Congratulations, Yvette Hoitink, CG!

Yvette Hoitink became associate #1072 in May, 2016. She lives in Alphen aan den Rijn in the Netherlands, about thirty minutes from Amsterdam. Her ancestors came from the provinces of Gelderland, Noord-Brabant, and Zeeland, located in the east and south of the country.

She started researching her own family at the age of fifteen and discovered immediately that a great-great-grandmother was born out of wedlock. It has been her goal since then to identify the father. Her genealogical education and experience have recently led Yvette to recognize an important clue in a document she found on her very first day of research, and she believes this clue will lead to the identity of her great-great-great-grandfather.

Yvette Hoitink, CG

Yvette Hoitink, CG

Yvette is interested in a wide range of subjects—languages, cartography, travel, history, geography, biology, photography, reading, and teaching—and she finds they all seem to play a part in thorough genealogical research. With an educational background in computer science and management studies, she spent a 20-year career in Information Technology, working as an IT consultant and project manager for different archives in the Netherlands. She found that in project management she learned two skills that are fundamental to evidence analysis—working to understand other people’s perspectives and how that may affect what they say and do, and verifying information. She started a genealogy research business four years ago (

The fact that English is a second language for her was an additional challenge Yvette faced in pursuing certification.  Members of the Association for Professional Genealogists will recognize her name and insights, and appreciate her seemingly flawless English skills, from the APG email list. However, Yvette says that compiling an entire portfolio in English was difficult at times. She considered transcribing one particular document but decided explaining the legal nuances in English would be a daunting task, so she passed over that one and selected another that was a bit more straightforward. Also, she says, “Some of the standards and practices that BCG expects were different from what we are used to in Europe—things like using married names instead of maiden names, numbering people in a genealogy, or citing sources. Having to make my own judgements on how to deal with those situations gave me a deeper understanding, but it took more time than I had anticipated.”

She goes on to say, “Learning about the genealogy standards as formulated by BCG was an eye opener for me. The standards overlapped with best practices that I had developed for myself, but using the whole set elevated the quality of my work. I had to relearn how I did research, especially regarding the way I document my findings.” Her five-year plan includes publishing books and articles about finding ancestors in the Netherlands and doing more New Netherland research, which she thinks has great potential for new discoveries.

Yvette considers Elizabeth Shown Mills to be her genealogy hero, “not just for her amazing powers of evidence analysis, but also because she is so generous with her teachings.” Yvette encourages others, especially in Europe, to work toward certification. She found that following leaders in the field gave her excellent exposure to best practices in genealogy: reading the NGSQ, following the Legal Genealogist blog, participating in the Evidence Explained forum. Here is her advice about certification:

  • You won’t find the time, you have to make the time
  • There is no one right way
  • Education before certification
  • Certification is not the end of your education
  • Combine education with practice
  • It does not have to be perfect
  • Just turn the sucker in (hat tip: Judy Russell)

Good luck with your publishing plans, Yvette, and congratulations!

by Nora Galvin, CG

The words Certified Genealogist are a registered certification mark, and the designations CG, CGL, and Certified Genealogical Lecturer are service marks of the Board for Certification of Genealogists®, used under license by board certificants after periodic evaluation.

Congratulations, Jeanette Shiel, CG!

The Board for Certification of Genealogists welcomes Jeanette Shiel a native of Brunswick, near Albany, New York, and a current resident of San Diego. Jeanette became interested in genealogy after moving to California. Researching her Northeastern ancestors has been a long-distance project.

Jeanette provides this insight into her reasons for doing family history. “I pursue genealogy research because our ancestors’ lives matter. Whether they were well-known and left a vault filled with a paper trail or whether there are barely bits and pieces of breadcrumbs scattered here and there to hunt after and collect them. They want us to know. They want their story told. I personally enjoy the hunt for breadcrumbs.”

Jeanette Shiel, CG

Jeanette Shiel, CG

Jeanette feels that participating in a ProGen (Professional Genealogy) study group was a very helpful piece of her genealogy education. It gave her insight into the world of genealogy publishing and various kinds of writing that go into a portfolio. Her advice for others considering certification: “Write, edit, set it aside, rewrite. Be prepared and absorb as much genealogy education as you can. Never stop learning.”

