Answers to most questions about genealogical certification
will be found in The
BCG Application Guide. If you have a certification-related
question for which you do not find an answer in
the guide or the FAQs below, you may send an email
Except for press inquiries, BCG cannot answer general
questions about genealogical research or source
materials. The most-common general questions addressed
to BCG are included among the FAQs below.
FAQs below are grouped by topic, with those topics
5. What is genealogy, exactly?
of Board-Certified Genealogists
6. Where can I get a list of
7. How soon will my name appear
on the BCG Certification Roster after I receive
8. What is the genealogical
standard for documentation (source citation)?
9. What is the GPS?
10. Why don’t genealogists
use the simple terms “primary source”
and “secondary source?”
11. When and where in our
work should we use these descriptions of sources,
information, and evidence? In footnotes? Research
logs? Research reports? Databases? Or just published
books and essays?
12. What position does BCG
take on "Internet research"? Should someone's
skill as a researcher or the quality of one’s
research be discounted if one uses digitized or
scanned images found on the internet in lieu of
13. What is the difference
between a compiled genealogy, a narrative genealogy,
a narrative lineage, and a narrative pedigree?
14. What numbering system
should I use for my portfolio items?
15. Can we submit a genealogy or a lineage that someone has already put online or in print, but with errors that need correcting?
16. How much personal detail
do you want to see in my Kinship Determination Project?
17. Why does the Kinship
Determination Project have to include at least
18. What is the difference
between the “proof arguments” for Requirement
7 and the “case study” for Requirement
. How should I organize
photocopies for all my sources?
20. Do I need a mentor?
21. What support does BCG offer applicants?
Originality of Work
22. What help may I have with my portfolio?
23. Why can I not submit collaborative work? In this age, online collaborative research seems a thing to be encouraged and desired.
24. Why can I not submit previously published work in an initial application?
25. I hear that a family tree website is considered to be published. I have posted research on my family online. Does that mean I cannot use it for the application process?
26. Can published work be submitted in a renewal application?
and the Evaluation Process
27. Is there somewhere I can
see a successful portfolio?
28. Should I send more than
one copy of my portfolio?
29. Will my completed application
be handled faster if I send it Express Mail?
30. How long does the evaluation
31. How many judges will review
32. Will I be told what the
judges have said about my application portfolio?
33. Is there an appeal process if my application is not successful?
34. My application was denied. May I apply again?
a. How soon may I reapply?
b. What should a new portfolio contain?
c. May I rework my portfolio or do I have to start over?
d. What will it cost?
e. When I am ready to reapply, how should I proceed?
f. Will I be invited to subscribe to ACTION again?
g. Where else can I get help?
35. Does BCG set the price
on what I charge a client for research?
36. What if I don’t
have “client authorizations” to submit
with my reports?
37. Will I violate BCG standards
if I don’t format research reports a certain
38. How can I be sure that
my reports are acceptable?
39. How does the BCG code
of ethics apply to editors?
40. Can my portfolio include
work I have edited, rather than written, if it meets
41. Does it really matter
what “style guides” I use for writing
1. Question: Why
is certification needed? Genealogy is all over the
Internet. Anyone who types an ancestor’s name
into a browser can easily find all sorts of information.
Answer: For all subjects, the
Internet is a wonderland of ideas, facts, contradictions,
and outright misinformation. What is reliable and
what is not? To give us a basis for determining
reliability, we apply common standards.
For legal or medical information, as an example,
we know to seek out sites sponsored by legitimate
medical organizations and legal bars. Elsewhere
on the Web, we look for material written by Board-certified
In every professional field, certification serves
as a “seal of confidence” for careful
consumers. Certification says that a practitioner
has met the rigorous standards of that field for
knowledge and competence. The field of genealogy
is no exception.
Historical research of any type is a complex pursuit.
We need to know all the sources that exist for the
time and place—and we must use them all if
our conclusions are to be reliable. We need to know
the handwriting of past eras and how to interpret
words that meant something different, then, from
what they mean today. We need to know the laws that
governed each time and place, or we will misinterpret
the legal documents we find and reach erroneous
conclusions about identity, parentage and other
matters. We need to know how to evaluate the evidence—how
to identify reliable sources and information. For
genealogical research, we also need to know how
to assemble lives correctly and separate the identities
of all those same-name people who lived in the same
place and time.
Since 1964, the Board for Certification of Genealogists
has set the standards for competence and ethics
in the field of genealogy. If you are a professional
researcher, writer, or teacher, when you seek certification
and pass the Board’s rigorous examinations,
your credential assures others that you are producing
quality research and writing. If you are a consumer,
when you employ Board-certified genealogists, you
know their credential is backed by a professional
body that will serve as an arbiter in the rare event
you should experience a problem.
