Sunday, October 7, 2018

Is There Room for an Alternate Genealogical Proof Standard?

[The following is a guest post by Ed Thompson, the man behind our podcast sponsor, Evidentia Software.]

“He speaks blasphemy!  Unbeliever! Shame on the heretic!” 

OK, I know, but just hear me out.

We all know that the Genealogical Proof Standard developed by the Board for Certification of Genealogists is the gold standard.  I absolutely believe this standard is the ideal goal for top-quality research.  If I hired a professional I expect them to follow this standard.

“Then what are you talking about?”

I have had multiple conversations over the years with amateur genealogists like myself who find the GPS overwhelming. I usually try to defend it as a goal to be strived for, but that doesn’t seem to alleviate the eye glazing.

     “I’ll never get anything done.”
     “It’s too academic.”
     “I just want to build my family tree.”

What I think these people are really saying is “I just want reasonable assurance that my research is valid”.  They have one or two documents that provide corroborating evidence for their conclusion, and they want to move on to the next person.

“I don’t like this, but what are you proposing?”

A conclusion reached under the GPS can be summarized as “a reasonably exhaustive search of the evidence supports the conclusion that John Doe is the son of Jacob Doe”.

A possible alternative might be “current evidence supports the conclusion that John Doe is the son of Jacob Doe”.

What is current evidence?  It is evidence I have gathered from cited sources available to me at the present time. I acknowledge the evidence may be incomplete. I know there could be conflicting evidence out there I haven’t found yet.  However,  in most cases I am not solving a deep complex genealogical problem, I am just trying to provide reasonable evidence that Jacob sired John.

Maybe what I am suggesting is not an alternate standard, but a stepping stone standard. On my journey to “a reasonably exhaustive search”, I may pass through “current evidence supports”, and decide to dally, or take a detour, or pass the baton to another runner.

What do you think?

Ed Thompson is the designer behind Evidentia. He loves researching ancestors, spending time with his two boys and his wife of 30+ years.  He especially likes spending time with his new grandson. Feel free to drop Ed a line on the Evidentia website.


  1. I agree 100%! One needs to keep in mind to whom they are accounting. If you are a “Professonal Genealogist” then those to whom you are accounting will demand in depth research and verifiable and documented results. On the other hand if you are only doing your work for yourself and close family then maybe the “stepping stone” approach may be just fine. Paralyzing one’s self by over analyzing every step along the way is a surefire way to dampening the flame of enthusiasm.

  2. I agree. I looked at the GPS but decided it was too formal for my needs but I do write in the Notes field of the relevant person how I came to my conclusion. This is handy when you come back a couple of years later and wonder how you arrived at that conclusion.