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Are You Ready to Go Pro? Achieving a Certification in Genealogy

You've read, you've researched, you've been stymied, you've problem-solved. But are you good enough to achieve credentials from one of genealogy's major certifying associations?


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You've been researching for years, and one day you come upon a particularly knotty problem. Tenaciously and carefully, you wade through most of the problem, and then, in a flash of insight, find the answer in an unlikely place. "That was amazing!" you think, patting yourself on the back. "I could be a professional!"

Could you? It's crossed the minds of many family historians who have spent years or decades piecing together their own family histories. One way to find out just how good your genealogy chops are is to try and gain some credentials from credentialing boards.

Whether you use your credentials to open up your own genealogy service or whether you'd just be proud to know you've earned those initials after your name is up to you. Here's how to get started:

Board for Certification of Genealogists (BCG)

The BCG is a certifying body based in Washington, D. C. Established in 1964, the BCG offers three designations: certified genealogist (CG) and certified genealogical lecturer (CGL).

The BCG website, offers a quick online self-quiz called "Are You Ready for Certification?" It calculates your score against the scores of most successful applicants. If you are ready, send $55 for an application package, which will include a preliminary application form, the BCG Application Guide and a year's subscription to the BCG educational newsletter On Board.

Once you send in your preliminary application form, you will have a year to submit the following:

- A transcription, abstract and commentary on a historical document provided by the BCG. The document is chosen based on your background as described in your application. You will also need to formulate a research plan around the information in the document.

- A transcription, abstract and commentary on a historical document from your own choosing. A research plan is also required for this document.

- A research report prepared for a client. The report must follow the guidelines set out in the BCG Application Guide

- A case study where the Genealogical Proof Standard (GPS) is used to consider a case involving indirect or conflicting evidence.

- A kinship determination project of at least three ancestral generations. The project can be a narrative genealogy, narrative pedigree, narrative lineage or case study.

Once a portfolio is submitted, three judges will to take five to six months to examine it and decide whether to grant certification to the applicant. Although it's a lot of work and standards are high, the BCG website has many tips and articles for would-be applicants, including "A Judge's Notes from an Application for CG", which details the reasoning for failing a project.

The International Commission for the Accreditation of Professional Genealogists (ICAPGen)

The Salt Lake City-based ICAPGen offers the AG (accredited genealogist) certification. To apply for an AG designation, an applicant must choose a region to be tested on. ICAPGen recommends that applicants who want to succeed have at least 1,000 hours of research on that particular area.

An applicant then submits a project on four generations of a family from that area. The four generations must be prior to 1900, and the project must include key documents, compiled and original documents, a pedigree chart and a thorough report.

If ICAPGen accepts the project, the applicant will then take an 8-hour written exam (open book) and a 1 - 3 hour oral exam. The cost of the written exam is $125. The written exam includes testing an applicant's ability to read handwriting, identify documents, use electronic databases and evaluate pedigrees.

If you don't live in Salt Lake City, be ready to arrange transportation. Part of the written exam includes working through an actual pedigree problem using the resources of the Family History Library, and providing a report to the patron. ICAPGen explains that the test has been written with the resources of the Family History Library in mind, and that to allow the tests in other facilities would mean rewriting the test multiple times. "In the near future, we plan to offer testing at other major research facilities," they advise on their website.

Are You Really Ready?

Both the BCG and ICAPGen have the same general advice for potential applicants: research, research, research. They also recommend taking classes, reading genealogy journals and articles, and becoming thoroughly knowledgeable about a geographical area. Regardless of whether you go through the process to become a paid, professional researcher or just to improve the quality of your private work, in a time of easy Internet searching, certification is something to consider. "Certification says that a practitioner has met the rigorous standards of that field for knowledge and competence," writes the BCG on its website. "The field of genealogy is no exception."

Source Information: GenWeekly, New Providence, NJ, USA: Genealogy Today LLC, 2010.

The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of Genealogy Today LLC.

*Effective May 2010, GenWeekly articles that are more than five years old no longer require a subscription for full access.

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