How is it that genealogists can accept the flimsiest of second hand drivel as Truth, with a capital T and then go on to argue about the format of source references? I don't really think there is an answer to that question, but I think there is a lot more to proving a point than simply sticking on a couple of source references however formatted. Why can a court of law spend weeks on a case while both sides try to prove that their position is correct and genealogists feel that they can resolve equally as complex matters with a single reference to a U.S. Census record? In court cases, we often hear references to the weight of the evidence, you can't weigh the evidence if the evidence has no weight.
I frequently hear comments from less experienced genealogists that there is no need to look further, because they already know all the facts and have all the evidence, when it is painfully apparent that they have no verified sources whatsoever. All of their information has come from secondary sources, which would be considered hearsay in a court of law and stricken from the testimony. I am not advocating that genealogy become more like law, but I am questioning the sufficiency of what commonly passes as genealogical evidence.
We do have some standards for genealogical evidence, but they are neither widely known nor widely observed. The summary of The Genealogical Proof Standard is as follows:
- a reasonably exhaustive search;
- complete and accurate source citations;
- analysis and correlation of the collected information;
- resolution of any conflicting evidence; and
- a soundly reasoned, coherently written conclusion.
What I observe on the larger, national and international scale is a relatively small elite of hard working and somewhat intense researchers who either knowingly or instinctively adhere to the proof standard in all of their work. On the other hand, those diligent researchers are few and far between out here in the day to day world of the average researcher, most of whom do not even guess the existence of the alternative universe of well documented and accurately cited genealogy.
In the last day or so, I had a conversation with a not-too-distant cousin, who was entirely unaware of any of the issues or research the exists in our shared family line. This is unfortunately the rule rather than the exception. I am immune to indifference and ignorance in the non-genealogical community, but I am still genuinely disturbed when those that claim to be looking for their family members are so completely alienated from reality.
This week I got into an almost perfect example of this whole issue in my post on A Genealogical Reality Check. The question is simple, did Daniel Boone (the famous frontiersman) live in a place now called Booneville, Kentucky? Why is this important and who cares? Well, let's say you are trying to establish if your ancestor lived in Booneville or was associated with Daniel Boone? This question might be relevant to any number of other issues involving the identity of more remote ancestors such as parents and grandparents of the Boone associate. So where did Daniel Boone live and is there any documentary evidence about his association with Booneville, Kentucky?
I will have to continue this post at another time.