Wednesday, 16 January 2013

Does meeting the Genealogical Proof Standard require DNA evidence?

Helen Leary has been one the US’s most respected genealogists for years. The one time I got to hear her, at an OGS conference in Toronto, it was standing room only well before she started.
In my DNA presentation on Saturday I used this quote from Helen. It says that without DNA testing there’s no way to establish a relationship beyond a reasonable doubt. Helen used DNA results, along with other evidence in arguing why President Thomas Jefferson was almost certainly the father of his slave Sally Hemming's children.
If your genealogy relies solely on paper records it may, or at least before the days of DNA evidence may have met the Genealogical Proof Standard (GPS), but not the standard of beyond a reasonable doubt. Clearly Leary regards DNA to be the type of high quality source that the GPS requires be examined.
When Helen Leary wrote in 1998 she had to add that such DNA tests were not practical. 15 years later that’s no longer the case.
Today, if DNA information can help, and you’re not using it, there’s no way you can meet the Genealogical Proof Standard. Like Helen all professional genealogists who profess to adhere to the GPS should keep up to date on genetic genealogy, a rapidly developing field. Analysis techniques are being developed so that one day, perhaps not so far in the future, we may be able to match segments of autosomal DNA providing evidence of lineage as strong or stronger than provided by conventional paper genealogical sources alone.


Patricia Dever said...

I do believe that this is the direction we are headed.

Debbie Parker Wayne, CG, CGL(sm) said...

And the answer is - YES, today meeting the GPS requires DNA evidence if there is someone in the line being investigated who can be tested.

See this conversation on the TGF mail list:
Donn Devine, CG, “DNA – proof or just indication?,” 18 August 2012, ( : 28 August 2012).

Thomas said...

The 'Genealogical Proof Standard' does not deal with DNA, it deal with paper and calls that 'proof'.
If you try to add DNA to that, you'll get facts contradictiong your 'proof'... OOPS!
But you think Leary want to mess up the GPS up by adding DNA into the mix? I think she's too smart for that.
DNA shows that the GPS is broken. The GPS served us well for a while, but we need something better now.

Anonymous said...

DNA will never connect children, siblings, aunts, uncle, cousins ... who are adopted. My family is replete with adoptions and those people are my family, not by DNA, but by love and care, toil and perseverance, turmoil and joy. GPS, without DNA, will show they were there living out their roles as family members.

Linda Schreiber said...

Four brief points:
First, Anonymous is very correct. Not all family history is only about pure bloodlines.
Second, "if there is someone in the line being investigated who can be tested" is correct. And I would add, "if there is someone *willing* to be tested." This is often a problem.
Third, when absolutely solid, accurate, definitive DNA testing, capable of being correlated clearly across several distant cousin lines is available, perhaps. That won't be happening in this decade.
Fourth, when such testing is available for today's cost equivalent of $4.95 at the corner pharmacy, then maybe.
In the meantime, the GPS is what I will be working with.