Genealogy Today, by Betty Lou Malesky, CG
Proof: The Perfect Christmas Gift
Dear Faithful Readers: If I could give you the perfect Christmas gift it would be the ability to reach sound conclusions in your family research. Fortunately, today we have such a tool freely available to every researcher.
Proof is a fundamental concept in genealogy. Each conclusion about an ancestor must have sufficient credibility to be accepted as "proved". Acceptable conclusions meet the five elements of the Genealogical Proof Standard (GPS) per the BCG Genealogical Standards Manual:
To determine whether you have proved a relationship, event or other genealogically important fact, examine and weigh all the evidence. Proof is when all the facts agree. Ignore your biases and question your prior assumptions-proof is not necessarily what we want it to be.
Original Sources are those in their original form, not a transcription, abstract or summary of the original. Derivative Sources are copies of the original, in some form other than the original. An original source bears more weight than a derivative; however, today unaltered photo copies of originals are generally as acceptable as the original and often all that is available to us.
Primary Information is contained in records created at the time of an event. It carries more weight than Secondary Information created later or by someone who was not a party to the event.
The best proof is based on Direct Evidence, information that points to a conclusion without the need for any other information. Indirect Evidence requires other information be in agreement to be considered proof. Negative Evidence is the absence of evidence that should exist and should also weigh in your proof discussion.
Proof is the absence of contradictions based on the evidence, not on circumstances. Consider and eliminate alternative conclusions. Proof is really a thinking process. When put in written form the path to a reasonable conclusion can be followed and duplicated by other researchers.
Proof must be convincing but is never unquestionable. Proof is as close to accurate as the information and sources available to us. It is always subject to reexamination. In genealogy, new evidence may always be presented that could change a proof conclusion. Diligent genealogists are eager to entertain new facts even if they could change a prior conclusion.
For more information, see Christine Rose, Genealogical Proof Standard: Building a Solid Case, San Jose, CR Publications, 2005, $9.95; or Mark Tucker, The Genealogy Process Map, free at http://www.ThinkGenealogy.com. Future columns will address the five elements of the GPS.
This is my last column until 2010. Best wishes for a Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year.
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