TRANSITIONAL-GENEALOGISTS-FORUM-L ArchivesArchiver > TRANSITIONAL-GENEALOGISTS-FORUM > 2010-07 > 1278011391
Subject: Re: [TGF] EE Discussion - Fundamentals of Evidence Analysis - BasicIssues (1.2) - Completeness of Research
Date: Thu, 01 Jul 2010 12:09:51 -0700
> Discussion: Section 1.2: Completeness of Research
> This section begins to focus on how much research is "enough." Looking back to
> the Genealogical Proof Standard, the first point in that standard is that we
> conduct a "reasonably exhaustive search." Please comment on what standards you
> use when assessing whether your search is complete or not. Have you ever been in
> a situation where you thought your search was complete and you later found that
> your conclusions were in error? Has experience changed your standards for
> assessing the completeness of your research? How did experience change that?
I can't think of any time when I've thought a piece of research is
"complete" meaning that I thought I'd viewed all relevant sources for a
particular research objective.
There have been documents that I thought I had "completely" extracted
all relevant information and understood "completely" that when I later
viewed I saw differently because of whatever additional
experience/information I had absorbed between viewings. So, I no longer
would use the word "complete" for this activity. "Enough for now" is
"Enough for now" characterizes a variety of situations where I'll use a
source to a particular point and then decide it's time to switch,
planning to come back. Not very efficient of me, is it. But maybe
it's that research spiral kicking in.
Michele asked: Please comment on what standards you use when assessing
whether your search is complete or not.
I'll describe one search which pretty much characterizes my search
I'm interested in finding out if there is any evidence that a particular
ancestor served in the French & Indian War, as a privately published
family history written in the 1960s suggests, with no documentation for
that suggestion. One published source in the public domain (viewable
via Google Books or Internet Archive, as well as other online digital
libraries, and available in print form in accessible libraries) is
"Rolls of Connecticut Men in the French and Indian War, 1755-1762. Vol.
I-II." This publication is also the original source for an Ancestry
database ("Connecticut Soldiers, French and Indian War, 1755-62"). I
have viewed the hard copy volumes. I chose to use Google's digital
copies of the two volumes for my search. I looked for "my guy" three
1. using the print index at the end of each volume [prepared by the
"authors" of this publication]
2. via google search [uses the text/OCR version of the images]
3. line by line reading of both volumes [me]
Would I say my search of this source is complete?
-meaning do I think I found every possible reference to "my guy"
-reference meaning his name, with all it's spelling variations
I would say not, because I have no idea what my error rate is for my
line by line reading. Theoretically the line by line reading should get
any reference missed by the other two search methods. Without knowing
that error rate I can not determine how "complete" my results are. But,
it was what I was willing do. it was "enough"
On top of that, perhaps he went by a name different than the one I had
(some unknown middle name, for example). Right now, with the
information I currently have, there's nothing I can do about that type
of "incompleteness." I did note every occurence of names with the same
The question of whether a search is "complete" is difficult to answer
accurately. To me, "complete" would mean I found everything matching
what I was looking for. There is a difference between what I am looking
for and the way I actually carry out a search. Using wildcards, name
variations, etc are very specific expressions of some aspect of "what I
am looking for." Our brains (if we're awake and paying close attention)
can view material and recognize a "match" without the nitty gritty
limitations of all the variations. So, I would always go with a
"careful reading" if I wanted to search something "completely."
Unfortunately careful reading is demanding. There's only so long I can
do it and feel like I'm being careful. And, even being careful, I'm
sure I make mistakes. I used to be perfect, but lost that virtue quite
some time ago. Right now I have no verification procedure, so don't
have an estimate of my error rate, so wouldn't call my searches
Complete searches would find all that should be found. Search results
tell us what was found for a specific search criteria. There's no way
to know what was not found. So, no matter how skilled and creative one
is using the search tools available to us, one still cannot say that the
"search" is complete. The "search" is the sum of all the individual
searches created to pursue the "what I am looking for." If there were
some evaluation of the search tools for a specific source, then perhaps
one would be able to say something meaningful about the search results
obtained by a specific search method, like a search engine, or searching
a digitized text document.
When I reread this EE section ("Completeness of Research"), I understood
that the goal of "completeness" is one to be strived for, but is
unattainable. We strive for it by learning the sources, methods and
standards and applying that knowledge to the best of our ability, as
carefully as possible.
A related question. Would you say the research demonstrated in the
"Great Migration Project" is about as complete as one can get?
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