Currently in the greater genealogical community, proof statements are in vogue. The process of producing these "proof statements" is summarized a FamilySearch Research Wiki article entitled
"Evaluate the Evidence":
Evaluating the evidence takes place in several phases. It starts as soon as you find a document that must be evaluated to see if it is relevant to the family you are researching. It continues as you transfer the information from the source to your genealogical records and compose a source footnote. In that phase you are evaluating in two ways: (1) a preliminary evaluation of the reliability of the source, and (2) a comparison and contrast of data on the source with other information about the family to see if it corroborates or contradicts other sources. Later, after research on the family is mostly completed, carefully make a final, well-reasoned re-evaluation of all the sources compared to each other to help you reach a reasonable conclusion and write a proof statement subject to the Genealogical Proof Standard.There are essentially five elements to the Genealogical Proof Standard:
- A reasonably exhaustive search has been conducted.
- Each statement of fact has a complete and accurate source citation.
- The evidence is reliable, and has been skillfully correlated and interpreted.
- Any contradictory evidence has been resolved.
- The conclusion has been soundly reasoned.
Now, we are back to where we started; differentiating between methodology and proof. When I say "methodology" I mean that we are establishing a "fact" by simply looking for "evidence." The "fact" is found by a "reasonably exhaustive search" which is an entirely subjective measure which is further defined as assuming "examination of a wide range of high quality sources." Stripped of the verbiage, all this means is that you look at sources and when you feel you have looked enough, you quit and write about what you have examined. That is a methodology.
Proof means something completely different. I question whether or not the concept of "proof" really has any place in the area of genealogy at all. In one sense, proof is a logically based argument that establishes the truth of a given statement. This is the mathematical approach to proof. In order to establish a proof in this context it is necessary to have a formal system of logic that defines each term used and is rigorous in its application. I don't think genealogy has ever approached this definition of proof. It is a social science based on historical evidence, not mathematics or physical science. The polar opposite definition of proof involves presenting arguments in favor of a proposed fact and convincing the "average" person of its validity or truth, if you will.
The second definition of a proof is a little more closely related to the genealogical concept except the judge and jury are missing. There is no "average genealogist" who can be convinced or not convinced of the truth or falsity of any given fact because the adversarial process of convincing the average person is missing. In genealogy, all of this evaluation is left to the individual researcher. To repeat, there is no genealogical judge or jury other than the inertia of those who might be interested in any given "proof statement." In addition, genealogy is not per se adversarial. Although there are situations where individuals disagree on the evidence, ultimately, there is no way to resolve such disagreements if the individuals never change their opinions.
You could go through each step of the proof standard, including writing your published proof statement and I could come along and do more research and shoot down your whole argument. Genealogy is methodology and cloaking it in the robe of proof does not accurately reflect the processes. Finding a reliable source does not prove anything, it merely adds one more level of evidence. Your conclusions are your conclusions. My conclusions are my conclusions. We may agree that there is no basis for questioning any given proposition, but we may both be wrong. The idea that we have proved anything is an illusion based on semantics not proof.
Time for a hypothetical to illustrate the idea. Ronnie Roe is born and lives with her two parents until they die when she is 40 years old. All of her life she has known that Robert and Jane Roe were her parents and she even has a birth certificate to prove it. Two years after her parents' death, she finds out that contrary to all of the evidence she had, she was adopted. My point: all genealogical proof is methodology and subject to revision. We can set up an arbitrary system of proof that depends on evaluating all of the evidence we have found so far, but we must always be ready to revise our entire set of proof based on subsequent evidence. If you take any other position, you are deluding yourself.
Current proof statements may be widely accepted by the academic genealogists but are only true so far as no one else has challenged them. We are not talking about science here. I can't conduct an independent experiment and validate your findings. In genealogy, I have to rely on your integrity and ability. How do I know when you wrote your genealogical proof statement that you didn't just make up the entire thing or ignore obviously contradictory information? How many such proof statements are there that exist in family trees merely because no one has every challenged them? Genealogy is methodology not proof. All proofs are tentative.
I am sure there is more later especially about the issue of whether or not I have to review all of your sources. Remember, genealogist have long been known to have made up or falsified facts to support their positions. Not to question the integrity of today's experts, but to show that relying on past records is not a science at all.