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.
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. 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.
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.
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.
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-DemandTMVirtual 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.
Professional Genealogists Kate Eakman
 “Genealogical Proof Standard (GPS),” Board for Certification of Genealogists, https://bcgcertification.org/ethics-standards, accessed March 2020.
Kick off 2018 with a diverse group of new genealogy records to explore online this week! Included are historical and vital records for British genealogy, Irish newspapers, Scottish records, and Palestine naturalization applications.
British Historical & Vital Records
Lots of new genealogy records are available for England this week at Findmypast! Start with Britain, Histories & Reference Guides, which contains more than 65 volumes about genealogy, heraldry, paleography, geography, and more. These volumes will expand your knowledge about your ancestor’s life and how your ancestors lived through the centuries.
Finally, Northamptonshire Memorial Inscriptions may reveal your ancestor’s death date, burial place, as well as the names of other family members for your family tree. This collection includes 17 cemeteries, churchyards, and other places, and the records span from 1422 to 2015.
The Church of Ireland’s record repository, Representative Church Body Library (RCBL), has announced that all 19th-century editions of the Church of Ireland Gazette have been added to the online archive of the weekly newspaper. The full archive is free to the public and covers years 1856 – 1923.
The British Newspaper Archive has added the Dublin Evening Telegraph to their collection of historic newspapers recently. This paper spanned 1871-1924, and this collection has over 12,000 issues available online.
Recently added to Ancestry.com are Carnegie Music Institution Registers, 1910-1920 from Dunfermline, Fife. This school was founded through a trust set up by Andrew Carnegie, and school records include names, year and term of attendance, resident, and subject studied.
Additional news for Scottish research comes from the University of Virginia School of Law.
30 years after they acquired a trove of legal documents from Scotland’s Court of Session, the supreme legal court there, the Law School’s Arthur J. Morris Law Library is building a digital archive and reaching out to partners “across the pond” to open these legal history materials to scholars and the public. According to the press release, the library is planning to release the first batch of documents online soon. When completed, users will be able to search through a single document or the entire collection, peruse the rich data provided for each case, and download documents for free.
Palestine Naturalization Applications
A fascinating new collection at MyHeritage is the Mandatory Palestine Naturalization Applications, 1937-1947. From the collection description: “This collection is a unique and rich compilation of records documenting the efforts of individuals, mostly Jews, and sometimes their entire families, to establish citizenship in Mandatory Palestine, which was under British administration at the time. The collection contains photos, histories, passports, and other various forms providing details for each applicant.”
Let 2018 be your year to break down brick walls!
Has your family history research hit a brick wall? Marsha Hoffman Rising’s best-selling and recently updated book The Family Tree Problem Solver has the solutions to help you find the answers you seek. Get tips on finding vital records before civil registration, finding “missing” ancestors on censuses, advanced court records, workarounds for lost or destroyed records, common names, case studies, and more! This revised edition also includes new information about online research techniques and a look at the role of DNA research. Click here to order now!
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!
This free video (below) introduces Trove, The National Library of Australia’s online catalog and digital archive for all things Australian.
If you have roots in Australia, I hope you are using Trove. When I first covered it in the Genealogy Gems podcast a while back, it was a fairly new resource and I shared how it is chock full of 76 million digitized newspaper articles. Now that number exceeds 200 million records! The site has expanded its other content, too. If you haven’t looked for your Aussie roots on Trove recently, you’re really missing out!
Trove helps you find and use resources relating to Australia. It’s more than a search engine. Trove brings together content from libraries, museums, archives and other research organisations and gives you tools to explore and build.
Trove is many things: a community, a set of services, an aggregation of metadata, and a growing repository of fulltext digital resources.
That’s how the site introduces itself, and it sure lives up to its claim. As shown in the video below, Trove lets you search among “zones” of online content:
digitized newspapers; journals, articles and data sets;
online and offline books, audiobooks, theses and pamphlets;
pictures, photos and objects;
music, sound and video files;
maps, atlases, charts and globes;
diaries, letters and personal papers;
people and organizations; and
a zone for user-created lists.
You can browse these zones individually or search them all with a single click. You can search for just items available online, in Australian-only content, or just in libraries you specify. Creating a free user ID allows you to personalize your experience and participate in online forums. From my U.S. perspective, it would be like having the Library of Congress main website and all its offshoots such as Chronicling America rolled up together with WorldCat, ArchiveGrid, Internet Archive and its Wayback Machine–but focused entirely on my country.
