rules of evidence, familysearch blog

+6 votes

smiley Some have been tossing into discussions excerpts from some Handbook which began to "sound like" advocacy for just anything to be NAMED a source ... but where was the equally strong voice for verification? 

I have found a familysearch blog at (it's a 3 part blog) 

There's mentioned the Genealogical Proof Standard, which is a process used to demonstrate what the minimums are ... for a work to be credible. Based on a book by Christine Rose "Genealogical Proof Standard: Building A Solid Case" and the GPS lays out five essentials. 

From this first part one is supposed to be able to forward to the other parts

The motivating force for this post was the tale of someone whose father had a facebook that he is reported to have built himself and "narrated" and the PM wanted to know if that was a source ... all those caveats that MY mind tends to throw out at me said "Okay, HE said this or that and posted it online and you COULD say this is what HE said" -- but can you in all truth say that what HE said IS factual? Can you in fact rely upon anything posted in Social Media without verification? HAVE you verified the facts? 

There's no disrespect meant or intended here to the man nor his daughter, but merely stating what one of the caveats might be.

I think that in presenting something as a source one still needs to verify whether it is factual.   

in The Tree House by Susan Smith G2G6 Pilot (526k points)
Susan, there is citing where one obtained information from and then there is verifying its validity.  They are two separate things.  

My father told me the family legend that his emigrating ancestors married on the boat crossing the Atlantic from Germany. He happened to tell me this in person over dinner   But he might have posted it to Facebook. Either way, I cite him as my source.

I then sought evidence to validate that claim. I found their marriage in Buffalo NY church records (within weeks of their arrival). That's the source for their actual marriage. But until I'd done that, Dad's story was still my source for the original claim.

laugh Ah, Jillaine, just spotted the comment there, -- 

A: laugh Oral History has its pitfalls. I'm reminded of that "daily" so to speak.  Of my paternal grandfather and his six sons, not one of those sons was candid, and some of them crafted some rather convincing History for themselves ... which has been taken apart, is being taken apart, by research.  

But Oral History, what is passed down to us, is quite often where most of us start our search. I don't say it is full of surprises for ALL of us, but a fair number of us spend a certain amount of time saying "eek", "oops", "oh, dear" and "gah!" at nearly each turn of the trail.  crying

Of course.  But oral history is still *a* source. Not often a good one. But a source nonetheless.

laughAbsolutely so, Jillaine. I've talked with any number of folk who like me started with Oral History and had a long slog to find the evidence one way or the other ... I think MOST people start out with Oral History ... 

LOL ... had a cousin on my mother's side who was convinced, totally, that side was desc of Edward Howell of NJ. & An in-law on a husband's side (my husb) was convinced 1) they were desc from Samuel Emory Davis and 2) 1/2 native american 

Where else does anyone start their search? My teachers said start with me, document that, then document each parent, and go backward in time documenting insofar as I could each member of each generation -- which I found out was a lot easier said than done, by far

3 Answers

+4 votes

A source is a source is a source. But every source has to be evaluated. That is where the Quellenkritik comes in. That is a German word, and it's a scientific household concept in Central Europe and Scandinavia. I haven't seen a good mapping of the concept to English, but the cited Wikipedia article seems to make a reasonable job out of it. It's obviously a part of the celebrated "scientific method", and basically about what you call "a process used to demonstrate what the minimums are ... for a work to be credible". Although you may always find nuggets of objective information even in the most partisan writings. It's all a matter of careful consideration.

by Leif Biberg Kristensen G2G6 Pilot (118k points)

laughYes, well, Jillaine, I don't sell the fruits of my labors and don't bill myself as a Professional Genealogist, so I'm safe enough. Although in my 70+ years I've seen a lot of Social, Cultural, Political and Religious "iconic leaders" cut off at the knees shortly after the crowd has started pointing at them and shouting hosannas and throwing roses at them. 

Not being a lawyer, my gut inclination is to shy away from wading any deeper in Susan's legal-terminology-based rules of evidence weeds. But it turns out that, according to's Brief Review of Research Standards:

  •  "The Genealogical Proof Standard  (GPS) was developed by the Board for Certification of Genealogists (BCG) to meet higher expectations than the previously borrowed legal terminology (“preponderance of evidence”)." 
  • Accordingly, ... "Separating information from the sources that “hold” it ultimately makes it easier to evaluate and explain our evidence and genealogical conclusions. In academic works and older genealogical writings, you will still see references to “primary sources” and “secondary sources”. "

That is to say, there is nothing inherently good or bad about the 3-way Sources-Information-Evidence distinction in the GPS. It is a matter of BCG definition. The 3-way distinction is part of the price genealogists pay if they want to be BCG-certified.

The 3-way Sources-Information-Evidence distinction is intended to give best analytical results. 

yes Good on you for spotting that, D. Amy. I'm Old Fashioned, Antique by some definitions, and depicted as "disposable" by many others with less patience (with my crotchets). 

