Archive for November, 2011

The Genealogical Proof Standard: an introduction

About two and a half years ago, in my National African American Genealogy Examiner column, I wrote a post called, “What is the Genealogical Proof Standard?

The GPS recognizes, as you will discover in your own research, that genealogy research often leaves unanswered, and unfortunately unanswerable, questions. Not every fact can be proven with a simple statement on a document. However, through the use of the GPS, and indeed through practice, you can be sure that your conclusions are as close as possible to the truth.[1]

The Genealogical Proof Standard is a set of guidelines by which researchers can judge the thoroughness of their research and analysis, and the reliability of their conclusions.

My understanding of the Genealogical Proof Standard has grown further in the past few years. Over the next week or so, I would like to discuss the Standard as well as how to apply it to your research. Each post (and occasionally more than one) will discuss one or more of the conditions of the Genealogical Proof Standard:

1. Conduct a “reasonably exhaustive search” for all information that is or may be pertinent to the question for which you are seeking an answer.

2. Completely and accurately cite every source of information discovered in this search.

3. Analyze and correlate the collected information to assess its quality as evidence.

4. Resolve any conflicts caused by contradictory items of evidence or information contrary to your conclusion.

5. Arrive at a “soundly reasoned, coherently written conclusion.”

I hope you enjoy the coming posts.


[1] Michael Hait, “What is the Genealogical Proof Standard?,” in National African American Genealogy Examiner, posted 15 May 2009 ( : accessed 20 Nov 2011).

For more information, see

Board for the Certification of Genealogists, The BCG Genealogical Standards Manual (Orem, Utah: Ancestry Publishing, 2000).

Brenda Dougall Merriman, Genealogical Standards of Evidence: A Guide for Family Historians (Toronto, Canada: Ontario Genealogical Society/Dundurn Press, 2010).

Christine Rose, CG, Genealogical Proof Standard: Building a Solid Case, Third Revised Edition (San Jose, Calif. : CR Publications, 2009).

Elizabeth Shown Mills, CG, Quicksheet: Genealogical Problem Analysis- A Strategic Plan- Evidence! Style (Baltimore, Md.: Genealogical Publishing Company, 2010).


Genealogy Crisis Averted!

This morning I left my house at about 9am for an hour’s drive to speak at the Sussex County Genealogical Society in Rehoboth Beach, Delaware. As I pulled up in front of the Rehoboth Beach Public Library, where the meetings are held, I reached down to grab my laptop.

Except it wasn’t there. I had somehow, in the course of packing my projector and a box of books for sale into the car, left my laptop sitting in the living room by the front door.

I walked toward the Library, thinking about how I could present a lecture about conducting a “reasonably exhaustive search” without my presentation (and the document images involved with my case study).

Luckily for me, the Library had wifi Internet access, and a member of the Society had a laptop that I could use.

And even more importantly, I regularly save all of my presentations to my DropBox account. I was able to pull up DropBox and download my presentation onto the laptop.

The experience taught me two important lessons that all genealogists, both amateur and professional, can learn from.

1. Always back up everything. This is a lesson I really learned a few years ago when my external hard drive failed, taking several years of client reports and all of my personal research (including hundreds of scanned family photos). I also lost three years of photos of my daughter, who turns six next week. They will be the most sorely missed.

Drives fail. Files get corrupted. Papers are lost, torn, burnt, or soiled. Unless you want to completely redo your work every few years, when it is ultimately all lost to some disaster–physical or digital–back it up. Preferably in multiple formats in multiple locations.

2. Success comes as a result of good preparation. I have often mentioned the importance of focused research. Create a research plan to address your specific problem. Identify records of interest before you go to a repository. The most successful research is conducted when you know what you want to find and where you are going to look for it. Stumbling around aimlessly will never result in successful research.

And if you aren’t prepared, you will never be able to deliver a successful presentation an hour from home…

Why do I blog? Why do you blog?

