Well, That Was Disappointing: The Value of “Negative Evidence”

We’ve all been there. We’ve done searches looking for an ancestor, and simply came up with nothing. We’ve tried numerous alternate spellings. Eliminated the date. And even omitted the parents names.

And still Zip. Zilch. Nada.

In fact the name you were searching doesn’t even appear. Or anything even remotely like it. So what now?

Some would say that they’ve wasted time, effort and money, but in reality this couldn’t be further from the truth. What you’ve done is find “negative evidence”. In effect you are eliminating sources. So then narrowing down your search list.

Negative Evidence is far more valuable that most give credit for, so don’t ever discard this information. Record it in a research log, noting down your search term, what (book, website, journal, archive etc) you searched, what you found (or not), and the date. If is is a website, you might want to note to recheck it later, as we all know new records do get added online regularly.

An added bonus with a Research Log is that you can see exactly what you found (or didn’t find) when. So when you pick up that line a couple of years later, you don’t have to repeat all the same searches (unless they’re websites of course).

And if you don’t have a Research Log as yet, you’ll find some great Research Log Templates over on Cyndi’s List which you can download and printout for free.

So while it’s not as exciting as finding your ancestor, NEGATIVE EVIDENCE really is a GOOD thing. Try it. You’ll be amazed at how much time it can actually save you.