Meeting the GPS and the Power of Threes

My sister and nephew were recently visiting from Oxford. Not the one in Granville County, North Carolina. THE Oxford, as in England. When they visit we try to always do something new and outside our comfort level. Last year we zip-lined. Yes, even me with my fear of heights. That was kinda the point. It was scary. I got called a tree-hugger by our guides. But shhh, I’ll let you in on a secret. It was also really cool. Here’s a shout out to Zip Quest in Fayetteville!

Zip-lining. Fayetteville, NC.

This year we decided to confront my claustrophobia by getting in on the fun at a breakout room. This is where you get locked into a room and have to figure out clues to solve the various puzzles and “breakout.” In our scenario, we had to do so in less than one hour to avoid being probed by aliens. Yes, probed. The young lady who checked us in at The Breakout Room in downtown Wilmington was fabulous. One of her pre-entry help tips was to instruct us that anything we found in threes we should group together. This was significant. Threes. What came in threes provided either the answer or the clues to the answer.

I was thinking about this the other day while I was looking at three documents I had assembled on my desk. Current research question in my I head I was taken back to the breakout room. The field of genealogy is rumoured to have had a mythical “rule of threes.” If you were able to find evidence in three documents that collaborated an answer to your research question, you were good. Conclusion proved. The three documents spread out in front of me provided direct evidence to answer my research question and they were all in agreement. No conflicting evidence.


DateEventNameAgeResidenceFatherMotherSuggested Date of Birth
3 Nov 1922Marriage RecordMary Cameron Beattie22Ellenswood, Ardanadam, DunoonJohn Beattie, GardenerMary Cameron1900
4 Jan 1940Marriage RecordMary Cameron Beattie or Laidlaw393 Millar Terrace, DunoonJohn Beattie, GardenerMary Cameron (deceased)1901
27 Feb 1984Death RecordMary Cameron Montgomery833 Millar Terrace, DunoonJohn Beattie, Gardener (deceased)Mary Cameron (deceased)1901


Genealogy has thankfully evolved with a research science approach. We no longer take things at face value. Now a conclusion is not proved until it meets all five elements of the Genealogical Proof Standard (GPS). So, these three documents may answer my research question – Who were the parents of Mary (Mae) Cameron Beattie, who married Thomas Laidlaw 3rd November 1922 in Glasgow? – but they are not enough to draw a conclusion and declare it proved.

Reasonably Exhaustive Research

The question of what is “reasonably exhaustive research” comes up all the time. When do I hit that mark? Can as few as three documents be reasonably exhaustive? To quote Dr Thomas W. Jones, CG, CGL, FASG, FNGS, FUGA, “maybe.” If I have reviewed all the high-quality sources a genealogist would typically consult for the answer to my specific research question, then yes.  So the first problem.  Where was Mae’s birth record? Wouldn’t one naturally consult a person’s birth record to learn the names of their parents? Hence, big fail until I find her birth record.

There is also a second issue with the three documents and this relates to element three of the GPS. Analysis and correlation of the sources, information and evidence. There are logical steps to this process. You can not jump to correlating evidence without first analyzing the sources themselves.


Let’s do a quick analysis of the three documents. What are they? Two are marriage records and one is a death record. All three are original records created at or near the time of the events they were created to record. All three provide direct evidence as to the name of Mae’s parents. However, all three are not equal in this regards.

It is likely that Mae herself acted as the informant on her marriage records providing the names of her parents. So we have primary evidence. It is not unreasonable to think Mae knew her parents. The problem lies with the death record. The informant on the death record was her youngest daughter from her first marriage. Her knowledge of who her mother’s parents were is considered secondary evidence. Her grandmother was dead before she was born. Maybe she never even knew her name. Her grandfather died forty years earlier while she was still a girl. It is possible that the information for Mae’s parents came from her marriage record. So now we have one record dependent on another. This undermines the quality of our source and fails to meet the standard we are charged to meet.

So to recap, I have three documents that all contain correlating direct evidence to my research question. Removing the magical rule of three from genealogy raises the credibility of conclusions and the work genealogists produce. The GPS is king and without meeting all five elements I can not prove my conclusion at this time.

By the way, we did escape with just seconds to spare. No probing for me. Instead, I have to locate a birth record.

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