I had an interesting discussion with fellow genealogist Willem Vermeulen the other day, about the importance of going beyond the vital information to document your family and meet the Genealogical Proof Standard. I mentioned that I have different ‘levels’ of ancestral profiles, that I am now working to improve and expand. I have been working on my tree for thirty years, and not all of the work on my ancestors is up to my current standards. I decided to make these levels explicit to see where I am.
Level 0: Unidentified ancestor
I do not know who this ancestor is, not even a name.
Level 1: Names only
These are ancestors for whom I have found few records. They may have been named in records of their children. I may only know where they were at one point in time, for example when a child was baptized, but do not know when they were born, married, or died.
Most of my brick wall ancestors are like this. Most of them were born before 1650.
Level 2: Vital statistics
These are ancestors for whom I’ve done research in vital records: civil registration records of births, marriages, and deaths after 1811 or church records of baptisms, marriages, and burials before 1811. I may miss a date if records did not survive, but I have completed the research to find all the surviving vital records and have estimated dates for the events for which no record specifies the exact date.
I have reached this level for most of my ancestors born after 1650. See my level 2 checklist for the sources I use.
Level 3: Occupations, residence, children, spouses
These are ancestors where I know several key points of information. I not only know when and where they were born, married, and died, but also where they lived between those key dates and what they did for a living. I know who their children were, and whom they married, including spouses I don’t descend from.
I have reached this level for most of my ancestors born after 1800 and some earlier ancestors. See my level 3 checklist for the sources I use.
Level 4: Property ownership, military service, religion, criminal activity
These are ancestors for whom I have filled in more biographical details about their lives. I have done research in court, notarial, cadastral, church and military records, where applicable. I know if they owned property, how they acquired it, how they disposed of it. I know whether they left a last will or if they had a prenuptial agreement. For men, I know whether they served in the army. I know what religion they were and which church they attended. If they were criminals, I found out what they did and what their sentence was.
I have reached this level for several of my ancestors born after 1800, particularly on my mother’s Noord-Brabant side where more of these records are online. See my level 4 checklist for the sources I use.
Level 5: Genealogical Proof Standard
These are ancestors for whom I’ve finished reasonably exhaustive research and have proven who their parents are. I feel like I have gotten to know them. I have finished researching them in a wide range of records, such as newspapers, town records, and tax records. I’ve documented them according to current genealogical standards, analyzed everything properly, resolved conflicts, written up my conclusion, and met the Genealogical Proof Standard.
I have reached this level for my ancestors in my possible line to Eleanor of Aquitaine and some other ancestors born after 1800.
Level 6: Biography
These are ancestors for whom I have not only finished the research, but I have written it up in the form of a biography or family story, complete with historical context.
I have reached this level for two generations of my Kastein ancestors. I wrote about them in my Kinship Determination Project as part of my portfolio to submit to the Board for Certification of Genealogists.
To see how I’m doing for my own tree, I filled in my ahnentafel chart with the levels for each ancestor and then color-coded them. That’s me at the bottom, then my parents on the row above that, grandparents above that, etc., back to generation 7.
I’m shocked that it is this bad!
I have been strict though; one missing population register is an automatic cap at level 2, for example, and any family not written up properly is an automatic level 4 max since it doesn’t meet the fifth element of the Genealogical Proof Standard, a written conclusion.
Some of these families I last seriously researched when I was a teenager, so I knew they were not all up to my current standards, but it is eye opening to see how much work remains to be done. I have been working on this for my mother’s side off and on for the past couple of years, one nuclear family at a time, but my father’s side is lagging. I create a report for each ancestral couple to document all the research, and then add the conclusions to my family tree.
A few things I notice:
- My mother’s side (right side of the chart) is doing a lot better than my father’s side (left side). That is largely thanks to the better online availability of records in Noord-Brabant, where her family is from. For example, the notarial records for the towns where her ancestors are from and prison records are available online, while criminal court records are available via free scanning on demand.
- On my father’s side, I have not completed even the basic research on the population registers for many of my ancestors (level 3). For a long time, these records were not online for the town of Winterswijk where most of his ancestors were from. They are now, and I should make it a priority to do this.
- For some of the more recent generations, I have a lot of information but haven’t taken the time to properly write it all up and meet the GPS to get it to level 5.
- The 0’s are especially glaring, but I cannot do much about them. They are the fathers of illegitimate children whom I have not identified yet. I have been researching the mothers and the children, trying to find out what men were in their lives, and then looking for these men among my DNA matches. I have a theory for one of them, but nothing close to a solid conclusion yet.
- I like that the visual chart makes it easy to see which lines need the most work.
Since I have not met the Genealogical Proof Standard in many parts of my tree, I’m building on quicksand. I need to fix this!
I challenge you all to join me in leveling up our ancestors.
You can use the levels as defined above, or define your own if that makes more sense for the way you do research. For comparison, I suggest we all stick to level 1 = names only and level 5 = GPS. You can download an Excel-sheet for seven generations like the one I did above that automatically does the coloring if you put in the levels.
My first goal is to get all of my ancestors in the first five generations to level 3. That will take me back to the mid 1800s.
What level are most of your ancestors? What’s your first goal? Please leave a note or link to a blog post in the comments.
Let’s level up!
Please feel free to share this challenge with your society or other genealogists, as long as you credit me (Yvette Hoitink) and include a link back to this blog post. You can use https://dutchgenealogy.nl/levelup as a short URL when sharing in print.
Several people have asked me why I don’t include DNA in the levels. The reason is that DNA testing is not very popular in the Netherlands. Few people are willing to test, so it is pretty random whether you have matches on a line or not. I use the levels to keep track of my documentary research. But if including DNA works for you, you can include them in your own levels.
17 April 2021: DNA Painter adds research levels as a dimension.