Use The Genealogical Proof Standard

Written By: Jayne McGarvey.

What We Will Cover In This Lesson:

  • Why are we covering the Genealogical Proof Standard (GPS)?
  • What is the Genealogical Proof Standard (GPS)?
  • The 5 Elements of The GPS.
  • How the GPS will help your research.

Why Are We Covering The Genealogical Proof Standard?

Before we jump into the detail of  your genealogical research process, I want to introduce you to a genealogists “best friend” – “The Genealogical Proof Standard”.

“Hang on” you might say, “that sounds a little deep and complicated for an amateur researcher – all I want to do is find the actual date of birth for great uncle John back in Ireland – why are you making me go through this ‘Proof Standard’ thingy first?”

Why am I telling you about the Genealogical Proof Standard (GPS)? Surely such a thing is ONLY for professional genealogists? Well, as you proceed with your own Irish family research you will find many temptations to include and build on “facts” that have no referenced source records.

I think it is well worthwhile to take a moment to familiarise yourself with the principles behind this standard. If you find yourself getting lost and frustrated along the paths of your research, it will act as a sort of “North Star” that will help you to stand back, evaluate what you have gathered so far and help you plan the next steps to get back on track.


What Is The “Genealogical Proof Standard”?

You may have previously come across the acronym GPS as meaning “Global Positioning System” – the guidance system in your car, phone or tablet that helps you to navigate from one place to another and hopefully avoid getting too lost!

Well, those same initials also stand for  “Genealogy Proof Standard” (GPS). This is a tool in your genealogical toolbox that can also save you from getting lost – or incorrectly climbing up someone else’s family tree.

DEFINITION: The Genealogical Proof Standard (GPS) helps you to ensure the inclusion of proof and credibility in your research approach. This is the standard that professional genealogists follow as they embark on commissioned research and decide what to include – or exclude – in a final written report.


The 5 Elements of The Genealogical Proof Standard.

If you believe that a basic knowledge of the GPS is unnecessary then head over to where you will find plenty of fantasy trees that take us all the way back to Adam and Eve.  Many such trees were built over a long weekend and they seem to follow the guideline: Who needs proof anyway?

On the other hand, if you use the GPS as a helpful friend who is there to remind you to look up and read the signposts as you go along – then it will raise your confidence in your research, analysis and conclusions.

Regardless of your reasons for family history and genealogy research and whether you plan to share your research with anyone, you probably want to know that you are climbing our own family tree!

There are the 5 elements within the Genealogy Proof Standard (GPS):

Let’s look at each element in turn:

Element 1: Have you carried out reasonably exhaustive research?

This element reminds you to look in ALL of the places that may have records/documentation that relate to the specific genealogical question you have asked.


Element 2: Do You Have Complete and accurate citations of the sources for each item presented?

This element reminds you to:

  • State WHERE you have found all of your information and
  • Provide a reference so that others can find the same evidence from the same place.


Element 3: Analysis of the collated (gathered) information for quality as evidence.

This element asks if you:

  • Have evaluated the quality/reliability of all the information provided within the documentation? 
  • Understand who provided the information to whom and for what purpose?
  • Have collated a variety of different types of documents to strengthen your proof.
  • Have tried to disprove your evidence to check for obvious flaws.


Element 4: Have You Resolved any conflicts of evidence?

This element reminds you to:

  • Be alert to differences/ contradictions in information from documents presented.
  • Show that you understand why the difference exists and whether it can be resolved now or whether it is necessary to return to Element 1 of the GPS and continue to gather further evidence and analysis in order to resolve the conflict before progressing to a conclusion.


Element 5: Have You Written a soundly-reasoned and coherently-written conclusion to your research?

This element reminds you to:

  • Ensure that you explain how you arrived at your research conclusion. It has to both make sense and be understood by other people – regardless of whether this is your aunt or a Genealogist Certification Board!



Conclusion – How The GPS Can Help Your Research.

Whether your genealogy research is a weekend hobby or a passion you wish to turn into a profession – the GPS can help reduce confusion about what you are doing and why you are doing it as you progress along your research path.  It will assist you in asking our in-house Genealogists for appropriate help to plan, undertake, evaluate and record your Irish family history research with confidence.

We will reference many elements of the GPS as we proceed with the Green Room Research Road Map. As you share your research outcomes along the way, many of the questions and suggestions that our in-house genealogists will present back to you stem from their adherence to the GPS. They will  look for source citations for any facts and conclusions that you mention and also help test your research outcomes using the elements of the GPS. 


What To Do Next:

  • Examine one or two of our Genealogists Reports in the Green Room. While you may not expect to produce a research report to this standard, see how a professional Genealogist uses the GPS in their research to produce a final report. Sample Genealogist reports can be found here in the Resource Library.
  • Go to the Ask The Genealogist section of the Green Room to present your questions on a piece of research you are doubting or if you are unsure of what steps to take next. Pay attention to the questions the Genealogists ask in return – many of these questions will be guided by the GPS.
  • As you proceed with the rest of the Research Road Map – notice how many of the sections are assembled using guidance from the GPS. Feel free to ask any questions about the GPS using the link below.

In the next lesson – “Gather Ancestor Identifiers” – you will choose a single Irish ancestor (or couple) that you wish to research further and gather existing information and facts you already have relating to this person/couple.


Click Here To Ask Our Genealogist a Question Related to This Module.



Related Resources:

Green Room Genealogist Reports:

Optional External References:

To delve deeper into the academic side of genealogical research (not for everyone!) then the best two books to use are:

  • Genealogy Standards, by the Board of Certification for Genealogists
  • Evidence Explained, by Elizabeth Shown Mills.

Both available from Amazon.