Despite the best of intentions at the end of October and beginning of November, I have not been as successful at keeping up with my NaBloPoMo blogging goals as I had hoped. Taking the time to focus on blogging brings with it a reassessment of my blogging goals.

Why do I blog? What are my goals in writing this blog? There are several:

1. The genealogy blogging community is a brilliant group of genealogists representing a true cross-section of the genealogy community as a whole. There are amateur (“hobbyist”) genealogists; professional genealogists; Certified Genealogists; Accredited Genealogists; genealogists in the North, South, East, and West; international genealogists; genealogists of all races, all nationalities, and all ages. The two things that we all share are a love of genealogy and a devotion to blogging. Through our blogs, we are able to hold a conversation about genealogical issues, share our experiences, and both teach and learn, in a way that was impossible before. Being a part of this conversation is important to me.

2. I am a writer. I have been writing for publication since I was 19 years old, though at that time it was unrelated to genealogy. I love to write. Since becoming a professional genealogist, I have written quite a few articles for magazines and journals, and several books. But I still want to write more. Writing this blog is for me like a runner starting his morning with a daily jog. It lets me write about subjects that I am passionate about, as well as subjects that I am still learning about or want to learn more about.

3. No other blogs share this blog’s focus. Other professional genealogists blog, and I love their blogs. There are other blogs focusing on specific aspects of professional genealogy, such as genealogical writing or education or even blogging. But my goal in creating this blog was to bring information about not just genealogy, but also running a small business, writing, lecturing, publishing, and other aspects of a professional genealogist’s life. These other subjects do not often appear in other genealogy blogs. Why should professional genealogists have to look outside of their community for information and guidance relevant to their careers?

Every time I write a single post, I have a reason.

So this is why I blog.

Have you thought about why you blog?

NaBloPoMo Update – How am I doing at the halfway point?

This month, as I have done the past two years, I vowed to participate in NaBloPoMo, National Blog Posting Month. This year, I actively (more or less) write not only this blog, but also two columns for the Examiner: “National African American Genealogy” and “Baltimore Genealogy & History.” Three venues, 30 days = 90 articles.

So, how I am holding up?

Not nearly as well as I had hoped by now.

Through 15 November, I have posted the following number of articles in these three columns:

  • Planting the Seeds: 13 articles (not including this one)
  • National African American Genealogy Examiner: 7 articles
  • Baltimore Genealogy & History Examiner: 4 articles

Fifteen days in, I should have written and published 45 articles, but I am only at 24!

I have only missed a day in this blog, but have not been quite as active over at the Examiner.

The funny thing is, I scheduled out most of the month in both columns. I just have not written the articles. Of course, I still have 15 days to catch back up. So be prepared for some extra articles over the next two weeks.

Is this cheating? Maybe, but since I do not have to answer to anyone but myself and my readers, I think it will be acceptable.

Do I have a citation obsession?

I discuss source citations in this blog a lot. I know. I just can’t help it.

But academics in other fields are not above obsessing over citations either.

Kurt Schick, a writing teacher at James Madison University, posted “Citation Obsession? Get Over It!” in the Commentary section of the Chronicle of Higher Education. Mr. Schick agrees with many of my readers, I am sure:

What a colossal waste. Citation style remains the most arbitrary, formulaic, and prescriptive element of academic writing taught in American high schools and colleges. Now a sacred academic shibboleth, citation persists despite the incredibly high cost-benefit ratio of trying to teach students something they (and we should also) recognize as relatively useless to them as developing writers.[1]

Mr. Schick decries the time and energy that universities spend teaching how to cite in specific formats: MLA, APA, Chicago/Turabian, etc. In his opinion citation formats are nearly indistinguishable and relatively simplistic:

Why, then, could we not simply ask students to include a list of references with the essential information? Why couldn’t we wait to infect them with citation fever until they are ready to publish (and then hand them the appropriate style guide, which is typically no more difficult to follow than instructions for programming your DVR)?

