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The original content for this article was contributed by The National Institute for Genealogical Studies in June 2012. It is an excerpt from their course Methodology - Part 1: Getting Started, Methodology - Part 2: Organizing and Skillbuilding, Methodology - Part 3: More Strategies, Methodology - Part 4: Effective Searching and Recording, Methodology - Part 5: How To Prove It, and Methodology - Part 6: Professional Preparation and Practice  by Louise St Denis, Brenda Dougall Merriman and Dr. Penelope Christensen. The Institute offers over 200 comprehensive genealogy courses for a fee ($).


Credentialing Bodies (cont.)

Board for Certification of Genealogists (BCG)
P.O. Box 14291
Washington, DC, USA 20044

by Kay Haviland Freilich, CGSM, CGLSM (President 2003-2004)

Certification—Is It Your Next Step?
You’ve been studying genealogy for some time now. You’re approaching the end of your course work. What is next for you in the field?

It may be time to consider applying for certification from The Board for Certification of Genealogists (BCG). Certification is an important step in one’s personal growth as a genealogist. Equally important, it is a vital part of maintaining quality and public confidence in our field. For the genealogist, certification says “I care about the quality of work that I compile for posterity.” For consumers, certification offers reassurance and a recourse as they seek professional help in a field free of governmental regulation.


What Is BCG?
An independent, not-for-profit organization, The Board for Certification of Genealogists has been the hallmark of quality, professionalism, and service in genealogy since its founding in 1964. The Board stands for the highest standards of competence and ethics in genealogical research on both personal and professional levels. BCG stands for and promotes excellence in research, teaching, writing, publishing, and librarianship. It administers qualifying examinations; maintains a register of certified persons; and provides this register to libraries, archives, societies, and individuals who seek its guidance. BCG’s credentials are universally recognized, and its associates qualify as expert witnesses in courts of law.

Certified Genealogists

As of October 2005, BCG certifies genealogists in a single-credential category:
Certified GenealogistSM (CGSM). The previous categories of Certified Genealogical Records Specialist (CGRS) and Certified Lineage Specialist (CGL) have been consolidated into one credential for all present and future applications, and for the five-year renewals. This decision was reached after extensive discussion and agreement that regardless of the type of work they do, all genealogists have the same skills. In addition, the former category differences were not well understood and one category eliminates any confusion in the public mind.

Individuals holding the Certified Genealogist credential have demonstrated competence in the following skills areas:

  • understanding research sources and methods
  • planning and executing research projects
  • identifying and citing sources
  • judging the evidentiary value of research results
  • resolving genealogical problems
  • reporting results of a genealogical investigation
  • following instructions

For associates who instruct others in genealogical subjects and who have been certified for at least five years, BCG offers two additional categories. Certified Genealogical LecturerSM (CGLSM), for those who speak to conference audiences, genealogical societies, lineage organizations, and civic groups on genealogical topics such as methodology or source materials.

Certified Genealogical InstructorSM (CGISM), for those who teach a full-scale, structured genealogical course at an educational institution, library, or similar facility.

The credentials in full or as short-form postnominal initials are registered service marks which associates are licenced to use for the five-year period granted by the Board.

By signing the Genealogists’ Code of Ethics, each individual earning BCG certification is mindful of responsibilities to the public, to the genealogical consumer, to the profession and its scholarship, pledging:

  • “to strive for the highest level of truth and accuracy in all phases of my work;
  • to act honorably toward other genealogists and toward the field as a whole;
  • to adhere to the Board for Certification of Genealogists’ standards of conduct;
  • to act in my client’s best interests; and
  • to protect my client’s privacy, exclusive access, and proprietary rights in the work
  • that has been commissioned.”

How Do I Apply?

Potential applicants should begin the process by becoming familiar with the requirements of the Application Guide (Washington, DC: Board for Certification of Genealogists, 2006) and the standards as outlined in The BCG Genealogical Standards Manual (Washington, DC: The Board for Certification of Genealogists, 2000) which may be purchased from BCG. Then they should complete the preliminary application form, available from the office or website, and mail it with the necessary fee to the office. From the date the preliminary application form is received, applicants have twelve months to file their complete application.

The final application is a portfolio of work samples that demonstrate proficiency in the skills common to all genealogists. The completed portfolio will include the following requirements:

  • Acceptance of the Genealogists’ Code of Ethics;
  • A background résumé of genealogical activities;
  • Document work with a BCG-provided document: transcribe, abstract, evaluate the document and prepare a research plan;
  • Document work with an applicant-provided document: transcribe, abstract, evaluate the document and prepare a research plan;
  • A research report prepared for a client;* it will include the client’s original authorization or contract and permission for usage in the portfolio;
  • A case study of conflicting or indirect evidence;
  • A kinship determination project.

