Casefile Clues

29 March 2012

The Genealogical Proof Standard

For years (seventeen years or so to be honest), I've lectured on the Problem-Solving Process as applied to genealogical research. The Problem-Solving Process is a four step process developed by George Polya to assist students in solving math problems. Polya's steps are basically:

  • state the problem
  • design a plan to solve
  • execute the plan
  • evaluate
Then there is the Genealogical Proof Standard-which includes the following elements:
  • Reasonably Exhaustive Search
  • Complete and Accurate Citation
  • Analysis and Correlation
  • Resolution of Conflict
  • Soundly Reasoned Conclusion
I don't see too much difference. I always indicate that "stating the problem" involves learning about the records, culture, time period involved in the research and all the records that could have been created or are applicable to the problem at hand. 

Designing the plan means organizing your research, deciding what to do and documenting it.

Executing the plan means the actual research--citing what you do during the research.

Evaluate, the way I always present it, means synthesizing what you have located, reaching a conclusion, and clearly stating that conclusion in a way that others can understand it. Resolution of conflicting information is always a part of that process. My approach is a little different based upon my academic background--I'm a mathematician (not an applied one either). In a theoretical mathematical class where we are "proving" something--there's not really "conflict." Our "conflict" are techniques that didn't work, led us back to where we started, etc. We aren't really gathering evidence per se, we are eliminating procedures that don't work. But there still is the necessity for reaching a soundly reasoned conclusion.

As I reviewed the proof standard for tomorrow's webinar, I realized that it's not all that different from what I've always done. 

And how do I know it's been seventeen years? Because I was first really introduced to Polya's process in a graduate class I took the year my youngest daughter was born. I used it in a lecture that following spring. That's as much "proof" as I have for that.