Jeanette’s experience in preparing her portfolio was mostly positive. She enjoyed writing, which turned out to be a pleasant task. However, she dreaded writing citations and put off adding them until she had completed each component of her submission.

Certification is a strong recommendation that she will be able to point to in her new genealogy business, Fine Lines Genealogy ( She expects that having gone through the certification process will be helpful in working toward her goal of publishing her research. She says, “I think it’s important to share what you’ve learned.”

Inspiration for family history research and for working toward certification comes from “people (both genealogists and non-genealogists) that never give up. They take on obstacles as challenges and never stop (the search) until they reach their goal (answer their research question). Genealogy is a never-ending process, a puzzle never completely solved. There may be brick walls, but they take them down one brick at a time.”

Jeanette exhibits similar doggedness in searching for the father of her ancestor, William Goddard. “I have taken a possible eighty-eight adult males on the 1810 census and through process of elimination of probate and other records it’s dwindled down to thirty-six males. I keep records of each family and capturing all of these families in context is quite a challenge. I will eventually solve this enigma…and when I do, it will be a story to share.”

Good luck with that research, Jeanette. Congratulations!

Jeanette can be reached at

by Nora Galvin, CG

The words Certified Genealogist are a registered certification mark, and the designations CG, CGL, and Certified Genealogical Lecturer are service marks of the Board for Certification of Genealogists®, used under license by board certificants after periodic evaluation.

Congratulations, Karen Auman, PhD, CG!

Karen Auman loves history, and as an assistant professor of history at Brigham Young University, she helps to inspire that love in others.  She revels in her work teaching history and family history and particularly enjoys helping her students use history to bring life to the stories of “average folks who persevere, work hard, and make a difference.”

Karen Auman, PhD, CG, backpacking at Havasupai

Karen lives in Utah, but grew up in San Jose, California, which she still considers home. Like many in Silicon Valley, she worked with software companies and had a long career as a product manager. The job taught her to “think logically, to understand how information is organized, and how to use electronic tools to your advantage,” all useful skills for researching genealogy.

Interested in both genealogy and history from a young age, Karen received a bachelor’s degree in European Studies. When she later studied for a PhD in history at New York University, she focused her studies on her own ancestral origins: Germans in colonial America. To understand their lives, Karen notes, “it helps to be able to read old German script!” a skill she honed through an intensive course at the Moravian Archives in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania.

Her advice to others preparing for BCG certification is the same strategy that helped her: practice!  She learned by reading case studies in the National Genealogical Society Quarterly and built her skills by helping friends and neighbors research their families. In addition to being good preparation for certification, the volunteer client work allowed her to learn about a wide range of genealogical problems and geographic locations. She recommends practicing all the portfolio work elements before beginning the certification process.

When it came to preparing her own portfolio, Karen chose a research report that she now feels was too large. In retrospect, a shorter, more focused report might have been a better choice. She advises others choosing reports, “Don’t make it too big!”  Based on what she learned through the certification process, she now strives to make her reports as clear and precise as possible.

In her spare time, the self-described “sister, aunt, great-aunt, reader, walker/hiker, gardener, historian, teacher” enjoys chasing her own family mysteries. Her favorite past finds include locating her third great-grandmother’s family in Swedish church records despite the family’s name change and finding a power of attorney that named her third great-grandfather’s heirs. She found the document “buried in the basement storage of the courthouse, not filed with the other records.  It was written thirty years after he died, so it included the spouses of the daughters and all of the adult grandchildren. I had suspected he was my ancestor with lots of indirect evidence, but this was the written proof.”

Her current genealogical challenges include a search for the maiden name of her third great-grandmother Mary [–?–] Auman and a quest to discover the mysterious origins of a second great-grandfather. He may have “purposefully misled people about his roots,” possibly to cover up his illegitimacy. Their stories are two of the many that Karen plans to write for her family to introduce them to their ancestors, always teaching and inspiring love of family history in others.

Karen can be reached at  Congratulations, Karen!

by Sharon Hoyt, CG

Congratulations, Yvonne Mashburn Schmidt, CG!

New associate Yvonne Mashburn Schmidt lives in Cartersville in northwest Georgia. This is where she grew up and now does family research. All of her direct family lines are from the South, and many of them were early Georgians. Her professional research encompasses Georgia and includes African American and Native American families with Georgian roots.

