Nicely done; useful and brief.
This valuable post provides welcome advice to beginning and intermediate genealogists who are just venturing into vetted journals such as NGSQ. Would it be possible to make this article to the general public, on the other wide of the NGS pay-wall?
I have a correction to my prior response. NGS Monthly is a member publication. The first two issues (February and March) are available without member log-in, but future issues will be available only to NGS Members and will require member log-in.
What a great teaching tool, Melissa! We’re all going to learn from you. Thanks so much.
As a long time, nearly 50 years researcher, I have developed fairly good research skills. These articles appear just what I need to firs,t solve the problems, second to make my reporting skills acceptable. I m struggling with just that kind of problem now, A relationship in the late 1700’s. Thank you
This is a terrific summary. I look forward to future issues.
I strongly recommend adding dates that everything, including comments, is posted.