The Sibling Connection

When faced with a challenging research problem, expanding the search to records of the subject’s family, friends, and associates frequently will bring a solution. One of the most effective paths is through a person’s siblings. If a person’s own records fail to name parents, a sibling’s records could directly state their names or offer clues to help make the connection. This approach was successfully used by Paul K. Graham, CG, to locate a birth family for one of his subjects.  His March 2013 National Genealogical Society Quarterly article, “A Family for Florence I. (Crouse) Nelson: Unraveling an Informal Adoption in Missouri or Indiana,” explains the case.[1]

Graham was challenged with identifying the parents of Florence (Crouse) Nelson, whose records were filled with conflicts, omissions, and questions. Her marriage record lists her parents, but no census record was found with a matching household structure. Her death-record informant evidently was confused when asked about her parents; the informant provided his own name and the name of the decedent in place of her parents’ names. One of her three obituaries stated that her parents had died while she was still a child and that she was raised by a couple with the surname Stewart. She was enumerated as Florence “Stewart” in households headed by the Stewarts in 1870 and 1880. The relationship was clarified when the man who raised her died. His obituary identified Florence as his niece. And given that Florence’s marriage record listed Stewart as her mother’s maiden name, it appeared likely that the man who raised Florence was her mother’s brother.

Armed with strong clues about Florence’s upbringing, Graham attempted to learn more. Striking out on the direct approach, he explored potential families and possible siblings for Florence as well as for Florence’s mother and the man who raised Florence. He located a biographical sketch for another man surnamed Stewart who turned out to be a sibling of Florence’s mother. The sketch named Florence’s parents, listed more Stewart siblings, and identified Florence’s maternal grandparents. Graham next searched for candidate households for Florence’s parents. He tracked household members in search of evidence linking them to Florence or excluding them from further consideration. Graham succeeded in locating her birth family using evidence gathered while focusing on Florence’s siblings and other associates.

As with all National Genealogical Society Quarterly articles, readers learn about sources, analysis, and reasoning from evidence. What else does Paul Graham’s article show?

  • His example demonstrates how indirect evidence can be assembled to prove a conclusion. The ability to work with indirect evidence is an essential skill for genealogists, for in many cases no record can be found that provides a direct answer to the research question. (Evidence is indirect when it cannot answer the research question on its own, but helps answer the question when combined with other evidence items.[2] Proof discussions based on indirect evidence must be painstakingly assembled. Although the marriage record provided direct evidence of Florence’s parents, indirect evidence identified the correct parental family.)
  • The article shows how the author addressed conflicting information as well as evidence that seemed to contradict his proposed solution.[3] For example, Graham discusses his analysis of the names on Florence’s death record. He acknowledges that Florence’s absence from her purported father’s estate records suggests he might not have been her father, adds observations about another omitted child, and discusses laws regarding inheritance.
  • His piece illustrates a method of pinpointing candidates and researching those candidates for evidence to confirm or disprove a connection. Graham identified possible parental households for Florence and then systematically worked through those possibilities, gradually narrowing the pool for further study.[4]

Graham’s case study demonstrates that expanding research beyond the person who is the focus of the project is an effective technique. In this case, the author moved from the subject to maternal uncle, then on to proposed parents and siblings. His steady expansion to records of known and suspected associates led to the collection of evidence he needed to connect Florence to her birth family.

[1] Paul K. Graham, “A Family for Florence I. (Crouse) Nelson: Unraveling an Informal Adoption in Missouri or Indiana,” National Genealogical Society Quarterly 101 (March 2013): 7–18; PDF, NGSQ Archives (https://www.ngsgenealogy.org/cs/ngs_quarterly_archives : 15 August 2017).

[2] For more on this, see Board for Certification of Genealogists (BCG), Genealogy Standards (Nashville, Tenn.: Turner Publishing, an imprint of Ancestry.com, 2014), 23–29, “Reasoning from Evidence.”

[3] For more, see BCG, Genealogy Standards, 27–28 (standard 48, “Resolving Evidence Inconsistencies”).

[4] For more, see BCG, Genealogy Standards, 13 (standard 14, “Topical Breadth”), 14–15 (standard 17 “Extent”).

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