When it comes to those nearly-200 million newspaper articles, you can search these by keyword or browse by newspaper title, state, date, category (article, ad or list) or tag. Refine search results by place, title, category, whether illustrated, decade and even the length of the article. You can even sign up to receive alerts to newly-posted material that matches your search criteria.
Remember, newspaper research in genealogy isn’t just about obituaries or wedding anniversary announcements. It’s about understanding the daily lives of our ancestors, and I share more strategies on uncovering these gems in my book How to Find Your Family History in Newspapers (available as an e-book or in print).
Here’s a video from the National Library of Australia with an overview of Trove:
It’s always exciting to see new genealogical records come online because they offer new hope for discoveries and brick wall busting.
Findmypast, a leader in British genealogical records, has recently added thousands of new records to existing and new collections. Among these you’ll find everything from baptism and burial records to British and Irish digitized newspapers.
Huddersfield, England Baptisms
A large market and university town in West Yorkshire, England, Huddersfield is nestled between Leeds and Manchester. It’s the 11th largest town in the United Kingdom, and is known for it’s Victorian architecture. Huddersfield railway station was described by former Poet Laureate of the United Kingdom John Betjeman as “the most splendid station façade in England”, second only to St Pancras, London.
Over 52,000 records covering 14 new parishes have been added to Findmypast’s collection of Huddersfield Baptisms. All new parishes are highlighted in the Huddersfield baptisms parish list.
Each baptismal record includes a transcript of an original parish register entry. This will reveal a combination of your ancestor’s:
If you are trying to find out when your ancestor died and was laid to rest in Yorkshire, this growing collection is worth a look. Over 5000 additional records have been added to the Yorkshire Memorial Inscriptions collection.
These newly added records cover 14 Anglican churchyards across the York area (West Riding, North Riding and Ainsty).
The bulk of the records mainly cover the years of the First and Second World Wars.
An historic county in southeast England, Middlesex was established in the Anglo-Saxon system from the territory of the Middle Saxons. It existed as an official administrative unit until 1965, and now mostly falls within the ceremonial county of Greater London, with small sections in other neighboring ceremonial counties.
Findmypast has recently added over 64,000 new records to existing parishes within the collection of Middlesex Baptisms. These transcripts of original parish register entries will reveal a combination of your ancestor’s baptism date, parent’s names, father’s occupation and address.
The collection also covers parts of London, Surrey, and Hertfordshire.
Over 5,000 additional monumental inscription records are now available to search. The new records cover two cemeteries in Teddington as well as the Parish of St Mary’s in Sunbury.
Monumental Inscriptions can reveal the names of others buried in that plot as well as more specific details regarding age, birth and death dates. This can be incredibly helpful as it can provide you with the names and dates of your ancestor’s next of kin, including their relation to one another.
Essex is a large county in the south-east of England and forms part of the Metropolitan Green Belt just beyond greater London. The original Kingdom of Essex, founded by Saxon King Aescwine in AD 527, occupied territory to the north of the River Thames and east of the River Lee. In the 1640s, during the English Civil War, notorious witch hunter General Matthew Hopkins lived in the county accused 23 women in Chelmsford in 1645.
You will find five million baptism, banns, marriages, and burial records from Essex on Findmypast. These records were created from the original registers held by the Essex Record Office and other sources.
The oil on canvas The Hay Wain by John Constable shows the Essex landscape on the right bank.
Derbyshire stole my heart this year during a recent trip to England where I spoke at THE Genealogy Show conference. It’s preserved historic beauty can be greatly attributed to the Peak District National Park which mostly falls within this East Midlands area county.
Photo: My recent visit to beautiful Derbyshire, England
Births and Baptisms
Just under a thousand additional records from 15 non-conformist parishes have been added to the Findmypast collection of Derbyshire Births and Baptisms.
Mainly covering Methodists, Baptists, and Presbyterians, the full list of new additions has been highlighted in their Derbyshire parish list.
Over 4,500 records of burials that took place at St Martin’s church in Cheriton are now available to search here. These new additions cover two periods, 1843 to 1855 and 1907 to 1958. Search these records to discover where and when your ancestor was buried, as well as the names of their spouse and father.