2. Question: How
much does it cost to become certified?
Answer: Fees are assessed at two
stages of the application process: when you submit
your preliminary application and when you submit
the final application with your portfolio. Board-certified
genealogists also pay an annual maintenance fee.
See the current fee schedule.
Does a certificate from a genealogical education
program constitute certification?
Answer: No. In professional
fields (as opposed to some technical fields),
a certificate or a degree from a college, university,
or institute attests only that you have completed
certain educational coursework. Certification,
which determines whether you have acquired expertise
in a field, is a separate matter whose function
is performed by boards or bars that are independent
of teaching institutions.
credentials identify somebody as a Board-certified
Answer: BCG currently offers
Certified Genealogist (CG),
the research credential that applicants for
the teaching category must also hold
Certified Genealogical Lecturer
In the last forty years, some credentials have
been developed and dropped from usage, including
Certified Lineage Specialist (CLS), Certified
American Indian Lineage Specialist (CAILS),
Certified Genealogical Records Specialist
(CGRS), and Certified Genealogical Instructor
(CGI). These credentials will be mentioned in
older published works.
[Return to Certification
What is genealogy, exactly? What tools or materials
do genealogists use? Do genealogists specialize?
Answer: Genealogy is the study
of families in genetic and historical context.
Within that framework, it is the study of the
people who compose a family and the relationships
among them. At the individual level, it is biography,
because we must reconstruct each individual life
in order to separate each person’s identity
from that of others bearing the same name. Beyond
this, many researchers also find that genealogy
is a study of communities because kinship networks
have long been the threads that create the fabric
of each community’s social life, politics,
Good genealogists use every resource and tool
available, emphasizing original records created
by informants with firsthand information. Genealogists
have long studied economics, geography, law, politics,
religion, and society in order to properly interpret
records, identify individuals and relationships
correctly, and place their families in historical
context. The modern field of genetics has added
another valuable tool to their intellectual toolbox.
Serious genealogists do specialize, as do all
professional and scholarly fields, because no
one can be an authority in all aspects of any
subject. Some genealogists specialize in an ethnic
group, some in a geographic region, and some in
a particular type of resource such as military
or immigration records. Some specialize in work
with the legal system, others in medical research.
The advent of genetics has created yet another
specialty: genealogists whose expertise lies in
the interpretation of DNA results and its application
to genealogical research problems.
[Return to Definition
of Genealogy Questions]
Where can I get a list of certified persons? I
need someone in a particular specialty.
Answer: Consult the online
BCG Roster for certified persons.
7. Question: How
soon will my name appear on the BCG Certification
Roster after I receive my certification?
Answer: Additions, changes,
and corrections to the online roster are made
regularly by the BCG
[Return to Directory
of Board-Certified Genealogists questions]
(See also “Style Guides”)
8. Question: What
is the genealogical standard for documentation
Answer: Every statement of “fact”
that is not “public knowledge” is
expected to carry its own specific citation of
source. (For instance, a statement that the Civil
War began in 1861 would be “public knowledge”
because that date is easily found in an array
of sources; no source needs to be cited. However,
a statement that a certain individual enlisted
in a specific unit on a certain day is not public
knowledge and must be supported by a reliable
source.) Undocumented works are usable for clues
but are never considered “proof.”
[Return to Documentation
What is the GPS?
Answer: The GPS is the Genealogical
Proof Standard, which all genealogists use
to evaluate the quality of research and the reliability
10. Question: Why
don’t genealogists use the simple terms
“primary source” and “secondary
source”? In school I was taught to use these
to decide whether sources were reliable.
Answer: Determining reliability
is not a simple matter. The terms “primary
source” and “secondary source”
theoretically distinguish reliable sources from
potentially unreliable ones. As a point of fact,
however, in various fields the terms are used
ambiguously by researchers in a number of contradictory
ways. Attempting to make a “simple”
either-or choice does not enable a researcher
to evaluate historical evidence reliably.
Genealogical practice appraises reliability in
three ways. We appraise the source (its physical
form), the quality of the information within that
source, and the type of evidence we can draw from
that information. Each of those aspects has three
basic qualities. The following provides a brief
Sources can be people, artifacts, documents, or
publications (printed or digital). They are either
ORIGINAL RECORDS ,
that is, those not based on a prior record;
DERIVATIVE RECORDS ,
that is, records created from prior records by manipulating their content—as with abstracts, compilations, databases, extracts, transcripts, and translations; or
AUTHORED WORKS, that is, written products that synthesize information from many prior sources and present the writer’s own conclusions, interpretations, and thoughts.
