Applying The Scientific Method to Genealogical Research (Part 8)

When does the use of The Scientific Method to conduct genealogical research fail to meet the Genealogical Proof Standard?

  1. Define the question:  When was Bronislawa (Bertha) Danko born?
  2. Gather information and resources:  Family members recall that Bronislawa (Bertha) Danko was born sometime around 1910-1915 in Worcester, Massachusetts.
  3. Form hypothesis:  Bronislawa (Bertha) Danko was born around 1910-1915.
  4. Perform experiment and collect data:  Search the birth records in the Massachusetts State Archives for Bronislawa (Bertha) Danko’s birth record.
  5. Analyze data:  Bronislawa Danko’s birth record was found in the Massachusetts State Archives and her date of birth was recorded as January 3, 1912.
  6. Interpret data and draw conclusions:  Bronislawa Danko was born on January 3, 1912.
  7. Publish results:  This information was communicated to family members and published on my blog.
  8. Retest:  To my knowledge, no retest has yet been performed.

The Scientific Method provided the answer to the question of when was Bronislawa (Bertha) Danko born.  This single iteration of The Scientific Method does not, however, satisfy the Genealogical Proof Standard because it does not include a reasonably exhaustive search and it does not resolve conflicting evidence.

Do other records agree with the date recorded in the records at the Massachusetts State Archives?  Bronislawa was probably baptized.  What is the date of birth on the baptismal record?  Does Bronislawa’s age at the time of her death agree with the date of her birth?  Was Bronislawa’s date of birth recorded in a birth announcement or obituary?  What other possible sources for Bronislawa’s date of birth might exist?

Bronislawa’s death certificate reported that she was born on January 2, 1912, not January 3, 1912.  Which date is correct?

There are clearly more questions to answer here and more research to conduct before we can say that the Genealogical Proof Standard has been satisfied when stating that Bronislawa Danko was born on January 3, 1912.

The shortcomings of The Scientific Method may be remedied by posing new hypotheses such as:

  • Bronislawa (Bertha) Danko’s date of birth is included in her baptismal record or
  • Bronislawa (Bertha) Danko’s date of birth is mentioned in a birth announcement,

and by attempting to resolve the conflicting evidence.

The Scientific Method can help answer genealogical questions, but the researcher must still ensure that the conclusions drawn from The Scientific Method meet the Genealogical Proof Standard.

or other posts in this series, please see:

Copyright © 2010 by Stephen J. Danko

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3 Responses to Applying The Scientific Method to Genealogical Research (Part 8)

  1. Steve, thank you for this informative and useful series. I like having The Scientific Method laid out so that the steps can be followed. The one thing I find frustrating and yet intriguing about genealogy in general and the Genealogical Proof Standard is that nothing is ever completely conclusive. While this helps to ensure that our information is as accurate as possible, I don’t like open-ended situations! There is always the possibility that more or more complete evidence can come along and upset the idea of the knowledge we have about an individual or event; and yet, I wouldn’t trade the possibility of richer knowledge or clearer accuracy for anything!

  2. Thanks Steve, I really enjoyed seeing The Scientific Method in action for a genealogical problem. I’ve been trying to use some of those steps informally with some of my problems but as you have shown, one must often go through several iterations to reach a conclusion. It gets confusing/frustrating but I must admit you made the process much more clear.

  3. Pingback: Trying to Apply the Scientific Method to a Research Question, Or Looking for My Great-Grandmother » The Genealogy Gals

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