Genealogical Standards


The genealogical standards and guidelines incorporated by the National Genealogical Society and displayed at their website are good rules to follow for all genealogists and family historians. Users of WeRelate and contributors to this site can apply these standards to their own work as well.


Genealogical Standards & Guidelines

These Genealogical Standards are recommended by the National Genealogical Society. NGS recommends Standards and Guidelines for the benefit of those who wish to improve their skills and performance in genealogy. NGS is neither an accrediting nor an enforcement agency, and does not determine whether its recommendations are being followed in any particular case. These recommendations have served their purpose when an individual decides that the Standards and Guidelines have or have not been applied in a matter of personal interest.

NGS welcomes links to its Standards and Guidelines on other Web sites, or their reproduction by others, as permitted by the copyright notice, but such support from others doesn't assure that their web sites or works conform to the recommended Standards or Guidelines. Should such a claim be made, it is a matter for each individual to consider, and to take whatever action seems appropriate from a personal standpoint.

• Standards for Sound Genealogical Research
• Guidelines for Using Records Repositories and Libraries
• Standards for Use of Technology In Genealogical Research
• Standards for Sharing Information with Others
• Guidelines for Publishing Web Pages on the Internet
• Guidelines for Genealogical Self-Improvement and Growth

Standards For Sound Genealogical Research

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, or as contributions to the critical analysis of the evidence discussed in them.
• 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.

Guidelines For Using Records Repositories and Libraries

Recognizing that how they use unique original records and fragile publications will affect other users, both current and future, family history researchers habitually—

• are courteous to research facility personnel and other researchers, and respect the staff’s other daily tasks, not expecting the records custodian to listen to their family histories nor provide constant or immediate attention.
• dress appropriately, converse with others in a low voice, and supervise children appropriately.
• do their homework in advance, know what is available and what they need, and avoid ever asking for "everything" on their ancestors.
• use only designated work space areas and equipment, like readers and computers intended for patron use, respect off-limits areas, and ask for assistance if needed.
• treat original records at all times with great respect and work with only a few records at a time, recognizing that they are irreplaceable and that each user must help preserve them for future use.
• treat books with care, never forcing their spines, and handle photographs properly, preferably wearing archival gloves.
• never mark, mutilate, rearrange, relocate, or remove from the repository any original, printed, microform, or electronic document or artifact.
• use only procedures prescribed by the repository for noting corrections to any errors or omissions found in published works, never marking the work itself.
• keep note-taking paper or other objects from covering records or books, and avoid placing any pressure upon them, particularly with a pencil or pen.
• use only the method specifically designated for identifying records for duplication, avoiding use of paper clips, adhesive notes, or other means not approved by the facility.
• return volumes and files only to locations designated for that purpose.
• before departure, thank the records custodians for their courtesy in making the materials available.
• follow the rules of the records repository without protest, even if they have changed since a previous visit or differ from those of another facility.

Standards For Use of Technology in Genealogical Research

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.
• do not accept uncritically the ability of software to format, number, import, modify, check, chart or report their data, and therefore carefully evaluate any resulting product.
• treat compiled information from on-line sources or digital databases in the same way as 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 databases 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, rumor and fraud by personally verifying or correcting information, or noting it as unverified, before passing it on to others. br>
• 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.

Standards For Sharing Information With Others

Conscious of the fact that sharing information or data with others, whether through speech, documents or electronic media, is essential to family history research and that it needs continuing support and encouragement, responsible family historians consistently—

• respect the restrictions on sharing information that arise from the rights of another as an author, originator or compiler; as a living private person; or as a party to a mutual agreement.
• observe meticulously the legal rights of copyright owners, copying or distributing any part of their works only with their permission, or to the limited extent specifically allowed under the law's "fair use" exceptions.
• identify the sources for all ideas, information and data from others, and the form in which they were received, recognizing that the unattributed use of another's intellectual work is plagiarism.
• respect the authorship rights of senders of letters, electronic mail and data files, forwarding or disseminating them further only with the sender's permission.
• inform people who provide information about their families as to the ways it may be used, observing any conditions they impose and respecting any reservations they may express regarding the use of particular items.
• require some evidence of consent before assuming that living people are agreeable to further sharing of information about themselves.
• convey personal identifying information about living people—like age, home address, occupation or activities—only in ways that those concerned have expressly agreed to.
• recognize that legal rights of privacy may limit the extent to which information from publicly available sources may be further used, disseminated or published.
• communicate no information to others that is known to be false, or without making reasonable efforts to determine its truth, particularly information that may be derogatory.
• are sensitive to the hurt that revelations of criminal, immoral, bizarre or irresponsible behavior may bring to family members.

