Genealogy Proof Standards – Accuracy Is Fundamental

Welcome; I am so glad you are interested in learning about the Standards that have been set by the professional in the field of genealogical research. I hope you will gain as much as I have.

1st We will review the Genealogy Standards as put forth by the Board for Certification of Genealogist and its publication.

2nd We will discuss the importance of accuracy in analyzing sources in the form of documentation, personal eyewitnesses, record created after the event, evidence copied or compiled from other sources, written from memory, etc., and the use of accurate citations.

The purpose of genealogical research is to find our ancestors, know when and where they were born, know where they lived in their lifetime, learn about their family dynamics, the hardships they endured, etc.

In our search to discover facts about our ancestors, we will find sources that will conflict; our challenge is to look at all sources and determine, after a thorough investigation, the outcome of all genealogy sources and citation examples according to genealogy proof standards.

Cover of BCG Genealogy Proof Standards-Evidence Analysis Processes Map by Elizabeth Shown Mills

[1]Genealogy Standards BCG

Accuracy is fundamental to genealogical research. Without it, a family’s history would be fiction. This manual presents the standards family historians use to obtain accurate results.

These standards apply to all genealogical research, whether shared privately or published. They also apply to personal study and research for clients, courts, and other employers. The standards address documentation, research planning, and execution, including reasoning from evidence, compiling research results, genealogical education, and ongoing development of genealogical knowledge and skills.

BCG offers these standards to the field as a guide to sound genealogical research and a way to access the research outcomes that genealogists produce. They are standards for everyone who seeks to research and portray people’s lives, relationships, and histories accurately.

Throughout the twentieth century, family historians adapted concepts from the field of law to develop guidelines for assessing their research results. Recognizing flaws in attempting to apply one discipline’s principles to another, from 1997 to 2000, the Board for Certification of Genealogist (BCG) clarified, organized, and compiled the field’s best practices into the Genealogical Proof Standard (GPS).[2] That effort led to The BCG Genealogical Standards Manual, released at the National Genealogical Society’s annual in 2000.[3] That volume’s contents have been the field’s only published criteria for evaluating genealogical research processes and outcomes developed through deliberative, collaborative efforts; those standards reflect a consensus among BCG’s trustees, whose experience, peer-review work samples, and publications, and teaching place them among the field’s leadership.

First edition

Since the first edition was published, genealogy has continued to advance, and its standards have continued to evolve, creating the need for a new version. This edition–published in the BCG’s fiftieth year—updates, clarifies, consolidates, expands, and regroups the original standards. The revision also ties them more directly to the Genealogical Proof Standard. A new title reflects the standards’ value for all genealogists.

Second Edition

In 2019 a Second Edition was published; the new edition adds seven new standards (based on DNA) and, as a result, a few modifications to existing rules. Please refer to the link above to purchase. This publication is a must if you are serious about doing proper research.

[4]Where in the World, Did I Get that Information?

Why do Genealogy Research


Every item in your database (records) has a cause. Not every source is documentation. A source tells you where you got the information, “Citing Sources” means that you record where you found that information about an individual. Citing sources provides YOU with the benefits:

  1. It allows you to evaluate the reliability of your data.
  2. It provides a history of the sources you have used.
  3. It helps to evaluate conflicting information.
  4. It provides an easy to follow the path for yourself and other researchers to locate the information.
  5. It can be a pointer to more pieces of information location.


Is the evidence of the truth of the information. The best documentation comes from a primary source. Personal Knowledge can be a source – you know when you were born. A citation of your birth certificate is the documentation.

  1. Primary Sources: is the personal testimony of an eyewitness or a record created shortly after the event. These include-deeds, wills, court proceedings, church records, government records, vital, military, or land records.
  2. Secondary Sources: is evidence that is copied or compiled from other sources or written from memory long after the event occurred, includes all published works, biographies, county or local histories, indexes, and abstracts of original records and almost everything you find on the internet.

A death record could be both, primary for the death date and place of death, secondary for a birth date and location, depending on the format.


The same data is found on 100 different websites, so it must be true, right?… One mistake on a database can perpetuate its self many times. The ease of transferring data from one person to thousands requires that we pay more attention to improving the information’s quality.

