Genealogical Evidence and Proof: How to know if you’ve compiled enough evidence

The Genealogical Proof Standard tells us that we need to conduct reasonably exhaustive research in order for our work to be credible. If you’ve ever wondered just what constitutes “reasonable” (and if your family tree is up to snuff) my guest author Kate Eakman, professional genealogist at Legacy Tree Genealogists, has answers.  

genealogical evidence and proof

Professional Genealogist Kate Eakman explains evidence on the Genealogy Gems blog.

Genealogical Evidence: Have You Got What It Takes?

How do we know when we have compiled enough evidence to constitute proof?

Is a birth certificate or an autosomal DNA test result sufficient to declare this person is the child of that person?

Must we collect every record regarding an individual – the deeds, the tax lists, the newspaper clippings, the census reports – before we can declare a familial connection?

The Genealogical Proof Standard (GPS)

The Genealogy Proof Standard (GPS) directs us to perform reasonably exhaustive research, which requires that we identify and review all available records related to an individual.[1] This is being as thorough and accurate as possible and is a goal toward which we should all aspire in our genealogical research.

But, let’s be honest: most of us do not want to spend weeks or months (or even years) documenting one person before moving on to the next individual. We don’t want to know every detail of grandpa’s life before we turn to grandma.

We want to build a family tree which accurately provides us with the names of our ancestors so that we can identify our immigrant ancestor, or join a lineage society, or enjoy the satisfaction that comes from a balanced tree extending back a hundred years or more.

We want to be thorough and accurate, but we also want to make some progress. How do we balance the need for accuracy with the desire for results? How do we determine the necessary quality and quantity of evidence for our research?

Below are some guidelines to demonstrate how we can go about compiling the necessary information to say with confidence “this person is my ancestor.”

Genealogical Evidence Guidelines

1. One record/source is never enough.

Any one piece of data can say anything. A mother might lie on her child’s birth certificate for a number of reasons. A grieving spouse might not correctly recall the information for a husband or wife’s death certificate. There are typos and omissions and messy handwriting with which to contend. Even a lone DNA test is not sufficient evidence to prove a family connection.

We need multiple sources, and different kinds of sources, which corroborate the details of the others.

marriage license genealogy

A single source is not enough. A marriage license does not guarantee that John and Griselda married. Photo courtesy https://newspapers.com.

A census report and autosomal DNA test results.

A deed and a will.

A birth certificate and an obituary.

Or, better still, a birth certificate, a census report, a deed, a will, an obituary, and autosomal DNA test results.

2. The more contemporary the source is to the person or event in question, the better.

Records of events made immediately after the event tend to be more accurate, and provide better details, than records created months or years later. As time passes, details become fuzzy, two events can be confused with each other, and our memories fade.

The passage of time between an event and the record of the event also allows for some revisionist history to creep in.

Here are some examples:

A birth year is adjusted to make someone appear older or younger in order to avoid the draft, enlist in the military, mask a dramatic age difference between spouses, or conceal an out-of-wedlock birth.

An obituary ignores the deceased’s first marriage because of some embarrassment associated with that marriage.

A census report enumerates everyone in the household as natives of Stepney, London, when they really were born in Stepney, and Hackney, and Whitechapel, which explains why the baptismal records can’t be found in Stepney.

newspaper obituary

According to this obituary for Griselda, she was the widow of Willis Tenney, not John Wise. It appears Griselda and John did not marry after all. Photo courtesy https://newspapers.com.

According to this obituary for Griselda, she was the widow of Willis Tenney, not John Wise. It appears Griselda and John did not marry after all. Photo courtesy https://newspapers.com.

This is particularly true when it comes to autosomal DNA testing. My autosomal DNA is more useful for identifying my ancestors than is my son’s because I am one generation closer to those ancestors. This is the reason we encourage people to test the oldest members of their family first: their DNA has the potential to be the most useful simply because they are from an earlier generation (or two).

3. It is okay to make appropriate assumptions, but be careful!

In genealogical research we must sometimes make assumptions. When research theories are based on logical reasoning, it is perfectly acceptable to make those appropriate suppositions.

Determining which assumptions are appropriate can be simple: the two-year-old child enumerated in the home of a 90-year-old woman in the 1850 census can safely be eliminated as a biological child of that woman; the man born in 1745 could not have been buried in 1739; the person with whom I share 3150 cM of DNA is my sibling.

The challenge is to avoid making what seems like an appropriate assumption but is really based on faulty reasoning or bias. For instance, we presume that every child listed in a household in the 1860 U.S. Census is son or daughter of the two adults listed first. However, the household could include step-children, cousins, or individuals not even related to the family who were erroneously assigned the same surname.

Other inappropriate assumptions can include:

  • the notion that a baby was born within a week of his baptismal date;
  • a woman’s reported surname on her marriage certificate is her maiden name;
  • there is only one person in any village, town, or city with the name of your ancestor;
  • someone who shares 2000 cM of DNA with you must be your grandparent, aunt or uncle, niece or nephew, half sibling, or grandchild (they could be a ¾ sibling, the child of one of your parents and the sibling of the other parent).