Court of law rules, IF the improbable occurred that I were to be involved -- will I or nil I  -- in a case involving the paper trail of some possible heir, then it would in fact quite often devolve into an edifice built by the preponderance-of.   IF I understand in general terms how this DNA affects matters, then the DNA + the paper trail would provide a high level of certainty, if not 100%. 

Ignoring Identity Theft, I am "in love with" direct evidence. Being fairly experienced, I consider it serendipity when direct evidence is located. My day becomes filled with joy. 

I am not BCG-certified, and at 75 not likely to ever be BCG-certified. I applaud those whose ambition directs them to aim toward this worthy goal of BCG-certification. I cheer them on.  I do a lot of cheering for those who stick to the Court Of Law process, who try to find direct evidence and where that is lacking collect the secondary to build their case. There's 1000's more of us than there are BCG-certified genealogists.  

Though also with no BCG-certification ambition, I consider my age, slightly older that Susan’s,  to be a continuously improving genealogical advantage. The BCG's view that for older genealogical writings we still see references to “primary sources” and “secondary sources” suggests that authors of such writings are in the minority among the universe of North American genealogists. The 3-way Sources-Information-Evidence distinction reflected in Ms. Mills' widely acclaimed Evidence Explained books, which includes author Mills' view that the term 'Primary Source' is no longer used in sound genealogical analysis, is consistent with BCG's view that 'primary & secondary sources' adherents are in the minority.

An observation from the sidelines.  

This part of the English speaking world hasn't revised the language and discarded the terms  primary and secondary sources .

So what is the solution to this fundamental, though strictly definitional, problem? The last thing we do is ever stake out 'camps'. WikiTree's Honour Code says that we collaborate. The first thing WikiTree should do is agree on a common preferred genealogical language consistent with an overhauled WT Sources Style Guide in relation to mainstream published citation styles including Evidence Explained, Chicago Manual of Style, U. of Strathclyde post-graduate manual and others. As is done by Wikipedia and FamilySearch, WT should also consider allowing WT profile editors to [collectively] use any 'accepted' citation method they choose.

Edit: Added 'collectively', link added.

Note also that the National Institute for Genealogical Studies / caters to offering web-based courses for both family historians and professional genealogists and maintains a global network of genealogical consultants. It shows on its website online listings of graduates with certification specializing in: 

  • American, Australian, Canadian, Eastern European, English, German, Irish and Scottish records;

        • Librarianship;

        • Methodology; and, 

        • Professional Development.

The G2G question at hand starts with the words 'rules of evidence' and I will for the moment end this discussion by pointing out that the Genealogical Proof Standard is derived from the following legal-terminology-based, gradually-demanding 'Required Level of Proof in Genealogy' logic:

  • Preponderance of Evidence
  • Beyond Reasonable Doubt
  • The Genealogical Proof Standard–Clear, Cogent & Convincing,

as outlined in's Methology: Part 5 How to Prove It 

I leave it to others to resolve, for purposes of this G2G question / discussion, which of these three levels of proof WT favors and what are the implications for WT of this favored level of proof.

Edit: Deleted duplicate 'required'

yes laugh yes What a Lovely Chart. With some study, it is easy enough to follow. It is true that one picture is worth a 1,000 words!

Thank YOU d. amy for bringing it to our attention!! 

+6 votes

smiley Okay, TO SUMMARIZE -- the Division is fairly clear. There is the camp over there that favors the BCG-certification type rules of evidence and consideration thereof. They thunder loud drums. 

There's another camp over on the other side that is more quietly pointing out "not everyone is on board" with this NOT so global BCG-Certification type rules of evidence and consideration thereof. Their drums might be somewhat quieter. 

Then there's the people like me sitting in the bleachers having been run off the field early on by some of the more aggressive folk in previous discussions other than this one.  

Not that they convinced ME, but it's hard to debate rationally when someone has ripped the kitchen sink off the wall and thrown it at you (while thundering BCG!, BCG!, BCG! and quoting excerpts) 

Folk like me, and there are some scattered about here and there, do not aspire to Belong to the BCG camp. And we tend to smile upon those who TRY to remind others that NOT the whole of the Global Community "is on board" with this stuff.  

I cannot be "defeated" in this debate. The schism, chasm, division exists, there are those who favor one side over the other, and I'm on the side that has the most soldiers. People like me. 

We are: People who do not aspire to be certified professional genealogists. We are: People who do NOT want to be hit over the head by a rule book that applies to those who DO aspire to be certified. WE ARE: People like me who do not want the Aspirants to evangelize on our doorstep.  

We follow the Old Fashioned rules -- we create the profile, which is a set of assertions. We provide the evidence we collected in support of those assertions. We provide the address where we found that supporting evidence. Some among us apply DNA test results.   

by Susan Smith G2G6 Pilot (526k points)

smiley D. Amy and others, put any two or more people into one "room" even a cyber room such as this, and that is the reason for the advice and admonitions of Courtesy, for instance.  To phrase it politely, it's Egos on Steroids. 

