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Defining an Objective

Genealogical instructors and authors often omit one important step, an omission that tends to leave students confused. Because the subject is so commonplace to the speaker or writer, he or she neglects to explain some of the more basic principles. Thus they talk about reaching an objective and discuss the sources to be used, without first showing how to define an objective.

This assumes that the ability to define an objective comes naturally or by the use of common sense. Common sense has been defined as a sense which is supposed to unite all the senses in a general perception. It seems to have been mistakenly assumed that everyone has more than enough of it and uses it constantly.

As more and more "lay" people become interested in genealogical research, they need to know how to define an objective so that they can be better served by those who can provide the procedures necessary to reach that objective.

Some general objectives are:
   1. Has sufficient research been conducted so that it is reasonably certain that a complete family group has been established?
   2. Have sufficient genealogical sources been searched to fully verify a possible pedigree connection?

In regards to a particular person, some specific objectives that can be achieved through searches in records are:
  1. A date of birth or christening
  2. A place of birth or christening
  3. A date of marriage
  4. A place of marriage
  5. A date of death or burial
  6. A place of death or burial
  7. An age at death or burial

For each of these simple objectives the next step would be to determine what sources could provide the information needed to complete the objective.

Extending this exercise further, additional objectives would be:
  1. Full name of the person's father

  2. Given name (first name, middle name) of the person's mother
  3. Maiden surname of the person's mother
  4. Information on the person's parents as listed in items 1 through 7 above
  5. Information on all of the person's brothers and sisters as listed in items 1 through 7 above
  6. Given name of the person's wife or full name of the person's husband
  7. Maiden surname of the person' wife

Again, once this objective has been determined, the next step is to study the genealogical sources that exist for the geographical area concerned and use the appropriate ones in order to reach the objective.

The apparently simple act of determining an objective cannot always be correctly done without a good knowledge of record sources. Consider, for example, a pedigree chart for a person we will call Ann LANE. The pedigree chart includes the following:
  1. Name: Ann LANE
  2. Christened 13 Nov 1788
  3. Christened at Billingboro, Lincoln, England
  4. Father's name: John LANE
  5. Mother's name: Ann

Without some knowledge of research, the immediate objective could be incorrectly defined as finding the birth or christening details for John LANE. In actual fact, the immediate objective should be to find the details of all the children of John and Ann and then find the marriage record of John LANE and his wife Ann. That marriage entry may provide a clue as to where to search for a future objective - the birth or christening details of John LANE.

It is emphasized that an objective must be defined and written down before any searches are made. Experience indicates that many would-be genealogists have only a vague notion of what they are looking for when they peruse a book or study a microfilm. They hope that "Lady Luck" will have prompted them to pick up the right record and that the information they seek will be very obvious when it is found there. Alternatively, they spend hour after hour copying material that is irrelevant to the time and place of the objective. Had they but defined the objective in the first place, they could have saved a lot of effort and put their valuable time to better use.

Any pedigree is really a given number of objectives to which are tied certain procedures. These objectives can be isolated from each other. What appears therefore at first glance to be a frightening problem is really a group of objectives that can be attained in small, workable groups. As proficiency increases, a larger number of objectives can be handled at one time.