The fourth precept of the Genealogical Proof Standard is that we “resolve any conflicts caused by contradictory items of evidence or information contrary to your conclusion.”
For many genealogists, who struggle with some of the more difficult research concepts, conflicting information poses a particularly tricky situation. Conflicting information is inevitable, especially when we have truly conducted a “reasonably exhaustive” search for records.
When records disagree, how can we possibly discover the truth?
The most important skill that we develop as genealogists is the skill of analysis. Genealogy research is far more than just finding the records. Once we have found the records we must determine what relevant information each record holds, and how reliable that information is.
Some of the questions that we must ask ourselves, when faced with conflicting information, are:
- Who provided the information?
- What was the level of participation of the informant in the event being reported?
- What was the level of understanding of the informant in the event being reported?
- How long removed was the creation of the record from the event being reported?
- Did any bias or external pressure exist that may have caused the informant to intentionally report inaccurate information? (I know, none of us want to believe that our ancestors would have lied, but sometimes there were “good reasons.”)
Based on your reasoned responses to these questions, regarding each record containing conflicting information, you should be able to determine that one report can be deemed most likely to be more accurate than the others.
An example of this process will follow in a subsequent post.
If you would like to cite this post: Michael Hait, “Reconciling conflicting information,” Planting the Seeds: Genealogy as a Profession blog, posted 21 January 2012 (http://michaelhait.wordpress.com : accessed [access date]). [Please also feel free to include a hyperlink to the specific article if you are citing this post in an online forum.]