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.

Canadiana: Canadian Digital Archive and Portal to the Past

CanadianaDo you have Canadian roots? Then Canadiana should be on your list of online resources searched regularly for family history information.

Recently Newswire.ca described Canadiana as “a digital initiative of extraordinary scale,…a joint effort of 25 leading research institutions, libraries and archives working together with the goal of creating Canada’s multi-million page, comprehensive online archive.” Its digital collections chronicle Canada’s past since the 1600s and most of its content is free.

What we especially noticed in a recent peek at this enormous Canadian digital archive:

  • The Héritage Project. This FREE resource “aims to digitize, preserve and make accessible Canada’s archival materials for Canadians and the world. Héritage is also a pathfinder project to determine the best ways to organize and fund ongoing efforts to make all of Canada’s remaining documentary heritage accessible online.” Their large collection of genealogy materials so far includes immigration records, church records, land records, family histories, voters’ lists and more. Military history, government documents and aboriginal records are also well-represented. Tip: check back often! More is coming, like local and regional newspaper digitization and records of the Canadian Expeditionary Forces.
  • The Canadiana Discovery Portal. This gateway to digital collections from 40 repositories points to 65 million pages! Sample subjects include  Ontario genealogy and War of 1812 campaigns. This portal is also free to use.
  • Early Canadiana Online, with 5 million images already and expected to grow to 16 million. This part of the website requires a subscription ($10/month or a year for $100) This is “a full-text collection of published documentary material, including monographs, government documents, and specialized or mass-market periodicals from the 16th to 20th centuries. Law, literature, religion, education, women’s history and aboriginal history are particular areas of strength.” The site describes itself as “the most complete set of full-text historical content about Canada, including books, magazines and government documents.” Tip: scroll down on the home page to click the Genealogy and Local History portal, but don’t ignore the rest of the site!

how to start a genealogy blogLike this post? Here’s a few more posts you may enjoy:

If more posts like these are what you’re looking for, sign up for our free email newsletter. You’ll get Lisa Louise Cooke’s free Google Research e-book when you do! From our home page, enter your email in the sign-up box.

Episode 207 – Interview with Mary Tedesco

Genealogy Gems Podcast Episode 207

with Lisa Louise Cooke

In this episode, Lisa welcomes Mary Tedesco, a co-host of PBS’ Genealogy Roadshow. Mary shares stories and tips about tracing Italian and Italian-American roots. Also:

  • FamilySearch updates since the end of microfilm lending (and how YOU helped make the last days of lending more effective);
  • A listener uses Google to find her mysterious great-grandmother, with a success story she calls a “game-changer” for her genealogy research.
  • The premiere of Military Minutes with Michael Strauss

DOUBLE THE FUN WITH MORE GENEALOGY GEMS PODCAST

This episode launches the NEW twice-monthly Genealogy Gems Podcast format. From now on, watch for two free episodes every month, each about 35-45 minutes long.

If you haven’t downloaded the Genealogy Gems app for easier listening on your mobile device, consider doing so now to make it twice as easy on yourself?and get twice the bonus content from now on!

If you’re listening through the Genealogy Gems app, your bonus content for this episode is?. The Genealogy Gems app is FREE in Google Play and is only $2.99 for Windows, iPhone and iPad users.

FAMILYSEARCH RECORDS ACCESS UPDATE

ALL of the microfilmed records that have been rented in the past 5 years have now been digitized, over 1.5 million films.

From now on, if you need a film that hasn’t been digitized yet, you can call FamilySearch Support toll-free (866-406-1830) and request it for the priority digitization list.

They continue to digitally scan about 1000 films per day. (That sounds like a lot, but at this rate it will still take them until 2020 to be done.)

New digital images are being put in the FamilySearch Catalog as soon as possible. This is not the main digital record search area! It will take collections a while to appear here. Instead, under the Search tab, select Catalog, and then search by place and record type or other categories. This is a master catalog of all the Family History Library’s collections, online and offline, and when you click on an item’s individual description, you’ll be able to see a link to its digitized version if it’s available.

If you or anyone else had any films on loan in family history centers and FamilySearch affiliate libraries when the lending program ended, those automatically have extended loan status, which means they can stay there indefinitely unless the management decides to send them back.

