(This article first appeared in the African-American Genealogy Examiner column on 15 May 2009.)
Briefly stated, the GPS raises modern genealogy research to the level of other academic disciplines. Ushered in and promoted by professional genealogists like Christine Rose and Elizabeth Shown Mills and organizations like the National Genealogical Society and the Board for the Certification of Genealogists, the GPS provides an outline for sound and responsible genealogical research. By subscribing to its standards, you can ensure that your research will be as accurate as possible.
The GPS recognizes, as you will discover in your own research, that genealogy research often leaves unanswered, and unfortunately unanswerable, questions. Not every fact can be proven with a simple statement on a document. However, through the use of the GPS, and indeed through practice, you can be sure that your conclusions are as close as possible to the truth.
The GPS, as outlined in Genealogical Proof Standard: Building a Solid Case by Christine Rose (San Jose, Calif.: CR Publications, 2005), consists of five steps:
1. Conduct a reasonably exhaustive search for all information that is or may be pertinent to the question for which you are seeking an answer.
2. Completely and accurately cite every source of information discovered in this search.
3. Analyze and correlate the collected information to assess its quality as evidence.
4. Resolve any conflicts caused by contradictory items of evidence or information contrary to your conclusion.
5. Arrive at a soundly reasoned, coherently written conclusion [emphasis added].
The Genealogical Proof Standard, which should always be used in your research, is particularly important for African-American research. Due to the political and economic status of African-Americans throughout American history, certain otherwise-common records are often sparse. The GPS provides a method for sound evaluation of records and information, and will allow you to come to the best possible conclusions based on the available information.
For more information, please consult the following books:
Genealogical Proof Standard: Building a Solid Case
by Christine Rose
The BCG Genealogical Standards Manual
by the Board of Certification of Genealogists
Evidence Explained: Citing History Sources from Artifacts to Cyberspace
by Elizabeth Shown Mills