In using a source, we evaluate separately each
”information statement,” to determine
whether it offers
that is, details provided by someone with firsthand
knowledge of the “fact” reported;
that is, details provided by someone with secondhand
or more-distant knowledge (aka, hearsay); or
- UNDETERMINED INFORMATION, that is, details provided by someone whose identity is not known.
Information that is relevant to the problem is
considered evidence. It may be one of three basic
that is, relevant information that seems to
answer the research question all by itself;
that is, relevant information that cannot, alone,
answer the research question; rather, it must
be combined with other information to arrive
at an answer; or
- NEGATIVE EVIDENCE, that is, evidence arising from an absence of a situation or information in extant records where that information might be expected.
11. Question: When
and where in our work should we use these descriptions
of sources, information, and evidence? In footnotes?
Research logs? Research reports? Databases? Or just
published books and essays?
Answer: For researchers, the "structure"
of evidence analysis is like the framework of a house.
No one sees the framework of a well-built house
unless, to make an architectural statement, the
builder decides to expose a beam. Still, whether
visible or not, if that framework is not solid,
the house will not be. Carpenters must understand
the fundamentals of framing a house, if their
buildings are to hold up. Researchers must understand
the fundamentals of analyzing evidence, if their
conclusions are to hold up.
The terms used for the analysis process (see Q &
A no. 10) are not buzz words
we inject everywhere. To continue the construction
analysis: If one exposes beams and framing all over
a house, the house is left looking mighty "raw."
So it is with evidence analysis. We describe our sources
and its information when and where needed. In our
"raw" work, such as research notes, reports,
logs, databases, etc., a description of the quality
of a source or its information is just as important
as the identification of the source. After all, if
we don't put the information there in our raw notes,
we won't have it when we attempt to draw conclusions
from all our research. In our "finished"
work, such as genealogies, proof arguments, and case
studies, our narrative would discuss issues such as
the quality of a particular source, or whether certain
information is firsthand or secondhand, only when
they are significant issues.
12. Question: What
position does BCG take on "Internet research"?
Should someone's skill as a researcher or the quality
of one’s research be discounted if one uses
digitized or scanned images found on the internet
in lieu of original records?
Answer: The Internet is a virtual
"repository." Like any repository, its materials
vary widely in quality.
Q&A no. 10 discusses evidence
analysis and the framework (Process
Map) by which we separately evaluate sources,
information, and evidence. That framework calls
for appraising our sources according to whether
original records (including image copies) or derivative records, or authored works .
It calls for evaluating the information within
the source as to whether the informant had firsthand
(primary) or secondhand (secondary) knowledge of
the facts or whether the informant's identity is undetermined. When the researcher decides that information
is relevant (that is, it’s actually evidence),
then the process calls for considering whether
the evidence directly (explicitly) answers the
research question or whether it indirectly bears
upon the issue, or whether it is negative evidence drawn from the absence of a situation that should exist under the given circumstances.
The word "repository" is not an element
on the process map, because the repository is irrelevant
to the process.
What is relevant for good research is that (a) we
use a variety of repositories—online and offline—, in order to find all
needed information; and (b) we thoughtfully and accurately
evaluate our sources, information, and evidence so
that we arrive at a sound conclusion.
[Return to Evidence Analysis
13. Question: What
is the difference between a compiled genealogy, a narrative genealogy, a narrative lineage, and a narrative
Answer: Many guides to genealogical
writing describe these formats and offer valuable
guidance. The essential differences are these:·
- Compiled Genealogy (Descending or Ascending)
A compiled genealogy is a reference work that assembles
all known family members into some organizational
scheme. It provides basic vital statistics for each
person; identifies parents, spouses, and children;
and, sometimes, offers brief synopses of records
found for that person.
- Narrative Genealogy (Descending)
A narrative genealogy is an historical account of
a family, in which each individual life is presented
in historical context with biographical and genealogical
details. Typically, a narrative genealogy presents
the generations in a descending arrangement.
Starting with a more-distant ancestor or ancestral
couple, it comes forward through the generations,
attempting to account for all known descendants,
in all lines (female as well as male) for a certain
number of generations.
- Narrative Pedigree (Ascending)
A narrative pedigree is essentially the reverse
of the narrative genealogy. Instead of starting
with an ancestral couple and tracking all descendants
forward in time, it begins with a more-recent person
and develops his or her ancestry in various branches.
As with a narrative genealogy, a narrative pedigree
should provide a discussion of the lives that have
been assembled for each person, not just a recital
of the vital statistics that would appear on a pedigree
- Narrative Lineage (Descending or Ascending)
A narrative lineage is a genealogical and biographical
account of a family in a direct line, through
a certain number of generations. It might start
with a more-distant couple and come forward through
the generations, or start with a more-recent person
and proceed backward in time. A narrative lineage
would provide the same personal detail on each couple
and their children as called for in a narrative
genealogy or a narrative pedigree.
