Harvesting Clues to Solve Identity Problems


6 October 2014


Most evidence we use to reconstruct human lives will not clearly identify the individual involved. Our sources may not even carry the name of the person we seek. Each time we do a bit of research, we all hope that diligent clerks will have left documents that plainly answer our burning questions, but few of them did.

Successful researchers learn to harvest clues. Bits and shards of evidence that prove nothing by themselves can be immensely valuable as pointers to other records or as fragments we can assemble to build a case for identity.

EE's QuickLesson 11, "Identity Problems and the FAN Principle," makes that point. When you are stuck on a woman of common name, for whom no surviving record names her family, would you expect to prove her identity from county road orders that assign work crews to maintain country roads?

If you feel you're hip-deep, seeing no solutions on the horizon, and uncertain how to sort the chaff from all the wheat, a yeoman farmer's daughter named Mary Smith, from 1853, can teach a valuable lesson. Just click this link.


PHOTO CREDIT: "Young Man in Wheat Field," CanStockPhoto (http://www.canstockphoto.com/images-photos/harvesting.html#file_view.php?id=2839360 : downloaded 16 September 2014), uploaded by mogddl; used under license.

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