We DO collaborate, per force, because once we add a profile, it becomes "common property" at WT just as it would at Ancestry for instance -- but with WT the profile is not behind a pay-wall.  The IDEAL is that each PM contributes their efforts to the commonweal of WT . 

There rules somewhere amid the plethora of Help: pages and I and any number of others could agree some editing might make an improvement in clarity in this section (Help:)  I don't even want to discuss this matter. There have been complaints and compliments both about the content and clarity. 

The statement has also been made, and frequently, that a Good Profile contains in == Sources == the addresses of the evidence used to support the assertions made in the creation of the profile; that those addresses are still functioning and that the evidence is still available be it image or a statement that the document in question is in the State archives etc 

It is admitted by many that a number of profiles lack proper Sources. 

The statement has also be made frequently that the Biography is either acceptable in Narrative format (as one would find in the Vanity biographies of some geographical area) or in Notes which explicate on some conflict in the data or an explanation why some data is still being sought, and any other information that might be helpful to future research.  

 Everything in the way of tools and policies that are needed for furthering the Good Work in hand at WT is in place.  

IN MY OPINION What is needed is less evangelism for one school or another in preference to any other. Some people do not WANT to "ascend" to High Academic with inline footnotes. Some people do not WANT to be certified by BCG and prefer something more conclusive and definitive such as I was taught 50+ years ago.  Some people could benefit by accepting that there is NO universal requirement that others agree; it would be helpful if not agreeing with some point of view were met with mature acceptance that not everyone WILL agree. (There's other ways to say this, but I'm being polite. Trying to be polite.) 

IN MY OPINION accepting that someone else does not agree -- truly accepting this rather than doubling efforts to "convert" them -- would go a long way to spread the balm of Goodwill. 

The great thing about Wikitree is that we are working toward a correct profile and sometimes the best way to get there is to put what we know instead of waiting to be 100% sure about everything before we add the profile.   I don't add a profile without at least a couple of sound sources, even if they are secondary.   If we later discover the date I found was a christening date it can always be corrected.  I think we should avoid adding profiles with so little information it may be they never existed and we have no clue as to where to start looking for other sources.
+3 votes
So who needs to prove anything?  We can say, there's this marriage record here and there's that will there.  We can discuss the implications, if they aren't obvious.  We can use words like "presumably" and "this appears to show".

But we don't need to assert that our conclusions can be taken as known facts, when they can't.

Courts of law sometimes have to make findings of fact, when the facts can't be known, but only if and when there are consequences.

The Societies set their own bar, depending on what sort of society they want to be.

The editor of TAG accepts what won't damage the reputation of the journal.

If you're trying to claim a dormant peerage, just cultivate friends in high places.

On WikiTree, we only have to decide which connections to put in the database, with or without an Uncertain flag.

Can we do it by numbers?  Visitations are original evidence, in principle, but riddled with errors.  Scots Peerage is a derivative authored work, but far more reliable, in general.  But we accept many marriages where the only evidence is a Visitation.  And you can find marriages in Scots Peerage that reek.  But I wouldn't try to remove marriages in either category from WikiTree.
by Anonymous Horace G2G6 Pilot (569k points)

surprise Peerage and Scotland and other such exotica, RJ?? 

Well, there's bound to be a polite way to say I am delighted I chose not to wrestle with any family research before arrivals in what became the United States (after much travail).  That some of these might be considered by others to be "brick walls", in any case ... eh.  

The wrestling matches I've engaged in just to extract a few nuggets here and there inside the continental borders of this country, -- documentation supporting the assertions made in creating the profiles ... there are no words which can ever express this struggle ... a few primal screams, maybe, but nothing articulate 

I reserve the right to disagree on ANYTHING if and when I do not agree. Think about that, give that some thought, before exerting pressures. There have been times when I was essentially neutral and due to pressure was shoved over into disagreement because I don't like being bullied. 

I WILL SAY that this has been a most educational discussion, really! A number of reference works have been presented, and other quite helpful aids.  

There has been a recognition that there are MORE than "several" different approaches (standards) to present a more professional OR more organized appearance in one's profiles and that this multitude of standards are by no means UNIVERSALLY APPLIED. 

I think we've pretty well exhausted the topic, yes? 

I cannot resist adding a 2nd postscriptum countering RJ's 'So who needs to prove anything?' by pointing to the U. of Strathclyde's article The importance of establishing proof and the Genealogical Proof Standard. It appears to me that the GPS, which underpins Evidence Explained, is here to stay with professional-level courses being offered by the U. of Toronto, U. of Strathclyde and A number of software offerings including especially RootsMagic , Zotero, Mendeley and others, are with algorithms tightly modelled after GPS and/or EE. Instead of toggling level of certainty, RootImage incorporates a Source Quality tab whereby for any given individual user can select from the 3 options for each of the Sources, Information & Evidence groups. All this surely has most interesting implications for WikiTree that go beyond the anecdotal treatment of this answer thread.

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