All of these genealogies, lineages, and pedigrees
are expected to be soundly and thoroughly documented,
What numbering system should I use for my portfolio
Answer: Three numbering systems
(NGSQ, Register, and Sosa-Stradonitz) have become
the “standard” in
American genealogy. The system you use depends upon
the type of project you choose—i.e., a narrative
genealogy, a narrative lineage, or a narrative
upon your personal style preferences. The standard
choices are these:
Use the NGSQ Numbering System or the Register Numbering
- Narrative Lineage (descending)
- Narrative Genealogy (descending)
Use the Sosa-Stradonitz Numbering System (aka, "Ahnentafel
- Narrative Lineage (ascending)
- Narrative Pedigree (ascending)
All these standard numbering systems are explained
and demonstrated in the following booklet:
Joan F. Curran, CG; Madilyn Coen Crane; and John
H. Wray, Ph.D., CG, Numbering Your Genealogy:
Basic Systems, Complex Families, and International
Kin, NGS Special Publication no. 97 (Arlington:
National Genealogical Society, 2008).
An acceptable adaptation of numbering for narrative lineages, descending or ascending, is illustrated in Appendix E of The BCG Genealogical Standards Manual (Orem, Utah: Ancestry, 2000) .
[Return to Genealogical Formats
15. Question: Can we submit a genealogy or a lineage that someone has already put online or in print, but with errors that need correcting?
Answer: Given today's widespread interest in genealogy, it is difficult to find a family that someone has not already pursued. BCG does not require that you do so. Requirement 7, the Kinship-Determination Project, asks you to create a genealogy or a lineage that meets acceptable standards of quality, as described in Genealogy Standards.
Your presentation is expected to be soundly developed and well reasoned. You will use many sources to achieve that. Some will be reliable, and some will not. That means you will exercise many judgments about the quality of your sources, the quality of the information those sources present, and the strength of the evidence that you draw from each piece of information—both individually and collectively.
As with any research project, when others have published misinformation or reached conclusions you feel are in error, you should correct the existing work and support your corrections with sound evidence, direct or indirect. Following BCG standards, throughout your research your emphasis will be on original sources rather than derivatives. In the writing phase, for at least two parent-child relationships in different generations, you must present a proof argument or a proof summary to justify your conclusion.
If the pre-existing work on a particular family does meet the standards set forth in Genealogy Standards you should, logically, choose a different family.
How much personal detail do you want to see in my
Kinship Determination Project?
Answer: Requirement 7, the Kinship
Determination Project, calls for a three-generation
study that is either a narrative genealogy, a narrative
lineage or a narrative pedigree. (See “Genealogical
Formats” above for a definition of each.)
To achieve a reliable and meaningful account of each
historical person, you should provide not just vital
statistics but an account of their lives, demonstrating
the use of a wide range of reliable materials that
not only put them into their “society”
but also help to prove their identity and separate
them from other same-name individuals of their place
and time. All questionable evidence should be carefully
analyzed, all conclusions explained. For each couple,
you should also identify all known children, with
(at least) whatever vital statistics you are able
to find for them. If you wish to submit more than
three generations and can do so within the size limits
upon the portfolio, you should feel free to do so.
However, the quality of your research, analysis,
and writing is more important than quantity.
Why does the Kinship Determination Project
have to include at least two “proof arguments”?
For everyone in my genealogy, I have a document
that plainly states parentage (“direct evidence”),
so why would I need to write any proof arguments?
Answer: The fact that a source
explicitly states parentage for a person does
not mean that the source can be accepted as proof.
Records and people do err. The more thorough our
research is, the more likely it is that we will
find conflicting information as to identity, kinship,
or other critical matters. Or we find situations
in which statements of kinship are offered by
multiple documents of varying quality that call
for correlation and analysis. In other cases,
thorough research may generate no one document
that plainly states a parent-child relationship,
although we may assemble various records that—considered
together—provide valid evidence of
In any of these cases, we should present a “proof
argument” that identifies the evidence we
have found (with full citations), explains any
anomalies that need interpreting, describes problems
that may exist within the evidence, effectively
resolves any conflicts, and otherwise provides
the justification for (a) believing the assertions
we have found; or (b) reaching a particular conclusion
from our ambivalent or incomplete evidence.
Your Kinship Determination Project may use proof
arguments to link direct ancestors to their parents,
or you may use them to link a direct ancestor
to a child from whom you do not descend. The critical
point to remember is this: Requirement 7 asks
you to demonstrate your skill at analyzing the
evidence that links individuals into a kin relationship.
What is the difference between the “proof
arguments” for Requirement 7 and the “case
study” for Requirement 6?
