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How to Adhere to the Genealogical Proof Standard

It's the question asked so often you can almost hear the genealogists all over the world crying out in unison:
"But how do I know if I have the right person?"

Well, today you're in luck. The Society of Genealogist's Else Churchill explains the Genealogical Proof Standard, the cure to every family history researcher's frustration.

"Considering what constitutes proof in a genealogical context can be a challenge. Certainly you don't want to delude yourself or anyone else that something is true when is not," says Else. "The Society of Genealogists has published its principles of research that any good researcher should abide by. These generally ask for honesty of research, and the use of good and clear evidence to prove a logical argument.

"These concord largely with what is known as the Genealogical Proof Standard that ensures that before you accept anything as genealogical proof or fact, you should be satisfied that you have made."

So here they are, the five tenets to ensure your research is as foolproof as can be. If you have covered all of these things, you can be sure that your results are up to scratch.

1. A reasonably exhaustive search for all pertinent information (Or, have I searched hard enough?)

Have you tried all of the databases available to back up your research? Is there a niche record set you may have missed?

2. A complete and accurate citation to the source of each item used (Or, can someone else repeat this?)

You may be proud of your family's history as lords of the manor, but is this event based in fact or rumour? Backing up your claims with solid facts - so clear that they could be traced by someone else, is a surefire way of guarding against this.

3. Analysis of the collected information's quality as evidence(Or, does my theory hold up to scrutiny?)

Is your source a letter to a family member or a government record? Remember that someone, somewhere may have got the facts wrong. It always pays to have as many sources for a piece of information as possible, to allow for cross-referencing, and not let what you already "know" structure your research.

4. Resolution of any conflicting or contradictory evidence (Or, am I deluding myself?)

We've all come across that piece of information that just creates that niggle in the back of your mind. It's better to leave that information out of your research until it's resolved rather than let it misguide you further. Don't be tempted to try and make your other research fit if it doesn't seem natural.

5. Arrive at a soundly reasoned, coherently written conclusion (Does my research make sense?)

If you follow the above tenets of Genealogical Proof you'll find it much easier to have a solid batch of research that stands the test of time.

"The most important principle is that evidence only becomes proof through a reasoned and logical analysis and an argument capable of convincing others that the conclusion is valid," Else Churchill said. "Your conclusions must be based on evidence and your argument stands up to scrutiny. Some people may wish to find two or more sources as evidence for a particular fact but I would like to think it's the quality not quantity of your evidence that counts."


Learn more from Else and other genealogy experts