These burial records constitute a valuable resource for researching ancestry in Kent and have been provided in association with:
Canterbury Cathedral Archives
Kent County Council
the North West Kent Family History Society,
Folkestone & District Family History Society
and Val Brown.
Billion Graves Cemetery Indexes at Findmypast
You just might be able to pinpoint your ancestor’s final resting place with the new additions to Findmypast’s Billion Graves Cemetery Indexes. The latest update includes:
Cemetery records like these can provide you with information regarding your ancestor’s birth and marriage dates.
According to Alex Cox of Findmypast, “With an abundance of cemeteries, it can be overwhelming trying to pinpoint the precise cemetery in which your ancestor was laid to rest, and visiting each potential location is costly. However, in partnering with BillionGraves, we aim to make available all the cemetery records held on their site for free, saving you time and money as you search for your ancestor. BillionGraves is the largest resource for GPS-tagged headstone and burial records on the web, with over 12 million headstone records.”
British and Irish Newspapers
Additions to Existing Newspaper Collections
Findmpast has added 98,602 brand new pages to eleven of their existing titles. Spanning the years 1865 to 1999, the new additions include extensive updates the Huddersfield Daily Examiner as well as titles covering the south of England (Crawley and London), the Midlands (Coventry), and the North West (Liverpool).
Further updates have also been made to the specialist publication – Field – for which they now have editions up to 1911.
Additional updates have been made to twenty-one existing titles, covering the length and breadth of Scotland, Ireland and England. These include updates to two Cornish titles – the Royal Cornwall Gazette and Lake’s Falmouth Packet and Cornwall Advertiser, as well as updates to seven Scottish titles, including the John o’Groat Journal and the Perthshire Advertiser.
There has been a significant update to the Bristol Times and Mirror, with over 33,000 pages added, covering the years 1897 to 1911.
Also updated are two early Labour publications – Clarion and the Labour Leader – as well as one of our religious titles, Witness (Edinburgh), and the sporting title, the Football Post (Nottingham). As you can see, there is a diverse range of interests represented.
New Newspaper Titles
The Queen, The Ladies’ Newspaper and Court Chronicle, a society magazine by Samuel Beeton established in 1861, and the Women’s Gazette and Weekly News have also been added. Published in Manchester, this was a ‘journal devoted to the social and political position of women.’
More historical newspapers added this summer include:
Hawick Express covering the years 1892, 1903-1904, 1913-1914, 1919-1940, 1950-1952
Coatbridge Express covering the years 1885-1951
Dalkeith Advertiser covering the years 1869-1953
Barrhead News covering the years 1897-1912
Banffshire Herald covering the years 1893-1912
Banffshire Advertiser covering the years 1881-1902, 1905-1912
Rylee says she’s grateful to have found the podcast and she shares a story of genealogical discovery that she hopes will inspire others. Rylee asks “How do I find sources for these people? I have searched all over ancestry and Family Search and have had no luck again. I really want to believe that the people I have as Adam’s parents and siblings all the way through his 2nd great-grandparents (paternal) are truly his family but I need to get more information. Where can I go for help with German records and where can I continue my search?”
Lisa’s comments: You’re absolutely right, what you found are just hints. It sounds like it’s time for you to move on from the “Genealogy Giants” (Ancestry, FamilySearch, etc.) and into German records websites, libraries, and archives to find real sources that nail down the family tree.
In a way, today marks the 175th birthday of the World Wide Web. Only it was electro-mechanical, not digital. On this date in 1844, Samuel F.B. Morse activated the first telegraph line, sending a dots-and-dashes code message from the U.S. Capitol building to a receiver in Baltimore.
By the late 1850s, the first telegraph cable had been laid across the Atlantic Ocean, and in 1861, the telegraph spanned the continental United States. Over the ensuing decades, the wires wrapped around the world.
From the 1844 demonstration, telecommunications today has grown into a half-trillion dollar a year industry, and employs more than 1 million workers in over 59,000 industry establishments.
You can find more facts about America from the U.S. Census Bureau online at www.census.gov.
Joseph Nathan Kane, Kane’s Famous First Facts, Fifth Edition, H.W. Wilson Co., New York, NY, 1997, #7692.