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BCG Abandons the Term "Preponderance of Evidence"

The Board for Certification of Genealogists, which tests and certifies researchers in a number of genealogical specialties, will no longer use the term preponderance of evidence, heretofore widely used to describe how genealogists analyze and weigh evidence.

Helen F. M. Leary, Certified Genealogist, Certified Genealogical Lecturer, and current president of the board, reports the conclusion of the board's governing trustees that the term has been more confusing than helpful. The board will still require applicants for Certified Genealogist (CGSM), Certified American Lineage Specialist (CALSSM), and Certified American Indian Lineage Specialist (CAILSSM) to demonstrate the skillful handling of complex evidence problems. However, the board's literature is being reworded to describe more specifically the manner in which applicants are to demonstrate their ability.

The term preponderance of evidence was originally borrowed by genealogists from the legal system, where it describes the standard of proof necessary in civil trials. However, genealogy requires a level of proof for preponderance-of-the-evidence decisions that is higher than the level applied by the judicial system.

Adding to the confusion has been use of the term to describe the resolution of complex evidence problems, but without general agreement on procedures to be followed or the degree of complexity the term implies. These factors led to a board review of evidentiary language and a consensus that the term should be dropped.

* Based upon a 17 July 1997 news release by the Board for Certification of Genealogists; Post Office Box 14291; Washington, DC 20044.

For more-specific distinctions between the legal and genealogical uses of the term preponderance of evidence and a discussion of the various manners in which genealogists handle complex cases, see Elizabeth Shown Mills, CG, CGL, FASG, "Working with Historical Evidence: Genealogical Principles and Standards," in Evidence: A Special Issue of the National Genealogical Society Quarterly, NGSD 87 (September 1999): 165—84.


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