Friday, December 20, 2013

BCG revises and updates Genealogical Standards

Thirteen years ago, the best minds in genealogy, under the aegis of the Board for the Certification of Genealogists, published a manual of genealogy standards, in which they began to wean the field away from terminology like "preponderance of the evidence" borrowed from law and not specific enough for our needs.

Now some of the same best minds have revised, reorganized, updated, and published it as Genealogy Standards. The basics -- the five-part Genealogical Proof Standard -- remain the same. And the need for standards remains the same. As editor Thomas W. Jones writes, they provide "a guide to sound genealogical research and a way to assess the research outcomes that genealogists produce. They are standards for anyone who seeks to research and portray accurately people’s lives, relationships, and histories." (More from him on the changes over at Angela McGhie's blog Adventures in Genealogy Education.)

One of my favorites is Standard 39, "Information Preference":

Whenever possible, genealogists prefer to reason from information provided by consistently reliable participants, eyewitnesses, and reporters with no bias, potential for gain, or other motivation to distort, invent, omit, or otherwise report incorrect information. At the same time, genealogists understand that some preferred information items could be proved inaccurate, less desirable items might be proved accurate, or they may be the only extant relevant information items.
This is why those who seek numerically precise degrees of certainty in genealogy will always be frustrated. That kind of certainty is not available. While some sources are on average more reliable than others, there is never a guarantee. And in genealogy it's the veracity of the particular source that we're concerned about, and the best way to determine that is not to compute averages but to compare its information with that from other, independent sources. (Think of it as an elimination tournament in sports. What matters is not your or your team's past record, what matters is its performance on that occasion.)

One other important change is that we now refer to three kinds of sources (original records, derivative records, and authored works), three kinds of information (primary, secondary, and undeterminable), and three kinds of evidence (direct, indirect, and negative). These are not academic distinctions -- they make a difference in how we evaluate and use materials. But that's a story for another day.

Harold Henderson, "BCG revises and updates Genealogical Standards," Midwestern Microhistory: A Genealogy Blog, posted 20 December 2013 ( : viewed [date]). [Please feel free to link to the specific post if you prefer.]

No comments: