My first reaction to the Genealogy Proof Standard (GPS) was that it was time-consuming and nothing more than a bunch of hoopla about citing sources. However, the more genealogy research I did, the deeper the roots of my family tree grew, the more I discovered that this was something I should not have brushed aside so easily.
It didn’t take me long after starting my family tree that I found my first true brick wall. That was over 5 years ago. Occasionally I stop picking at that wall at times, & break down other walls. But I am still picking away at that wall. I cannot tell you how many times I have looked at information at first glance I thought that there maybe a connection just to discount it later. More time would pass, & I would find other information that connects the information I discarded. This was the beginning to understanding the GPS for what it is meant to be – A tool to help guide you through challenging ancestors.
Organize Your Genealogy Research
There aren’t to many things in life that you don’t do without some degree of organization. If you bake a cake, you get the utensils and ingredients before you start mixing. Your are organizing your work & work space to be more time efficient and productive. Why wouldn’t you do the same for your genealogy research?
The first step is keeping a genealogy log, sometimes called, a research calendar, or a genealogy research plan. This is where you make a record of the information available to find the answer to the question that you are researching. Helping you stay on task, by keeping you focused. Keeping a record of what has been searched, and what needs to be searched. Thus reducing the chances of searching the same material twice. (I have done this many times myself)
The research log itself is not a part of the genealogy proof standard. However, It will help keep your research focused & organized. There are several genealogy research logs available for free on the internet. I use zotero.org which is a free program that easily organizes my research and sources. (there is also a book by Donna Cox Baker, written for using Zotero for genealogy)
Conducting an Exhaustive Research
This is the first step in using the GPS. An exhaustive research is not as difficult as it sounds. This does not mean that you have to search every record, location etc that has someone with the same name as your ancestor. It is looking at all the available information that maybe available, and any other information that is mentioned in your genealogy research. Record every record and every piece of information you find, even if it is negative or conflicting information.
Pay attention to the details of the record your are researching. Ask who, what, when, why and where. Who are the people involved? How are they involved, are they a witness, a participant, or a bystander? When did the event take place & why. Pay attention to where the event took place. This will particularly come in handy when you have county boundary changes, and when you create a timeline.
Analyzing the Evidence
Have you ever noticed how the genealogy proof standard resembles the scientific method? Don’t worry, this is not your high school science class. If you follow the standards, you are keeping focused on one step of the sequence at a time. Instead of feeling overwhelmed by the “big picture” and you will be able to complete this step with ease.
Now that you have done your genealogy research, gather your notes, and evaluate your findings. The first step is to determine the type of the information. For example, is it a primary or secondary source. The GPS has 3 elements to look at when determining the type.
- Source: original, derivative or authored
- Information: primary, secondary or indeterminable
- Evidence: direct, indirect or negative
This step helps you to identify what information you may still need by helping you to put your findings into perspective. It is also the first step to resolving conflicting information. As you see in the above list, the source itself is a determining factor in the evaluation process. This is another reason why citing your source is important. If you don’t know where the information came from, you cannot accurately complete this step.
The same source can be both primary or secondary information depending on the information you are abstracting from it. For example a death certificate is a primary source for the date and place of death. Secondary for the birth information that may be found in it.
Did you find any evidence that was conflicting to other evidence you have gathered. If so, this must be resolved. I cannot list all the ways this can be done, as much of this is by using your own judgement. However, many times this can be resolved by examining the source. Learn all you can about the source itself. Many times court documents were not filed at the time of the event. Look at the date the event took place as compared to the date it was recorded. Is there enough of a difference as to show reason why there is inaccurate information?
Another example from my own family tree is the death date on a tombstone. Jacob West died February 8, 1899. His tombstone says he died in 1889. I do not know when the tombstone was placed, but his obituary was published in the newspaper February 9, 1899. The death register gives the year as 1899. As well as the probate records are 1899.