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OnBoard, Volume 7, Number 1, January 2001


BCG History

As you research your family history, have you ever wondered about BCG’s history? Beyond knowing when BCG was founded, do you know any more about how this organization evolved?

The fact that BCG was founded in 1964 is well-known; it appears on the website and in most publications. By whom? And why then? The early sixties after all were the era of hippies, flower children, and free thinking. Founding of an organization whose goals were to promote more strict research standards appears to be contradictory to the thinking of the time. Then too, the genealogy explosion that followed Roots was more than a dozen years away.

BCG has its roots in the American Society of Genealogists, an elected organization of highly respected practitioners of genealogy. ASG sprang from academia. It was established in 1940 to, in part, “elevate the profession of genealogy to the same literary and scientific level enjoyed by history.” By 1963 the fellows — members of ASG — had become concerned that there was no organization that set scholarship standards for professional genealogists. Such an organization was necessary, they felt, if genealogy were to be treated as a serious research discipline.

Several ASG members initiated talks with leaders of the National Genealogical Society and with librarians. By February 1964, plans for the Board of Genealogical Certification had been finalized. The first trustees represented different groups. Among the names are a veritable who’s who of genealogy: Dr. Jean Stephenson, John Frederick Dorman, Walter Lee Sheppard Jr., and Milton Rubicam from ASG; Colonel Carleton E. Fisher, Mary Givens Bryan, and O. Kenneth Baker from NGS; and Dr. Roy F. Nichols, Dr. Walter Muir Whitehill, and Mary Lucy Kellogg representing historians, archivists, and/or librarians. The remaining trustees were Cameron Allen, Meredith B. Colket Jr., Kate F. Maver, Isabeth E. Myrth, Herbert F. Seversmith, and Kenn Stryker-Rodda. The first board meeting was held in April 1964.

According to the first policies, the board would certify genealogists and record searchers, but not heraldic artists. Nominal fees would be charged for certification. The first trustees would serve from one to three years, thereafter five trustees would be elected every year. The trustees would elect a permanent chairman from among themselves.

The name did change slightly, to The Board for Certification of Genealogists. There are still fifteen trustees, though, and five are elected each year to three-year terms. In a major change made just last year, all certified individuals in good standing may vote for the trustees. Previously only current trustees were involved in the election.

Initially two research categories were established: Certified Genealogist and Certified Genealogical Record Searcher. Dr. Jean Stephenson, a member of the NGS Fall of Fame, had the distinction of receiving CG #1, which was dated 21 February 1965. Miss Sadye Giller became CGRS #1 on 6 August of the same year.

These two categories continue to be the most popular. In the years since 1965, 425 people have been certified as CG and 805 as CGRS. Most associates renew their certification once it has been awarded.

An interesting sidelight to this history is that the Family History Library’s Accredited Genealogist program also started in 1964. That program has now been discontinued and BCG is welcoming those with AG credentials into the transfer program.

The intervening years have seen other changes. New categories were added as the field expanded. To address the needs of societies looking for high caliber speakers, the Certified Genealogical Lecturer category was created. Students who were seeking instruction from highly qualified teachers could look for those with the Certified Genealogical Instructor credential — although only two individuals have met those extensive requirements. The lineage research categories — Certified American Lineage Specialist and Certified American Indian Lineage Specialist — were also designed to meet specific needs of the genealogical community and its patrons. In another change, those two categories were recently combined into Certified Lineage Specialist to indicate the widening scope of lineage research.

Research standards too have changed or, more precisely, have become more and more demanding. The BCG Standards Manual, published last year, shares with the entire field what is expected in high quality research.

Who is BCG today? As of September 1999, 140 associates hold the CG credential and 170 hold CGRS. Eight hold one of the lineage specialties; two of them have requested a change to the new CLS category. Many associates hold a second credential as a Certified Genealogical Lecturer. John Frederick Dorman, CG #4 granted 21 February 1965, is the earliest certified in that category who is still active. Joanne H. Harvey, CGRS #10 granted 6 April 1966, holds the same distinction in her category.

Most of all, though, today as in the past we stand for excellence in genealogical work. We can, and should, all use our credentials with pride.

This article was originally published in OnBoard, BCG's educational newsletter and is protected by copyright. Individuals may download and print copies for their personal study. Educators are granted permission to provide copies to their students as long as BCG, OnBoard, and the appropriate author are credited as the source of the material. Republication elsewhere is not permitted.

Update

It's been almost five years since this article was published, and a bit longer since it was written. During that time, BCG has continued to stand for excellence in genealogical work.

Recognizing the importance of educational opportunities to further its mission, BCG sponsored Skillbuilding lectures at national conferences in 2002 and 2005 and will do the same at the 2006 gatherings. Each of these sessions is designed to help researchers improve their skills based on current standards in the field.

The BCG Education Fund, founded in 2000 as a charitable trust, advances the educational aims of the Board for Certification of Genealogists by funding learning programs consistent with standards promulgated by the Board and by providing incentives for study and scholarly research in accordance with the Board's standards. (To read more about the BCG Education Fund, click here.)

The Board has continued to review application requirements for the various categories to ensure they accurately reflect current standards and goals of the field. In October 2003, the Certified Genealogical Instructor category was opened to those holding any research category certification. Previously only those holding the Certified Genealogist credential could apply for CGI.

In a return to the organization’s original organization of a single credential, trustees approved the consolidation of all three research credentials. Effective 16 October 2005, any individual holding another BCG research credential would thereafter hold Certified Genealogist. At the same time, the Board established requirements for the new single credential.

Board president Connie Miller Lenzen, CG, of Portland, Oregon, explained that the change was made for two reasons. “First, regardless of the type of work they do, all genealogists have the same core skills. Second, having three research categories was confusing to both the genealogical community and the general public. The categories were different, but the differences were not well understood. The new requirements,” she continued, “will measure competence of applicants in the general skill areas of research, reporting, evidence analysis, and kinship determination that are essential for effective genealogical research.”

As BCG moves into its fifth decade, it will continue to work towards its mission of fostering public confidence in genealogy as a respected branch of history by promoting an attainable, uniform standard of competence and ethics among genealogical practitioners, and by publicly recognizing persons who meet that standard.

Kay Haviland Freilich, CG

1. "American Society of Genealogists," <http://www.progenealogists.com/fasg.htm>, downloaded 19 September 2000.



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