Yvonne states that goal-setting is not one of her strong attributes, but it would be hard to find evidence of this. Her path to certification was carefully planned and executed. After finishing Boston University’s Genealogical Research Program, she knew she was not yet ready to apply for certification. She studied The BCG Application Guide, Genealogy Standards, Evidence Explained, and journal articles. Having identified the specific skills she needed to improve, Yvonne looked for advanced courses taught by some of the best genealogists in our field. She found many of those courses online (e.g. BCG webinars and the Virtual Institute of Genealogical Research), which proves that one need not spend a fortune to acquire the knowledge and skills for certification. The time between her decision to seek certification and her actual portfolio submission was three years. This was a woman with a plan!

Yvonne Mashburn Schmidt, CG

Yvonne recognizes that there can be an emotional block for people thinking about applying for certification. The possibility of failure was a difficult challenge for her. She carefully considered the consequences of failure and accepted that possibility. She then committed herself to doing everything she could to prepare herself to succeed. She advises others who are considering applying for certification to identify problem areas in their work and target educational opportunities to correct or improve them.

Guided by group mentoring with her heroes Elizabeth Shown Mills and Judy Russell, Yvonne pursued advanced research skills. A particular post by Mills on the BCG Facebook page became a reminder for Yvonne of what she needed to do with her portfolio. The post lists common reasons that portfolios are not successful.

Thomas MacEntee assisted her when Yvonne became the target of cyber-bullying involving an unfounded attack on her family research. The incident influenced Yvonne’s desire for certification and contributed to her appreciation for ethical behavior in genealogy.

Completing the portfolio has made Yvonne a better researcher. She believes that her research prior to the certification process was shallow. Now she knows how to dig deeper. In the next five years, she hopes to target educational opportunities to strengthen the weak areas identified in her portfolio, work toward becoming a better presenter and obtaining her CGL, and promote ethical genealogical behavior in as many ways as she can. Sound familiar? Yvonne has a plan!

Yvonne can be reached at Congratulations, Yvonne!

by Karlene Ferguson, CG

The words Certified Genealogist are a registered certification mark, and the designations CG, CGL, and Certified Genealogical Lecturer are service marks of the Board for Certification of Genealogists®, used under license by board certificants after periodic evaluation.

Congratulations, Mary O’Brien Vidlak, CG!

Congratulations to Mary O’Brien Vidlak, CG, of Williamsburg, Virginia! A native of New York, Mary serves as Governor-at-Large and Corresponding Secretary of the Virginia Genealogical Society and is a past chairperson of the program committee for the Genealogical Research Institute of Virginia. She is the news coordinator for ProGen Study Group 15. Mary’s certification reflects a longtime interest in genealogy and history. She shares her journey with us:

Mary O’Brien Vidlak, CG

I was born in Queens, New York, and spent most of my life in Westchester County, a suburb north of the city. The suburbs never felt like home to me; there is a lack of history and roots because everything is new and always changing. Ten years ago my husband and I moved to Williamsburg, Virginia, because we love American history and feel a sense of home in this historic area. I had been working in human resources and planned to continue to do that in Virginia. However the position I wanted didn’t work out, and while I continued to look for a job in my field I took advantage of my time off to explore the areas of Virginia that had been the homes of generations of my maternal ancestors. This literally changed my life. I had always been curious about my ancestors and asked questions, but no one in my family—on either side—really had a strong interest or much specific knowledge. As is the case for most of us, the more I discovered the more I wanted to know.

I quickly realized there was a great deal of information that had no indication of the source. Based on past educational and work experience I knew I wanted to find professional organizations that could teach me how to figure this all out. I joined the National Genealogical Society (NGS) and started with their census course before moving on to the graded version of American Genealogy. In addition to the course material, I read all the recommended material. One of the graders suggested I consider certification, which led to my decision to participate in a ProGen Study Group to increase my knowledge and skill level. I also attended every local, state and national conference I could. My first national conference—NGS in Charleston—was amazing. I recognized how much there was to learn and how frequently incredibly knowledgeable individuals were board-certified genealogists.