In our search, we will find other families shared research in the form of family trees/pedigrees. Here we must be cautious if posting your research to a web site, do not recycle someone else’s investigation into your submission without checking all sources. After verifying the references, you decide to use them; it is ethical to acknowledge another researcher’s shared work.

Determining the Value of Information:

It is essential to verify the information that you receive from others, relatives, printed sources, correspondence, internet.

  1. Is the source of information identified?
    1. Did the compiler copy the information correctly?
    2. Were evaluations and judgments made about the record by the compiler?
  2. What do you do with the information if the source not given?
    1. Try to determine the source and then check it for accuracy.
    2. Use it as a guide for further research.

It would be best if you did not rely solely on secondary sources but to locate and examine the primary cause. Citing your sources establishes your credibility. Cite the reference you used. If someone tells you facts from a record that you haven’t seen or don’t have a photocopy of, your source is that person.


The best documentation comes from a Primary Source. The level of documentation you use depends on your purpose in gathering the information. If writing a Family History book, you document every source and identify those sources. For your records, record a reference for each piece of information and document those sources as much as reasonably practicable. Sometimes it is beyond our resources to find all the original records, and they may not even exist. We need to produce a traceable record of the sources used, where obtained, the repositories where the materials are stored, or any other supporting or corroborating documents we use.


There are many styles of recording sources. Most computer genealogy programs have provisions for noting origins and recording documentation records.

Ancestral Quest program includes:

  1. Source description: Source Title, Author, Publication information, Repository, Call Number.
  2. Citation Detail: Film/Volume/Page#, Date of Entry, Comments.
  3. Actual Text, Document Images, Photographs can be added, with a place for full citation.
  4. Notes can be added to explain circumstances regarding the information, such as the condition of the record or how a conclusion was reached.

A Gedcom file (is an open de facto specification for exchanging genealogical data between different genealogy software) is never a primary source. It would help if you never imported a Gedcom into your main file.

Whatever style you are recording, make sure it is.


  1. Hard copy: (paper) or basic computer format.
  2. Books: The author(s), the title of the book (in italics or underlined), place of Publication, Name of Publisher, Year of Publication, Page, (possible volume) number.
  3. Periodical Articles: The name of the author, the title of the article (in quotation marks), the title of periodical (in italics or underlined), volume number, date of publication (month and year), page number.
  4. Original Record: Title of document (i.e., deed J. Brown to S. Smith) Date(s) written and/or recorded., Collection name (e.g., Probate Judge Files), Book/page of the document (if logged in bond manuscripts), File or box and Document number, Repository name, Repository location.
  5. Unpublished Sources: (such as letters, journals, interviews, etc.) List-Informant, the type of record, the place, the date, the information, and to who given, where data is stored. Comments regarding the informant’s reliability may be added, such as- the opportunity of the informant to have the information or health of the informant.
  6. Internet Sites: The author’s surname, author’s first name, “Title of the document,” Title of a web page (if the page you are citing is a secondary page), version or file number (if applicable). The date on a Web page or last revision date, URL of the website, Date you accessed the site, Mailing list E-mail address, and of person who posted the message, date list was accessed.

Hit a Brick Wall?

At one time or another, we can all hit a brick wall in our research. It usually turns out that 99% of the time, we do not take the time to follow the necessary steps of genealogical research. You may think you are the exception, but even a professional genealogist has the same problem. We all want to take the easy way, the fast track, and sometimes we can get away with that for a long time …but when we hit a brick wall…it’s Time to take stock and go through the steps of research and see which you may be secretly having a problem. Why not make the process more manageable when you do hit those dead ends/brick walls. I mean, learn the research process now, so when you run into a challenge, you don’t have to stop and learn what to do, where to go next. If you already know the next steps, it makes the process more productive than stopping and learning.

May your journey forward be without brick walls!

Thank you for taking the time.

I value your thoughts; please feel free to comment and ask questions.


  1. Genealogy Standards (Board of Certification of Genealogist 50th Anniversary Edition) copyright 2014
  2. Helen F.M. Leary, “Evidence Revisited—DNA, POE, and GPS,” OnBoard: Newsletter of the Board for Certification of Genealogists 4 (January 1998): 1-2 and 5.
  3. Board for Certification of Genealogist, The BCG Genealogy Standards Manual (Orem, Utah: Ancestry, 2000).
  4. 4 My notes from Lethbridge Family History conference 2001 lecturer: Faye French

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