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2010 marked our Golden Anniversary!

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The New Mexico Genealogical Society, founded in 1960, is composed entirely of volunteers. 2010 was our 50th year of providing research materials and networking opportunities for family historians.

The New Mexico Genealogical Society

Genealogical Proof Standard (GPS)


Genealogical Resources in New Mexico

Second Edition

by Karen Stein Daniel, C.G.SM

NMGS Press Item #E5, 2002, 100 pages.
 (Free to current and new members of the New Mexico Genealogical Society)

This is a chapter from Genealogical Resources in New Mexico, 2002 edition. Also online from that book is the chapter on Vital Record Information sources in New Mexico.

The Genealogical Proof Standard was established in the genealogical field to guide serious researchers in writing and assembling a family history that would be "as close to the truth as possible," and replaces the previously held doctrine of "preponderance of the evidence," a legal tenet deemed not as appropriate for genealogical studies. The GPS, a five-step process, involves these components:

  • Conducting a reasonably exhaustive search for information that is or may become pertinent to an identity, relationship, event, or situation being questioned;
  • Collecting and including a complete and accurate citation to all sources of each and every item of information used;
  • Analyzing and correlating the information to assess its quality as evidence;
  • Resolving conflicts caused by items of evidence which contradict one another or are contrary to a proposed solution for the question; and
  • Arriving at a soundly reasoned and coherently written conclusion. (1)

While proof beyond "a shadow of a doubt" is not required in the GPS, genealogists must recognize that any statement made regarding an ancestor or lineage can never be the final word. (2)   It always remains possible, in fact, this writer would say it is almost a certainty, that new evidence will be found one day, forcing the researcher to re-examine and re-evaluate his or her original statement or statements, and determine if they are still valid or in need of revision.

In genealogical and family history research, many searches begin based wholly or in part on a family tradition or story. Traditions concerning relatives and ancestors who have lived and died in past times may have existed over several generations and even several hundred years, depending upon the culture and circumstances of their lives. Before a tradition can be accepted as fact, however, it must be verified. (3)   This writer has found that generally, traditions hold some grain of truth, but the amount can vary widely. In the years or centuries of its telling, the "facts" surrounding a tradition may have expanded greatly or been altered so completely as to bear no resemblance to the original account. Often, unraveling the mysteries of a family tradition require an even greater research effort than simply beginning the search with some basic known or suspected fact about a person or problem. Unfortunately, disproving all or part of a family tradition may become an unhappy experience for a novice researcher, as the family may have cherished its tradition as part of who they are. This researcher has observed reluctance and refusal to give up such traditions in some families, even when the documentary evidence does not support it, or in some cases, specifically contradicts it. As the Millses observed in their 1981 critique of Alex Haley's Roots, "family traditions are surrealistic images of the past, blurred by time, colored by emotions and imagination."(4)

I strongly recommend that researchers always adhere to the principles of the GPS in both their research and writing. Whether your research is meant only for your immediate family's use or for publishing and sharing with a wider audience, any reader should be able to pick up your work and trace back the steps you took to arrive at the conclusions you reached. In today's world of genealogical and family history research, exemplary research and documentation methodology are required elements we should all strive for in our work.

Karen Stein Daniel, CGSM

1) Board for Certification of Genealogists, The BCG Genealogical Standards Manual, Millennium Edition (Orem, Utah: Ancestry Publishing, 2000), 1-2.
2) Ibid.
3) Johni Cerni, "Family Traditions - There Is No Truth Without Proof," Lineages Club News (Fall 1993): 9.
4) Gary B. Mills and Elizabeth Shown Mills, "Roots and the New 'Faction,' A Legitimate Tool for Clio?" The Virginia Magazine of History and Biography 89 (January 1981): 6.

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