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NCGS Journal Highlight: Using Indirect Evidence to Determine Parentage

Putting the Pieces Together to Solve the Parentage Puzzle: Using Indirect Evidence to Prove the Link between Oliver L. Kelley and George H. Kelley of Wilmington

By: Jeffrey L. Haines, CG∗

NCGS Journal 35, no. 4 (Nov 2009): 293

Are you looking to improve your genealogy research or writing skills? One great way to improve is by studying the work of others. Doing so will help you see where their may be gaps in your research strategy. You may also get a new idea of a record type to search or how to explain a particularly difficult issue. Today’s NCGS Journal highlight features a case study by Jeffrey Haines, CG. At the time of publication, Haines was the editor of the journal. He is a professional genealogist specializing in the families of the Carolinas and British West Indies.


“George H. Kelley of Wilmington presented a challenge that is fairly common in pre-twentieth century North Carolina. Extensive research had identified strong candidates for his parents: Oliver L. and Sarah (Findley) Kelley. However, George never created a document that named his parents. Oliver only sporadically owned property, and neither he nor Sarah left a probated estate. Baptismal records named Oliver’s other children, but George was baptized later as an adult, and the church register does not name his parents. Even though a proof document was never found, it is possible to assemble a convincing argument that George was indeed Oliver’s son.”

Haines utlized the Genealogical Proof Standard to build a credible case for George’s parentage. This 5-step process includes the following parts:

  • includes a reasonably exhaustive search for all information that is or may be pertinent to the problem;
  • accurately cites the source or sources of each item of information;
  • analyzes and correlates the collected information to assess its quality as evidence;
  • resolves any conflicts caused by items of evidence that contradict each other or are contrary to the proposed solution; and
  • produces a soundly reasoned, written conclusion.

The article details the work of an exhaustive search. He explains all evidence located, including conflicting evidence. Haines discusses the validity of different sources, offers logical reasoning for conflicting information (such as records reporting multiple birth places), and he includes documentary evidence supporting oral family tradition.

“Even though George H. Kelley created no records that name his parents or directly state his relationship to his siblings, and Oliver L. and Sarah Kelley produced no record that states that George was their son, the cumulative weight of all of the indirect evidence is overwhelming. Many of the little facts and details may not seem very significant by themselves, but when they are taken together, they all point to one conclusion.

To read the entire article, visit https://www.ncgenealogy.org/read-a-back-issue/ and head to November 2009. The online archive of the NCGS Journal is a member-only benefit. Back issues are available for purchase by non-members. If you would like to become a member to read this article and thousands more, head to https://www.ncgenealogy.org/join/.