Trying to Apply the Scientific Method to a Research Question, Or Looking for My Great-Grandmother

Thanks to Steve Danko and Michelle Goodrum for inspiring me to use the Scientific Method to pursue my research this year. I closely followed Steve’s 8-part presentation in December of his question and like the idea of trying to be that disciplined in researching one of my questions. As I have confessed before, I usually am fairly haphazard in my approach, following my nose from one thought to another and collecting tidbits along the way. I also tend not to analyze the data in a methodical way, but to accept or discard without considering all I know. I do know better, but have too often been cavalier in my approach to this fascinating study. I am resolved to do better.

Here I am trying to be more methodical, and so I’m presenting my first take on using this Method on a genealogical question. This is a somewhat condensed version of what I have collected along the way.

This particular research question is related to one of my difficulties with my Boothby women. I have noted before that there are two particular places in my Boothby line where there are unresolved questions about exactly who the woman in question was. I’ve written about Elizabeth Divers and whether it was she who married the James Boothby who is my great-great-grandfather. My goal this year is to identify the parents of my great-grandmother Mary Earhart Boothby and prove that they were her parents. Mary lived in southwestern Ohio (mostly Brown County) from 1855 to 1934.

The question arises because of 2 different last names being given in the Federal Censuses and births recorded at the Brown County Courthouse. There are also variations of her first name. The information on her death certificate, given by her daughter Carrie, is that Mary E. Boothby was the daughter of John Earhart and Margaret Shotwell, born 17 Jun 1855 in Brown County, Ohio. This was the first piece of documentation I had for my great-grandmother and I assumed that her daughter’s information was correct. Silly me. As I started adding to the information pile, I discovered that there was a mystery. The first available Federal Census she shows up on (1860) lists her as Elizabeth Hockman (see below). At this point I started to see that I had a more interesting problem than merely documenting events.

Here is the first iteration of the Scientific Method.

I. Define the question: Who were Elizabeth Mary or Mary Elizabeth’s parents?

II Gather information and resources:

  • 1. Born to John Earhart and Margaret Shotwell, 1855 (Ohio Death Certificate, informant daughter Carrie)

    Mary E. Boothby death certificate info

  • 2. Living in Clark Township, Brown County, Ohio in 1860 as Elizabeth Hockman with John and Margaret Arehart (1860 Federeral Population Census), age 4

    Arehart 1860 census

  • 3. Living in Clark Township, Brown County, Ohio in 1870 as Elizabeth M. Earhart with John and Margaret Earhart (1870 Federal Population Census), age 15, “Helps Mother”

    Earhart 1870 census

  • 4. Married Alexander A. Boothby as Mary E. Earhart, 1873, in Brown County, Ohio (Ohio Marriages, 1800-1958)
  • 5. Birth of son, M.K. Boothby 1879, Scott Township, Brown County, Ohio to Alexander Boothby and E.M. Hockman (Ohio Births and Christenings, 1821-1962)
  • 6. Living in Clark Township, Brown County, Ohio, 1880 as Mary E. Boothby (1880 Federal Population Census)
  • 7. Birth of son, Ray T. Boothby, 1890, Lewis Township, Brown County, Ohio to A.A. Boothby and E.M. Earhart (Ohio Births and Christenings, 1821-1962)
  • 8. Birth of daughter, Delia C. Boothby, 1894, Lewis Township, Brown County, Ohio to A. Boothby and Mary Earhart (Ohio Births and Christenings, 1821-1962)

(The Ohio Marriages and Ohio Births and Christenings listed are indexes found on the Family Search website,

III. Form hypothesis: Mary Elizabeth or Elizabeth Mary Hockman was taken in by John Earhart and Margaret Shotwell between 1855 and 1860 and later “adopted” by them between 1860 and 1870.

IV. Perform experiment and collect data: Search for birth records in the Brown County Courthouse for 1854-1857 for both Elizabeth Mary Earhart and Elizabeth Mary Hockman. Since the earliest records I have to date show her as Elizabeth it is possible that this was the name originally given to her.

Since it was not required to register births in Brown County until 1867 there may not be any birth records available for these earlier years. Or, there may be some births recorded earlier but not all. The microfilmed records available from the Family History Library start at 1867 but do not include all births even after it was required. In this rural area of the state not all events got recorded, and some got recorded long after the fact. Therefore I should also search the guardianship and probate files.

I have already decided to send for a copy of the birth of M.K. Boothby, as well as the marriage record for Alexander and Mary. There may be more information on the original record than shows on the index. (This is a separate experiment: I have been told by Cousin Nancy that you can request photocopies of specific images or pages from microfilms at the Family History Library. I will mail my first request to them and see what I get back.)

Otherwise, it looks like I will need to take a trip out to Ohio to research in the courthouse records to see for myself. Wonder what my sister is doing this summer?

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2 comments on “Trying to Apply the Scientific Method to a Research Question, Or Looking for My Great-Grandmother
  1. Pat says:

    Thanks, Michelle. I appreciate the inspiration you provided. Just writing the post helped clarify for me what I know and don’t know. This is one of my brickwalls, but I have hopes of making at least a little progress toward figuring her out.

  2. Intriguing. I wish you luck and hope you let us know what you find out.

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