The Genealogical Proof Standard – it’s not just for professionals!

Though I started researching my genealogy (in the loosest sense of the word research) when I was about eight or nine years old, I have been involved with genealogy off and on throughout my entire life. I started researching at the National Archives (Archives I in Washington, D. C.) at age sixteen, when I was still in high school. By the time I was nineteen I was spending every Saturday cranking through microfilmed federal census records, passenger lists, and military indexes, looking for my family.

I learned everything I could about the records available where my ancestors lived: Stamford, Connecticut; Harrisonburg, Virginia; Schoharie, Suffolk, and Saratoga counties, New York; and other places. Doing this I was able to find out quite a bit about my ancestors, but there were plenty of brickwalls. Inch by inch I would creep forward, relying often on derivative sources and a network of other researchers found through word of mouth and (eventually) surname email lists and message boards.

Learning methodology–“how to research”–never entered my mind.

Fast forward a few years. After a couple of years without active research, I learned that my wife was pregnant with our daughter. The pending addition to my family inspired me to jump back in with renewed excitement.

Internet genealogy had changed significantly within just two or three years! Those old surname- and location-specific mailing lists and message boards barely scratched the surface of what was available online.

But more importantly, I started to read about research methodology. Elizabeth Shown Mills’s Evidence! Citation & Analysis for the Family Historian and Christine Rose’s Genealogical Proof Standard: Building a Solid Case taught me that research does not end when you find a record. These books taught me the importance of evidence analysis and other skills that I learned to apply to my research.

Not client research as a professional genealogist. My professional career came later. I learned to apply proper research techniques to my own family research first. (And one of these days I will go back to some of my older research and bring it up to par.)

As I learned about the Genealogical Proof Standard, and started to apply it to my research, the brick walls amazingly started to crumble before me. I was able to “form logically-reasoned, clearly-written conclusions” based on a “reasonably exhaustive search for records that contain pertinent information,” and by “analyzing” and “correlating” the information and “reconciling conflicting information.” These conclusions carry so much more confidence because they meet the standards.

One comment I have heard from time to time is that the Genealogical Proof Standard or the more detailed BCG standards are “just for professionals.” In my experience, and I would venture to say the experiences of all other researchers who apply them to their own personal research, the Standards are definitely not “just for professionals.”

The Standards are for anyone who wants to accurately research their family history.

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7 responses to this post.

  1. I’m teaching a group of beginners next Wednesday and the GPS is the first thing they’re going to learn! Genealogical research and family history is so much more than clicking on a leaf at Ancestry.com.

    Reply

  2. Hey, you must have sat in on one of my deed lectures,Michael! I talk about the GPS as one of the reasons genealogists should be utilizing deeds. I usually ask how many people have heard of the GPS. Less than 10% for sure, and probably more in the 5% range (at the local society level) knew what it was.

    Keep preaching it!

    Reply

    • I also talk about the GPS in all (or most) of my lectures, and my experiences at the society level have been similar to yours. Even less when I speak at colleges and universities. Slightly higher with some of the societies that seem more “plugged in” to the national genealogy community.

      Reply

  3. All I can add is the plaint all too many of us sound after we do come across and start to understand the GPS: “I wish I had known this back then!” The amount of work I did way back when that has to be redone now… well, I wish I had known…

    Reply

  4. Posted by Martin on February 2, 2012 at 7:21 pm

    But if you always use it, you never get former ancestors, one of my favorite terms in genealogy. “Oh, I know that family. Their former ancestors of mine.”

    Reply

  5. I couldn’t agree more. I’ve found a number of known facts which were written down and published in a book which turned out not to be correct.

    Regards, Jim
    Genealogy Blog at Hidden Genealogy Nuggets

    Reply

  6. […] The Genealogical Proof Standard – It’s Not Just for Professionals, Michael Hait […]

    Reply

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