*Remember that BCG defines a client as anyone for whom research is done other than oneself or one’s spouse; that can be whether for a fee or salary, in an exchange of research time, or pro bono (without payment or exchange).

Kinship Determination Project

The kinship determination project is a revised requirement as of 2006. It is a research and evidence-analysis project that offers you several options for presentation. It is to include at least three couples in successive ancestral generations. The requirement is flexible enough to be presented in the form of:

  • a narrative genealogy,
  • a narrative lineage (ascending or descending),
  • a narrative pedigree, or
  • a case study.

You can choose the one that represents your preferred style or the one that best fits the situation of your chosen family.

Precise descriptions of those five options are in the 2006 BCG Application Guide and on the BCG website. You are guided through the steps for all options. A narrative genealogy (previously called a “compiled genealogy” in earlier applications) is still an option because some applicants prefer to do the whole-family genealogy rather than the less-extensive lineage or pedigree. The case study option is for those who prefer to draft a journal-style article that emphasizes the research problem, rather than the more structured genealogy, lineage, or pedigree. In any of the options, the project has to include at least three generations, with proof arguments provided for each of two parent-child links in different generations.

Examples of reports and compiled genealogies are included in The BCG Standards Manual. As always—regardless of which option you choose—every statement of fact you include in your narrative (unless it falls into the realm of “public knowledge” such as the statement “The Civil War began in 1861”) must be supported by sound source notes.

Prepare for Certification

How Do I Prepare for Certification?
The two most important aspects of preparation are continued practice of genealogical skills and continuing education. Useful articles appear in each issue of the Board’s educational newsletter, OnBoard, which is published three times a year. Potential candidates are encouraged to visit the BCG web site. Here you will find two sample documents, along with all the document work required for an application. You’ll also find two sample letter reports and articles about skills and application strategies from previous issues of OnBoard. The “Are You Ready” quiz provides a way to assess your own level of preparation.

Genealogists who are interested in certification are urged to:

  • continue to work with records and sources;
  • continue their education by reading journal articles;
  • attend lectures, conferences and workshops on the local, regional, and national level;
  • study examples of genealogical work in The BCG Standards Manual and Professional Genealogy (Elizabeth Shown Mills, editor, Baltimore: Genealogical Publishing Company, 2001),
  • take the “Are You Ready” Test at the BCG website; and
  • review articles from OnBoard that appear on the website.

Judging Process

What is the Judging Process?
Each portfolio is carefully examined by at least three judges who are experts in the field. To ensure impartial consideration, judges act anonymously and independently of each other. They report their evaluations in writing to the applicant and to the Board, which acts on the judges’ recommendations for approval (or disapproval) of the application. Approval requires that three judges find the portfolio “sufficient for certification.” About two-thirds of initial applications and more than four-fifths of renewal applications are approved. Difficulties with renewals normally occur when associates fail to stay abreast of prevailing standards or fail to show improvement in any areas that were weak in the initial portfolio.

BCG uses an arbitration judge for any portfolio that receives mixed recommendations from the three judges. The arbitrator, who sees both the portfolio and all three evaluations, is charged with resolving differences in the evaluations and making a final decision as to whether or not the portfolio is approved. In rare cases, when the first judge determines that a portfolio is so poorly prepared that review by three individuals would be fruitless, the portfolio is returned to the applicant as unsatisfactory.

As they review a portfolio, judges seek evidence of an applicant’s ability to meet quality standards generally accepted in the field of genealogy. Judges consider whether the work samples in a portfolio demonstrate the overall skills and knowledge required of modern genealogists as well as a good understanding of the specific techniques relating to their chosen work.

The judging process takes an average of five months. Initial judges are selected from a rotating list. All judges strive to complete their review within a month but at the same time want to give each portfolio the time and attention that the candidate used to compile it. The time lapse between submission and final outcome bears no relationship to the quality of the application.

Who are the Judges?
To maintain the confidentiality of the judging process, the judges are anonymous. Each of them has been certified for at least five years, and each judge has received high marks on his own evaluations. The judges volunteer their judging time.