If all else fails, you can still go to the Family History Library in Salt Lake City, UT and order microfilmed records to view, or you can hire someone to do it for you.

FamilySearch Affiliate libraries now have access to nearly all of the restricted image collections as family history centers.

Click here to read or listen to Lisa’s special interview with Diane Loosle of FamilySearch. It goes into much more detail about accessing records on the site, at affiliate libraries and more.

Click here to read the August 30, 2017 update from FamilySearch.

To save 30% off a Care.com Premium membership, visit care.com/gems when you subscribe.

I had so much fun opening the box. They even sent me an apron!

Visit hellofresh.com and use promo code gems30 to save $30 off your first week of deliveries.

 

NEWS: FREE GENEALOGY WEBINAR FROM NYC

Lisa Louise Cooke’s Genealogy Gems presents:

Reveal Your Unique Story through DNA & Family History sponsored by Animoto

Saturday, September 23, 2017 11:00 AM EST

 
  • Turn DNA results into your family history
  • Turn your family history into a compelling story
  • Turn your compelling story into a video!

Learn from Lisa Louise Cooke, Diahan Southard and Animoto’s Beth Forester:

  • Your DNA testing options (there are more than you think), and possible outcomes
  • The best free resources for going beyond DNA, back several generations in your family (quickly!)
  • Creative ideas for filling in the story gaps
  • How to expand your story in ways you never expected by finding DNA connections
  • Share the story you’ve uncovered with the world through riveting video

Lisa chat with Hannah about Hurricane Harvey

Keep your family history research, photos, tree software files, videos and all other computer files safely backed up with Backblaze, the official cloud-based computer backup system for Lisa Louise Cooke’s Genealogy Gems. Learn more at http://www.backblaze.com/Lisa.

 

MAILBOX: KRISTIN’S SUCCESS STORY

“Among the handful of mystery photographs of my grandmother as a child and the strangers who sat beside her, was a brief article from a newspaper. It was a lesson in manners, titled ‘Silence is Golden’ and it was written by Merton Markert, a student of the Modern Classics. A photo of a young woman with a disheveled Gibson hairdo was attached.”

The Genealogist’s Google Toolbox by Lisa Louise Cooke teaches the search strategies you need to do searches like these.

Try Ebay! Lisa found a listing for a commencement program from 1902, old post cards of the school, and other yearbooks from Lancaster High School. Sign up for a free Ebay account, run a search, and then click to Follow the search. You will then be alerted to future auctions that match your criteria.

Click here for tips on finding yearbooks and other school records.

Genealogy Gems Premium member perk: Premium Podcast episode 16 has great tips for using Ebay to find family history treasures. Click here to learn more about Premium membership.

 

INTERVIEW: MARY TEDESCO of Genealogy Roadshow

MARY M. Tedesco is a professional genealogist, speaker, and author. She is a host and genealogist on PBS’ Genealogy Roadshow” and Founder of ORIGINS ITALY. Mary speaks fluent Italian and travels often to Italy to conduct client genealogical research and visit family. She is co-author of Tracing Your Italian Ancestors.

Click here to watch a free interview with Mary Tedesco with more tips on doing Italian genealogy research.

GENEALOGY GEMS BOOK CLUB

Murder in Matera by Helene Stapinski tells the story of the author’s journey to Italy to learn the truth behind the family stories about her Italian ancestors. Tune in to Genealogy Gems Podcast episode 208 later this month to hear an excerpt from a conversation with Helene Stapinski. (The entire interview will play in Genealogy Gems Premium Podcast episode 151.)

MILITARY MINUTES: DRAFT REGISTRATIONS

INTRODUCING MICHAEL STRAUSS

Michael Strauss, AG is the principal owner of Genealogy Research Network and an Accredited Genealogist since 1995. He is a native of Pennsylvania and a resident of Utah and has been an avid genealogist for more than 30 years. Strauss holds a BA in History and is a United States Coast Guard veteran.

BONUS handout to celebrate this new segment: Click here for a 4-page handout on U.S. draft registration records by Michael L. Strauss.

FREE GENEALOGY NEWSLETTER:

Genealogy Gems Newsletter Sign Up

Subscribe to the Genealogy Gems newsletter to receive a free weekly e-mail newsletter, with tips, inspiration and money-saving deals.

Resources

Download the episode

Download the show notes

Pin It on Pinterest

MENU