Genealogy Q&A Time: The Genealogical Proof Standard

By Diane Haddad

Q. What is the Genealogical Proof Standard? Do I need to worry about it if I research my family history as a hobby?

A. The Genealogical Proof Standard (GPS) is a set of guidelines the Board for Certification of Genealogists developed to help researchers draw sound conclusions about their ancestors. It has five elements:

  • Reasonably exhaustive search
  • Complete and accurate citation of sources
  • Analysis and correlation of the collected information
  • Resolution of conflicting evidence
  • Soundly reasoned, coherently written conclusion

Certified genealogists do a lot of work to show they understand the GPS, but anyone can use the guidelines to be as sure as possible they’re tracing the right ancestors and sharing accurate family information. The GPS is outlined here, with bullet points about how each element contributes to the credibility of your research.

For example, to conduct a reasonably exhaustive search, “finding multiple sources for a single piece of information, such as a birthplace, is key,” writes Sunny Jane Morton in the October/November 2012 Family Tree Magazine guide to using the GPS.

“If you look at just one source, you won’t see that there’s more than one possibility for what happened,” Elizabeth Shown Mills explains in the guide. Mills is the author of source analysis references including Evidence! Citation and Analysis for the Family Historian (Genealogical Publishing Co.).

“We know that when there are multiple eyewitnesses to an event, the accounts differ,” she adds. “In historical research, there’s no such thing as the final answer. All we can do is gather the best evidence possible and make a decision.”

In following the second element of the GPS, complete and accurate citation of sources, Mills recommends “For every ‘fact’ we gather, we need to consider why we are accepting it as ‘fact.’ What is there about this source that makes it credible?”

Chances are that with your family commitments, job, volunteering and other activities, you don’t get to spend as much time as you’d like on your genealogy research. Using the GPS as a guide will help you make sure that the time you can spend is devoted to researching your ancestors and honoring their true experiences.

You can purchase Family Tree Magazine‘s GPS guide as a download here, or Family Tree Plus members can read it here.


Family Tree University’s Source Analysis One-Week Workshop, April 18-25, will show you how you can use the Genealogical Proof Standard as you evaluate the reliability of your genealogical sources, resolve conflicting information, and draw conclusions about your ancestors’ lives. Learn more about it at Family Tree University.