Monday, January 16, 2017

GPS Study Group Week 3: When and where was Harvey Thomas born?

Genealogical Proof Standard Study Group
Chapter Three – Evaluating the Records
Marceline Beem

Christine Rose, Genealogical Proof Standard: Building a Solid Case, 4th Edition Revised. San Jose, California: CR Publications, 2014.

In Chapter 3 of our text book, the author examines various record types and provides evidence analysis for each record type and how to weigh it when resolving conflicting evidence. One of the record types Ms. Rose examines is death records, pointing out that most of the time the information in the record is mixed – some of it is primary information (the death event itself) while the other information is secondary (birth events, for example).

As the author of the text reminds us, we cannot accurately analyze and weigh the evidence in a document without considering WHO provided the information under consideration. This week’s research question is When and where was Chris Harvey Thomas born?

Chris Harvey Thomas is my Uncle Harvey, my mother’s older brother. He died of complications from polio in 1952, when he was just 13 years old.  One of the documents we can use to answer the research question is his death certificate:

Death Certificate of Chris Harvey Thomas1

Partial Transcript:

Place of Death: Hamot Hospital, Erie, Erie, Pennsylvania
Name of Deceased: Chris Harvey Thomas
Date of Death: Aug. 1, 1952
Age: 13
Date of Birth: 3-1-39
Birthplace: Alabama
Father’s Name: Curtis Thomas
Mother’s Name: Marceline Jacobs
Informant’s Signature: (signed) Curtis Thomas

This death certificate is a high-quality, digital image of the original document, found at The death information was recorded at the time of Uncle Harvey’s death, making it primary information. But what about the research question under consideration – when and where was he born? In this particular case, it also primary information. Why? Notice the informant is Curtis Thomas, who is also named as the decedent’s father. As his father, Curtis Thomas would have had first-hand knowledge of Uncle Harvey’s birth, including both the date and location. The document provides direct evidence that Chris Harvey Thomas was born on March 1, 1939 in Alabama.

With this document, we have enough evidence to say conclusively that Chris Harvey Thomas was born on March 1, 1939 in Alabama, right? Um, no, not if we are trying to meet the Genealogical Proof Standard (GPS). While this document does provide direct evidence from a primary informant, I have not met the first requirement of the GPS – conducting an exhaustive search. Maybe under the stress of losing a child, my grandfather mixed up Uncle Harvey’s birthdate. Other record types need to be searched. Considering the time and place of Uncle Harvey’s short life, I need to search for a birth certificate, obituary, family records, and the 1940 census. My grandparents and other relatives who might have first-hand knowledge of his birth are no longer living, so I cannot interview them, but I could interview my mother and aunt, who probably know his birthdate and location. After I complete the exhaustive search, I will continue the remaining steps of the GPS process - analyzing the documents, resolving any conflicts, and writing my conclusion.

  1. Pennsylvania Death Certificates, 1906-1964,” database with images, ( : accessed 15 Jan 2017), entry for Chris Harvey Thomas (1952); citing Records of the Pennsylvania Department of Health, Death Certificates, Record Group 11, Series 11.90

1 comment:

  1. Great job analyzing this document! And, I love how you pointed out this document is NOT enough to meet the GPS standards. Keep up the great work!