I had pre-ordered Thomas W. Jones’ Mastering Genealogical Proof. Reading / studying this remarkable volume (and I have not yet completed the task) has caused me to reflect upon my genealogical practice over the past few years. While I have come to an understanding of the importance of the Genealogical Proof Standard (GPS) I am aware that my genealogy has grown very slowly toward that which might even resemble the GPS as presented and maintained by the Board for Certification of Genealogists. While I have no intentions of become a certified or professional genealogist, I have tried to grow in such a manner that the results of my genealogical research bears some credibility. I appreciate the statement in the FamilySearch Research Wiki that the GPS demonstrates “the minimum” necessary for “[genealogical] work to be credible.” I may never reach the heights of genealogical research that nears the maximum, but I can at least strive to meet the minimum standards. But it has not always been so! Here is my journey with the GPS…
Phase One: GPS = Go – Play – Stop
At the beginning I had no regular schedule and no discipline about my genealogical pursuits. At some point I would flip the “on switch” (GO), search around for a while – mostly Google and Ancestry.com (PLAY), then when I got tired or bored I would quit (STOP). I would classify this time as an indiscriminate search for data – no plan, little direction, not easy to gauge success or failure. Fortunately, before wearing out this phase (and probably before giving up on any serious genealogical work) something happened to change my reality – namely, family members began to see me as the family’s archivist / historian / genealogist.
Phase Two: GPS = Gut check – Pretend – Slow down
There was no ceremony, no certificate, no secret handshake, but I knew that I had been chosen. Two family members who had shared the results of their genealogcial research with me were no longer doing much active research. Others were sending me pictures and letters. I was encouraged to interview older family members to glean their recollections. The realization dawned that the family history enterprise (for my family and my wife’s family) was now depending on me (GUT CHECK time). So, not wanting to let anyone down, I began to talk as if I knew what I was saying (PRETEND) and, because the task was daunting, I could no longer work as I previously had (SLOW DOWN). I began the move from indiscriminate search for data (any data) to a more intentional approach. I wasn’t developing research plans (or even ToDo lists) and my searches were still subject to being diverted down interesting “rabbit trails.” I was however beginning to put some shape to my research.
Phase Three: GPS =Get – Proven – Software
By this time my genealogical endeavors had become our genealogical work, as I begin working together with my technologically proficient son. This phase represented a search for competent technological solutions. What is the best genealogy software program? We tried Legacy, RootsMagic, FamilyTreeMaker, MasterGenealogist, GenSmarts, GenDetective, GRAMPS, PAF, and probably a number of others. We settled on RootsMagic. I even learned how to build a Research Wiki (including the use of MediaWiki mark-up language). I am no longer concerned about which software is the best. All I know is that RootsMagic works best for us. We explored online programs for putting the results of our work on the web. Initially we used PhpGedView but have since settled on TNG (The Next Generation of Genealogical Sitebuilding). While I will continue to search for and use new software and online apps that contribute positively to genealogical research, I now know that technology is a tool, not an answer.
Phase Four: GPS =Generously – Provide – Shared results
When we began working together, my son and I decided that we wanted to maintain some security over our data. We decided to publish our own data on our own website via PhpGedView (later, TNG). Once I started blogging, however, I began to realize that protecting our data was not as important as collaborating with other genealogists and family historians. Collaboration with one newly discovered ‘cousin’ (our 2g grandfathers were brothers) led to the discovery of records that took our research back another generation in Baden. Collaborating with other genealogists and family historians has helped me to understand that 1) I am responsible for the quality of the data I publish, 2) I can publish that data openly without compromising my research, and 3) I am not responsible for the decisions of others who may choose to use that data and interpret it differently.
Phase Five: GPS = Gradually – Put in place – a System
This may be the biggest shift so far – from accumulating information (collecting names) to assembling evidence. Even though I had not formally begun to write research plans, there was more planning in my research. I actually pared down my RootsMagic database at this point. I had too much “fluff” in place. I began to focus on expanding the evidence base for my direct line ancestors. I began to use the Ancestral Lines Pairing System (developed by Capers W. McDonald) to idendify more clearly the relationships between the various ancestral lines and the ancestors within those lines. (See my previous post on the topic.) I was beginning to sense a movement toward credible research. I no longer was pretending.
Phase Six: GPS = Generate – Pertinent – Source Citations
It is not that I had totally neglected citing sources; I just wasn’t very intentional about much of it. I had developed some templates for citing census records found on Ancestry.com. I was using these as I entered data into our Research Wiki; but these was a disjuncture between the citations in the Research Wiki and my RootsMagic database. I purchased a copy of Evidence Explained by Elizabeth Shown Mills. At the same time I learned how to use the citation templates in RootsMagic, including altering existing templates and writing new ones. It took a fair amount of time to re-work my database – a) entering previously saved data and b) providing quality source citations for the new data as well as previously entered data. My RootsMagic database (plus the data on our TNG site) is not perfect, but I am pleased with the quantity and quality of source citations that I have entered. I think I have source citations for all events in the lives of the direct line ancestors in my tree. I have not yet done this for my wife’s tree. That will have to happen later. It is a work-in-progress.
Phase Six: GPS = Growing toward – Proof – Standard
One of the problems that so many of us face is that “Most [of our genealogical research results] may be correct, but their accuracy is invisible.” (Jones, page 2) Dr. Jones goes on to say, “Adhering to the GPS gives us results that are as reliable as possible.” (page 3) That is my hope, genealogical results that are reliable and credible. Of course that means “mastering genealogical proof.” This is my growing edge at the present time. The Evidentia software program has helped me make progress in this area, but I have a long way to go. Fortunately a large number of us have purchased Mastering Genealogial Proof so there is renewed conversation about the GPS and genealogical research process. I hope to learn from that conversation as well as from my own study and practice.
It has been an interesting journey. Early on it was just fun to dabble in genealogy. Then name collecting became very important. But I learned that name collecting builds a tree with no roots. So my efforts switched to gathering evidence and citing sources. Now, the big test is whether I can grow into a credible and reliable genealogist / family historian. This step is important for me because I want to leave as a legacy for my grandchildren solid, trustworthy, and dependable genealogical research results that they can not only appreciate as their own story but also, if it be their choice, they can continue the research starting at a better place than I did.