This is a chapter from
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
a reasonably exhaustive search for information
that is or may become pertinent to an
identity, relationship, event, or situation
and including a complete and accurate
citation to all sources of each and
every item of information used;
and correlating the information to assess
its quality as evidence;
conflicts caused by items of evidence
which contradict one another or are
contrary to a proposed solution for
the question; and
at a soundly reasoned and coherently
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.
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
Karen Stein Daniel,
Certification of Genealogists,
The BCG Genealogical Standards
Edition (Orem, Utah: Ancestry
Publishing, 2000), 1-2.
"Family Traditions - There
Is No Truth Without Proof,"
Lineages Club News
(Fall 1993): 9.
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.