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I'm Jennifer, and I'm an Occasional Genealogist... sort of. For over ten years I've been a professional genealogist. I started researching my own family nearly 30 years ago. Like many of you, I started as an Occasional Genealogist. I had to squeeze research in while in school and while working full-time. Then I got my first genealogy job and for awhile, it was genealogy all the time. Now I have two kids. I do other people's genealogy constantly but my own? Coming up with ways to do great genealogy, despite all the interruptions, is now mandatory.

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Free Genealogy Help: Answers, Evidence, and More

Are you looking for free genealogy help to improve your genealogy skills?

This is one of my "mini-posts" to help you get some quick answers and then find what will really help you.

This post is for people who need to learn more about genealogy answers, evidence, proof, and other related phrases. These are the concepts for "evidence analysis." I'm not going to teach you these concepts in this post but point you to some quality sources to learn more.

Perhaps the first thing you need to learn are some very simple but genealogically specific definitions. When genealogists use these words consistently and correctly, the fairly complex concept of evidence analysis is easier to understand. Unfortunately, in general speaking, we use many of these words synonymously.

Here are some of the words that have specific meanings in genealogy (i.e. these are not synonyms in genealogy).

  • Proof
  • Evidence
  • Sources
  • Information

Genealogists should not think of these concepts (the concepts the words represent) as being synonymous. That's what gets your research into trouble!

I don't want to come off as completely pedantic and hard-nosed about this, though. We all make mistakes when speaking or writing and it's very easy to use the "wrong word" when talking about these concepts because they get used as synonyms in general situations (and possibly in other fields of study).

Remember, genealogy research is not the same as scientific research and it's not even the same as historical research so some words or concepts used for other types of research may have a different meaning in genealogy. If they do, that's important.

What's most important is you understand the four pieces of evidence analysis. That means reviewing them over and over again until you UNDERSTAND them. I don't just mean being able to recite the definitions. A computer can spit out a definition, it can't understand something (whatever passes as understanding is programming entered by a human that understands the concept so well they translated it into steps the computer could take).

I've used the computer analogy because you need to use your human brain and understanding for genealogy. Don't rely on a computer because so far, no one has created one that can do genealogy better than a person (if the computer is doing better than you, it means you're researching like a computer, not that the computer is doing quality genealogy). You are key to your research.

I'm not going to rehash the concepts and definitions for evidence analysis. I'm going to send you to some definitive sources.

Recommended Resources

When I need to double-check I'm using the correct words for evidence analysis concepts, I use a quick-sheet that is apparently no longer produced. However, the information is available in multiple places (and the quick-sheet is a reminder for AFTER you have learned this concept, not a way to teach it).

You can check-out this "QuickLesson" from Elizabeth Shown Mills's website, Evidence Explained for a free introduction to evidence analysis and its related terms (Sources, Information, Evidence, and Proof).

The information is also in the book Evidence Explained (which you should own and read the chapters at the start, those are the chapters before all the citation examples). Evidence Explained available on Amazon or get it from Genealogical.com.

I LOVE Mastering Genealogical Proof which also covers evidence analysis and includes exercises to help you, well, master this concept. I recommend the paperback instead of the Kindle edition to make it easier to do the exercises. Normally I prefer Kindle so you can take it with you and reread it conveniently but in this case the paperback is easier to use. Get it from Amazon or directly from the National Genealogical Society (btw, the member price at NGS is less than the Amazon price plus you can support NGS with your purchase).

There are many other websites and blog posts to help you learn more about these concepts but it's important to make sure you're learning them correctly. 

Our modern standard for genealogical proof (the Genealogical Proof Standard) has been refined even in the 2010s. There are older books that are still relevant to genealogy but the exact words we use today are very recently defined and codified. This is one reason I wouldn't want to judge someone too harshly for misusing a word, as long as the concept behind it is sound. However, when you're still learning, it's important to make sure you're using high-quality sources (sounds like research, right?).

Another "starter" option.

If you're not ready to wrap your mind around the difference in the terms proof, evidence, sources, and information, I have another option for you. I wrote a beginner's introduction to source evaluation. Although it does mention evidence, sources, and information, it focuses on the initial steps to understand these concepts including talking about "clues." It'll help you start asking questions so you can answer "is this source correct?" Read the post here.


If you want to develop advanced genealogy skills, or you want to solve a difficult genealogy problem, you need to learn and understand why the following words are not synonyms for each other and what each specifically means in genealogy.

  • Proof
  • Evidence
  • Sources
  • Information

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