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Another genealogy tragedy averted - using the Genealogical Proof Standard

Another genealogy tragedy averted.

While I am deeply thankful for published genealogies and compiled online family trees, I am also thankful for my knowledge of and application of the these five elements of the Genealogical Proof Standard (GPS) (from Genealogy Standards):

  • We conduct a reasonably exhaustive search for all information that is or may be pertinent to the identity, relationship, event, or situation in question;
  • We collect and include in our compilation a complete, accurate citation to the source or sources of each item of information we use;
  • We analyze and correlate the collected information to assess its quality as evidence;
  • We resolve any conflicts caused by items of evidence that contradict each other or are contrary to a proposed (hypothetical) solution to the question; and
  • We arrive at a soundly reasoned, coherently written conclusion.

This week as I applied these elements to the research of my Swedish ancestor, Eric Ersson, I avoided the genealogy tragedy associated with the I-found-it-online-and-quickly-added-it-to-my-own-tree-as-truth mistake.

My 15-year-old son asked the perfect question, and I was so thankful for what happened next. While introducing him to the basics of Swedish research we reviewed what was published in FamilySearch's Family Tree about our Eric Ersson. 


I then recommended that we continue to search for and document his life using the original vital and census records as found at ArkivDigital. As we began to search for and cite our findings he asked,

"Dad, shouldn't we just use what's at FamilySearch?"

I understood where he was coming from. FamilySearch already had the exact dates and places for Eric's birth, marriage, and death events. We then had a discussion about the value of a "reasonably exhaustive search". As we continued searching Sweden's household records (a year-by-year census of the family - wow!) we were surprised when Eric appeared in the records - alive - even after he was supposed to have died in 1866.

Here he is, accounted for in 1866, 1867, 1868, 1869, and 1870.


And again in 1871, 1872, 1873, 1874, and 1875.


He's there even in the 1901-1912 register where it finally listed his death as March 5, 1909.


Because these Swedish household records listed the exact date and place of each person's birth, it was clear that we had the right Eric Ersson. This Eric's birth was consistently listed as 19 May 1821 in Norrby parish.

Since FamilySearch had a death date of 26 May 1866, we took a look at its original record. Sure enough, an Eric Ersson died on this date in Norrby parish.


But was it my Eric Ersson, who was born on 19 May 1821? This death record shows that this Eric Ersson died at the age of 45 years, 7 months, and 14 days. Using Legacy Family Tree's Date Calculator (View > Calendar), we plugged in the information.


And pressed the Calculate button. Legacy calculated this Eric Ersson's birth date to be 12 Oct 1820 which was different than our Eric Ersson's birth date of 19 May 1821.


To further clarify, we searched for and located the birth record of this Eric. The Eric Ersson who died on 26 May 1866, and who was born on 12 Oct 1820 was the son of Eric Ersson and Anna Ersdotter.


Our Eric Ersson was born on 19 May 1821 to Eric Ersson and Brita Andersdotter.


And so without a reasonably exhaustive search it is easy to see how these same names were mixed up by a previous researcher. But a consequence to publishing information that hasn't been thoroughly researched is that others can mistakenly accept the errors as truth. Thankfully FamilySearch permits us to correct the inaccurate information, and add the citation and even the digitized records to the individuals. The next step I'll take is to do this for both Eric Erssons.

So, should we continue to use these online compiled genealogies? Absolutely! They may have missing pieces to our puzzles, but we must apply the genealogical proof standard to make sure we are working with the right puzzle.

Genealogical Proof Standard Resources

Genealogy Standards: 50th Anniversary Edition by the Board for Certification of Genealogists


Genealogical Proof Standard: Building a Solid Case by Christine Rose


Mastering Genealogical Proof by Thomas W. Jones


Webinar - Evidence: Guidelines for Evaluating Genealogical Evidence


Webinar - What is a Reasonably Exhaustive Search?




