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Twigs & Trees with Rhonda: What Are Standards?
by Rhonda R. McClure

September 14, 2000
See Rhonda's Previous Columns

There is nothing more frustrating than picking up a published genealogy, or visiting a family history web site, only to discover that the research has been slapped together. Sometimes this is not discovered right away. You may have been working with the data found in such a genealogy for some time.

Then as you begin to work with that data, trying to locate records to support the conclusions drawn by the work, you find that no such proof appears to exist. You begin to question the validity of the work from which you gathered the information, as well you should.

It is frustrating when you find a published genealogy or Web site that appears to have been slapped together.

It Takes Standards

Over the years I have communicated with genealogists in all walks of the field. I work daily with those newest of hobbyists that can still truthfully be called newbies. By the same token, I find myself working with those who have been involved at a professional level for many years.

The one thing that should tie both ends of this spectrum together is standards. If the newcomers are taught the proper standards from the beginning, then as their research progresses, they will not find themselves having to go back and redo their earlier source citations or evaluations.

When Do Standards Apply?

While anyone could claim to have established standards, I think that the Board for Certification of Genealogists has introduced the best principles. Their standards can apply regardless of how the information is disseminated and can be applied by all who find themselves in genealogy, from novice to professional.

The Board refers to these as standards of competence and feel that they apply to all aspects of the research project. Even a hobbyist researching his own family history is completing a research project. They have further broken down the research project into three phases:

  • Collection of the information
  • Evaluation of the evidence
  • Compilation of the results

Genealogical Proof Standard

The BCG has further broken down the research phase by developing a five-step process, that when completed will meet the Genealogical Proof Standard. The Genealogical Proof Standard is a credibility standard by which any researcher should be able to develop a conclusion based on their research.

The steps are as follows:

  1. Conduct a thorough search for all records and information that pertain to the question.
  2. Always collect and include a complete citation for each of the sources used in the research.
  3. Analyze the data that has been collected, being sure to evaluate the quality of the evidence.
  4. When conflicting data is found, resolve them through evaluation of the resources and the validity of those sources until there is no question.
  5. Arrive at the conclusion that is best supported by the evidence.

Standards are a must in genealogy. This fast-paced technology that now allows us to reach across the world in seconds also allows erroneous information to spread like a wild fire. If every genealogist would apply the Genealogical Proof Standard to their research process, there would be a lot less misinformation available.

In Conclusion

For those who are truly interested in the complete picture of the standards, as set forth by the Board for Certification of Genealogists, you will want to investigate the recently published The BCG Genealogical Standards Manual which offers not just esoteric thoughts but also concrete examples after which to pattern your own research.

See Rhonda's Previous Columns

Rhonda R. McClure is a professional genealogist specializing in celebrity trees and computerized genealogy. She has been involved in online genealogy for fifteen years. She is the author of the award-winning The Complete Idiot's Guide to Online Genealogy, now in its second edition. She is the author of four how-to guides on Family Tree Maker. In late 2001, she wrote The Genealogist's Computer Companion. She is a contributing editor to Biography Magazine with her "Celebrity Roots" column and a contributing writer to The History Channel Magazine. Her latest book is Finding Your Famous and Infamous Ancestors. She may be contacted at rhondagen@thegenealogist.com.

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