In Mr. Schick’s opinion, citation format is unimportant until publication. I have heard this same argument used in the genealogy field on numerous occasions. (Of course, Mr. Schick refers mostly to published sources, whereas we genealogists should be using mostly original record sources.)

Instead of teaching citations, universities and colleges should instead “reinvest time wasted on formatting to teach more-important skills like selecting credible sources, recognizing bias or faulty arguments, paraphrasing and summarizing effectively, and attributing sourced information persuasively and responsibly.” These are all very important skills, I agree. However, in genealogy, why separate the two processes?

To me an accurate source citation is more than just how we know “where we got the information.” It’s more than how a reader can reproduce your research or assess the quality of your sources.

The internal process of a researcher creating an accurate source citation develops certain necessary evalution skills. In order to fully cite a record source–whether a published item, a government record, or an unpublished manuscript–you must understand certain things about the record. Who created it? When and where was it created? Where is it currently stored? How does this record fit into the larger collection of records of which it is a part?

These questions are among the five things you have to know about every record. In other words, taking the time to create a full and accurate citation itself inspires a deeper understanding of that source. I believe that this th reasons that the Genealogical Proof Standard contains the condition about citing your sources separate from the other four conditions, stated after searching for relevant sources and before analysing and correlating the information. Creating the citation allows the researcher to evaluate the source itself, rather than solely focusing on the information that source contains.

This explains my seeming obsession with citations.


[1] Kurt Schick, “Citation Obsession? Get Over It!,” in Commentary, Chronicle of Higher Education, posted 30 October 2011 ( : accessed 13 Nov 2011).

For another response, see also Carol Fisher Saller, “‘Citation Obsession’? Dream On,” in Lingua Franca blog, posted 3 September 2011 ( : accessed 13 Nov 2011).

Jean Thomason Scholarship for IGHR

The Institute for Genealogical and Historical Research (IGHR) at Samford University in Birmingham, Alabama, is one of the United States’s premiere educational opportunities for genealogists. Every year hundreds of genealogy enthusiasts from across the country meet for a week of classes in one of eight courses.

The Jean Thomason Scholarship for IGHR was established in 2007 in honor of Jean Thomason, the director of the Institute from 1997-2007. The scholarship covers the cost of tuition at the Institute. Anyone currently employed by a library is eligible to apply. Applications for the 2012 Scholarship are due by 1 December 2011.

For more information, visit

Follow Friday: Giveaway of the Day

It is Follow Friday! This is a blogging meme in which authors recommend other blogs, websites, repositories, or anything else. In keeping with the theme of this blog, I will spotlight different resources for professional and aspiring professional genealogists each week: not only genealogy-related, but also others of interest.

For those of us with limited resources, some of the more expensive commercial software packages can be too much, especially when they are nice, but not necessary. If only there were a site where one could download and install a fully-featured, registered commercial software application for free.

Wait, there is: Giveaway of the Day offers free downloads of commercial software, each for one day. According to their webpage,

Basically, every day we nominate one software title that will be a Giveaway title of that day. The software is available for download for 24 hours (or more, if agreed by software publisher) and that software is absolutely free. That means – not a trial, not a limited version – but a registered and legal version of the software is completely free for our visitors*.

The software product is presented in its full functionality, without any limitations save for those mentioned in Terms and Conditions.

Each software program is generally available for download for only one day. It must be downloaded and installed during that day. (I learned this the hard way when I downloaded a program I waited until the next day to install it.)

Among the programs that I have downloaded in the past are FusionDesk (which I now use for tracking all of my client projects), project management software, several PowerPoint plug-ins, and a demo recorder. A collage maker, a screen recorder, a PDF printer, and a hard drive cleaner have been offered this past week.

Because of the timeliness required to get these programs, I would recommend that you keep up with the site. Of course you can visit every day, but the site also has an RSS feed and a Facebook application, or you can subscribe to updates by email. I use the RSS feed on my iGoogle page. This way you can be sure not to miss that program you need, on the one day it is offered.

%d bloggers like this: