The short version of the Genealogical Proof Standard goes something like this:

  1. A reasonably exhaustive search has been conducted.
  2. Each statement of fact has a complete and accurate source citation.
  3. The evidence is reliable, and has been skillfully correlated and interpreted.
  4. Any contradictory evidence has been resolved.
  5. The conclusion has been soundly reasoned.

The full version, 83 standards which guide genealogists in demonstrating credible proof of their research findings, is the brainchild of the Board for Certification of Genealogists in the US. To learn more about this framework check out their book on Genealogy Standards, blogposts from Michael Hait, and Mark Tucker’s great visualisation map at http://www.thinkgenealogy.com/map/ which ties everything together on a single page.

The 885-page tome Evidence Explained: Citing History Resources from Artifacts to Cyberspace by Elizabeth Shown Mills is an excellent reference book on the topic of evidence. While the title suggests its emphasis is on citations (and on a number-of-pages basis that is true as there are examples for literally thousands of types of historical sources) its top value for one-place studiers, and indeed all family and local historians, lies in its general commentary about assessing historical sources.

We don’t cite sources just so we remember where something came from. The most important reason to identify sources is so we can then assess their strengths and weaknesses, and come to appropriate and reliable conclusions about the information contained within. All one-place studiers should be familiar with the concepts Elizabeth discusses in the first two chapters of this book (fundamentals of evidence analysis and fundamentals of citation), as well as reading through her commentary on issues, guidelines and examples for specific sources you may be using in your study.

The website for the book at https://www.evidenceexplained.com/ has more information about the book, links to purchase the book and associated QuickSheets in digital or print form, and Elizabeth’s blog with ongoing food for thought on this topic (here’s a great one: https://www.evidenceexplained.com/quicktips/why-are-ees-source-citations-so-complicated).

And now, if you’ll excuse me, I have a guilty conscience about the source citations on my own one-place study website - time to fix that!

Alex Coles

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