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Exactly! I have a family tree for one side of my dh's mother's family that I found on RootsWeb that purports to show the lineage going back to Adam & Eve. Now, I know some of the later information is accurate, but I find that after a certain point it is probably questionable. Fun to look at and speculate about, but I don't take it as the gospel truth and certainly won't be able to do the research needed to prove or disprove it. I will admit though that I have gotten good family histories from other researchers.

So, when one is unable physically to go to each state, county, etc., which of the "Categories" in the right-side menu are considered the top ten for verifying and cross-checking supposed genealogical data?

Nice job! And with ArkivDigital you can also verify it again with tax records. Go to your court district (do not enter your parish name), ask for "country records" and look for "population register." You should see when the Erics came of age (age 15) and had to be counted for tax purposes and then see them again when they became 63 and dropped off the register. Part of the exhaustive research. And aren't those gorgeous photos--I love seeing them in color. Good luck. Jill

I found that Adam & Eve tree, too. I shook my head and moved on.

Family Search has my fourth great-grandparents marriage record for Benjamin Tubbs and Ruth A Livel. I have a copy of the marriage license and a copy of the family Bible page. And family history written down by ancestors. Her actual name was Ruth Almira Lord not Livel. The scribbly writing on the marriage certificate looks like it could be "Livel". So, yes, be careful. By the way, a lot of the family Bible page was wrote down by one person probably in the 1880s. Therefore I am skeptical of the accuracy of the information in it. Especially notations of the birth locations and dates for my fifth great-grandparents, Benjamin Tubbs (Sr) and Olive House. I'm also careful about information on tombstones and the Social Security Death Index and in obituaries and even on death certificates. The identity of the Informant is very important there. How well did an in-law know the deceased? Can they actually verify that is the exact date and place of birth. Yes, we must be very careful not to jump to conclusions no matter how tempting and accurate the information may appear to be.

Actually I'm usually skeptical of most databases. I want to see the microfilmed documents and Family Search is EXCELLENT for that! They have some of the most complete collections of actual documents. Especially Probate Records. A gold mine there.

Wonderful information for those who take the information from Family Search (or other) Trees as definitive proof!
My mother's paternal family tree was "legitimized" by a Church member giving my 2X Great Grandmother a husband when she didn't have one, so her sons wouldn't be illegitimate I "assume"!

My pet peeve on genealogy copying is from Ancestry.com. They took over other genealogy sites and now with it's latest web update are making assumptions using some type of algorithm to suggest "life stories." Added to the advertising blitz, I see it as only a way to propagate poor research.

Hopefully many new family genealogists/historians find your articles and learn how to REALLY do research. Thanks again.

I have found many, many errors in the LDS family trees. My theory is that people are expected to do work on their family trees, and rather than appear to be negligent, they simply make stuff up. There are lots of wrong birth and death dates. This type of error is more common than incorrect links among families; but that, too, occurs. Years ago on a genealogy bulletin board, someone asked what they should do when they found incorrect information on RootsWeb. A seasoned researcher replied, "Always flag it." After that I began the prodigious task of flagging every incorrect entry for my 2g grandfather who was shown as having 4 wives (he actually had 2), including a young wife who bore him twins when he was 76. The error began disappearing after about two years. BTW it originated with a poorly researched family tree that was published in 1914, and the mystery was solved by three researchers who saw my notes on RootsWeb and responded, each adding special necessary documentary evidence.

Good sleuthing! I recently traced the undocumented birth and parents of a Québécois who had married into my family during the California Gold Rush. It didn't take me long to find incorrect relationships multiplying exponentially in the FamilySearch database. In one family, half the children were missing. Besides the similar names, often variant family names were used and changed from record to record for the same person (Manseau/Robida, Lefebvre/Senneville). Sometimes researchers rearranged the names as well (Contansineau became Constantineau). The Drouin collection at Ancestry had been used for the correct dates and places, with a generalized citation in some of the notes. Then I realized that the Quebec parish registers online at FamilySearch are clearer images than the Drouin collection but require patient browsing because few are indexed. I add each document to my Source Box as I find it, following a template of my own design for the title and the notes, then immediately attach it to the person's sources with the appropriate tags. I've had so much fun exploring the language and history that I'm planning to attend "Les Fêtes de la Nouvelle-France" next August, in colonial dress!

