Friday, June 29, 2012

Citing an Unsuccessful Search

On the blog, in Citing What I Did Not Find, Michael John Neill just posted this:

""They [James and Elizabeth Rampley] are the only Rampley family in the 1850 census for Illinois, Missouri, or Iowa."

"How do I cite such a statement? Do I indicate the database I searched, when I searched it, and how my search was conducted?"

Unfortunately, Michael does not have a "Comment" link on his blog post for readers to offer suggestions.  So here's my suggestion:

Write a blog post about your unsuccessful search  - when did you search, what resources (online, offline) did you search, what search terms did you use, how do you know the results you received weren't fruitful, etc. 

Having written a blog post, he can then cite the blog post in his article, in a research log, or in his genealogy software.  

One benefit to readers would be to see how an expert genealogy researcher tries to find elusive ancestors.  

Anyone have a better idea?

The URL for this post is:

Copyright (c) 2012, Randall J. Seaver


Judy Webster said...

I like that idea. It won't suit everyone, but it will certainly work for me.

Dr. Bill (William L.) Smith said...

Me too, Randy. Negative results reporting can be every bit as useful as positive; can certainly save time in the future, as well! ;-)

Nancy said...

Excellent idea! I hadn't thought about using a blog post this way. Thanks for the idea.

Lynn Palermo said...

Great idea Randy, but what about for those who don't blog? Any ideas?

Michelle Goodrum said...

For those who dont blog, write up the negative findings anyway and put a copy in your files, genealogy software, etc. Then in your article, research log or anyplace you need to reference, it you can include a citation.

Connie Sheets said...

There is nothing that prevents a citation from being a sentence, or even a short paragraph. No need to jump through hoops writing up a separate document, whether blog or otherwise, when you can write a "free-form" citation (aka footnote) explaining briefly what database you searched and the search terms you used.

Sometimes we make things a lot more complicated than they need to be.

Cousin Russ said...


I like your idea about a Blog Post about negative results, great idea.

To me, the trick is to note WHEN the negative results, especially with all of the new Online Resources that are presented daily, but multiple resources. So, the 2nd piece to record is Where.

I have started to use the Resource Log to do Negative reporting.

I am sure that I should be recording the positive results, but I haven't started to do that. I am using the TimeLine feature more and more to see WHAT I have. For the moment, I am using that at the positive recording.

The Negative Recording, in the Resource Log is becoming more and more useful. I do have ToDo / Task items for most of my Negative Results, specifically for the 1940 Census Records.

Thank you for the topic, with a place to make Comments.


Anonymous said...

Randy, if we make a practice of preparing a research report whenever we do a block of research, then that research report will itemize everything that yielded positive or negative results, identify exactly what and who we sought in each of those sources, and discuss any/all other factors that may have influenced our results. Then in our databases, whenever we need to reference that "unsuccessful search," we can simply cite that research report, where all the details are provided.