The Genealogical Proof Standard
Happy New Year! I hope everyone had a wonderful holiday. I headed to the cold north (left Florida it was 70° and arrived in Virginia it was 24°) which was a bit of a shock to the system. But I’m home again in sunny Florida and ready to start the new year. I’ve decided this year to re-visit my 2011 series on Irish research, since I so frequently refer people to it, and because there is lots of new information. I’m going to begin with the basics…the Genealogical Proof Standard and creating a research plan, then move on to finding a place of origin in Ireland. This information should be helpful to all genealogists whether a beginner or someone trying to break down a brick wall and who needs a refresher.
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There are a lot of analogies that can be used in genealogy and one that I’ve always liked is that research is like a jigsaw puzzle. You collect all of these pieces and you need to fit them together to make a picture, in this case, a picture of your ancestor. You usually start by separating the pieces into piles and sometimes puzzles get mixed up and you need to discard some of the pieces. Now admit it, sometimes you even try to force a piece where it really doesn’t belong and as you get toward the end, you have to remove it and put it somewhere else. Like practically anything we do, there are rules and guidelines for genealogy and if you follow them, it will make your research go more smoothly.
It’s important to know where you’re going, whether you’re just beginning your genealogical journey, or have been researching for a while. So here’s another analogy. Just like the GPS in your car, the Genealogical Proof Standard, or your genealogical GPS is an important basic concept. If you understand it, it will work for you and help you to be a more effective and efficient researcher.
The Genealogical Proof Standard was developed by the Board for Certification of Genealogists to help both professionals and family genealogists do sound research. Accuracy is key because you don’t want to get to a point where you have to prune all those “former ancestors,” from your tree. Those are the ones you’ve been researching for years only to find out they’re part of a different family!
So here’s a great New Year’s Resolution to help you with your research. Understand and follow the Genealogical Proof Standard.1 (By the way, while you’re on this site definitely check out the Skillbuilding section.)
A reasonably exhaustive search
Complete and accurate citations to all the sources
Analysis and correlation of the collected information
Resolution of conflicting evidence
A soundly reasoned, coherently written conclusion
A reasonably exhaustive search means that you don’t stop researching when you find the first source. You don’t even stop when you find a second or third source, especially if the information disagrees…it’s not the best 2 out of 3! My grandmother was not a great source of information. She provided different information on her date and place of birth every time she was asked. Sometimes it was Ireland, sometimes it was Scotland and the date and year varied as well. I had to keep looking. I did finally find her birth record and she was born in Ballyshannon, Donegal, Ireland on 12 December 1892.
Had I stopped with the first source, her marriage license, which stated her birthplace as Aberdeen, Scotland, perhaps I would have found a person by the same name…but it would have been the wrong person!
Next week I’ll discuss source citations.
1 Board for Certification of Genealogists, The Genealogical Proof Standard,
Board for Certification of Genealogists, Genealogy Standards, Ancestry.com, 2014.
Thomas W. Jones, Mastering Genealogical Proof, National Genealogical Society, 2013.