Answer: A case study typically
includes a proof argument, and both have to meet
Proof Standard. However, the case study you
submit under Requirement 6 has specific parameters
and will likely be more complex than the proof
arguments you include as part of the Kinship Determination
Project. Requirement 6 (Evidence Case Study) allows
you a greater choice among problems you have researched,
because you may choose a case that involves either
identity or relationship in any family. However,
that problem of identity or relationship
cannot be solved simply by using uncontested direct
evidence. It must involve conflicting evidence
or a skilled assembly of various pieces of indirect
evidence that, taken together, provide an
answer to the problem
[Return to Kinship Determination
For my portfolio, I am including photocopies of
my sources behind the body of the text and do
not know the proper way to cross reference my
photocopies, transcriptions, translations, and
abstracts to the text within my papers. Is it
proper to place an annotation such as "document
#1" after the sentence that refers to the
source in the body of the text? How should the
photocopies, transcriptions, translations, and
abstracts be ordered in the back. Do I place all
the wills together, all the title deeds together,
etc., or do I place them in the order in which
they are presented in the text?
Answer. Photocopies are required
only for one work sample, Item 4: Document Work,
Applicant-Supplied Document. However, that work
sample does not involve the kind of issues you
raise about text references and organization.
Attached photocopies might be needed
for Item 5: Research Report Prepared for a Client.
For that requirement, you should submit your research
report exactly as you submitted it to the client.
If you attached photocopies for the client, then
you attach them for BCG—presenting them in exactly
the same manner. For Items 6 and 7, the Case Study
and Kinship-Determination Project, you cite
a quality source for every statement of fact that
you make (matters of “common knowledge”
excluded), but you should not attach photocopies.
BCG expects applicants to use a substantial number
of materials for these two projects. It would
not be possible for applicants to supply photocopies
of all sources and stay within the size limit
placed upon the portfolio.
Your question about organization and labeling
of documents is essentially a question of how
to prepare a client report. The basic standard
is this: You report to the client what you have
found, what you could not find, and the significance
of both. When you refer to a source, you cite
it in full. If you are attaching a photocopy,
then you simply add a note such as See Document
1, attached. You would then number your documents
accordingly, and put a full source citation on
each of those documents, on the face, in its margin.
There is no one-approach-fits-all model for
organizing this research report and attachments.
Conducting quality research requires you to
exercise a great deal of judgment. By the same
token, preparing a quality research report also
calls for exercising judgment. BCG does not certify
applicants on their ability to copy a canned
model. BCG certifies those who demonstrate the
ability to evaluate a research problem, conduct
research efficiently and expertly, and report
the results in a manner that is appropriate
to the project—all of which
calls for the exercise of judgment in a myriad
[Return to Photocopies
20. Question: Do I need a mentor?
Answer: A mentor may be helpful but is not necessary. A mentor cannot educate you about every aspect of research, record interpretation, and evidence analysis. The many educational programs and publications that exist today better serve that purpose. A mentor, however, can serve as a role model and offer valuable guidance and encouragement.
If you think you would benefit from having a mentor, consider asking a professional you know and respect—someone who works in your own specialty. BCG does not assign mentors; the best mentorships develop naturally. A mentoring relationship might arise during educational or networking opportunities such as institutes and conferences or through membership in the Association of Professional Genealogists and participation in APG's online mail list. You can also identify prospective mentors by regularly reading professional journals and contacting authors about shared interests. Conversely, publication of your own work in respected journals can bring you to the attention of more-established professionals who see promise in your work and contact you.
.21. Question: What support does BCG offer applicants?
Answer: BCG invites preliminary applicants to subscribe to an email mentoring group called ACTION (Aids to Certification Testing: Interactive Online Networking). This list does not provide educational preparation; it will not teach applicants about sources, citations, analysis, or any other aspect of research. It does, however, provide a supportive forum where applicants can meet other applicants, and BCG trustees and members of BCG's Outreach Committee are available to answer questions about the certification process and requirements.
[Return to Mentors questions]
Originality of Work
22. Question: What help may I have with my portfolio?
Answer: Certification is a test of an individual's abilities. Therefore, the work you submit in a certification application is expected to be your own. None of the material in your portfolio should have been reviewed, critiqued, or proofread by anyone other than yourself. A mentor, colleague, instructor or other individual may give you feedback on samples of your work that are not intended for your portfolio, but no one should review or critique material you plan on submitting to BCG.
23. Question: Why can I not submit collaborative work? In this age, online collaborative research seems a thing to be encouraged and desired.
