27 December 2009

The Genealogical Proof Standard, step 1

I am presenting a lecture as part of the Southern California Genealogical Society's Lunch & Learn series on the Genealogical Proof Standard. It will be January 9th, beginning at noon (lunch, lectures start at 1pm) at the SCGS library in Burbank, CA. Charlotte Bocage will presenting first with a lecture on "So You Thought You Were Organized?" I invite you to come. In preparation I will be posting a series on the GPS. Please feel free to rip it apart, question anything you don't understand, point out anything that I didn't explain, etc.

My B.A. is in Secondary Education—History. I consider myself first and foremost a historian. From this perspective it's hard a times to understand that people are trying to pass off information as researched when it was in fact not. Do you think of your genealogy as research? You should, because it is. You can view it as historical or scientific research, both have the same end. Now, look at the data you've collected for you family tree. Have you fully researched everything? The first step in the Genealogical Proof Standard is:
  1. We conduct a reasonably exhaustive search in reliable  sources for all information that is or may be pertinent to the identity, relationship, event, or situation in question.[1]
First, what is a "reasonably exhaustive search?" Standard no. 19 in The BCG Genealogical Standards Manual reads:
19. Reasonably extensive research is prerequisite—regardless of whether the problem is simple or complex—and includes appropriately broadening the search beyond the person, family, event, or record of the most-direct impact on the project. The search effort extends to discovery of information that does or might illuminate (or conflict with) the other items of collected data.[2]
You want to find every possible record that your ancestor was mentioned in. It seems like a daunting task because it is. This is what keeps us researching year after year, decade after decade, and without getting bored. Have you read through all of the local newspapers for mention of your ancestor? Have you searched collateral lines? What about land, court, probate, military and church records? Have you read that county or city history? It might surprise you where information can be found.

Mark Tucker at ThinkGenealogy has created a Genealogical Proof Standard road map that is extremely useful and amazing. I suggest downloading and/or printing it. He has suggested a few organizational tips for the first step of the GPS:
  • Set a research goal, it should be a
    • Statement
    • Question
    • Hypothesis
  • Create a research plan
    • Where will you be searching
    • What records will you be searching
  • Keep a research log
    • What records have you searched and what did (or not) you find in them? 
If you know what you are searching for and what you have (or have not) found, if cuts down on the extra stuff. How many of us have searched a source several times because we could not remember if we had already done so? Also think of your research log as a check list. What sources have you not yet searched that might hold a clue?

Do not settle for the sources you already have. Okay, so you have a birth certificate. Do you also have a copy of the birth announcement, posted in the local newspaper? Were there birth announcement cards mailed out to family? Is there a letter letting someone know of the birth?
Keep looking!
[1] The Board for Certification of Genealogist, The BCG Genealogical Standards Manual (Orem, UT: Ancestry Publishing, 2000), 1.
[2] ibid, 8.


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