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Skillbuilding: Standards for Genealogical Instructors

From OnBoard - Newsletter of the BCG
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Elissa Scalise Powell, "Standards for Genealogical Instructors," OnBoard 7 (May 2001): 13-14.

All professionals must have standards in which to operate within their profession. In genealogy this is made quite easy by studying The BCG Genealogical Standards Manual.1 The book covers standards for researchers, both professional and personal, and for lecturers, instructors, and writers of genealogical materials. Standards 61 through 66 are aimed at “… teachers who present an extended series of interactive presentations that address genealogical methods and sources at the beginner, intermediate, or advanced level.” The text further notes that the standards should be upheld in any setting of instruction, whether formal or informal.

Standard 61 speaks about presenting a course that is “well organized, comprehensive, and sequential in nature.” Being well organized helps your students to feel at ease and gives them confidence in what you are saying, as they see that you have taken care in the manner in which it is presented. Devising a sequential course and presenting it in an outline form will not only help those students who are logically minded but also enables everyone to understand that the “building blocks” come first. Students can quickly find out through assignments that if they do not have the basic information they cannot progress. Therefore an outline of the course is helpful to show that you are organized, to let the students know what topics to expect when, that it is comprehensive in relation to the stated goals, and to show the sequence of the research cycle.

Standard 62 lists five basic areas in which the students should become knowledgeable. Awareness of genealogical sources can be enhanced by allowing the students to browse some of the pertinent books, and by providing a bibliography and a list of appropriate Internet URLs along with a list of local and national repositories. Respect for materials and their custodians should include what to expect of genealogical and historical personnel at repositories, and how to ask for materials. Odd as it may seem to us, some students need to be reminded that the “public” in public library does not mean unauthorized removal of the materials, nor defacing or tearing out pages. To develop the ability to conduct creditable research is the goal of any genealogical course. Note that, unlike “credible,” “creditable” means both “worthy of belief,” as defined by Webster’s New Collegiate Dictionary2, and also “able to be credited to sources.” Each photocopy, transcription, or abstract must note its source on its face, and each pedigree or family group sheet must list the source for each item of information [Standards 8-12]. Each student should also realize the value of the ability to compile useful reports of the results. Sharing well-written and documented reports can enhance a sense of family pride. Even if people are doing this “just for my family” they should be able to habitually use accurate citations of sources. They should be impressed with the fact that this not only saves much work for future generations, but also makes the family history “worthy of belief.”

Standard 63 refers to having “a means for evaluating student outcomes.” Most often this is accomplished through written testing or oral questions, but to determine if a student has understood all that he has been taught, the evaluation procedure could also include reports (oral or written) on the student’s family or research project.

Standard 64 requires instructional materials that are “accurate, clear, up-to-date, reasonably attractive and appropriate” to both content and level of instruction, calling on the instructor’s creative talents. Handouts and presentation visuals should be reviewed each time they are used for accuracy and correctness. If you are referencing or using Internet URLs, test each one to see if it is still a viable website. The handouts should be packaged attractively and allow the student to follow along with the presentation. They should have room for those who like to take notes directly on the handouts. Whether the presentation visuals are overheads, slides, videotape, or computer-generated demonstrations, keep them lively and colorful. Consideration for varying learning styles should be made when creating presentation materials. The visual learner retains what he sees and delights in colorful visuals, cartoons, and slides. This person may also take notes as a visual reminder of what they heard. The auditory learner needs the spoken word to be explained clearly, in descriptive language, and with examples and stories to enhance the lesson. Changes in voice inflection will keep interest. The tactile learner retains knowledge when he is able to do hands-on research; a field trip would help this learner enforce his knowledge. An example of structuring a lesson for these different styles would be to teach the census unit using visual diagrams and written examples for the visual learner. Explaining each example and giving a story by which to remember the material helps the auditory learner. For the tactile learner, a trip to the nearest repository with census microfilm will help to reinforce the lesson as they thread their microfilm machine and scroll down the reels. Using a variety of learning approaches helps assure you’ll include the one that works best for each student.

Standard 65, cross-referencing Standard 59, requires that bibliographies use standard bibliographic format, which differs from the style used in individual source citations, for materials mentioned and those for further study. Sharing where your background material came from is a good example to the class of how useful bibliographic citations can be. Students can look up the books you used in order to review the lesson, and to gain further insight into the subject. Since lesson time is typically limited, one cannot present everything that is related to the topic. A bibliography is a helpful guide to the student who wants to read more on the subject as well as to enhance his own personal library.
Standard 66 encourages the instructor to reflect excitement in the classroom through presentations that are “effective and varied, encourage student participation, and foster interest in or enthusiasm” for the topic. If we recognize that everyone has a different learning style preference as we present the materials in their varied forms, the students will achieve their objective of learning the subject material. Encouraging students to ask questions, discuss their experiences, and share their research will help everyone, including the instructor, to learn more. Having the students involve a family member, perhaps by bringing them along on a field trip, will help the student continue to have interest once they are beyond the classroom. One student I had, a young woman, brought her father on a field trip to the library where we were doing census work. They looked up his mother’s birth family and then left early to go see the actual house; the genealogy bug was now spreading in that family. Share your enthusiasm with the students and they will catch fire!


  1. Board for Certification of Genealogists, The BCG Genealogical Standards Manual (Orem, Utah: Ancestry Publishing, 2000), 22.

  2. Henry Bosley Woolf, editor, Webster’s New Collegiate Dictionary (Springfield, Massachusetts: G. & C. Merriam Company, 1979), 265.


Elissa Scalise Powell, CGRS

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.

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