Are You a Discriminating Genealogist?

April 2nd, 2018 by National Genealogical Society Blog Editor

TITLE: The Discriminating Genealogist: Telling Good Evidence from Bad
TIME & DATE: Thursday, 03 May 2018, 9:30 a.m.

The “best evidence” rule in law requires the presentation in court of an original rather than a copy, and a copy won’t even be admitted if the original is available. In genealogy, our rules require us to do the same: to discriminate, choose in favor of, and prefer certain types of evidence to others. We’re taught that, whenever we can, we go to the source: to “original records that reliable scribes carefully created soon after the reported events” and to “original records that competent authorities checked or vetted and that institutions maintained with protections from alteration, damage, and tampering.” (BCG, Genealogy Standards, Standard 38). But we’ve all seen cases where even legally-required original records are simply wrong. So how do we discriminate appropriately between good evidence and bad?

In “The Discriminating Genealogist: Telling Good Evidence from Bad,” part of the Methodology track, we’ll go over some of the methods that genealogists can use in our day-to-day research to help us draw the line and separate the wheat from the chaff. We’ll look at standards on information preference, and key rules on judging evidence based on relevance, data integrity, and reliability.

We’ll consider the clues we can get to whether information from a source is trustworthy, including its physical condition, origins, internal and external consistency, and history, and how to appraise information, by looking at its legibility, who provided it and how reliable that person was, and its internal and external consistency in the context of its time and place.

ABOUT: Judy G. Russell, JD, CG, CGL, provides expert guidance through the murky territory where law, history, and genealogy come together. Her award-winning blog The Legal Genealogist can be found at