Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Does Evidence Equal Proof?

I've been earnestly searching for my ancestors for about 4 years, gathering every piece of paper I can find that has one of their names on it, hoping to prove relationships.

It has recently occurred to me that perhaps from a distance of 100 years or more - my time to their time - there isn't really any way for me to "prove" a relationship. Perhaps the best I can do is find evidence of a relationship and rely on that to call an individual a relative.

I appreciated the post and responses to Is Your Family Tree the Truth? on Crista Cowan's blog, Family History in Real Life. She briefly discusses the importance of finding documentation and recording sources.

Still, I wonder.... Sources are evidence, but does evidence equal proof?

What do you think?

Copyright © 2010 by Nancy Messier.


  1. Thanks for the linkback and for the thoughtful way you put this. I'm going to refer back to Elizabeth Shown Mills for my answer to this one:

    "Sources err. Sources quibble. Sources exaggerate. Sources misremember. Sources are biased. Sources have egos and ideologies. ...all sources are not created equal."

    "We identify our sources - and their strengths and weaknesses - so we can reach the most reliable conclusions."

    That's what I'm after in my family history research - soundly reasoned, defensible conclusions. Not proof.

  2. Crista, thanks for sharing Mills' words on this topic. Hers - and yours - are excellent.


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