Many of our genealogical research questions can be answered by simply acquiring the right documents. A birth record will answer the questions of when and where a person was born and the names of the father and mother. This is called direct evidence. Find more documents which support the answers and none that contradict and you can be fairly certain that the answers are correct. This is the easiest and best type of evidence when trying to build a family tree.
There are times in our research when we simply cannot find direct evidence to answer a question. We might only be able to get indirect evidence. Indirect evidence does not answer the question by itself. In order to answer the question, we may need to combine several items of indirect evidence. That was the case when I tried to find the parents of Thomas Hayes of Dayton, Ky.
I suspected the parents of Thomas were Dennis and Jane Hays. This couple had a male child, Thomas, who appeared in their household in several pre-1880 census records. Since census records do not give relationships before 1880, I needed more evidence to support my conclusion. Extensive research was conducted on the life of Thomas but none of the records named his parents. Dennis and Jane Hays also had a son, James. James never married and was found living with his parents in post-1880 census records and city directories. He is buried in the Hays burial plot with Dennis and Jane, and their names appear on his death certificate and obituary. I found nothing that contradicted the information that his parents were Dennis and Jane.
Thomas died in 1916 and James in 1918. Neither was mentioned in the other's obituary. Upon close inspection, James' obituary seemed a bit strange. He had lived in Cincinnati all of his life, yet the funeral home and church listed in the obituary was in Dayton, Ky. Dayton and Cincinnati are very close, separated only by the Ohio River, but it still seemed unusual. There was a connection though. Thomas for several years before his death was a member of the church in Dayton listed in James' obituary. James' obituary was found in the Cincinnati Enquirer newspaper, one of the two major newspapers in the area. I decided to check the other newspaper, the Cincinnati Post, to see if the obituary appeared there as well.
In my experience, most of the obituaries were the same when they appeared in both of these newspapers, but not this time. The answer to my question was in that second obituary.
Sarah Hays was the wife of Thomas Hays. Sarah was listed as the sister-in-law of James in the obituary from the Cincinnati Post. It even gave her address which confirmed that she was Sarah, wife of Thomas.
With this information, a case could be made that Thomas was the son of Dennis and Jane Hays. It had already been established with direct evidence that James was the son of Dennis and Jane Hays. There was also direct evidence to support that Sarah was the wife of Thomas Hays. The obituary for James Hays stated that Sarah was his sister-in-law; therefore, James was the brother of her deceased husband, Thomas. Because the obituary did not state that Thomas was the brother of James, the evidence is indirect for the brother relationship.
Pre-1880 census records show that Dennis and Jane Hays had a child residing with them named Thomas. This is also indirect evidence for Thomas' relationship to the Hayses. A study of records for Dennis and Jane indicate that neither had been married previously, making it unlikely that Thomas was the son by another marriage.
Conclusion: James is the son of Dennis and Jane Hays. Thomas Hays is the brother of James Hays, therefore, Thomas is also the son of Dennis and Jane.
There is certainly room for doubt about the identity of Thomas' parents. However, I found no evidence which conflicted with my conclusion. Unless more information surfaces, I will have to be content with the indirect evidence as proof of the relationship.
In some cases, we will never find direct evidence to resolve a genealogical question. Taking the indirect route may be the only way to find the answer.