Three R’s in Genealogy

Reading, Writing, Arithmetic

I remember when my grade school teacher first told us about the Three R’s in school. Being smart-aleck kids, we made fun of the whole thing. Reading is the only word that actually starts with an R. Writing starts with a W, and the only way to get to R with Arithmetic is to skip an entire syllable. A short syllable, admittedly, but…I’m only hinting at how cruelly my grade school class tore apart the Three R’s model and basically insulted and mocked our teacher.

But, nonetheless, the idea has stuck around for many decades. It’s memorable. Technically, it is a mnemonic device.

In genealogy, we use the Three R’s with our research.

We read documents all the time. We must read documents, and analyze them, to understand our ancestors’ past lives and facts about their lives. We also read books, blogs, and syllabi from seminars to learn new skills, to better analyze and better research the documents we find.

We write documents. At the very least, we type in names, dates, and facts into a family tree, often one that is online so others can find it. This is form of a digital document. When we become more advanced, we also write other documents, digital or paper, such as research reports, sourced genealogies, and maybe even proof arguments. We leave a trail behind so that future generations can view and appreciate our work.

We also do arithmetic. Some examples include determining an unknown date. For example, we may research an ancestor and we discover there is no birth certificate, as those documents were not yet recorded. We may find a church baptism record. We do simple logical determinations; if they were baptized on that date, they were already born, so we may type in a date such as “born before 12 Jan 1848.” Before by how much time, we may not be able to determine. Sometimes just a day or two. Sometimes a week. Sometimes, if it was a traveling preacher who came to town every month or several weeks, much more time may have gone by between birth and baptism. And of course, some religions believe in baptizing only adults who have knowledge of what a baptism means, so the person may be 14years old, or even an adult of 70, before they are baptized. But “born before 12 Jan 1848” is sufficient in many cases.

We may discover a will that was written on June 29, 1834, but was not proved, or finished with court probate proceedings, until August 10, 1834. We determine that the person was alive on June 29 when they wrote the will, but a will is only proved after their death, so they must have been dead by August 10. When did they die, exactly? We often write a range, or died between two dates, such as “29 June 1834 — 10 Aug 1834.” Sometimes that’s the best we know for now, until we get other documents, and sometimes that’s the best we know…ever.

Many of us have come across a unique gravestone, which may give no birth date, but gives a death date “May 16, 1892” and provide the age of the deceased at death, such as “71 years, 5 months, 3 days” and then we must do math to determine a birth date. With this example, we would have both a birth date and a death date, but we must do math to figure it out.

Genealogy, in many ways, is just some basic skills that we all learned in grammar school. Including the Three R’s: Readin’ wRitin’, and ‘Rithmetic.

The hard part is finding the documents, and analyzing the documents.

 

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