Tuesday, December 21, 2021

The Genealogical Proof Standard

What is the Genealogical Proof Standard? Why is it important to a non-professional genealogist, one who is only interested in climbing one's own family tree? Good question.

Though none of my readers are beginning the climb up their own tree, part of the rationale for starting this silly blog was for me to impart my own experience as a beginner as I worked on my own family history. A reader might recall that I come from a background as an accident investigator working for the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration with a small bit of experience as a police officer investigating traffic accidents mostly. I hoped that experience in looking for details that might be very small, hidden, or not even evident would help me with my own difficult journey discovering my own family history. 

I was not part of a strong family unit growing up. My father was the only child of English working-class immigrants who arrived during the heavy immigration of low-skilled workers from Northern and Western Europe in the early decades of the 20th Century. My maternal grandparents were mixed; my maternal grandmother was a Canadian immigrant from Quebec and her husband, my grandfather, was a natural-born citizen of Massachusetts. All four of them moved to the small town of Wilton, New Hampshire, to work in two mills owned by an early New England industrialist, Samuel Abbott. All four of them worked in Wilton their entire working lives and died there.

When I was an 8-year old boy living with my parents, I cared nothing about family history, who came from where, why they moved here, or anything else. I cared about the same things any 8-year old cared about...my friends, mostly, and staying well; I was a fairly sick child. Because I grew up the son of a U.S. diplomat in the Middle East, having moved to Jordan at the aforementioned 8 years old, my connection to my own extended family, including grandparents, was limited to a 3-month period of 'home leave' every two years or so. Many of them died while we were overseas and I never developed a relationship with those who lived.

That inward-focusing selfishness stayed with me through much of my adulthood until (almost overnight) I became interested in where I came from and began the climb up my own family tree. I think it happened when I realized I was repeating the mistakes of my father and not letting my own children know more about their family tree than I knew about mine. It was then that genealogy became a 'thing' in my life. I wanted to know more and learn more.

The more I learned, the more I understood how important high-quality investigations were to creating and maintaining a quality tree, especially in these days when a lot of information is available online internationally. That ease of discovery can lead to inaccurate data being entered and possibly spread farther. It is here that the Genealogical Proof Standard becomes important. Even if one has no intention of becoming a certified or professional genealogist, like me, creating a quality tree is important, as it is to me.

According to the the Board for Certification of Genealogists, Genealogical Standards, 50th Anniversary Edition, "the purpose of the Genealogical Proof Standard is to show what the minimums are that a genealogist must do for his or her work to be credible."

There are five elements to the Genealogical Proof Standard: 
  1. Reasonably exhaustive research has been conducted.
  2. Each statement of fact has a complete and accurate source citation.
  3. The evidence is reliable and has been skillfully correlated and interpreted.
  4. Any contradictory evidence has been resolved.
  5. The conclusion has been soundly reasoned and coherently written.
Any proof statement is subject to re-evaluation when new evidence arises; as more agencies in more countries make more of their paper records available online, more and more evidence of a familial connection can show up.

This does not mean that every single record should be checked; it means that "reasonably exhaustive research" has been accomplished and that nothing is final until it is, whenever that happens, and that there is a citation, a 'paper trail,' to support the fact. In my own case, I learned a fact that was completely different from what I grew up believing, namely, that my maternal grandfather was not Irish immigrant, but merely of Irish heritage. In fact, he was born and raised in New England, as was his father. It was his grandfather, my maternal great-grandfather, who was the Irish immigrant. Imagine my shock when I validated that bit of information!

Climbing ones family tree is informative, exciting, frustrating, and a good way to have a lot of fun in retirement. Enjoy your own climb!

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