Some time ago a commentator to a post I wrote accused me of being "unprofessional" because I failed to adequately prove, to the commentator's satisfaction, that one of my family lines as shown on the FamilySearch.org Family Tree was extended beyond any possible historically supported conclusions. My point, at the time, was that all family lines on all human pedigrees reach a point where the next ancestral generation cannot be supported by any reasonable documentation. In addition, I would suggest that these unwarranted extension of family lines are the result of pure fabrication on the part of the "genealogists" who insist on adding these lines to their family trees.
Of course, the difficulty in "proving" that no connection exists in the next suggested ancestral generation is a matter of personal opinion and conjecture. As little as I would like to do so, I am going to resort to a legal analogy. In the world's systems of legal justice for criminals there are two opposing approaches: the accused can be assumed by the court to be guilty or the accused can be assumed by the court to be not guilty until guilt is proven. The degree of proof in the second instance depends on the severity of the crime. Our tradition in the United States is called the "presumption of innocence" and is viewed as a fundamental right. It is expressed in the law with the Latin phrase, "Ei incumbit probatio qui dicit, non qui negat (the burden of proof is on the one who declares, not on one who denies)." This is recognized as a fundamental human right by the United Nation's Universal Declaration of Human Rights, Article 11.
As I have pointed out repeatedly over the past years, genealogy is not law. Attempts to make what is essentially historical research into an adversarial system based on quasi-legal jargon such as the use of the words "evidence," "proof," and requiring that conclusions be made so that they are "beyond a reasonable doubt" are entirely unwarranted. Some genealogists adhere to an elaborate system that purports to establish a proof standard and advocate that this standard should be imposed on all genealogical research. However, there is basic flaw in that system or any other system that attempts to impose some standard of proof on historical research. Proof in an historical sense, requires that the researcher draw personal conclusions from his or her investigation of historical documents. The problem with the whole system is that there is no forum for an independent determination of the researcher's conclusions other than the general community of the researchers relatives and peer group. The fact that I can convince other researchers in my peer group that my conclusions are correct does not make the conclusions any more than my opinion.
But with the comments made to me that I referred to at the beginning of this post, there is a more fundamental issue involved in genealogical research than mere assertions of "proof." In law, we refer to this issue as the "burden of proof." Essentially, if a name is added to my pedigree, then who has the burden of showing (proving) that this name represents a real person who is related as a parent to the child?
Granted, genealogical researchers recognize biological, adoptive, foster and step-parent relationships, but regardless of the type of relationship, aren't we assuming that there is a parent-child relationship when we add a successive generation to a pedigree? The fundamental question here is do we assume that the relationship exists or do we assume that the relationship does not exist unless it is "proven?"
What we face is the extreme difficulty of proving a negative. If I say that two people are related, how do you go about proving that they are not related? In criminal accusations, our system of law has addressed this issue by accepting a presumption of innocence. In genealogy, we have yet to define our own position in this regard. Until we do so and until there is a consensus on the subject of the burden of proof, there is no reason to adopt or adhere to any proposed standard of proof. The proposition could be stated as follows:
In all historical and genealogical research the existence of a parent-child relationship is assumed to be missing unless and until the researcher provides a basis for his or her conclusion.
In other words, if I add another generation to my pedigree, unless I have some reasonable basis for drawing my conclusions and express (communicate) those reasons and conclusions, we must assume that no such connection exists. In effect, this places the burden on the researcher to provide documentation for any conclusion incorporated in a pedigree. Absent verifiable sources or substantiation, the relationship is presumed to be falsely claimed.
Now, if we reach this point, then we can discuss what we will or what we will not consider to be proof. However, because there does not exist a forum for either arbitrating differences or passing judgment on a researcher's conclusions, such a system of proof can never be universally applied. In fact, as is actually the case, such a system will be and is almost universally ignored.
There is one level at which such a system can work however. If a researcher fails to add any substantiation to a conclusion, i.e. adds a name to a pedigree without a source citation, any subsequent researcher can assume that the conclusion expressed by having a name in the pedigree is false and can be removed or ignored. If a researcher adds citations to historical records, then the burden passes to the subsequent researcher or researchers to evaluate and contest the conclusions from the record. Absent such support, the presumption is that there is no support.
I fully realize that such a position would severely "prune" a lot of family trees, but do we really want to continue to live in a world where there is an uncertain demarcation between reality and fantasy?