By Barbara J. Mathews, CG, FASG, and Darcie Hind Posz, CG
(Excerpted from Professional Genealogy: Preparation, Practice & Standards)
NB: Part One of this article covering lineage society membership, which appeared in the October 19 issue of “Genealogy Pointers,” covered the process of completing a lineage society application. Part Two picks up with the crucial process of documenting and proving the lineage itself.
Standards for Use of Older Applications
As reliable genealogists, we do not accept other lineage-society papers as proof. All lineage societies have held to different standards at different times. We can use earlier applications for their clues but no application, by itself, constitutes proof. Every citation should be checked to ensure that it verifies the claim to which it is attached. The reliability of the lineage hinges on whether the cited sources match what is asserted. If a cited source does not support a claim, the entire lineage is in question. In consulting previous applications for clues, we should also check for any supporting documents that might have been filed with it; those documents might be usable as support for our current application.
Standards for Evidence
Documentation is essential for every assertion we make on a lineage application. Research and documentation standards can be reduced to two broad principles:
- Kinship links, each and every one, must be supported by reliable, contemporary evidence—ideally based on primary (firsthand) information. If direct evidence is not available, the proof arguments you provide should meet the criteria of the Genealogical Proof Standard so that a solid case for parentage can be made.
- Dates, places, and facts regarding service must be supported with direct evidence or a written proof argument. The sources cited must report any and every detail or statement that you attribute to them.
Standards for Source Quality
Evaluating the quality of our sources is imperative. As a general rule, no derivative or authored source should be used unless the authors or compilers have carefully cited their own sources for each piece of information we use—in which case we must corroborate their assertions with sources independently created. Most societies do not now accept undocumented genealogies, whether published or created in genealogy software—or they will require additional corroborating information.
1“Ethics and Standards: Genealogical Proof Standard (GPS),” Board for Certification of Genealogists (https://bcgcertification.org/ethics-standards/ : 30 April 2020).
Our evaluation of published family histories needs to consider a variety of factors. We note the identification of the author and publisher and we evaluate their reputations for reliability. We note whether or not the work was vetted by an editor or an editorial committee. When source citations exist, we question whether the author has used quality sources or merely derivative works. We note the publication date and whether it is contemporaneous to the generations being documented within the lineage. Online items such as message boards, pedigree charts, and databases that rely on user-submitted information rather than original records should not be used for lineage-society applications.
When contemporaneous accounts are offered in either local histories or family histories, we take into consideration the identity of each individual who provided information. For instance, local “mug books” (histories that offer a combination of transcribed or abstracted local records, together with submitted biographies of early settlers) sometimes present autobiographical accounts. More often, the information is supplied by children of the deceased or descendants even more generations removed. Evaluating the publication date can shed light on who may have provided the information and whether they would have had firsthand or secondhand knowledge.
Standards for Identification
Establishing identity means locating documentation that applies to only one person. In the world of genealogy, the characteristics of identity include many elements—not just the details for births, marriages, deaths and names of parents and spouses but also for church affiliation, education, location of property, occupation, the value and nature of both personal and real estate, and other aspects of life. It is crucial to ensure that the records we link together for one person do, in fact, all apply only to that person. Our careful correlation of personal characteristics can establish and distinguish identity.
Teasing out identity is a particular challenge in lineage-society research, due to the limitations of the application form itself. A form that calls for listing a couple and only one child for the next generation causes tunnel vision, focusing us on just one person in each generation. To ensure accuracy, we must look at the wider context of the family and the area. We determine whether multiple people of the same name have records in that location. If so, we use some type of correlation tools and methods to sort them out. If the records do not sort unambiguously into unique identities, we must articulate a clearly written conclusion as to why we are attaching this documentation to this person in the lineage. That written argument should be part of the case file we submit to the lineage society.
Excerpted with permission from Mathews & Posz, “Lineage Applications,” Elizabeth Shown Mills, ed., Professional Genealogy: Preparation, Practice & Standards (Baltimore: Genealogical Publishing Co., 2018), 391–412.