Standards for Research

Standards For Research

Being based in Wales, we are not a member of the National Genealogical Society of the USA, but its “Standards for Sound Genealogical Research” (1997) has highlighted many mistakes in the IGI (mainly entries submitted by individuals) and in some of the online databases now being provided by commercial companies.

Indexes are transcriptions, and errors can occur whenever something is copied, especially if that work has been outsourced by a company overseas to a country where English isn’t the first language. So you should try to look at the originals themselves, not second or even third hand copies, and always quote details of the sources of your information for others to see. These standards extend these principles to try to improve the quality and reliability of our research data.

Gwent Family History Society has formally accepted and endorsed the following standards and, in turn, strongly recommends to all its members that they also should uphold these standards and attempt always to observe them:


“Remembering always that they are engaged in a quest for truth, family history researchers consistently:

  • record the source for each item of information they collect;
    test every hypothesis or theory against credible evidence, and reject those that are not supported by the evidence;
  • seek original records, or reproduced images of them when there is reasonable assurance they have not been altered, as the basis for their research conclusions;
  • use compilations, communications and published works, whether paper or electronic, primarily for their value as guides to locating the original records;
  • state something as a fact only when it is supported by convincing evidence, and identify the evidence when communicating the fact to others;
  • limit with words like ‘probable’ or ‘possible’ any statement that is based on less than convincing evidence, and state the reasons for concluding that it is probable or possible;
  • avoid misleading other researchers by either intentionally or carelessly distributing or publishing inaccurate information;
  • state carefully and honestly the results of their own research, and acknowledge all use of other researchers’ work;
  • recognize the collegial nature of genealogical research by making their work available to others through publication, or by placing copies in appropriate libraries or repositories, and by welcoming critical comment;
  • consider with open minds new evidence or the comments of others on their work and the conclusions they have reached.

Copyright © 1997 by National Genealogical Society. Permission is granted to copy or publish this material provided it is reproduced in its entirety, including this notice.”


How often have you seen information quoted somewhere that is obviously wrong, or that blindly repeats inaccurate facts quoted elsewhere? We’ve seen it a lot, particularly on Internet web-pages – because genealogy on the Internet, unfortunately, is in danger of being devalued: data is being posted there by less-experienced family historians, and the way in which the world-wide-web is being publicised leads other new recruits to believe they can get ‘instant answers’ and a readily-obtainable pedigree by bedtime. It’s almost a case of “Never mind the quality, feel the width”!

Because of this, and following on from the general Standards enumerated above, the Society has also now accepted and endorsed an accompanying set of standards from the same source. As before, you may feel that some of them state the obvious – to you, perhaps, but not necessarily to others.

More importantly, you may find some aren’t always achievable in practice – such as being able to evaluate the reliability of downloaded data in all cases, or preventing the genealogy program you are using from stating things as hard facts in its outputs, when you really want to qualify them as probabilities, possibilities or hearsay (this comes under the category of automatic embellishments).

As a result, we do not regard these Technology standards as commandments cast in stone.

Gwent Family History Society has formally accepted and endorsed the following standards as ideals to be aimed for wherever possible and it strongly recommends them to all its members on this basis:


“Mindful that computers are tools, genealogists take full responsibility for their work, and therefore they learn the capabilities and limits of their equipment and software, and use them only when they are the most appropriate tools for a purpose:

  • refuse to let computer software automatically embellish their work;
  • treat compiled information from on-line sources or digital data bases like that from other published sources, useful primarily as a guide to locating original records, but not as evidence for a conclusion or assertion;
  • accept digital images or enhancements of an original record as a satisfactory substitute for the original only when there is reasonable assurance that the image accurately reproduces the unaltered original;
  • cite sources for data obtained on-line or from digital media with the same care that is appropriate for sources on paper and other traditional media, and enter data into a digital database only when its source can remain associated with it;
  • always cite the sources for information or data posted on-line or sent to others, naming the author of a digital file as its immediate source, while crediting original sources cited within the file;
  • preserve the integrity of their own data bases by evaluating the reliability of downloaded data before incorporating it into their own files;
  • provide, whenever they alter data received in digital form, a description of the change that will accompany the altered data whenever it is shared with others;
  • actively oppose the proliferation of error, rumour and fraud by personally verifying or correcting information, or noting it as unverified, before passing it on to others;
  • treat people on-line as courteously and civilly as they would treat them face-to-face, not separated by networks and anonymity;
  • accept that technology has not changed the principles of genealogical research, only some of the procedures.

Copyright © 1997 by National Genealogical Society. Permission is granted to copy or publish this material provided it is reproduced in its entirety, including this notice.”

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