[APG Public List] Fw: Genealogical Proof Standard (Was The reliabilityof federal census records for genealogi...)

Michael John Neill mjnrootdig at gmail.com
Wed Nov 4 10:19:32 MST 2009

There are many who don't use the GPS specifically, but as Jack pointed out,
in "good" research, elements of the GPS are incorporated, albeit in a
slightly different fashion.

I have used a variation on Polya's 4-step research process for years and it
has served me well. In fact, I've used it so long, I really don't even
formalize it anymore. I just do it. I've never really even used the GPS, per
se, but most elements of it are incorporated. I have always preferred to
focus on the research process and analysis and less on the "proof." This may
be that my experience with "proof" is from the standpoint of someone with a
mathematical background.

In a nutshell, Polya's process is to:

Understand the Problem
Design a Plan
Do the Plan (and cite it)
Evaluate (compare to all you have)

Understanding is the difficult part and that which takes the longest amount
of time. When I lecture (or speak, teach, etc.) on this topic,
"understanding" is broken into two parts. The first part is meant to include
learning about what has already been done, the sources in the area, the
social background, the political climate, the history of the area, the
geography, etc., etc.  This part of "understanding" is time-consuming in
some cases and extremely important in all. The second part of understanding
is to have a specific problem (so the researcher can focus) and to
contemplate the sources that may likely solve that problem. The rest of the
process (I think) is fairly easy to understand, designing, doing and
evaluating. Much of the evaluation process is analyzing, correlating,
explaining "differences," etc.  Of course, this includes the potential
reliability of any individual source.

I prefer to focus on the research process, which Polya does for me (Polya
was not a genealogist, he was a mathematician). However, I do appreciate
reading about the research process others use. That helps me to see if there
are potential weaknesses in my own. Many who are newer to research may
benefit more from a research based process, at least in my experience. The
GPS is more geared towards the conclusion and the "proof" as I am seeing it.
 Drawing again from my own educational background, we normally don't teach
rigorous "proof" until a certain set of skills and knowledge set have been
demonstrated. Those skills and that knowledge incorporate elements of
"proof," but formal presentation isn't until later. Of course, I'm not
certain how much the math metaphor applies--our definition of proof is
slightly different.
Just my 1/50USD.


> Michael John Neill
> Weekly "Casefile Clues" Column
> http://www.casefileclues.com
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