Answer: BCG recognizes the important role of collaboration in research and does not expect researchers to work in a vacuum, but certification is a test of your skills and knowledge. If you submit a collaborative effort, your portfolio evaluators have no way to know what part of the work reflects your own expertise. BCG does not intend that applicants should never collaborate. But when you apply for certification, the work you submit needs to be your own-your own analyses, your own correlations, your own citations, your own organization, your own writing, and your own conclusions.
24. Question: Why can I not submit previously published work in an initial application?
Answer: A certification application calls for specific work products that meet specific standards and demonstrate specific types of knowledge that span a broad range of skills. Rarely does a previously published work-regardless of where it was published-contain all the elements that an applicant is asked to demonstrate. In the rare case in which a previously published work does meet all criteria of a portfolio requirement, prior publication would raise questions as to what aspects of the work were "purely" those of the applicant and what aspects represent editorial emendations. However, if you have a published work that meets all the criteria of a portfolio requirement, you may submit the work in its original pre-published form.
25. Question: I hear that a family tree website is considered to be published. I have posted research on my family online. Does that mean I cannot use it for the application process?
Answer: A family tree website, like other types of published work, would rarely fulfill any of BCG's specific requirements. However, the fact that an applicant has published some "information" about a family in one or another forum does not mean that the applicant cannot use that family for a portfolio requirement that entails a significantly different treatment of the subjects.
If you are uncertain whether your previous use of a particular project renders it ineligible for inclusion in an application, then it may be best to choose another one about which you have no doubt. Successful applicants are those with a solid base of experience and will have a variety of projects from which to choose. If you find that your choices are limited, it may be a sign that your plans to apply for certification are premature.
26. Question: Can published work be submitted in a renewal application?
Answer: Yes, BCG encourages its associates to publish, and published material is permitted in renewal portfolios. Published material is ineligible only for the original application in which applicants make a base-line demonstration of skills.
[Return to Originality of Work questions]
and the Evaluation Process
Is there somewhere I can see a successful portfolio?
I do not personally know anyone who has applied,
so I do not know whether my own work measures
Answer: Completed portfolios
by successful applicants are available for examination
in the BCG exhibit booth and at certification
seminars at major genealogical conferences and
institutes. At most conferences you can “check
out” a portfolio for an hour or so, to
permit a more-detailed examination.
Beyond this, our “Sample
Work Products” link displays actual
research reports, case studies, and narrative
genealogies that have resulted from sound
genealogical work. For more explicit discussions
of standards and different types of genealogical
Should I send more than one copy of my portfolio?
Answer: No. One copy will suffice.
Your portfolio's progress is tracked by the BCG
Office. You should keep a duplicate copy for your
files, however. On rare occasions, mail services
lose packages in transit.
Will my completed application be handled faster
if I send it Express Mail?
Answer: No, instead use Priority
Mail with Delivery Confirmation. Sending an application
via Express Mail will not make a difference in
the time it takes to process your application.
How long does the evaluation process
Answer: Allow about five to
six months. Our judges volunteer their time and
devote many hours to each application they evaluate.
Because the judges are so highly qualified, they
typically are very active professionals and volunteers
for other organizations, as well.
How many judges will review my portfolio?
Answer: At a minimum, three.
Those three judges work independently of each
other, without seeing the evaluations prepared
by the others. If all three judges approve your
application, you are automatically certified.
If only one or two judges recommend certification,
your entire portfolio will be sent to a fourth
judge (an arbitration judge), who will review
your work and the evaluations of the three prior
judges. The arbitration judge's decision is final.
(However, an applicant who feels that extenuating
circumstances exist does have the right to appeal
to the full board of trustees.) All judges remain
Will I be told what the judges have said about
my application portfolio?
Answer: Yes, you will receive
a full copy of each judge’s evaluation,
both quantitative and substantive. Each judge
prepares comments specifically for you.
33. Question: Is there an appeal process if my application is not successful?
Answer: If your application is unsuccessful and if you feel it has been inappropriately judged, you may file an appeal. Appeals are decided by the full board of trustees. The BCG Application Guide describes the procedure you must follow.
34. Question: My application was denied. May I apply again?
Answer: Yes, absolutely. BCG encourages applicants to resubmit and would like to see you ultimately succeed in your goal of achieving certification.
34. a. Question: How soon may I reapply?
Answer: This decision is up to you, but it is not a step you should rush. Work on the problems noted by your judges. Remedying the weaknesses they have identified will usually require additional study and more hands-on experience.
34. b. Question: What should a new portfolio contain?
Answer: Applicants who reapply are subject to the same requirements as those applying for the first time. Your new portfolio should therefore contain Requirements 1 through 7 as described in The BCG Application Guide. You will need to follow the instructions in whatever edition of the Guide is in use when you submit a new Preliminary Application Form. The latest edition of the Application Guide can be downloaded for no charge from the BCG website address given in Question 6. This will allow you to stay abreast of any changes in the requirements.
