When the records don’t give answers, use GENEALOGY EVIDENCE

Are you having trouble finding the records that identify an ancestor’s parents, or the place where they were born? Then you might need to master the art of genealogical proof in order to prove, on your own, who their parents were or where they were born.

Proving the relationships, events, or identities of the past  is something that I’ve been doing for years as a professional genealogist, but ALL researchers can master this skill with the right tools. Below are some infographics I use when teaching the basics of genealogy proof and evidence to my students. I’ll also include some must-have guides for learning how to prove what happened in the past when you just can’t find the records that spell it out for you:

evidence-and-proof-in-genealogy-infographic.jpg

Because my students struggled most often to differentiate between information and evidence, I made a special graphic to walk you through that difference, just to make sure everybody understands where the two diverge:


An example from the infographic above would be in the statement, “The exclusion of his daughter Mary from his will and testament is evidence that either she was disinherited or that she had died before this date.”

How to Find Evidence

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For those who want to learn how to uncover evidence in genealogical records to help prove what happened in the past (even when the records don’t come right out and say what happened), here are the must-reads for your family history library:


Mastering Genealogical Proof is on my shelf and I’ve read it cover-to-cover; it will walk you through exercises like a textbook, so you get to learn from the author as if you were taking a class from him!


Genealogical Proof Standard is a quick read (small, pamphlet-like book) by one of the greatest genealogy authors in the industry, and will teach you how to present your findings according to the most trusted and reliable genealogical conventions, so that future generations don’t discard your conclusions as uninformed or wishful thinking. I found this book extremely helpful when I first began writing proof arguments!


Evidence Explained is perhaps THE most crucial guide on every genealogist’s shelf (I own it in both hard copy AND digital!), because, in addition to defining all the key concepts pertaining to genealogy evidence and proof, it also is a giant citation guide (akin to the MLA guides and APA guides we used in college) for the very unique discipline of genealogy, to help researchers know how to cite everything from unpublished diaries found at your local historical society to a newspaper clipping that you copied out of Grandma’s scrapbook. It covers everything you need to know in order to properly cite all the sources that you draw from when building your family tree. Without citations, all of your years of research will be deemed untrustworthy to future researchers, thanks to the Internet, where so much falsehood circulates.

Also, Robert Charles Anderson’s book, Elements of Genealogical Analysis teaches readers how to prove kinship via evidentiary linkage, a type of “logic for genealogists” guide that none of the other books offer. Since formal logic/deduction is no longer taught in the schools, this book is also a must-have:

With these tools, you can write a fully cited, “proven” family history that will pass the “suspicious Internet junk” test and endure through the ages. Good luck! 🙂

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© Jenny Tonks and TDGen.com, 2009-2016. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this site’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited.

***COMMENT RULES: I only “allow” comments that are positive and friendly in tone. Genealogy is a labor of love, and we genealogists are a friendly bunch who love meeting kindred spirits! 🙂

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