Sunday, January 06, 2013

Information is incorrect

One of the common questions I get when teaching my class is that, the information that they found is incorrect. How do they know that?

A concern of mine with genealogist is that they are not taking the necessary steps to verify the information they find on their family members. Have you checked all the sources that are available. This is a big reason for the creation of the Genealogical Proof Standard that every one is so interested in learning about. The GPS was set up to establish guidelines to properly verify ones genealogy. Failure to source your genealogy causes it to be a great book of fiction.

There are five rules to the GPS. The fist is completing an exhaustive search. This means checking all the records available. Not just the easy ones. The ideal is to locate three different sources that validate each fact. Depending on just a few sources does not make it correct. Understanding the difference between a primary and secondary source is key. You want to see the original source as much as possible. Don't accept a transcription as proof. Seek out the original document. Do not trust anything!

Make sure to source all the information. Genealogist as a whole tend to be a little on the lazy side. Failure to identify where you got your information will only result in confusion when collaborating with fellow genealogist and those in the future. Identifying where you got your information helps people understand why you made the conclusions you did. If you do not paint a clear picture of your research things will be fuzzy for others.

Once you have identified some information make sure to analyse it and correlate it. Include all information discovered both good and bad. What does all the information mean? Genealogist tend to fall into the trap of using wood working tools when trying to put that square peg in a round hole. The negative information often is the correct information when weighed with the body of evidence. Don't jump to assumptions. Let the facts and good research lead the way.

Once you feel you have a good picture analyze what conflicts you have. This is a very important step in validating your genealogy. This step results in saying yes I got everything or no I need to do more research. If you feel you have it all pulled together and it's correct you can go to the final step. If you have holes in the information you need to determine what the next step is going to be. Do I have to do more research? What records have I yet to find and are they available? With the internet today records are being made at a rapid pace. Have you checked them all? Sometimes you need to put a project on the back burner until you find more information.

The last step is to write out a proof conclusion. This is where you are explaining out why the information you have found has led you to this step. Often we are not always able to come to this step. New information is always coming out, but based on what you have found make the best conclusion you can. Make sure to include the good and the bad. Explain why it is good or bad. Write it down on paper or on your computer. Read it and make it makes sense to you. Share it with other genealogist and even those that are not. Does it make sense to them.

Remember these five steps and you will be doing excellent genealogy. It helps put the pieces of the puzzle together correctly and helps identify other pieces that may fit better. Genealogy that is not sourced is just a really great piece of fiction. Your family is not fiction they were and are real!


MissPeggy said...

Great post, Derek!!

Jodee Inscho said...

It is so easy to get caught up in the thrill of finding new information, especially at the begining of one's research. I am sure many of us have had to go back to our early "work" and validate what we found. It's an important lesson to learn!

William J Bonner said...

Derek's post is great advice. I'm some 20 years into genealogical research and still find myself having to undo some of my earlier assumptions about individuals that just were not documented properly.