34. c. Question: May I rework my portfolio or do I have to start over?
Answer: No applicant may submit material that has been reviewed, critiqued, or proofread by another individual. Once your work samples have been evaluated by the judges, they are therefore inappropriate for reuse in a BCG application. New work samples must be submitted. Preparing new material will increase your level of experience and help you develop the skills your application should demonstrate.
34. d. Question: What will it cost?
Answer: The fees for reapplying are the same as for first-time submissions. This means you will again be subject to the preliminary application fee as well as the final application fee. These are standard fees for anyone submitting a portfolio. The same amount of work will be required to evaluate a second application as was needed for the first. To see the exact fees in effect at a given time, consult the current fee schedule.
34. e. Question: When I am ready to reapply, how should I proceed?
Answer: When you are ready, download a copy of the latest Application Guide as well as a copy of the Preliminary Application Form. Complete and submit the form to the BCG office along with the preliminary application fee. The office will send you a new Category Application Form and a new BCG document.
34. f. Question: Will I be invited to subscribe to ACTION again?
Answer: Yes, all preliminary applicants are invited to join BCG’s online support group ACTION (Aids to Certification Testing: Interactive Online Networking), regardless of whether they are applying for the first time or reapplying.
34. g. Question: Where else can I get help?
Answer: Consult BCG’s website and the Application Guide’s “Getting Help”section for a list of helpful resources.
[Return to Portfolios
and the Evaluation Process questions]
Does BCG set the price on what I charge a client
Answer: No, Board-certified
genealogists set their own fees.
[Return to Practices
What if I don’t have “client
authorizations” to submit with my reports?
Requirement 5 (research report prepared for a
client) instructs us to include a letter or communication
from the client authorizing the work. In the case
of pro bono research, there might not be a formal
contract or the discussion leading to a project
may have been partially verbal and gone through
several stages. What kind of documentation would
BCG reviewers expect to see for client work under
Answer: BCG asks to see a client’s
authorization for both legal and evaluative purposes.
While BCG needs to ensure there is no legal barrier
to its circulation of client material, its portfolio
evaluators also need to appraise how well the
researcher fulfills a client’s mission and
directives. Whether a researcher is paid by a
client or not, the preliminary discussions might
go through several stages before they come to
a meeting of the minds on how to proceed. In those
cases, you might employ one of the following approaches:
If you corresponded via e-mail,
include copies of messages in which the client
states the goal, time/cost limitations, and
If you discussed details via
telephone or in person, write a “letter
of understanding” to the client, summarize
the points you discussed, and ask the client
to initial or sign the letter in agreement.
(Whether or not you submit a portfolio, it
is always a wise practice to put things in
writing before beginning a project.)
Will I violate BCG standards if I don’t format
research reports a certain way? The attorneys for whom I
work often request that I format my reports their
way, not “the BCG way.” Will I violate
BCG standards if I follow their format?
Answer: BCG does not have one
standardized format that it requires for client
reports. In everyday practice, there are multiple
ways to approach almost everything we do, and
each individual case differs in some particulars
that call for exercising judgment. Genealogy Standards details
certain pieces of information that are considered
essential for most genealogical research reports
and it explains why these elements are needed.
The Manual and the Sample
Work Products posted on our website provide
various examples of ways these principles can
be practiced. As a professional, you should balance
those essentials against your client’s requirements
to produce research that maintains the highest
When you prepare a certification portfolio, you
will, of course, want to choose one of your reports
that best exemplifies the recognized standards
of our field.
38. Question: How
can I be sure that my reports are acceptable?
I hear that “BCG expects every i
to be dotted and every t crossed a certain
way” and I’m afraid I won’t
do something “right.”
Answer: Certification is about
skill and quality—not i's
and t's. When BCG evaluators appraise
a portfolio, their focus is not on mechanical
things such as how a report is formatted or whether
its source citations put a comma where a certain
style manual suggests the use of a semicolon.
The focus of BCG judges is upon five things:
- whether the research is well done,
- whether good judgment has been exercised,
- whether findings are accurately interpreted,
- whether documentation adequately identifies
the sources, and
- whether the report itself is understandable.
A recent review of portfolio critiques for the
last two years cataloged comments made by the
evaluators—both positive and negative, as well
as general suggestions for improvement. For research
reports, some of the recurring issues are, of
course, more grievous than others. In all cases
in which an application was not successful, the
portfolio displayed a number of problems; and—by
and large—the problems seen in a research report
also occurred in other types of submissions by
the same applicant. Despite those i and
t rumors that can help unsuccessful applicants
“save face,” the difference between
success and disappointment typically lie in the
POSITIVE COMMENTS ON REPORTS
Unique project and report, well done
Clearly explained and well-executed research
Quality research, clearly reported
Good detective work!