4. All of the data from the various sources must correlate, and there can be no unresolved contradictions.

When the birth certificate says Richard was born in 1914, the 1938 newspaper article about his wedding reports Richard was 24 years old and the 1942 World War II Draft Registration card notes Richard’s date of birth occurred in 1914, we can confidently declare Richard was born in 1914.

If the wedding article declared the groom was 23 years old the contradiction could be explained by the time of year in which the wedding occurred – before or after Richard’s birthday.

But if his birth certificate reported a 1914 birth, and the newspaper article noted Richard was 32 years old, while the World War II Draft Registration listed his year of birth as 1920, we have some important contradictions. It is most likely the records are for three different men with the same name.

genealogy record Tenney

 

additional genealogical evidence

By collecting additional evidence, we finally learn that Griselda and John Wise did marry, and after his death Griselda married Willis Tenney. If we had collected only one of these four records we would not have had the most accurate information regarding Griselda Paul. Photos courtesy https://familysearch.org.

It’s important to remember that once we have accomplished that initial goal of building out our tree a few generations (or identifying our immigrant ancestor, or determining if we are related to that historical person) we can – and should – go back and collect other sources related to that person. This will result in uncovering a more complete story of their lives in the process.

As we can see from the four documents regarding Griselda Paul’s marriages, her story is much more than a simple list of birth, marriage, and death dates. As we identify, review, and analyze the other available sources, Griselda’s story will come alive with the facts and details we uncover.

A Fresh Set of Eyes on Your Genealogy Brick Wall

Sometimes the wrong evidence or assumptions can push us into a brick wall. A fresh set of expert eyes can help you identify the problem, and recommend the sources you need to pursue in order to compile trustworthy evidence.

If you are looking for some assistance in your genealogical research, Legacy Tree Genealogists can help. Our affordable ($100 USD)  Genealogist-on-DemandTM Virtual Consultation service provides you with the opportunity for a 45 minute one-on-one discussion of your research with one of our expert genealogists. We can help guide you in evaluating evidence and determining research strategies to move forward with your research confidently. 

 

 

 

About the Author: Kate Eckman

Legacy Tree guest blogger Kate Eakman grew up hearing Civil War stories at her father’s knee and fell in love with history and genealogy at an early age. With a master’s degree in history and over 20 years experience as a genealogist, Kate has worked her magic on hundreds of family trees and narratives.

Kate Eakman Legacy Tree Genealogists

Professional Genealogists Kate Eakman

 

[1] “Genealogical Proof Standard (GPS),” Board for Certification of Genealogists, https://bcgcertification.org/ethics-standards, accessed March 2020.

New U.S. WWI Military Records for Genealogy

Topping the list of new and updated genealogy records this week are United States military records. Ancestry.com has a new collection of U.S. Navy Muster Rolls and an updated collection of historical postcards. Enjoy a special interview with military expert Michael Strauss on how he solved an old postcard mystery! Also new this week are WWI U.S. records at FamilySearch for Michigan and Utah, which you can access for free online. 

Featured: U.S. Navy Muster Rolls

Ancestry.com has a new collection of U.S. Navy Muster Rolls, 1949-1963. From the description:

“These records were created to document enlisted Navy personnel assigned to each and every discrete Navy command (known as “activities” in Navy terminology), such as ships, aviation squadrons, air stations, bases, stations, training centers and schools, flag staffs, and Marine Corps units.
“Arranged by two-year chronological subseries (1949-1950, 1951-1952, 1953-1954, 1955-1956, and 1957-1958), followed by single-year subseries (1959-1971). Each subseries is arranged by “activity number,” a unique number assigned to each ship, unit, and command within the Navy. Each activity’s muster rolls are arranged in chronological order by quarter, typically with enlisted personnel arranged by rate and thereunder alphabetically by surname.
“Beginning in the spring of 1956, officers precede enlisted personnel, with officers arranged either alphabetically by surname or hierarchically by rank. Personnel diaries, which precede each quarter’s muster rolls, are arranged chronologically by date.”

Historical Postcards

Ancestry.com also recently updated their collection of U.S. Historical Postcards, 1893-1960. You might be wondering how historical postcards would be valuable to your genealogy research. The collection description sheds some light on what you can use this database for:

“This database contains over 115,000 historical postcards with photos of places in the United States. Each postcard caption has been indexed and may be searched by keyword or location. The database also includes the city, county, state, and postcard era (estimated year range) for most postcards.

This database is primarily useful for obtaining a photograph or picture of a specific place in time. If you do not already have pictures of the places your ancestors lived, historical postcards are a good alternative to personal photos.”

In the video below: A captivating story unfolds of old postcards from WWI that are snatched from oblivion by Michael Strauss, who is the Genealogy Gems Podcast Military Minutes man. Michael shares the story of how he found the historic postcards on eBay, and the research process he followed to identify their author. These are strategies that you can use in many areas of your family history research!

FamilySearch

You can explore even more new WWI records for genealogy thanks to FamilySearch’s newest additions to their free records.

