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The Genealogical Proof Standard

 

Applications for certification are judged on whether they meet the standards delineated in the BCG Genealogical Standards Manual. All of its seventy-four standards contribute to the level of credibility in genealogy called the Genealogical Proof Standard (GPS). As a result genealogists who are certified have demonstrated their ability to do work that meets the GPS.

Proof is a fundamental concept in genealogy. In order to merit confidence each conclusion about an ancestor must have sufficient credibility to be accepted as proved. Acceptable conclusions therefore meet the Genealogical Proof Standard (GPS). The GPS consists of five elements:

  • a reasonably exhaustive search;
  • complete and accurate source citations;
  • analysis and correlation of the collected information;
  • resolution of any conflicting evidence; and
  • a soundly reasoned coherently written conclusion.

Each element contributes to a conclusions credibility in a different way described in the table below but all the elements are necessary to establish proof.

Element of the GPS
Contribution to Credibility
Reasonably exhaustive search
  • Assumes examination of a wide range of high quality sources
  • Minimizes the probability that undiscovered evidence will overturn a too-hasty conclusion
Complete and accurate citation of sources
  • Demonstrates the extent of the search and the quality of the sources
  • Allows others to replicate the steps taken to reach the conclusion. (Inability to replicate the research casts doubt on the conclusion.)
Analysis and correlation of the collected information
  • Facilitates sound interpretation of the data contributed byeach source
  • Ensures that the conclusion reflects all the evidence
Resolution of conflicting evidence.
  • Substantiates the conclusions credibility. (If conflicting evidence is not resolved a credible conclusion is not possible.)
Soundly reasoned coherently written conclusion.
  • Eliminates the possibility that the conclusion is based on bias preconception or inadequate appreciation of the evidence
  • Explains how the evidence led to the conclusion
Applicants for research-category certification are required to demonstrate that they fully understand the GPS and can apply it to research situations. The parts of an application portfolio that specifically test understanding and application of the GPS include the following:

  • CGSM applicants: the kinship determination project and the conflicting or indirect evidence case study

The GPS reflects a change from the term Preponderance of the Evidence used earlier to describe the high standard of proof BCG had always promoted. (For further information about this topic click here for information on BCGs decision and here for a detailed article on this subject.) Case studies in national genealogical journals such as the National Genealogical Society Quarterly andThe American Genealogist illustrate the GPS.

 

 

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