citation for negative findings

I have searched for evidence of an early 19th century Washington Co. PA marriage on Ancestry,, and through a related PA genealogical society, with negative results.  If I want to publish this case study, what would be a good way of citing those negative results. There are a lot of record groups involved.

Submitted byEEon Tue, 08/15/2023 - 08:39

What a great question, TAMills.

You are right that our proof arguments need to identify negative searches. When we build a case on indirect or contradictory evidence and ask our readers to accept our conclusions, they need to know what approaches we tried and all sources we used.  When our research meets the "reasonably exhaustive" criterion of the Genealogical Proof Standard, we may have a lengthy list of negative searches or negative findings.

Depending upon the complexity of the research, the number of resources we examined, and the number of strategies we applied, our approaches will vary. Studying several years of published case studies in peer-reviewed genealogical journals will provide a variety of examples. My own approach to a problem of this type—for case studies I’ve published in both genealogical and historical journals—is usually this:

  • I post all my underlying research reports at my website so they will be publicly accessible.
  • Within my case study, where appropriate, I add a free-form footnote to describe my fruitless efforts, or generically identify record categories, then provide an appropriate citation to each underlying research report.

Incidentally, my upcoming September webinar for Legacy focuses upon this topic, including

  • negative searches
  • negative findings
  • negative conclusions
  • negative evidence
  • negative arguments

With regard to the suggestion of posting underlying research reports at our websites, that (of course) works only if we have a website.  If we don’t, other options exist. Either of the two approaches below would make that research publicly available and provide a citable link.

  • uploading the reports to an open-publishing platform such as Scribd.
  • attaching the research report(s) to the individual’s profile in a publicly accessible online tree such as FamilySearch

Submitted byHistory-Hunteron Tue, 08/15/2023 - 14:23

Certainly looking forward to seeing your presentation!

So far; I've been trying to handle negative results of more focussed searches by citing the document consulted and appending a discursive note by way of explanation. The citation is then attached to the analysis in the body of my report. [Note: My source list references the overall group of nominal rolls in order to reduce the size of the list.]

Hopefully; the September webinar doesn't require me to rework too many citations. :>)




Source List Entry

Canadian Expeditionary Force - 94th to 114th Battalions - Nominal Roll of Officers, Non-Commissioned Officers and Men...Printed government documents. Library and Archives Canada. : 2023.

First Reference

Canadian Expeditionary Force: 101st Battalion, Nominal Roll of Officers, Non-Commissioned Officers and Men; Embarkation Port: Halifax, Ship S.S. “Olympic”, Date June 29th, 1916, …issued with Militia Orders, 1917printed government document; PDF image, Library and Archives Canada ( : accessed 15 August 2023); citing item 5713775, reference RG9-11-B-3, volume 79, Archives / Collections and Fonds. The absence of mention of Charles Murison embarking supports the theory that he did not go overseas with with the unit to which he is known to have been assigned.

Subsequent Note

Canadian Expeditionary Force: 101st Battalion, Nominal Roll...; Embarkation Port: Halifax, Ship S.S. “Olympic”, Date June 29th, 1916, issued with Militia Orders, 1917.


Submitted byEEon Sat, 08/26/2023 - 09:48

H-H, analytical comments such as the one you've added to that First Reference Note are a very good thing to add.

Submitted byEEon Sat, 08/26/2023 - 09:49

H-H, analytical comments such as the one you've added to that First Reference Note are a very good thing to include in our research, whether it is in the body of a research report or in a reference note.