Certified Genealogist or Accredited Genealogist?

Originally published on genealogyatheart.blogspot.com 6 May 2015

I was in a quandary – should I pursue becoming a Certified Genealogist or an Accredited Genealogist?  In typical genealogical mindset I looked to the past for help.

As I’ve mentioned previously, I have attained National Board Certified Teacher/Counselor (NBCT) status.  NBCT is a rigorous peer review program involving submission of a written reflective portfolio, audio and video tapes of counseling sessions, documentation of community involvement that demonstrates how one has gone above and beyond what is required and a day long exam.   I decided 8 years ago that the time was right to pursue NBCT as my youngest had just gone off to college and my husband, also a counselor, agreed to work towards obtaining NBCT, too.

The timing turned out not to be so good – a family member became seriously ill and temporarily moved in with us, one crisis after another happened at the school where I worked and our roof gave out so money was tight (the NBCT process is not cheap!).  The portfolio and tapes are submitted in February, the exam is in June and notification of achievement isn’t made until November.  When notification day finally arrived I was understandably relieved to learn I had made it.  What I discovered, though, was the notification of achievement wasn’t as big of a deal as the process itself had been.  The process made me think about counseling in a very different way – I became more skilled as a counselor due to the reflective aspect that is integral to the NBCT process.  I became stronger professionally and that was what I wanted the outcome to be of whichever genealogical process I decided to follow.

With that criterion in mind, I reviewed the information online from both the Board for Certification of Genealogists (BCG) and International Commission for the Accreditation of Genealogists (ICAPGen).

From BCG’s website “Certification results from evaluation of work samples in a portfolio submission.  BCG requires different materials for each certification category.  If three to four judges recommend certification, you will be certified for a five-year period.  You can perpetuate your certification with five-year renewal applications showing that you have kept your skills up to date.”  This is very similar to the NBCT process. BCG’s requirements are:

  • Signing that you will comply with the Genealogists’ Code of Ethics
  • Submitting
    • a background resume
    • a paper based on a BCG provided document in which you transcribe, abstract, evaluate and formulate a research plan
    • the same as bullet 2 but with a document you provide concerning an area that is your primary research focus
    • a research report prepared for a client with the client’s permission
    • a case study of conflicting or indirect evidence and
    • a kinship determination project

Challenging but doable.

Next I looked at ICAPGen requirement.  The bold and italics are mine to emphasize my concern, “… Your presentation of four connecting generations in your project should represent your knowledge of a variety of records that are useful at different times in your chosen region. The regional focus allows for practice in records that might be included in the written exams.

Many of our U.S. ancestors migrated from one geographical region to another so we might have to choose a family other than our own for the four generation project. This might be the ancestry of another family member, a client, or a family that is known to have four generations that lived in the same geographic region. We might also select from our own ancestry a related descendant line that meets the criteria. Note that privacy issues are not violated because the records are for events of people born before 1900 and identities of living persons are not included in the report.”

In our family, my kids are first generation Floridians so I would be looking for a client.  Finding a client to meet ICAPGen’s requirements in my area would be difficult.  Here’s why – for simplicity, let’s say a generation is 20 years.  To meet ICAPGen’s requirement we’ll say my client’s Person 1 was born in 1899 since the requirement is a birth year prior to 1900.  Person 1’s parent (generation 2) would be born in 1879, grandparent (generation 3) would be born in 1859, and great grandparent (generation 4) would be born in 1839.

Florida is a large state and I don’t claim to be an expert on its entirety.  I’d prefer to focus on the Tampa Bay region as that is where I research and where I have the most knowledge.  Here’s the historical population of Tampa, the area’s largest city, from Wikipedia:

Historical population
Census Pop.
1850 974
1870 796
1880 720 −9.5%

The first census is shown as 1850 because Florida did not become a state until March 3, 1845.   Citidata.com reports that “The 1830s and 1840s were marked by repeated violent conflicts between the Seminoles and white soldiers and settlers. Although Tampa emerged from the so-called Second Seminole War (1835–1842) as a fledgling town rather than just a frontier outpost, it subsequently endured a variety of setbacks, including further skirmishes with the Seminoles, yellow fever epidemics, and, in 1848, a hurricane-generated tidal wave that leveled the village.” I know there are Tampa families today that can trace their lineage back to pre-Tampa days when the area was known as Fort Brooke but I don’t want to use something that’s already been done.  Finding a new Tampa pioneer family with 4 generations going back to 1839 would be time consuming and a matter of luck.

