5 Rules of Genealogy Standard of Proof
When teaching family history I am often asked “how do I know if this person is my ancestor”? The answer is quite simple you apply the 5 Rules of Genealogy Standard of Proof test and that will show you if that person deserves to be on your family tree. It is very easy to persuade yourself that someone who you have found after much research is the right person, just because you want them to be an ancestor doesn’t mean that they are !
There are five rules which you should apply to your research so that you can be as sure as you can be that you have found the right branch of ancestors.
- An Exhaustive Search. Have you really searched every record, in other words have you searched enough. Or have you just found one record with a name the same as your ancestors and decided that it must be them? Where an ancestor isn’t in a parish where you expected to find them it is especially important to make sure that there isn’t a family with the same surname living in that village or town. This is where focused searches using Ancestry and FindMyPast are a great help as both companies have databases of a range of records which can be searched to bring together a good picture of the person you want to claim for your tree.
- Completely and accurately source records. Have you sourced accurately each record that you have searched? There are plenty of unreliable family trees on the internet so it is unwise to believe everything that you read especially if there are no sources given where the information came from. It is essential to attach proper source notes to every record that you use to create your genealogy. You need to record where you found the record, what the official title of the record is, a reference number if it has one and what type of record it is.
- Analysis the evidence. Once you have collected all the evidence to prove or disprove that the person you are researching is your ancestor run a critical eye over it and make sure that every document supports or otherwise your theory. I feel it is a good idea to find a “genealogy buddy” who can look at your research and tell you, honestly, if it all fits together and each and every document supports this person being your ancestor.
- Resolve conflicting evidence. Perhaps there is a document that causes doubt on that person belonging to your ancestral family? Are you biased towards wanting that person to be your ancestor? Look at any conflicting evidence and decide if it outweighs the positive information you have found.
- Document your conclusions, using good reasoning and sound judgement. Write your research out, source it well and be open to revisiting it if you come across evidence that throws doubts on it in the future. The further you research back the harder it will be to find documents that tells you what you want to know. Once you are back to the 16th century and earlier your research can become less certain however if you write up the reasoning behind your research and enter details of the sources you have used this probably the best you can hope for. Some years ago Else Churchill of the Society of Genealogist, London very kindly looked at some research I had completed on an early ancestral branch, I asked her if she thought I had enough proof to claim this family as mine. She replied that the further genealogists trace their genealogy back the more they had to start thinking as historians in other words look at the evidence, come to a conclusion and write it up properly with sources. This is precisely what I did, but I still look for any further evidence that will support my conclusion or bring it into doubt.
5 Rules of Genealogy Standard of Proof – Conclusion
If you research diligently, source properly (I will write a post on sourcing your research shortly) and follow these 5 Rules of Genealogy Standard of Proof then you will have created a family history that you can be proud of and which will stand the test of time. It would be pleasing to think that generations to come will appreciate your research, will check the sources and tell their children that you, their ancestor, left them a valuable family history legacy.
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