scientific research methods
anybody who begins with genealogical research gathers all sorts of information that are easily available. the sources will yield possibly certain contradictions: a grandmother recalls something entirely different than what was recorded in a document. also the research has soon generated a lot of data and the researcher will find it difficult to remember the source to any particular set of data. however as soon as contradictions become apparent, we need to check the sources to reach an informed judgment on what actually happened.
in this context scientific means that the data can be checked and the research process repeated. any person ought to be able to independently verify recorded research results and to check if they are doubtful. essentially this requires that not only the facts are recorded but also the sources which yield the information. it sometimes happens that several sources confirm a date. the imperative for being able to confirm facts like names and dates calls for the greatest possible precision. for instance I am told that the date of birth is 1910 and that the birth was in berlin, germany. at that time there were 93 registry offices where this birth could have been registered. consequently it is important to accurately note the district or the agency that recorded the event. we need to pay particular attention when sources state different or conflicting facts. in such cases we need to evaluate the sources critically and consider, as part of the scientific research, which source is more trustworthy than the other. alternatively we try to find another sources that can clarify the apparent contradiction. in such cases it is furthermore helpful to note down the reasoning for a decision so that other persons or oneself (at a later stage) can follow the line of thought. and finally every scientific researcher needs to have the courage to state the facts as they are: if the information is inconclusive because the sources do not contain clear data or if there are several possibilities (e.g. when two couples can be the parents of a particular child) this should be said and explained. the sources do not allow for a certain decision. no wishful thinking or guesswork amends this situation until other or more sources are available to reach this desirable conclusion.
scientific genealogical research meets the following criteria:
• facts are recorded as precisely as possible
• all sources for facts (and information) are recorded for every event
• critical assessment of sources: sources need to be evaluated and discussed if contradictory information is uncovered
• the reasoning for certain decisions or suggestions need to be documented in particular when they present a solution to contradictions
• it is reported when the resolution of contradictions is not possible or when no single solution for an unresolved problem exists
• if a source has been unsuccessfully checked for a specific event (e.g. a birth) it is necessary to note what has been looked for and what years this search covered in the sources that were searched.
our office adheres to this standard.
as a rule our customers receive a transcript of the wording of an event from the source. the literal rendering of an event is definitely more time consuming but serves the customer in so far as s/he does not need to believe factual findings but is put into a position to read the sources with his or her own eyes and check the sources as s/he sees fit. the customer can also decide whether s/he finds an argument convincing. s/he can decide if there are alternative solutions which offer different conclusions.