Sunday, February 10, 2013

Questions About the GPS

Public Service Announcement: Charlie asked if there was a pdf available of the entire 18 Days with Sherlock series that I did back in Sep and Oct of 2012.  I didn’t have one so I put one together.  Please forgive any formatting issues you might find.  Taking it from the blog to a pdf isn’t an exact science.  When I have time I will go back and redo the entire thing.

18 Days with Sherlock

After the series I did on the Genealogical Proof Standard (GPS), I received quite a few questions which I will split over a couple of days.

Anne asks:
”WOW!  I am a bit overwhelmed!  I can really see just how important this is but I can’t imagine doing this for every fact in my file.  How do you do this?”

The GPS is used for facts that do not have a direct evidence source or for a fact that has conflicting evidence.  If you have a death certificate for someone then you have direct evidence of their death date.   If you have a marriage certificate you have direct evidence of the marriage between two specific people on a specific date. You would use the GPS for things like “Is John Doe the son of James Doe?” when there has been no document found that specifically states that John is the son of James.  If you have a will that states, “to my son John” that is direct evidence of the relationship.  In that case you might still need to prove that YOUR John is in fact the John that is identified as the son of James in the will using the GPS.  You may have direct evidence but also have other direct evidence that is conflicting.  In those cases you would need to apply the GPS.  For example, let’s say you have a Bible entry for John Doe that gives his date of birth as 04 Jan 1850.  You also have the 1900 census that has Apr 1854 and you have his death certificate that has 02 Jan 1851.  All of these provide direct evidence but you have a problem.  You will have to weigh each piece of evidence and write up your conclusion.  Just remember, even if you have direct evidence it could be wrong.

[Edited to add:  The GPS should be used for every fact in your file.   My answer to the above question was talking more about case studies and I didn’t make that clear.  You do not need to write up a formal case study for every fact.  Case studies are used for the more complex cases so that you can explain how you came to the conclusion that you did.  The case studies you read in journals such as the National Genealogical Society Quarterly (NGSQ) are examples of the more involved and complex case studies.  I added this paragraph in response to Michael Hait’s comment below.  He was correct when he said the GPS should be used for every conclusion.]

John asks:
”You said to write it up in a word processor and then attach it to your computer file.  I use Legacy and there are notes fields.  Can I write up the summaries there?”

Of course you can.  The only problem you will have are with the footnotes.  In the general and research notes fields you can attach sources but you can’t attach them within the text itself.  In other words, you will have a list of sources that you used but you won’t be able to tell what sources go with what.  Your other option is to write it up in a word processor complete with footnotes and then copy and paste it into one of the note fields but you will have some major formatting issues.  It is just easier to type it up nicely in a word processor and then attach the file to the person in Legacy.  You can make a notation in one of the notes field showing that you do have a proof argument attached.

Anonymous asks:
”Do you really discount the 1850-1870 census because they don’t list relationships?”

I don’t discount the censuses at all.  All I am saying is that these censuses do not give direct evidence of the relationships between the people within the household and you should research further to find other evidence of the relationship.  I have quite a few examples in my own file of minor children in a household that were not the children of the head. 

Copyright © 2013 Michele Simmons Lewis


  1. Michelle,

    Thank you for taking time to create a PDF of the "18 Days of Sherlock".

    A copy has been printed and now occupy a place in my refernece library.

    Again THANKS.


  2. A correction to your first response "The GPS is used for facts that do not have a direct evidence source or for a fact that has conflicting evidence."

    The Genealogical Proof Standard should be applied to *every* conclusion--*every* fact. Direct evidence is not necessarily more accurate than indirect evidence. Even primary information from a contemporary, original source is not necessarily infallible.

    Meeting the GPS does not require a full-blown case study. It is a measure of assessment to be sure that you have arrived at the best possible conclusion. Genealogists build proof from a series of reliable facts. We use the GPS to test the reliability of these individual facts just as much as we use it to test the reliability of the more complex proof itself.

    A death certificate may provide direct evidence of death, but how do you know that you have the correct information? What if, for example, a newspaper death notice published the same day as the death certificate reveals that the decedent actually died the day before the death certificate states? The death certificate may not have been filled out and filed on the date of death, especially in the early days of vital registration.

    The only way to know that you have the correct date of death is to be sure that your statement meets the GPS. This doesn't mean you have to spend hours on it.

    Consider a deed. A recorded deed was presented to the courthouse by one of the two parties. It provides reliable, direct evidence that a transfer occurred. There is not likely to be any better source of evidence for a transfer of property than a deed. So, even though you may not have to go any further, the statement (or "conclusion") of the transfer proved by that deed still meets the GPS.

  3. I stand corrected :) I think the key was your statement, "Meeting the GPS does not require a full-blown case study. It is a measure of assessment to be sure that you have arrived at the best possible conclusion."

    When I wrote the GPS series in the first place it was in response to an email I had received from someone who was asking about the GPS (he had been reading about it) and the case studies in the NGSQ. I wanted to present the GPS as basically as I could to make it more understandable for beginners. I wanted them to understand that there was a process out there that they could follow to systematically tackle genealogical dilemmas.

    Seasoned genealogists use the GPS without really thinking about it, it is almost an automatic thought process. Even when dealing with "clear cut cases" (as clear cut as it can get) the wheels are turning.

    You are right. I made it sound as though that GPS only applies to the most complex cases. I think that Anne (the questioner today) was thinking that every fact in your file needed to have a case study to go along with it and that was what the person that sent me the original email that sparked this series was thinking after reading the NGSQ. I was trying to explain that this isn't the case but I didn't do that as well as I could have.

    I do plan on presenting cases where I go through the GPS step by step with both simple and more complex as examples.

    I am very honored that you read the blog and commented. If you read the original series you will see that I consider you quite the expert on the GPS and have linked to several of your writings :)

    1. I've been reading the series. I am honored to be considered an "expert" in anything. :)

  4. Thanks for taking to time for discuss this valuable information with us. GPS devices have become better and better as years pass by. Just to add up to the basic facts about how GPS works, the latest developed GPS devices today offers a 40 channel reciever.

  5. Maybe I should do a blog post on the "other" GPS :) Genealogists love them!