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When recording myself in my family tree, what is required for proof of who I am? I have my mother telling me my name is George XXXXX, I have obtained a birth certificate for a George XXXXX born on the day and the location my mother says. Is this enough for proof? Do I record both as sources? Do I need to make a note of the conclusion?

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Hi George, you might find this question helpful: genealogy.stackexchange.com/questions/27/… –  jmort253 Jan 4 '13 at 5:00

5 Answers 5

Treat yourself as you would treat anyone else in your database.

Just realize that different databases allow/require you to handle persons in subtly different ways.

At a purely research process level, you need to record two items of evidence (your Mom's statement and your birth certificate). At the conclusion level you need to add a conclusion level person object for yourself that refers, however your system allows you to do it, to the two items of evidence.

In some systems this just means that you create a person record for yourself and then add the facts from the two sources, having those facts contain references to the sources. So you will have to provide source records in the formats allowed by your system.

In other systems you can add separate person-like records for each fact, and then have your conclusion person refer to them. In such a system you would have 1) your Mom's statement as a source; 2) your birth certificate as a source; 3) the facts about you from your Mom's statement as an evidence level record; 4) the facts about you from your birth certificate as another evidence level record (presumably you would also have evidence level records about your Mom and Dad taken from the same birth certificate); and 5) the "conclusion" person record, with references to the evidence-level records or facts, about yourself representing your "beliefs" about your own existence.

Is this enough to establish "proof"? Yes.

Do you need to add a separate note stating you have made the conclusion? No. The fact that you have a "conclusion" level person in your database that refers, however you are able to do it, to items of evidence, is a sufficient statement of conclusion.

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This question is actually quite interesting for making us think. After all, if you can't get this one sorted, what can you? So...

  • I'd record a source for your mother telling you, and a source for your birth certificate. Just make it clear what those sources are so anyone can read them and understand what they are;
  • You say you've analysed the two because the birth certificate matches what your mother said. Just make a very quick note to say that you've cross checked them ("I have cross checked them" will probably suffice);
  • Also note that the two sources do not conflict (i.e. there are no issues arising);
  • Are there any other sources you might have? Well, let's say no because everything else is just a copy or a derivation of the two mentioned (e.g. your passport says what your name is but you gave your name to the passport authorities, so it's not an independent source). In other words, you've carried out a reasonably exhaustive search for evidence;
  • For me, your "conclusion" can easily be the fact that you've entered your name in your database. No need to write it out again.

And quite a few people will have realised by now that those 5 bullets roughly match the 5 bullets of the Genealogical Proof Standard. Scary stuff, maybe. Or perhaps not so scary... It's probably quite hard to record stuff in the GPS format when it's simple like this but at least you can see some of the steps and hopefully that they can be short and sweet.

But, if you feel like thinking a bit harder still... Remember that in genealogy, no proof is absolute in the same way that a mathematical proof is absolute. Don't feel bad about it. No proof in physics is absolute, nor the rest of science, etc. There's been at least one case I've read of where two children were (accidentally) swapped at birth - harassed nurses picked up the wrong baby. Each went through well into their teenage years in the other's family, carrying the other's name, with the other's birth certificate, before one of the mothers finally got an answer to her worries (DNA test? Probably) and found the 2 had been swapped.

Is this at all likely to happen to you? No - not impossible, just very, very unlikely. The lesson from this is that we can never prove anything absolutely in genealogy and we have to make a value judgement about how much evidence we collect and what degree of proof we want. We simply have to be sensible about these judgements. Don't be so lax about it that we fool ourselves. Don't beat ourselves up about looking for non-existent stuff, once we understand it's non-existent.

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For myself, I have recorded a birth certificate as a source for my name and birth-details. It documents the birth of a person called ColeValleyGirl at a particular place on a particular date with legal parents named A and B, none of which guarantees that the date, place and/or biological parentage are correct. My father could have been mistaken or uninformed about the exact time and place (although I doubt it, as the family story goes that he was forced to deliver me himself half an hour before the midwife arrived a little the worse for wear for drink). My mother might have been mistaken or lying about the father of her child. However, it is the only documentary evidence of that birth.

There is a wealth of oral testimony from family, friends and neighbours that supports the fact I am the ColeValleyGirl referred to in that birth certificate. There is some documentary evidence (e.g. school records) that confirms that a ColeValleyGirl lived for some time at the same address as the birth certificate gives for the family. DNA testing of me and my siblings might confirm (or otherwise) that we shared a common pair of biological parents. Is it worth tracking down and recording all that to prove that I'm who I say I am? Probably not, since I'm right at the bottom of my tree. I'd do it for the generations above me on the tree as far as possible but not for myself -- in a sense I'm researching the tree for the ColeValleyGirl named in the birth certificate; the accuracy of all that research doesn't depend on whether that person is me.

The case would be different if I didn't know enough from living my own life to be sure the birth certificate was mine.

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The 'proof' required in your family tree is no different for yourself than for any other person. Would you accept a birth certificate and statement from someone else's mother? Probably, as both are usually pretty good evidence.

As ColeValleyGirl has already said, there will be many more documents that support the identity you build for yourself. Your own document collection could be very rich compared to the documentation you may find for your ancestors. If you are the sort of person who keeps everything, it may even approach completeness and you have unique access to your own documents. Examples of documents that may contain evidence that directly or indirectly supports your identity and relationships include baptism certificate, birthday cards, school reports, photographs, driving licence, passport, medical card, utility bills, bank statements, letters ...

If you record sources that will not be found in the official record collections like census, you may do future researchers a favour.

In the pursuit of distant ancestors we sometimes overlook the copious information we have on current and recent generations.

Interviews and less formal conversations, if recorded or noted, can be used a 'source'. 'Interviewing' yourself can be an interesting way of recalling memories.

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A good starting point would be to imagine that you are applying for a passport or planning to open a new bank account. What documentary evidence would you be required to produce? As far as I know, family historians place greater weight on the testimony of mothers than do most government agencies.

The precise details of what constitutes proof of identity may vary from one jurisdiction to another but I am sure that searching on that phrase will turn up a number of lists that you might consider.

You might also consider the need to prove not only who you are but also that you are the person who did the things that you "know" you have done. What records of your education and employment would unambiguously show that it was you and not some other George. (Does your mother have your school reports?)

Reflect on the frustrations you have felt in dealing with your least well-documented great grandparent. What documents do you wish her (or she) had left for descendants to use? That is what you need to assemble as evidence for yourself.

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