Thorough research within limited time
Presentation easy to follow
Conclusions well explained
Both negative and positive findings reported
Well-thought out research plan
Statements are appropriately "qualified,"
when "qualifications" are needed
Offers good balance between original and derivative
NEGATIVE COMMENTS ON REPORTS
Used work of others without attribution
Did not pursue client's stated objective
Searched wrong time period for the stated problem
Misinterprets the documents attached to report
Seriously misreads basic legal language
Missed important clues in documents
Reached premature conclusions
Statements made without substantiation
Critical detail omitted from abstracts
Attached family group sheets have no citation
Attached photocopies have no documentation
Source citations in body of report are nonexistent
or seriously incomplete
Research plan is weak
Serious grammatical problems make findings difficult
All research is done in derivative records
Does not understand Genealogical Proof Standard
No analysis provided at all
Provides undocumented material to client, with
SUGGESTIONS FOR IMPROVEMENT
Research reports should
- be paginated
- state the research objective
- summarize findings
- offer recommendations for continued work
- be proofread before they are released
Assembling a portfolio for peer review, whether
it is our first application or our sixth renewal,
is a wonderful opportunity for all of us to pause
and candidly evaluate the work we are actually
doing. Out of that self-evaluation, we naturally
pick our best work to submit. From the peer review,
then, we gain the gift Robert Burns wrote about
so eloquently: the chance to see ourselves as
others see us.
[Return to Research Reports
Standards for Editing
How does the BCG code of ethics apply
to editors? I follow BCG standards in my own research,
reports, and articles. Will I violate the BCG
code of ethics if I am the editor of a society
magazine that publishes inadequately documented
genealogical research? I am not yet certified
by BCG but have been working on my portfolio.
Answer: As editor of a society
magazine, you are in a key position to encourage
the adoption of sound standards. Until that can
be achieved, you are governed by a basic principle
all writers face: if they are to be published,
they must produce work that follows the guidelines
set by the editor or publisher (in your case,
the society) to whom they submit their work. In
any case, your portfolio should not be affected,
given that you would be submitting work products
that represent your own research and writing,
not that of others whose work you prepared for
Can my portfolio include work I have
edited? I edit a state-level society journal whose
articles must meet high standards; they undergo
peer review by subject-area authorities as well
as extensive editing and fact-checking by me.
I don’t have a lot of time for writing of
my own. When I apply for renewal, may I submit
a copy of my publication as a sample work product?
Answer: Your initial certification
established the fact that you work to BCG standards
in all essential areas. Therefore, your renewal
portfolio can allow you greater leeway to demonstrate
the kind of work you typically have done over
the course of the five years you were certified.
Your description of your work suggests that you
heavily influence the quality of your publication
by setting its standards, selecting appropriate
manuscripts, and applying the expected editorial
controls. Certainly an issue of your journal deserves
to be considered as a sample of the quality of
your work. However, you would need to also submit
other work samples that represent your sole work—if
not published material, then unpublished genealogical
narratives or research reports you have made to
your own files.
[Return to Standards
for Editing questions]
Does it really matter what “style
guides” I use for writing and citing?
As style and reference guides, Genealogy Standards recommends
Chicago Manual of Style's ("humanities
style,” not “scientific style”)
and Evidence Explained! Citing History Sources
from Artifacts to Cyberspace (which covers many
original record types not handled by CMS). I
have published genealogical articles in two
major peer-reviewed journals, one in genealogy
and one in another academic field. Each of those
had its own preferred style. Would those peer-reviewed
articles be acceptable "sample
to submit at renewal?
Answer: Different journals,
publishers, and fields do have different style
preferences that reflect their needs—often
economy or certain situations that exist in their
research areas. When submitting work to any press,
writers are expected to follow the prescribed
style of that press. However, even when major
scholarly journals publish abbreviated citations,
the research they publish will have undergone
extensive peer-review and fact-checking to ensure
that it meets standards of the field.
BCG welcomes work samples of a genealogical nature
that have been published in peer-reviewed journals.
Several examples, from a variety of genealogical
journals, appear at this "Sample
Work Products" link. Your judges will
make their own evaluations of everything you submit,
based upon their own expertise, but they would
not "penalize" you for the fact that
your published material reflects the particular
house-style of a journal. In order for them to
better evaluate your own work, most judges would
prefer that you also include a copy of your manuscript,
as you submitted it, as well as the final, edited
When you submit either unpublished work or published
work samples from genealogical magazines that
allow you to choose your own presentation styles,
BCG's judges would expect you to cite your sources
fully by the standards of its recommended guides.
[Return to Style Guides questions