Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Conclusions and The Genealogical Proof Standard

I found the discussion on Susan Clark's Nolichucky Roots post, Sweating the Details, where she mentioned posts by Russ Worthington, When to enter data into your genealogy software?, and by Randy Seaver, Events, Assertions, Evidence, Fact, Sources, Analysis, Conclusions, Software, Oh My! But Michael Hait of Planting the Seeds: Genealogy as a Profession started it all with his blog post, What is a conclusion? What he started is a discussion of The Genealogy Proof Standard; what and how we interpret the results of our research; and how we evaluate and reach conclusions based on those findings. If you'd like, you can read all of those posts and the comments by clicking on the links, which will open into a new window in your browser.

Genealogy and family history are more than a hobby to me but I'm not a professional genealogist nor do I aspire to that worthy profession. And yet I'd like to become a better family historian. I'd like to think that what I leave behind for my descendants is a well-researched, well-documented genealogy with as little ambiguity or uncertainty as possible, possibly even worth the approval of a professional genealogist. I don't want to attach my name to a slap-dash family tree like some I've seen. Let's just say the details are important to me.

This discussion, which I read yesterday, spurred me to look again at The Genealogical Proof Standard at the website of the Board for Certification of Genealogists to evaluate my own research efforts, see what I've overlooked or omitted, and learn how I can improve.

The purpose of The Genealogical Proof Standard is to improve credibility of conclusions. Below are the elements of The Standard and, after bullets under each, the contribution to credibility of each.
Reasonably exhaustive search
  • Assumes examination of a wide range of high quality sources
  • Minimizes the probability that undiscovered evidence will overturn a too-hasty conclusion
Complete and accurate citation sources
  • Demonstrates the extent of the search and the quality of the sources
  • Allows others to replicate the steps taken to reach the conclusion. (Inability to replicate the research casts doubt on the conclusion.)
Analysis and correlation of the collected information
  • Facilitates sound interpretation of the data contributed by each source
  • Ensures that the conclusion reflects all the evidence
Resolution of conflicting evidence.
  • Substantiates the conclusion's credibility. (If conflicting evidence is not resolved, a credible conclusion is not possible.)
Soundly reasoned, coherently written conclusion
  • Eliminates the possibility that the conclusion is based on bias, preconception, or inadequate appreciation of the evidence
  • Explains how the evidence led to the conclusion

I've come a long way since accepting as fact the family story of my grandmother dying when my father was two weeks old but there's still plenty of room for improvement.

Thanks to Michael Hait for writing the post, to Susan and Randy for bringing it to my attention, and to Russ for participating in the discussion. I notice that Michael has written 33 other posts relating to The Genealogical Proof Standard. I think I can learn some things from him.


  1. I very much agree with your idea that even as non-professional genealogists, the GPS is a standard we should hold ourselves to. I have found so many mistakes in trees online that the owner could have easily not made had they been following these standards. Thank you for the links, I look forward to reading Michael Hait's 33 posts on the GPS.

  2. I very much agree that you really need to prove your relationships. Unfortunately, some people try to take the fastlane and don't dot all their i's and sross their t's. I found a mistake the other day on a ancestor of mine who died in the 1880s on another researchers website. The researcher didn't take the time to realize there were three people with the same a little unusual name. She took facts from at least two different men with the same name and put them into one.

    Regards, Jim

  3. Thank you so much for discussing my post in your blog!

  4. Jim, this points out to me how important it is to not just find information but also to evaluate/analyze it and sometimes eliminate it (or at least explain why we're not using it).

    Michael, you're welcome. Thank you for writing the original post!


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