We’ve all been there…you log on to Ancestry.com and there they are…just waiting for you and taunting you. Those amazing shaky leaves! Just like the commercials say…just click here for another clue and another ancestor. Click them and you will build your tree! Unfortunately, as a lot of family history researchers have found as they gain more experience, those shaky leaves can just as easily spell doom for your family tree if you don’t employ some standards in your research. Enter, the GPS – Genealogical Proof Standard.
First of all, let’s quickly define the GPS. A brief shorthand of the Genealogical Proof standard is:
1. “Conduct a reasonably exhaustive search for all information that is or may be pertinent to the identity, relationship, event or situation in question;
2. “Collect and include in our compilation a complete, accurate citation to the source or sources of each item of information we use;
3. “Analyze and correlate the collected information to assess its quality as evidence;
4. “Resolve any conflicts caused by items of evidence that contradict each other or are contrary to a proposed (hypothetical) solution to the questions; and
5. “Arrive at a soundly reasoned, coherently written conclusion.”
In short, the GPS is a way for you as a family history researcher to be reasonably sure that the information that you are putting into your family tree is accurate and won’t lead you down the wrong path. It is no guarantee, but if you follow the GPS, you will avoid a lot of dead ends and frustrating hours of back tracking. I have learned this lesson the hard way, as have many other genealogists when they first started out.
Going back to those shaky leaves…I will give you a personal example of how those wonderful leaves can be a detriment to your research if you don’t employ the GPS. I logged in recently and found a “hint” for one of my great great uncles, Orville Link. I was particularly intrigued because this man was one of my only ancestors to have moved from Ohio into the deep south, and I knew for a fact that he was buried over in Mobile, Alabama, just 50 miles from where I now live. I decided to check out the hint and see if just maybe it would lead me toward finding some living relatives down here in the south. As a rule, when I pull down information from Ancestry now, I save it off-line in a research file so that I can fully examine it. I still followed all of the leaves that Ancestry gave me. I was finding Census records, land records, death records. On the surface, information seemed to match. Then I went off-line and began my analysis of all of those wonderful hints thinking that I had hit the jackpot.
Everything moved along quite well, until I noticed something. Suddenly, the trail that I had been following that had brought me all the way to his “grandchildren” in the 1940 Census made no sense. This census showed the family’s race as being black. That wouldn’t have necessarily been surprising since Orville had moved into the deep south, and interracial marriages back then were rare, but not unheard of. This anomaly caused me to back up a few more census records to find the last one where I thought I had found Orville alive in the south. This one showed that his race was listed as black. How had I missed that as I was looking at the information? I went back to my last known reliable piece of information on Orville to see what I had missed, and as it turned out, the shaky leaf clue that I had started following that day was the wrong man!!! Needless to say, I trashed all of the clues I had pulled down and went back to Ancestry to decline these hints. I have since found a few clues to the right Orville Link and will eventually find his family locally.
The moral of the story that I want to pass on to anyone beginning their family history search – do yourself a favor and apply the Genealogical Proof Standard as you do your research. It may seem like overkill when you are just starting out, but as you see from my one day search as a somewhat experienced researcher, it will pay off for you in the long run!