Guidelines For Publishing Web Pages On The Internet

Appreciating that publishing information through Internet Web sites and Web pages shares many similarities with print publishing, considerate family historians—

• apply a title identifying both the entire Web site and the particular group of related pages, similar to a book-and-chapter designation, placing it both at the top of each Web browser window using the <TITLE> HTML tag, and in the body of the document, on the opening home or title page and on any index pages.
• explain the purposes and objectives of their Web sites, placing the explanation near the top of the title page or including a link from that page to a special page about the reason for the site.
• display a footer at the bottom of each Web page which contains the Web site title, page title, author's name, author's contact information, date of last revision and a copyright statement.
• provide complete contact information, including at a minimum a name and e-mail address, and preferably some means for long-term contact, like a postal address.
• assist visitors by providing on each page navigational links that lead visitors to other important pages on the Web site, or return them to the home page.
• adhere to the NGS “Standards for Sharing Information with Others” regarding copyright, attribution, privacy, and the sharing of sensitive information.
• include unambiguous source citations for the research data provided on the site, and if not complete descriptions, offering full citations upon request.
• label photographic and scanned images within the graphic itself, with fuller explanation if required in text adjacent to the graphic.
• identify transcribed, extracted or abstracted data as such, and provide appropriate source citations.
• include identifying dates and locations when providing information about specific surnames or individuals.
• respect the rights of others who do not wish information about themselves to be published, referenced or linked on a Web site.
• provide Web site access to all potential visitors by avoiding enhanced technical capabilities that may not be available to all users, remembering that not all computers are created equal.
• avoid using features that distract from the productive use of the Web site, like ones that reduce legibility, strain the eyes, dazzle the vision, or otherwise detract from the visitor's ability to easily read, study, comprehend or print the online publication.
• maintain their online publications at frequent intervals, changing the content to keep the information current, the links valid, and the Web site in good working order.
• preserve and archive for future researchers their online publications and communications that have lasting value, using both electronic and paper duplication.

Guidelines for Genealogical Self-Improvement and Growth

Faced with ever-growing expectations for genealogical accuracy and reliability, family historians concerned with improving their abilities will on a regular basis—

• study comprehensive texts and narrower-focus articles and recordings covering genealogical methods in general and the historical background and sources available for areas of particular research interest, or to which their research findings have led them.
• interact with other genealogists and historians in person or electronically, mentoring or learning as appropriate to their relative experience levels, and through the shared experience contributing to the genealogical growth of all concerned.
• subscribe to and read regularly at least two genealogical journals that list a number of contributing or consulting editors, or editorial board or committee members, and that require their authors to respond to a critical review of each article before it is published.
• participate in workshops, discussion groups, institutes, conferences and other structured learning opportunities whenever possible.
• recognize their limitations, undertaking research in new areas or using new technology only after they master any additional knowledge and skill needed and understand how to apply it to the new subject matter or technology.
• analyze critically at least quarterly the reported research findings of another family historian, for whatever lessons may be gleaned through the process.
• join and participate actively in genealogical societies covering countries, localities and topics where they have research interests, as well as the localities where they reside, increasing the resources available both to themselves and to future researchers.
• review recently published basic texts to renew their understanding of genealogical fundamentals as currently expressed and applied.
• examine and revise their own earlier research in the light of what they have learned through self-improvement activities, as a means for applying their new-found knowledge and for improving the quality of their work-product.

©2002 by National Genealogical Society. Permission is granted to copy or publish this material provided it is reproduced in its entirety, including this notice.