To analyze a genealogy record is part of the Genealogical Proof Standard. By learning and applying this skill to both the record and its information, you will glean clues that may have otherwise been overlooked. Here are a few things to remember when you analyze a genealogy record. [Note: This post is meant to be for the beginner and is touching on one aspect of the GPS in a most basic manner.]
The Board for Certification of Genealogists has published a book titled Genealogy Standards. In it, they discuss the ins and outs of using the Genealogical Proof Standard (GPS) in genealogy research. For some, the book and its language may be overwhelming or intimidating. The GPS includes five components. One of these components reads:
Critical tests of relevant evidence through processes of analysis and correlation facilitate sound interpretation of information and evidence. They also ensure that the conclusion reflects all the evidence, including the best existing evidence. 
Essentially, that means that records we use for genealogy should be investigated thoroughly so we can interpret the information there and any information being hinted at. In the following paragraphs, I hope to shine a light on the basic steps of analyzing a record in your genealogy research.
Two Types of Analysis
There are two types of analysis. They are source analysis and information analysis.
Source analysis is in regard to the record itself, such as a birth or death record. When you analyze it, you are looking for its “likely accuracy, integrity, and completeness.”  In layman’s terms, for each record you might ask yourself the following questions:
- Is the record readable? Is the writing or type too light?
- Does the document have any rips or tears that might mean some of the information from the record is missing?
- Is the record or document found in loose papers or a bound volume? (Loose items may mean there are additional pieces of information that are missing or misplaced, for example.)
- If it is a digital image, is it blurry or is the image cut off where information may be missing?
- Is this a record or an index created from another source? (An index, transcription, abstraction, or record created from something else is called a derivative source and does not typically “hold water” as well as an original source.)
- Is there a significant time lapse between when the event happened and when the record was made? (Sometimes, record sets need to be re-created due to loss or damage, and a copy can introduce errors. Another example may be a person creating an affidavit about events that took place long, long ago and perhaps their memory is a bit fuzzy.)
Information analysis on the other hand, is to apply these same types of questions to the information being given. Questions you might ask yourself while analyzing the information may be:
- For what purpose was this record made? (When a record is made to prove legitimacy of a claim, such as a pension, then is it possible some details may have been added, omitted, changed, or hidden? When money is involved, it’s a good idea to be cautious of the the information in the record.)
- Who created the record and did they have any reason to record it incorrectly? (A Bible record of a child’s birth perhaps will be slightly off to protect the parents from anyone knowing the child was born “too soon” after the marriage.)
- Who gave the information being recorded? Did this person have accurate knowledge of what they were reporting? (A widow naming her deceased husband’s parents by name and place of birth, yet she had never known them. How accurate would that be?)
- Are there any contradictions within the information being given?
Analysis in Action
Let’s see some analysis in action.
George Henry Bowser died on 3 July 1948 in Clark County, Ohio. His death record can be seen online and it gives a great deal of information. First, let’s look at the record itself and analyze it:
- Is this an index, copy, or digital image of the death record? It’s a digital image found online at FamilySearch. It seems to be an image of the original death record. The image is clear and able to be read easily. No tears, rips, or blotting out appear on the record.
- When was the record made? It seems to have been made at the time of death.
- Who created the record? A clerk is likely the person that created the record, though the informant is listed as Clinton Bowser, which is George’s son. Clinton would have been approximately 45 years old at this time.
Now, let’s analyze the information:
- Are their any contradictions within the information given on this death record? Yes, this record gives George’s birth date as 19 August 1870, however we have a birth register record giving his birth date as 17 August 1871.
- Did the informant have any reason to lie? No.
- Did the informant have any impediments to why he/she may not know the answers to the questions being asked? Yes, Clinton was obviously not alive when his father was born. He was likely going on what George had told him and George also did not have first hand knowledge of his own birth. Additionally, George had left his family in 1916 when Clinton was only 13 years old. George was an abusive drunk and so we might speculate there were not many times when the family sat around the table discussing birthdays or sharing family history dates. (Pure speculation, here.)
If we had applied the same line of questions to the birth register for George Henry Bowser’s birth and found the record to be legible, readable, created near the time of birth by those with first-hand knowledge of the event, then we would say that George’s accurate birth date is 17 August 1871, not 19 August 1870 as recorded on his death record.
When you analyze genealogy records and information, it will help you “…facilitate sound interpretation of information and evidence”  and come to a sound conclusion regarding names, dates, and places for your family history. Why not consider going back over your records and analyze them like a pro! Happy hunting, friends and best of luck!
 Board for Certification of Genealogists, Genealogy Standards, 50th Anniversary Edition, (Nashville: Ancestry.com, 2014), page 2.
 BCG, Genealogy Standards, page 21-22.
 BCG, Genealogy Standards, page 2.
“Genealogy Standards” book is an affiliate link and I do receive compensation for purchases made via the link.
Barbara Bishop says
I have a interesting question. My grandmother and granduncle have the same birth date according to the death register. (which I assume is incorrect). I have a family bible which lists there birth dates as different. There marriages reflect the correct dates. Also his grave stone reflects the correct year. So I am going with the date which is shown most often.
Amie Bowser Tennant says
Hi Barbara! Typically, you would go with the date that was created closest to the event, not the one that is mentioned most often. So in your case, if your grandmother and granduncle have no birth record on file (county or state level) and the Bible entry seems to be made at or near the time of their birth, by someone with first-hand knowledge and no reason to lie, then that would be a great substitute for a birth record. Marriage records that give the same date of birth would be supporting evidence that you have the “right” date. The death register is the least likely to have the correct birth date, just as you mentioned.