— Bruce D. Despain

The genealogist has a moral1 responsibility to report to his client relative to his effors on behalf of that client and their results. Certainly he is accountable to the client, since money taken for services implies the performance of the relevant tasks. The client is entitled to some tangible record of the tasks performed2 and their relevance to the request for services3 that he has paid for. sometimes these services include a cetain amount of education in what requests a genealogist can reasonably fulfill.4

It is important initially to understand the reasons for and purposes of the research report. Only by knowing why he is putting forth the effort to get it in writing is the researcher in a position ot judge clearly and with satisfaction whether what he includes or how it is included in meeting those ends.

When the question of why is answered, it makes sense to ask about the scope and content of the report. Should every detail, every piece of information discovered be displayed? To what extent does the researcher use discretion and even imagination in selecting, arranging, and reporting the data to be described?

Finally, what is the appropriate format? Should the researcher be satisfied with filling in blank in forms? Must he engage in expository writing paying special attention to his rhetoric and grammar? With his purposes in mind and the question of significance answered, the researcher will find that the form of the report will to a large extent follow naturally.


The researcher may be seen as reporting to his client for three reasons: 1) to account for his time and other expenses — the client must feel confident that his investment in research services is well advised;5 2) to report in a way that review will be perspicuous — the direction of further effort must be clear to a subsequent researcher;6 3) to present an analysis of the data that will bring life and credibility to the compilation. These three areas — accountability, review, analysis — are intertwined; their division is somewhat arbitrary. For example, the clarification of future direction encourages future investment in services; a logical analysis should bring about a perspicuous review. Yet, it is important that, however classified or conceived, proper attention be given to each of these three aspects.7


Since charges are made by the hour the report should contain an accounting of the time spent. It should be clear whether the researcher spent his time in a long and tedious search or in a lengthy analysis in the linkage process.8 If a client is provided with a family group record form, time involved in its compilation or discovery should be discernible from the wording of the report. Sometimes the client will misconstrue information as to the time involved when it is not mentioned that there were indexes used or that the records were of an extreme size or illegible to some degree.9

It is most courteous to save mention of cost till last; there is really no other reason why it cannot be mentioned sooner. Perhaps it is because the real cost of the research can be embarrassing,10 that it is not mentioned first. Yet, if research is reported properly, the cost does not have to be an uncomfortable postscript.11


What searches were made? For what reasons? What was the goal of the search? What hypothesis need confirmation?12 By continually asking these questions during the research phase, the researcher will have the answer to the client’s and subsequent researchers’ question of what was done. If each search is planned properly and well motivated the subsequent searches will be defined naturally by the results.13 There are no “negative” results;14 every search results in increased knowledge15 that participates in motivating further searches. This cycle must be made clear at each step. What is the data that makes a search possible and what is the logic in making the search? What were the results, the ne data discovered, and how do they effect logically the definition of future searches.


Continuity in genealogical research depends critically on the soundness of the analysis. The research report should reflect the depth of the knowledge and experience of the researcher. How does the data known or discovered relate naturally to the picture so far reconstructed? Is it of significance to the general outlines begun in knowledge of sociological and historical principles?16 What are the essential links in the chain of interpretation that make a few marks in a record signify the sought-for ancestor?17


Some genealogists choose to send the client copies of every research extract, notes complete with library source identification references and archive catalog numbers. Though these notes and extracts are part of the research task their provision with the report fails tofill directly the purposes of that report. Is a consumer concerned with the technique and processes involved in the construction of a light bulb, for example? Only as it relates to the question of durability and desirability in the product. So in reporting genealogical research to the client the researcher’s interest in technical details extends only so far as a direct connection to the reconstitution of the ancestor’ family. To the neophyte the connection is far from obvious.

The proper emphasis to the data uncovered and to its significance to the record linkage process is a tremendous challenge to the researcher’s abilities to communicate. Forms of a technical nature tend to confuse a client unless they are designed to be self-explanitory. Abbreviations of a techneical nature must be avoided for the same reason. Yet, if an item is on a form for ultimate goals,such as pedigree charts or family group sheets, their mention in the report itself will be in abstract terms — how they lead to the next search. Generally variant spellings of a surname affect the technique more than the substance of the research and do not deserve mention.

It is easy for some genealogists to bog down in the enumeration of data and its interpretation without the corresponding emphasis on its significance to the research effort. Such reports mystify genealogy to the client.


The client deserves a scholarly report as much as he deserves scholarly research. The form and style of the research report should conform, therefore, to the standards of formal English. A disorderly composition implies to the reader that the research is disorganized and misdirected. Consider the following suggestions as a step toward an orderly presentation.

  1. A paragraph of a very general nature, summarizing the types of records searched or searches made, the quality and value of the results and the overall progress and effectiveness of the research. As an introduction to the whole, mention could be made to the pedigree line and the ultimate goal set for the present research effort.
  2. A paragraph for each search instigated or continued explaining or reviewing the data and hypotheses that define the parameters of the search. The obstacles encountered and the results obtained may be described. It is imperative that the description of results abstract only those data that define further searches or are themselves the ultimate goal. In the latter case specifics ar reatively unimportant.
  3. A paragraph explaining the charges and time expended. This would be a possible context in which to predict the financial requirements to complete the proposed searches or research phase.