Avoid Early Conclusions

It can be tempting when only a few documents have been located to reach a conclusion about an ancestor, family member, or historical event. While sometimes conjecture is occasionally justified as a problem-solving technique, remain focused on what the documents actually say–avoid creating dramatic events in your head to “explain” what was left behind on paper. Remind yourself that conjecture is just that: conjecture.

It can be easy to get caught up in conclusions that are drawn too early and sucked into the belief that there was something dramatic going on in our relative’s life. The result is that we often ignore other obvious information or spend too much time trying to prove conclusions that are improbable, wasting time and money in the process.

Sometimes we need to speculate in order to continue our research. Clearly label speculation in your research notes as exactly what it is: speculation. Be careful sharing speculation with other researchers, especially when you are unaware of how likely they are to share the speculation with others.

The majority of the time the simplest explanation is the explanation.