The Genealogical Proof Standard: Thorough Research-How do I Know I am Doing it? 1

Editor’s Note: This is a teaser of what was published in the October issue of Going In-Depth magazine. If you’d like to learn more on this topic or about research strategies through Cheri Passey’s column, Modus Operandi, please subscribe to our magazine.

What is the GPS?    

Let’s start out with a reminder that the Genealogy Proof Standard, GPS, is a minimum of what genealogist should do to be as correct as possible in their research. No matter what your purpose for researching family history, the standard put together by the Board for Certification of Genealogists should be your standard too. If you are new to genealogy or even if you have been researching for years, the Genealogy Proof Standard can seem overwhelming. Some ask, if I am just doing it for my family why should I care?

Why does it matter?

Why should everyone care and strive to meet the standards with each and every research project? Simply because we want to do our best. Our clients, friends, and family deserve our best effort when we take on the task of looking for ancestors. Following the GPS standards will ensure we have done our due diligence, looked for the correct documents, and identified the right individuals as much as it is possible in each case. We want to plan and answer our genealogy questions in a way that not only shows we follow correct research strategies, but that we want to produce quality work. Will following these guidelines guarantee that you will break down all your brick walls and locate all your ancestors back to Adam and Eve? No, but it will help you as you chip away one family at a time and prevent those quick assumptions and those bad habits which may cause you to end up climbing the wrong tree. We will have work which will show our research efforts, that is sourced, any conflicts have been resolved and contain a written conclusion which will help those who come after us have faith in what we have done and continue after us. What if new documents or other evidence comes along? Adhering to the GPS standards will help to assure new information will most likely support our conclusions.

Voter Registration Record Photo Credit: Cheri Hudson Passey

Voter Registration Record Photo Credit: Cheri Hudson Passey


The First Step-Thorough Research

What is thorough research and how do you know if you are doing enough? You have heard the joke thoroughly exhaustive research or thoroughly exhausting? Any good research plan starts with a question. What are we looking for? We take a question and then look for records and documents which will hopefully lead us to the answer.  So what if we do not understand the concepts of thorough research, what if we only look for one document to “prove” or answer our question? We put ourselves at the risk of jumping to conclusions, using false or inaccurate information, and having our work not hold up over time.

When researching, we must look for all sources which might answer our particular question. For instance, your question may be that you are looking for the parents of John Brown. You find John’s death certificate, and there they are listed. You found your answer and can move on, right? No. Where else can you find information on John’s parents? Checking other sources such as birth, church, cemetery, funeral home records, obituaries, family bibles, and others will help you to see if the information on the death certificate is consistent with the information contained elsewhere. If you have checked in all the places that you could reasonably search to locate John’s parent’s information and they all are in agreement, then yes, you can be pretty confident you have the correct information. But what if the death certificate says one thing and other documents claim his parents to be someone else? This is why a reasonably exhaustive search is so important. Know from the beginning that all records have flaws. They are made by people who are emotional, forgetful, trying to hide things (yes, even your ancestors!), or just trying to hurry and make mistakes. Because of this, no one record should be trusted to give you a concrete answer to any research question.

Want to read on? Subscribe today and read the October issue of Going In-Depth magazine.

Cheri Hudson Passey

About Cheri Hudson Passey

Cheri Hudson Passey is a Professional Genealogist, Instructor, Writer and Speaker. She is the owner of Carolina Girl Genealogy, LLC which provides research services as well as instruction and coaching though her Genealogy 1-on-1 classes. Born in South Carolina, Cheri has roots in the state for many generations. Her blog Carolina Girl Genealogy has helped tell the story of these ancestors and her research process. You can contact Cheri by email or by visiting her blog Carolina Girl Genealogy. Cheri Hudson Passey writes the Modus Operandi column for Going In-Depth Magazine.

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