Understanding the Genealogical Proof Standard


*This is the first of a three-part series exploring how to use the Genealogical Proof Standard in your family history research.

Life is good for the family historian with dozens of records containing direct evidence. Accurate and complete marriage certificates that list the marriage date, full legal names, and the names of each set of parents can be more valuable than a shoe box full of money in the search for a missing ancestor.

“Direct evidence is awesome,” said James Ison at the RootsTech 2016 conference. “A birth certificate will list the name of parents. It’s direct evidence. It answers a question. A marriage license will say what the bride’s maiden name is. A baptismal record will say the dates and the places of birth—just exactly what we want.”

But what do you do when direct evidence isn’t available?

Seasoned genealogists know that direct evidence records only last so long. At some point, all researchers face a situation where bits and pieces of indirect evidence is available, and when this happens, progress can hit a massive speed bump and careen to a halt.

“Indirect evidence is like a puzzle piece,” continued Ison. “You can’t answer any particular question just based upon this piece of evidence. You have to fit it together.”

When this happens, it’s time to reach for your GPS, says Ison.

“You’ve seen one of these devices,” said Ison as he shows a picture of a mobile GPS to the RootsTech audience. “I don’t go anywhere without my GPS. It helps you know where you are. You obtain directions with confidence, and you feel safe and secure because you have one.”

Just like you’d use a handheld GPS to navigate a foreign city, a genealogist can turn to the Genealogical Proof Standard to help put the pieces of indirect evidence together and break down research walls.

What is the Genealogical Proof Standard?

The Genealogical Proof Standard is a process used by genealogists to demonstrate what the minimums are that genealogists must do for their work to be credible. Based off a book written by Christine Rose entitled Genealogical Proof Standard: Building a Solid Case, this standard lays out five essential steps for accurate research:

  1. Reasonably exhaustive research has been completed.
  2. Each statement of fact has a complete and accurate source citation.
  3. The evidence is reliable and has been skillfully correlated and interpreted.
  4. Any contradictory evidence has been resolved.
  5. The conclusion has been soundly reasoned and coherently written.
  6. “The Genealogical Proof Standard isn’t a device per se,” says Ison, “but it’s a process that will help us to determine what we know, helps us decide what we want to learn, helps us explain our work to others, gives us confidence about the direction we’re going, is the basis for approaching difficult research problems using indirect evidence, and lastly, it helps us to feel secure and safe in our conclusions.”

To hear Christine Rose talk about her book and the Genealogical Proof Standard in an interview with FamilySearch, click here.


Who Uses the Genealogical Proof Standard?

According to the Board of Certification for Genealogists, use of the Genealogical Proof Standard (hereafter called GPS) is required for all articles on topics such as genealogy and family history before they can be published in scholarly or recreational genealogy journals.

But even if you don’t plan on having your family history work published, following the GPS guidelines is a good habit to get into.

“Having the Genealogical Proof Standard in your work from the start will save you a lot of time and effort going back over old research and examining what you did before if you ever have a question about whether a previous genealogical conclusion you came to is correct,” writes Will Moneymaker, founder of Ancestral Findings. “It is also useful to already have in place if you come across new information that may possibly change the research you’ve already done on a person or a branch of your family.”

For many beginning genealogists, the GPS can seem daunting. However, Michele Simmons Lewis, professional genealogist, says that when properly understood, the GPS shouldn’t intimidate new genealogists; rather, it should give them confidence about the direction they’re going in their research.

“The GPS is a methodology that all researchers can use, not just advanced researchers. It is sound advice, and if you follow these guidelines, you will produce quality research, and you will break through brick walls,” she writes.

Why the Genealogical Proof Standard Is Important

Researching family history can become complicated and complex. In your search to find the elusive ancestor, you’re likely to come across dozens of records, countless websites and a host of books each offering you a piece of the puzzle. With so much information available, incorporating the GPS into your research allows you to justify your work and feel secure in your conclusions.

“Just like the GPS in your car, the Genealogical Proof Standard, or your genealogical GPS, is an important basic concept,” writes professional genealogist Donna Moughty. “If you understand it, it will work for you and help you be a more effective and efficient researcher.”

How has using the Genealogical Proof Standard enhanced your research? Tweet us @RootsTechConf.

Join us for next week’s article, which will explore the first three steps of the Genealogical Proof Standard: Conducting reasonably exhaustive research, accurately citing sources, and ensuring evidence has been skillfully interpreted.

Read parts two and three:



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