I could expand my search area to meet the requirement.  The Florida population in 1837 was 48,000, half being slaves, and most people lived in the northern part of the state, between St. Augustine and Pensacola.  ICAPGen wants primary sources.  To find a primary source slave document from 1839 would be miraculous.  Remember, this was the period of the Seminole War and the document would have to have also survived the Civil War, hurricanes, mold, and courthouse fires.  Even finding a primary source for a white man in 1839 in Florida is something to celebrate.  Plus, I don’t live close to where I would be researching to find the document.

This would explain why ICAPGen lumps Florida in the Gulf South region of the United States, along with Georgia,  Alabama, Mississippi, Louisiana, Arkansas, and Texas.  A client could have family from any of the other listed states which allows for the requirement to be met.  However, I would not be comfortable taking clients from the entire Gulf South region.  I would be doing them a disservice as I don’t have the knowledge or skills to assist them. I suppose others feel the same way I do as there are only 11 ICAPGen’s that have achieved Accredited Genealogist status for the Gulf Shore region.

So the criterion made the decision for me – I will be seeking Certified Genealogist through BCG.

Next time – I’ll be traveling to the Big Apple for a conference and my thoughts are on motherhood and the brain.

Becoming a Pro Genealogist

Originally published on genealogyatheart.blogspot.com 3 May2015

Thinking about becoming a professional genealogist?  That thought hadn’t occurred to me until last fall.  My professional background is in counseling psychology and I’ve been employed as a school counselor in public and private settings for most of my career, with side ventures as a reading teacher, day care owner, rehab counseling supervisor, and an educational placement specialist (finding the right fit for both child and school).  I admit I’ve always been passionate about counseling but passion alone does not make a professional. To be considered a professional, one must have completed the educational requirements, obtained licensure and demonstrate day-to-day ethics in the field.

I looked at genealogy as my hobby and counseling as my profession.  In fact, several years ago when I overheard my husband tell a neighbor I was an expert genealogist I quickly told him to stop saying that. Granted, I was passionate about my hobby but a professional genealogist, no way.  I didn’t even know how someone became professional.

Over the years I’ve helped several family members become Daughters of the American Revolution and founding members of the Society of Descendants of Lady Godiva.  Alhough these experiences helped me gain confidence in my work they did not put me on the level of a professional genealogist.

Co-workers, friends and distant relatives have asked for help and referred others to me – Can you locate my birth parents?  What happened to my Great Uncle George?  Can you show me how to find the names of my great grandparents?  Why did my family move to Florida?  How is this person related to me?  Seeing the recipient’s joy when the result of my findings was presented was rewarding to me. I felt like I had joined my two passions – counseling and genealogy – especially when I had to delicately tell the person about some difficult truth – your great grandpa was an alcoholic who never married your great grandma, and by the way, he murdered someone.

About 5 years ago I began a surname update project on my husband’s mother’s line.  I entered all of the Harbaugh family from the 1947 Cooprider & Cooprider Harbaugh Family History:  A Directory, Genealogy and Source Book of Family Records into my Main Tree on Ancestry.com.  Then, I added info from Henry Harbaugh’s 1856 Annals of the Harbaugh Family in America .  (Yes, this is the same family as Coaches John& Jim Harbaugh who are my husband’s 3rd cousins and no, we haven’t met them.)

Since I made the project publicly accessible I was contacted by a lot of descendants who helped update the records further.  Then I decided to do a surname project with my dad’s line – the Leininger family.  I added into my tree all of the various branches and tried to connect them together back to the original who knows how many times great grandpa across the pond.  A work in progress which most likely only dna will ever be able to solve. By making my findings public, though, I have been able to corroborate with extended family. Still, I was shocked when a Nebraska librarian emailed me her appreciation as a number of her patrons were helped by my tree. I valued that feedback.  Then a professor contacted me as he was looking for an authority on the Leininger family.  I forwarded him on to a cousin who pointed out I had a more documented tree than he had.