What Happens After Certification?
Successful applicants become associates of the Board and are licensed by it to use the category designations in full or in postnominal short-form initials, and also to use the distinctive certification logo on stationery, business cards, and related materials. The license is limited to the five-year period for which certification is granted. To retain certification, one submits a satisfactory renewal application that provides material evidence of ongoing, quality work and continuing education in genealogical sources and methods.

Associates are listed in The BCG Certification Roster, along with their contact information and research interests. The roster appears in electronic format on the BCG web page and is published on paper intermittently. Updates to the paper version appear thrice yearly in OnBoard, which every associate receives.

What is the Purpose of Renewal?
The main purpose of renewal is to ensure that the associate continues to work up to the standards exhibited in an initial portfolio. At the same time, the renewal portfolio can demonstrate that the associate has improved in any areas that were found weak in the initial reviews. A renewal portfolio is far less complex than an initial one. Applicants submit up to four work samples of their choice, along with updated biographical information. The organized associate begins a folder of potential renewal submissions immediately after being certified.


What Makes A Successful Portfolio?
One of the most important issues is simply following instructions, both those of BCG and of the client (remembering how BCG defines a “client”). Another issue is applying too soon, before reaching a depth of expertise that only comes with experience. We can point out some shortcomings for your benefit.

Some of the flaws judges have noticed:

  • Inability to correctly read the handwriting found on documents.
  • Presenting data with no citation to the specific source for each item of information.
  • Failing to differentiate between data found in the document and the applicant’s analytical or interpretive comments.
  • Omitting significant data from abstracts.
  • Summarizing rather than analyzing the Board-supplied documents when discussing their genealogical significance. It is important to interpret the records, not just reword the information.
  • Submitting research plans based upon only the most-obvious detail or most-general kinds of sources.
  • Using poor grammar.
  • Submitting work that has not been carefully proofread.
  • Relying on too few sources in evidence gathering.

Some problems in research reports:

  • Presentations that are confusing, unprofessionally informal, insufficiently proofread, or repetitive.
  • Omission of negative findings.
  • Failure to provide proper citations, both within the report and on all accompanying record copies.
  • Neglecting to include the client’s letter of instruction and permission to use the report in an application.

Problems with kinship determination:

  • Presenting poorly proven parent-child relationships.
  • Providing only a superficial sketch of an individual rather than placing him or her in their own proper social and historical context.
  • Not including a minimum of two proof arguments, demonstrating the necessary skill to link someone to parents (when direct evidence is lacking).

The successful portfolio is one that demonstrates the depth of the applicant’s understanding of genealogical research. It should show use of a wide variety of records, demonstrate sound reasoning in reaching conclusions, and provide evidence of a thorough understanding of common standards. In other words, the successful portfolio is one which presents the best of the applicant’s work.

Why Should I Certify?
Submitting an application for certification shows that you care about doing quality work yourself, care about the standards for genealogical research, are willing to have your work reviewed by others, and are interested in testing your own skill level. Preparing the application is a test for yourself to measure your work against standards.

Selected Bibliography

  • The BCG Application Guide, 2003 (Washington, DC: Board for Certification of Genealogists, 2003).
  • The BCG Genealogical Standards Manual (Orem, Utah: Ancestry, Inc., 2000).
  • Evidence: A Special Issue of the National Genealogical Society Quarterly 87 (September 1999).
  • Merriman, Brenda Dougall. About Genealogical Standards of Evidence: A Guide for Genealogists. Toronto: Ontario Genealogical Society, 2004.
  • Mills, Elizabeth Shown.Evidence! Citation and Analysis for the Family Historian (Baltimore: Genealogical Publishing Company, 1997).
  • Mills, Elizabeth Shown.Evidence Explained: Citing History Sources from Artifacts to Cyberspace. Baltimore, Md: Genealogical Pub. Co, 2007.
  • Mills, Elizabeth Shown, editor. Professional Genealogy: A Manual for Researchers, Writers, Editors, Lecturers, and Librarians (Baltimore: Genealogical Publishing Company, 2001).
  • OnBoard, The Newsletter of the Board for Certification of Genealogists. Published three times yearly and available by subscription or individual issue. Consult the BCG web site for further information.


Information in this Wiki page is excerpted from the online courses Methodology - Part 1: Getting Started, Methodology - Part 2: Organizing and Skillbuilding, Methodology - Part 3: More Strategies, Methodology - Part 4: Effective Searching and Recording, Methodology - Part 5: How To Prove It, and Methodology - Part 6: Professional Preparation and Practice offered by The National Institute for Genealogical Studies. To learn more about these courses or other courses available from the Institute, see our website. We can be contacted at

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