Traditional vs. Scientific Genealogy, round two

After writing the post “Traditional vs. Scientific Genealogy?,” I discovered that Randy had posted another article in his blog, guest authored by Tamura Jones, entitled “Tamura Jones Guest Post: Scientific and Traditional Genealogy.” In this short article, Tamura attempted to clarify his statements. Among other statements, Tamura asserts,

Traditional genealogists treat official records as “proof” of “their genealogy”. That is wrong; official records do not prove biological relationships at all. That is a simple truth, and there is nothing wrong about acknowledging that truth. You still know who your official ancestors are. You still know who your legal ancestors are. Most importantly, you still know which family you are from, which family your legal parents are from, etcetera; you still know who your ancestral families are. You still know who you call mum or dad, and you are not going to stop doing that just because you became a scientific genealogist and do not have proof yet.

Unfortunately for Tamura, this is a straw man argument, based at least partially on a misunderstanding of what genealogical proof is. And unfortunately for more academic genealogists, many amateur genealogists share this misunderstanding. I will make my argument rather short and simple:

A record does not prove anything.

A genealogical source provides information. This information provides evidence when applied to a specific genealogical problem.

The Genealogical Proof Standard requires that all relevant records be collected and evaluated to form a logical conclusion. The process of collecting records/sources, identifying the information contained within these records/sources, evaluating the reliability of this information, judging the relevance of this information to your research problem, and using the combined evidence to form a conclusion is what proves a genealogical conclusion.

The process of proving relationships to which Tamura refers is actually a rather simplistic reliance on direct evidence. One does not have to have direct evidence to “prove” a relationship. This statement extends to both documentary evidence and biological evidence.

What Tamura claims as the basis of “traditional genealogist” is only the basis of beginning or amateur genealogy. This is not the opinion of the recognized leaders in our field.

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4 responses to this post.

  1. Posted by Foxy on June 22, 2011 at 4:40 pm

    You need to stop drinking the GPS kool-aid and start thinking for yourself.

    Reply

    • I don’t know what you’re drinking, but the Genealogical Proof Standard forces you to think for yourself. How else can you sort all the evidence, resolve any conflicts, and reason out a coherent proof argument?

      Reply

    • As opposed to basing my genealogical conclusions on DNA testing? Thanks again for a remarkable contribution to the progress of our field, “Foxy.”

      Reply

    • Posted by David Suddarth on June 23, 2011 at 10:58 am

      What MN Family Historian said.

      The GPS does force you to think for yourself, analyzing each piece of evidence (including negative evidence) and applying critical thinking skills. In addition, in order to meet the GPS, you need to be able to present your conclusions in a coherently written, logical way. Any good genealogical research is going to be based upon a thorough examination of all sources which may pertain to the problem and a skilled analysis of the evidence each piece of information provides us with. Any conclusions we reached based upon that evidence must be able to be presented in a logical and convincing manner, including resolving any conflicts and addressing any negative evidence, with the realization that any of our conclusions may need to be revised if new evidence if found. Whether you call this the GPS or something else, it is something that all reliable genealogical work would meet.

      Reply

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