Around the same time I was contacted by a reporter of a major newspaper requesting assistance – could I help locate a photo for a story that was being featured.  I love a challenge and this was certainly going to test my skill level.  I began to seriously start thinking about becoming a professional genealogist.

Online I found the Association of Professional Genealogists (APG) which is an organization dedicated to promoting professionalism in the field of genealogy.  When I think of a genealogist, I think of an individual who is researching lineage.  I never thought about all of the specialty areas and related fields, such as adoption, author, geneticist, heir locator, lecturer, lineage society specialist, and document translator.  Joining a professional organization would be moving in the right direction but I wanted to compare my work with those that are considered the experts.

I’ve noticed the initials after the names of presenters on webinars but I never stopped to think what those initials meant.  Digging further I discovered that there are only two credentialing genealogical organizations:  The Board for Certification of Genealogists (BCG) in Washington, DC and the International Commission for the Accreditation of Genealogists (ICAPGen) in Orem, Utah.  This means BCG certifies (CG-Certified Genealogist and CGL-Certified Genealogical Lecturer) and ICAPGen accredits (AG-Accredited Genealogist).

What’s the difference?  Per Google, certification is confirmation “provided by some form of external review, education, assessment, or audit.”  Accreditation is a “…process of validation…” with standards being set by peer review.  Nice definitions but I still was unsure which I wanted to achieve and more importantly, if I was ready to do it. I took an online quiz at http://www.bcgcertification.org/ruready.html.  The results identified areas in which I needed to improve.  I began reading more journals and referred to the Genealogical Standards when I was writing reports.  The area that I still need to look further into is attending a Genealogical Institute.  I’ve taken a variety of workshops locally and online over the years to improve my skills but I’ve never been formally trained.

In reality, the greatest hindrance was I lacked the confidence that I was ready for the next big step.  I put the information aside and enjoyed the winter, snuggling on the couch in front of the fire with my laptop happily researching my Duer’s and Hatton’s and working on an EBook I’m writing about my husband’s grandpa in World War I.

My recent visit to the Family History Library in Salt Lake City motivated me to go forward in the field.  The genealogists I met with to discuss my brick walls so impressed me with their expertise that I wanted to become like them.  I asked a couple about becoming credentialed and was directed to ICAPGen and BCG.  Understandably, since ICAPGen is Utah based and historically associated with the Church of Latter Day Saints, ICAPGen was what they had achieved.

So my next big decision was to become either certified or accredited.  Next time, I’ll continue on how the requirements influenced my decision

I’m officially OFF the Clock


Originally published on genealogyatheart.blogspot.com on 13 Aug 2016.

I just submitted electronically my portfolio to the Board for Certification of Genealogists so I’m no longer considered “On the Clock.”  My husband had made me this cute magnet when I first submitted my application:


I’m going to miss it!

Although, at times, the workload was challenging it was do-able. The Google group for On the Clockers was helpful in clarifying requirements, offering suggestions and providing general support during a stressful time.

I’m most fortunate that my family was very understanding and supportive.  They were facing their own challenges over the past year – daughter relocated back to our area and became board certified in two areas – pediatrics and internal medicine.  She just finished an acupuncture course and should be certified in that by the end of the year.  Son graduated with another degree and is now working as a chemical engineer.  Hubby is writing a book besides his full time job as a counselor.  I’m proud of their accomplishments and their ability to overcome the obstacles that life threw in their paths.

I also am thankful for the clients – their ancestors and mine – that I researched.  The lives of those individuals was inspiring!  Whenever I got stuck, be it writer’s block or due to an inaccessible record, I only needed to re-examine their documents for a gentle reminder that my situation was minor.  The past certainly put the present in perspective!

I began this blog to follow my journey through the certification process.  I’ll continue until I hear – yay or nay – that I’m certified.  I’m not quite sure how long that will be.  Like the song says, “The waiting is the hardest part…”