Applying the Genealogy Proof Standard to your Research

Learn about the Genealogy Proof Standard and how it can benefit your family history search.

I wrote this article for one simple reason, to spread the word about what the Genealogy Proof Standard (GPS) is and what it can do for you.  I realize that there are many genealogists who have never been exposed to the GPS and could benefit from learning about it. 

The genealogy community covers a wide spectrum of expertise levels.  At one end are credentialed genealogists and genealogy experts.  Those folks are probably very familiar with the GPS and use it in their everyday work.  Next comes the hobbyist with varying levels of expertise commensurate with the time spent studying genealogy and researching family histories. 

On the far end of the spectrum is the largest segment who are considered casual users.  Casual users may or may not be interested in the technical aspects of genealogy and often are simply seeking meaning in their life by connecting with their ancestors.  My appeal is to the second two groups as they could most benefit from adopting the GPS.

The Genealogy Proof Standard

Do you realize that genealogical work has been standardized?  The Genealogy Proof Standard was first released at the National Genealogical Society’s annual conference in 2000.  The GPS provides a clear set of guidelines to follow to ensure your genealogy research results are of professional quality.  The GPS attempts to create a level playing field for all genealogists by providing a set of rules for doing research.

Unfortunately, following the GPS is not a fun or easy thing to do, but formalizing your research method is the right thing to do.  The standard is set high by design to insure a professional quality outcome.  Changing your research habits can be hard, but it may be just the thing you need to be a better genealogist.

Elements of the Standard

There are five elements to the GPS as defined by the Board for Certification of Genealogists and they include:

  1. A Reasonably exhaustive research has been conducted.
  2. Complete and accurate source citations to the source of each information item.
  3. The evidence is reliable and has been skillfully correlated and interpreted.
  4. Any conflicting evidence has been resolved.
  5. The conclusion has been soundly reasoned and coherently written.

Benefits of the Genealogy Proof Standard

There are numerous benefits to applying the elements of GPS to your research including:

  • Provides a benchmark you can measure your research practices against
  • Understand best practice principles used by genealogy professionals
  • Increase the quality and effectiveness of your family research
  • Gain confidence that your evidence will hold up to review
  • Eliminate the need for ever re-doing your research as it will stand the test of time

An Example

So, when I show you my family tree and tell you about my great grandfather, I can do so with complete confidence since I used the principles of the GPS in my research.  First, I conducted a reasonably exhaustive search of available records.  I did not rely solely upon US Census records, but located a rich diversity of birth, death, marriage, cemetery, immigration, land and homestead records.  I created accurate and complete source citations for each information item.  I carefully analyzed and interpreted the documents, making sure any conflicting information was resolved.  I then documented my conclusions in a coherent manner.  All five of the boxes are checked and I would have no problem sharing my work or having it reviewed by others.

If you are convinced that the GPS would help you in your research, you will want to get your own copy of the GPS manual.  You can do so by purchasing a copy of Genealogy Standards: 50th anniversary edition by clicking on the link below:

Don’t let the small size of this 80 page book fool you, it has what you need to get on track with your genealogy research.  Many readers erroneously equate the size of a book with the importance of the information contained within it.  Study it carefully, understand every word and put these important elements into practice.  You will never regret it.

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