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5 Rules of Genealogy Standard of Proof

5 Rules of Genealogy Standard of Proof

5 Rules of Genealogy Standard of ProofWhen 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.

  1. 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.
  2. Complete 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.
  3. 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.
  4. 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.
  5. 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

5 Rules of Genealogy Standard of ProofIf 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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8 thoughts on “5 Rules of Genealogy Standard of Proof

    1. Thanks for your comment Heather, glad you found this useful. Would you like to join the MadAboutGenealogy mailing list? It keeps you up to date with all the posts and general genealogy news. If so let me know and I’ll be happy to add you in. Kind regards, Linda

  1. When finding a different spelling of a name you cannot conclude that one of the names might not be an true relative. This is especially important when finding different last names. It may simply mean that a person was misunderstood, couldn’t spell correctly, or the spelling of a name to fit into a work place. Many people at different times were identified by certain last names and therefore denied work.

    1. Hi Martha, Thank you for your comment. You are absolutely correct in saying that just because a name, especially a surname isn’t spelt the same in all documents that the person isn’t your ancestor. As my article says to resolve these sorts of queries you should – 1. Do an exhaustive search of as many document sources as you can as you might find several documents using the different spelling. 2. Make sure that you have sourced all your facts so that you are aware if you are depending on a transcript or index rather than an original source for each piece of information. 3. Analyse your evidence, take a good hard look at your documentation and ask yourself if it is possible that the two spellings of the name refer to one person or more than one. 4. Resolve conflicting evidence. Does the name that is a possible variation of the name of your ancestor occur over a number of years or does it just occur once or twice. My family name of Elliott was written in the parish registers as Hallett for a number of years, the Vicar changed and it reverted back to be recorded as Elliott. The appearance in the parish register of the surname Hallett coincided with the disappearance of the name Elliott which then reappeared when a new vicar was appointed. I can only assume that the Vicar at the time couldn’t understand a broad Berkshire accent! 5. Document your conclusions. I have written all the reasons why I concluded that the Elliott family and the Hallett family are one and the same family so that anyone coming across my research in years to come will know my thought process on the matter.
      I am interested in your last sentence where you said many people were denied work because of their surname. This is of course rather different than a name being spelt differently because of mishearing it etc. and doesn’t come within the scope of my article.
      A top tip when researching a family is to say the surname out loud several times as you can then often hear how it might have sounded and be written down differently. Thank you for your interest in my article and taking the time to raise the matter of different spellings of names. Best wishes, Linda

  2. I would add FamilySearch to that list. FS has the world’s largest collection of records, and it’s free! Many of the records on Ancestry come from them. You’ll see “Family History Library” in Salt Lake on a record at the bottom. I think all 3 sites are crucial. (No, I don’t work for FS). I love having my tree on FS because it will always be there, it will always be free. It’s a great place to keep my records besides on my own computer because if any grandkids get interested, it will be there.

    1. Hi Kath, Yes I love FamilySearch as well. I totally agree that all 3 sites, Ancestry, FindMyPast and FamilySearch, are crucial to genealogy research. I always think how lucky we are these days to be able to do so much good quality research without leaving home! I keep my tree on Ancestry as well as on my computer, did you know you can put trees onto both Ancestry and FindMyPast without having a subscription and they will be there for ever? (can’t imagine Ancestry or FindMyPast going out of business). I’m reluctant to put my tree onto FS because anyone can come along and alter it with talking to me first. However I must revisit that decision as I know things have moved on since I last looked. Thank you leaving a comment always nice to “chat” with fellow genealogists 🙂 Linda

  3. Yes I keep mine on all three, but most people don’t want to bother.:) Thank you for your comments. I am excited to have found your site. Half my research is in the UK, so I am excited to learn more! (I am primarily researching in Devon, Lancashire, Suffolk, London and Scotland between my side and my husband’s).

    1. Your family sounds like mine – spread through all three websites! I plan the posts 3 months in advance and I am pleased to tell you that I have lots of lovely information to share. My blog is really me emptying my brain out of 40 years of genealogy experience! I was so lucky to be helped by some wonderful genealogists when I started out and it’s good to be able to pay it forward through my blog.

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