These records may help you find out more about your ancestors who served in the military during WWI. Depending on the collection and record, you might find:

  • name of Veteran;
  • serial number;
  • address;
  • place and date of birth;
  • nationality;
  • color;
  • occupation before and after the war;
  • marriage date;
  • wife’s name,
  • birthplace and date;
  • names of children and their birth dates;
  • parents’ names and addresses;
  • first camp entered and date;
  • rank, company, and regiment;
  • transfers and promotions;
  • battles engaged in;
  • discharged date and reason, and additional information.

If you don’t find the person you’re looking for, FamilySearch has these helpful suggestions for next steps:

  • Look for variant spellings of the names. You should also look for alias names, nicknames and abbreviated names.
  • Look for an index. Local genealogical and historical societies often have indexes to local records.
  • Search the records of nearby localities (or military units, counties, parishes, etc.).

More Military Records with Michael Strauss

Michael Strauss is our resident Military Minutes man for The Genealogy Gems Podcast. He first debuted on the show on episode #207, where he talked about draft registrations. Click here to listen to the episode and download an exclusive free 4-page handout! For more expert military research tips and insight, browse Michael’s many articles on our website by clicking here.

 

About the Author: Lacey Cooke has been working with Genealogy Gems since the company’s inception in 2007. Now, as the full-time manager of Genealogy Gems, she creates the free weekly newsletter, writes blogs, coordinates live events, and collaborates on new product development. No stranger to working with dead people, Lacey holds a degree in Forensic Anthropology, and is passionate about criminal justice and investigative techniques. She is the proud dog mom of Renly the corgi.

Disclosure: This article contains affiliate links and Genealogy Gems will be compensated if you make a purchase after clicking on these links (at no additional cost to you). Thank you for supporting Genealogy Gems!

New Records at the Genealogy Giants Websites

Enjoy millions of new records from the ‘Genealogy Giants’ websites this week: Ancestry, FamilySearch, Findmypast, and MyHeritage! New collections are now available for England, Ireland, the Netherlands, and Denmark. Also new are two collections of WWII Holocaust records. 

Genealogy Giants new records

England Records at Findmypast & Ancestry

A massive amount of new records at the ‘Genealogy Giants’ websites were published this week. First up are millions of new English records collections. We’ll start with Findmypast’s new databases:

Surrey, England

  • Lay Subsidies 1524-1645: early taxation records from the Tudor and Jacobean periods.
  • Court Cases 1391-1835: The records contain cases from four courts and will give you the necessary references for accessing the original records in The National Archives.
  • Wills & Probate Index, 1470-1856: The area covered includes the old county of Surrey in the southeast of England, which contains parts of South London.

British Army Records

Next, we head to Ancestry for even more new English record collections.

Lastly, FamilySearch has a new collection of Essex Parish Registers, 1538-1997. This collection contains christening, marriage, and burial entries.

Ireland – Findmypast

New at Findmypast for Ireland are British Army, Irish Regimental Enlistment Registers 1877-1924. This collection has enlistment registers from five Irish regiments serving in the British Army. The regiments included in these records are Connaught Rangers, Leinster Regiment, Royal Dunlin Fusiliers, Royal Irish Regiment, and Royal Munster Fusiliers.

A new Irish newspaper title has also been added at Findmypast: the Carrickfergus Advertiser 1884 – 1919. The collection currently contains over 1,300 issues and will be updated further in the future.

Netherlands Public Records at FamilySearch

New at FamilySearch: Netherlands Archival Indexes, Public Records. This collection contains nearly 3 million records that cover events like population registration, emigration and immigration, military enrollment and more.

Denmark – 1930 Census Free at FamilySearch

The Denmark Census, 1930 is now available for free at FamilySearch! “Commonly indexed fields include principle name, locality data, gender, marital status, and relationship to head of household.” The images and index were provided in partnership with MyHeritage.

World War II Holocaust Records and MyHeritage and Ancestry

New at MyHeritage are Auschwitz Death Certificates, 1941-1943. Information listed includes name, birth date, death date, birthplace, residence, and religion. The information originates from the Auschwitz Sterbebücher (Death Books).

Ancestry also has a new collection of Romania select Holocaust Records 1940-1945 (USHMM). This collection is primarily in Romanian, but may also be in Hungarian. It was indexed by World Memory Project contributors from the digitized holdings of the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum.

Get the most out of the top genealogy records websites

genealogy giants quick reference guide cheat sheet“Which genealogy records membership website should I use?” It’s one of the most-asked questions in genealogy. There are so many features on each site–and an apples-to-apples comparison is laden with challenges. But Genealogy Gems Contributing Editor Sunny Morton has the answers for you in the jammed-packed Genealogy Giants cheat sheet. Use it to quickly and easily compare all of the most important features of the four biggest international genealogy records membership websites: Ancestry.com, FamilySearch.org, Findmypast.com, and MyHeritage.com. Then consult it every time your research budget, needs or goals change. Tables, bulleted lists, and graphics make this guide as easy to use as it is informative. Click here to learn more and grab your copy.

Disclosure: This article contains affiliate links and Genealogy Gems will be compensated if you make a purchase after clicking on these links (at no additional cost to you). Thank you for supporting the free Genealogy Gems podcast and blog!

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