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Become a Better Genealogist By Reviewing What You Know

Genealogy Family Tree with title review what you know

Peer reviewing is the most important part of analyzing the research that you encounter or receive from others. However, you must evaluate your own work before you head off on a research quest.

In the video Developing a Research Question, I explained the need to add specifics to your research question, so you know that you have arrived at an answer once you make a discovery. I also mentioned that your research questions come from previous research or knowledge.

In my newest video, I want you to review what you think you know before researching to find an answer to your question.

VIDEO: How do you know that fact is true?

Watch this video on YouTube.

Genealogy Research Question Brainstorm

When and where was Christian Hoppe born?

We expanded our question to be more specific so that we know which Christian Hoppe is. The question looked like this:

What is the birth date and place of Christian Christopher Hoppe, who married Anna Margaretha Kalsberger on 12 April 1859 in Franklin County, Ohio, and father of Christian, Marguerite, and Anna Hoppe?

How do we know that Christian Christopher Hoppe was married to Anna and had those three children? Ah-ha! That’s the critical question:

How do you know what you know when you formulated your question?

For this example, the easiest answer is:

Marriage Certificate for Christian Hoppe and Margaretha Karlsberger

“Ohio, County Marriages, 1789-2013,” database with images, FamilySearch ( : 15 July 2014), Franklin > Marriage index and records 1857-1862 vol 7; county courthouses, Ohio.

The marriage record informs me that Christian Hoppe and Margaretta Karlsberger married.

A family photo album has pictures of Christian Christoph Hoppe, Marguerite Hoppe, and Anna Hoppe. Photos are great, don’t get me wrong, but they aren’t helping piece together the family as there is no family group photo in the collection.

However, I know that this photo album belonged to Marguerite Hoppe, whose married surname was Geiszler.

I found Marguerite Hoppe’s death record, and it has the following information:

Death record for Magdelana Geiszler

“Ohio Deaths, 1908-1953,” database with images, FamilySearch ( : 9 March 2018), Magdelana Geiszler, 03 Feb 1921; citing Columbus, Franklin, Ohio, reference fn 8627; FHL microfilm 1,991,487.

Looky there! Christopher Hoppe’s birthplace is listed as Germany.

I’m done, right?

Well, I still hadn’t determined when he was born in Germany or the village's name, but I have proven one point in genealogy research.

Foundation of an answer in genealogy research previously conducted

Sometimes the answers you need are in your home sources. Photos albums may identify the facts you seek. Sometimes you’ll have letters in which individuals who could qualify as a quality informant about your ancestor record all the details you want to find.

You need to review what you know before you look for more answers.

Is this death certificate for Marguerite Hoppe Geiszler enough to establish the birthplace of her father, Christian Hoppe? NOPE!

That leads to the next point I want to emphasize.

One record is rarely enough evidence to answer your questions


Birth register entry for Christopher Hopp

“Ohio, County Death Records, 1840-2001,” database with images, FamilySearch ( : 5 September 2014), Christopher Hoppe, 11 Jan 1901; citing Franklin > Death records, 1899-1903, vol 3; county courthouses, Ohio.

Anna M Ross Death Certificate

“Ohio, County Death Records, 1840-2001,” database with images, FamilySearch ( : 5 September 2014), Anna M Ross, 11 July 1896 ; citing Franklin > Death records, 1899-1903; county courthouses, Ohio.

In reviewing Marguerite’s siblings' death register entry, which spanned four pages, we see that Christopher Hoppe was from Germany. This discovery that I had already made was consistent, Christian Christopher Hoppe was from Germany.

Sometimes the information you have that tells you what you know when you discover something you don’t know is more sparse than this case, but I hope I’ve helped you see how important it is to reexamine the source material have already gathered, both offline and on.

↪️ Are you new to genealogy? Grab your copy of this FREE Beginner Guide:

laptop and writing notes with title Free Guide: 5 Steps for Successfully Starting in Family History

How are you going to keep track of all of this information?

Use online trees. You can attach the four sources mentioned in this post to the FamilySearch family tree.

Use a genealogy program. I use RootsMagic to backup my online trees and their sources.

Why else should you review what you know?

The final benefit of reviewing what you know is that you’ll recognize your discoveries. I didn’t need to search for Christian’s children's death records because I already had from previous research.

Wouldn’t you hate to spend any additional time doing repetitive research work when the answers you need are in your possession?

To sum up, your research will lead you to questions. Write specific questions that will help you find your answers. Once the questions are formulated, reevaluated any related evidence you have gathered might have the answer or clues pointing you in the right direction.

Learn More Family History Research Techniques

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