THE EDITORS’ VIEW
Sometimes solutions to genealogical problems seem to appear out of nowhere, unexpectedly breaking down longstanding brick walls. When this happens, some will say their long-dead ancestors are leading them to the right answers. Others will say it’s a lucky coincidence, that “Luck is what happens when preparation meets opportunity.”1
It doesn’t matter whether you believe in ancestors guiding your research or just plain good luck. That debate is for another forum. What matters here is that when information falls into the researcher’s lap, even the most experienced, highly analytical practitioner is tempted to suspend reason and accept it as the truth. It looks right. All the pieces fit. Surely it’s correct—or so we want to think.
In this issue the skilled and highly respected genealogist Donn Devine, CG, admits he faced just such a temptation. Based on the information he had on his Falk ancestry, he knew he should look for his problem family in Westphalia. But where? That search would involve a time-consuming foray through records of every Jewish community there, looking for a family matching the information he had gathered. Then suddenly the answer was in front of him, thanks to serendipitous events. Could it really be that simple?
Some genealogists might stop at this point and accept the finding at face value. Not Donn Devine. An experienced researcher with exceptional analytical skills, he knew he must scrutinize every aspect of the problem. Recognizing that his proposed solution must meet the Genealogical Proof Standard (GPS),2 he carefully considered whether his serendipitous find, coupled with other evidence, satisfied the requirement that the search be reasonably exhaustive.
Researchers often struggle with the concept of “enough.” How many sources must be examined before a conclusion may be stated with confidence? Simply stated, it depends. Donn’s article on the Falks presents us with a rare opportunity to watch an expert at work as he wrestles with the factors that determine “enough.” Is that village-by-village search of Jewish records in Westphalia still necessary? Or is the gathered evidence and subsequent analysis sufficient?
Studying the lives of our ancestors can be emotional. When a chance finding materializes after years of research, excitement may temporarily overwhelm reason. The GPS reminds us to dissect all the evidence—including that which comes to us out of the blue—with scrupulous attention to detail. It provides us with a road map to evaluate the soundness of a proposed solution. So bring on the lucky finds. If we understand and use the principles of the GPS, we’ll be ready.
Laura Murphy DeGrazia, CG, FGBS
Karen Mauer Green, CG, FGBS
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THE NEW YORK
Genealogical and Biographical Record
VOLUME 144 January 2013 NUMBER 1