02 March 2023
Family Tree editor Helen Tovey shares three top methods for checking your family history research is correct.
Helen Tovey shares some tried and tested ways of working that will help you have confidence in the accuracy of your own family history research.
It’s tempting to bemoan the inaccurate and tangled tree branches that we (sometimes? often?) find online. However, it’s worth stepping back and asking ourselves, firstly whether we are absolutely sure our own research is correct? And secondly how to go about ensuring its accuracy if we’re not sure?
1 Track down originals
To do: Don’t just make do with indexes or transcriptions – seek out original records.
When searching in indexes, it’s all too easy to make assumptions, which may look plausible at first glance. The reason for this is that most indexes only provide some of the details from those given on the original record. However, once you’ve gained sight of the fuller details, the assumption may not be fully correct … and may even be just plain wrong.
2 Write up your research
To do: Reflect and write.
It can be tempting to hurtle on to find the next new thing, but building time into your genealogy session to reflect on what you’ve found, and to write down your thoughts will pay dividends.
Use this as an opportunity to reflect both on what you have found, and what you haven’t. It can help to format your findings in a timeline – a bit of chronology highlighting gaps requiring further work.
Be sure to record your arguments for your deductions.
In instances where you are not certain, be sure to make this clear that the research is still a work-in-progress, with details subject to change.
Clear research notes about your findings and your evaluation of the discoveries will enable you to revisit your research in the future – perhaps having acquired new research knowledge or skills in the meantime, and so be in a better place to solve a problem and set the record straight.
Tip: To find out more about writing genealogical reports, see the Society of Genealogists’ summary of research reports, proof summaries and narrative family histories here.
3 Genealogical Proof Standard
To do: Strive for the GPS
The Genealogical Proof Standard has 5 key points for family historians to strive for:
1 Reasonably exhaustive research
2 Complete and accurate sources citations
3 Thorough analysis and correlation
4 Resolution of conflicting evidence
5 Soundly written conclusion based on the strongest evidence.
Extracted from an in-depth article on checking your family tree is correct, in the April 2023 issue of Family Tree. Get your copy here.