The Genealogical Proof Standard in Action

One of the classes I attended at FGS was “The Genealogical Proof Standard in Action!” presented by Elizabeth Shown Mills.  This is probably the class that I looked forward to the most and it did not disappoint.

She started out with an overview of sound research practices and the GPS.

Credible proof requires:

  1. thorough research
  2. complete & accurate documentation
  3. skilled analysis

Next was an acronym based on the word Action (see the course title?).  I won’t repeat the whole acronym here, but I do want to touch on a few points.

T – Trust nobody! She said this numerous times during the lecture and made the audience say it with her.  What she meant was do your own research.  When you find a reference to a source, find that source yourself.  It doesn’t matter who you are reading – even ESM herself – trust nobody.

O – Outline a theory. Then try to disprove it.  How many of us actually do this?  I know I never have.  It’s not that I ignore conflicting evidence, but I don’t specifically set out to disprove the theory.  It makes sense, though, and I think it goes back to the concept of reasonably exhaustive search.  If we are trying to disprove our theories, then we must examine all available records.

Which leads me to another point she made:  always do a literature search first.  Identify all resources:

  • not just those on microfilm
  • not just those conveniently available
  • not just those that are indexed
  • etc.

Get to know all the [insert surname you are researching] in the area.  Get to know their neighbors.  Extract everybody for 20 households in both directions for every census year.  I just realized this says 20 households.  I recently started extracting neighbors, but I’ve been extracting 20 names in each direction, not 20 households.  Yikes.  That is a lot more people.  See?  This is why you should review your notes.

This was an amazing lecture.  I have just hit the highlights here.  I took back a lot that I’m attempting to implement.

Source:  Mills, Elizabeth Shown. “The Genealogical Proof Standard in Action!” Lecture presented at the annual conference of the Federation of Genealogical Societies, Knoxville, Tenn., 20 August 2010.

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