If you are researching French Canadian ancestors an excellent resource is the PRDH (Programme de recherche en demographie historique). The site is in both French and English and contains every baptism, marriage, burial (and some death) records from the Catholic church registers. There are some Protestant records. It is a subscription site maintained by the University of Montreal, but it is not horribly expensive compared to something like Ancestry. Bear in mind that the French Canadians changed the spelling and order of their names in various documents. They also used "dit" (known as) names which can be confusing and are recorded in different ways in online trees.

My Question is how do you correct info in user submitted files on Family Search ( I am assuming you are talking abt www.familysearch.org )---someone has a submitted family file that says my hubby's gg-grandfather was married to another woman and had several kids by her at the same time that gg-grandpa was married and having kids by his real wife.... there is no way to contact the submitter of the info as familysearch doesn't show contact info-- there is no way to flag it and as far as I can tell from family search's help info-- there is no way to correct it

So please tell me how you can correct this or even incorrectly transcribed info on family search as I am always finding things

I wrote a course to help document your research you can access it at the following...

For an explanation of how to create Cradle to Grave Profiles see the book, “Master Accreditation of the Genealogical Institute M.A.G.I. Course Lesson #5 The Anatomy of the Cradle To Grave (C2G) Profile”...2015 master ws.pdf can be accessed at https://openlibrary.org/people/floydpratt59/lists under the list labled…Genealogical Institute

I will continue to follow my rule - NEVER pass up ANY information. Of course I compare information from each source with that of other sources. But how does one compare data if one doesn't collect it in the first place? Of course some sources are better than others! That doesn't justify passing up a source, unless you don't have a large enough disk drive! Use surety codes to help in validating facts.

What a great exercise for you and your son. I must admit I am quite jealous. My kids think I am crazy (until it comes to history assignments at school). Great practical demonstration to all of us of the value of a reasonably exhaustive search. Thanks :)

You CAN contact submitters to Family Search --- sometimes. For any piece of information on the home screen of any PID, click on the blue print (such as a name, a source, etc.) of that piece of information. In most cases a new box will open and in that box will be additional information about the blue printed item you clicked on.

Down at the bottom of that new box you will USUALLY see something that says "Contributed by", "Modified by" or some other like phrase and next to that phrase will be another blue-lettered entry. Click on THAT and it will open up ANOTHER box and in that box you will see how to contact the submitter. Sometimes there will be and e-mail address for the submitter, but sometimes there will be only the blue-lettered entry that your previously clicked on to get to the box you are in.

If you click on THAT blue-lettered entry it will take you to Family Search's messaging screen, where you can type in your message and click on "Send". The next time that submitter opens Family Search he/she will be notified that a message is waiting for he/she to read.

I agree with Janice Stensrude about the number of errors in FamilySearch's "Family Tree" function. Of my relatives that have been entered there, 99+% have no sources entered whatsoever or were entered by FamilySearch itself from their error-riddled International Genealogical Index (IGI) database.

When I want to make a major change to a person entered by another real person, I message them through Family Tree, if I can, and create a Note and/or Discussion about it. So far, nobody has responded to my messages or entered into the discussions. They enter a person with erroneous information, then never return to add notes or sources --- hit and run genealogy!

FamilySearch Family Tree has so many thousands (millions?) of sources of information. When you think of that, you realize that all you can do is make your own tree accurate. You can try to contact the person that submits "trees" to correct information. I have found that if I continue to focus on MY tree, cleaning up errors, adding information, linking and unlinking, etc but I ALWAYS write something stating why I did it. If I find records, I link them to the info. Some people say I am a bit OCD on finding sources for my information. It drives me to distraction if I cannot find any. If I change information without the proof, I write my reasons and state that I don't have the proof and would love it if someone could provide it. That is what FamilyTree is all about . . . collaboration.

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