Somewhere along the way I created my “strategic plan” and added institutes to my education. I began to pursue genealogy relatively late in life and found the courses themselves and the environment around them an excellent way to ensure I was learning the best practices of the discipline. I was fortunate to be in the final course Barbara Vines Little coordinated at the Institute of Genealogy and Historical Research (IGHR): Virginia Land and Military Conflicts; also, oddly enough, to be in the final Advanced Methodology and Evidence Analysis course that Elizabeth Shown Mills coordinated at IGHR. I have attended the Genealogical Research Institute of Pittsburgh (GRIP) every year but one since its inception, where among other courses I was enrolled in Determining Kinship Reliably with the GPS and Advanced Research Methods, both coordinated by Tom Jones. I also attended the National Institute on Genealogical Research (NIGR) where I found material I used in my portfolio. I got to Salt Lake City for the first time when I attended the Salt Lake Institute of Genealogy (SLIG) in January 2016—after submitting my portfolio. My education will continue this summer when I am back at GRIP!

In many ways my past work and educational experiences have contributed to my success. I was an English Education major at Fairfield University; I ran a small business when my children were young; I worked in human resources at a Fortune 500 company and did a lot of writing and speaking as well as analyzing and correlating information. I enjoy learning new things—and in genealogy I am always learning new things. I also like the challenge of taking research and writing it up in an organized, logical and persuasive way. And genealogy affirms the core belief of my life: every individual is unique, important and valuable, and every life has a story.

One extremely valuable tool I used in educating myself was to purchase CDs from conferences and listen repeatedly to the lectures given by many experts. At times I feel as though I must know them since they spend a huge amount of time driving around with me! As I was working on my portfolio I listened many times to two lectures given at different conferences about preparing your portfolio. Each time I listened I heard something different that helped me with my work.

In addition to the greats of our profession, I have been inspired by people whom I met as classmates, in particular Jean Andrews, CG, and Nancy A. Peters, CG, who sent me encouraging emails and reminded me how much I wanted certification and how great it would feel when I got an email from the BCG Executive Director telling me my portfolio had been approved. I also have to thank Barbara Vines Little whom I ran into at the Library of Virginia one day when she told me to “just send it in!” Outside of genealogy, my husband Michael provided endless encouragement, and my father—who knows almost nothing about his family—fostered my interest in history, which led to my passion for genealogy.

Two suggestions I have for potential applicants—don’t make certification a new year’s resolution so that your deadline is December 31st unless you want to spend your holidays working on your portfolio, and remember that “done is better than perfect!”

Mary is a full time genealogist. She plans to expand her client work and continue to lecture.  She also intends to write and publish her own family research. Mary can be reached at

The words Certified Genealogist are a registered certification mark, and the designations CG, CGL, and Certified Genealogical Lecturer are service marks of the Board for Certification of Genealogists®, used under license by board certificants after periodic evaluation.

Congratulations, Karen Stanbary, CG!

“My passion for genealogy began as a high-school senior watching the Roots mini-series on TV,” says Karen Stanbary. In the early 1980s, the show inspired her to “take a local community-college class, explore the collections at Chicago’s Newberry Library, and (best of all) interview my grandparents, their siblings and my great-grandmother.” Karen borrowed a mimeograph machine to create family group sheets and pedigree charts.

Decades later, faced with an empty nest, she returned to her passion and stumbled upon two articles that questioned the validity and reliability of Alex Haley’s work.[1] Feeling a bit betrayed, she resolved to learn valid genealogical methods. That combination of inspiration and critique bore fruit, and in April she qualified to become Certified Genealogist #1071.

Karen Stanbary, CG

Karen was born in Burlington, Iowa, where many of her deceased ancestors remain. She grew up in a western suburb of Chicago. She and her husband currently practice specialized clinical social work in Chicago. She is fluent and literate in Spanish and completed graduate anthropological work in Mexico, one of her genealogical areas of expertise. She teaches three twelve-hour seminars for the Newberry Library’s Adult Education program:  Genetic Genealogy, Genetic Genealogy–Advanced Practical Applications, and Proving Your Pedigree. She will teach in the Practical Genetic Genealogy course at the Genealogical Research Institute of Pittsburgh (GRIP) this summer.

Karen credits her successful portfolio in large part to the teachings and guidance of Tom Jones, PhD, CG, CGL, Elizabeth Shown Mills, CG, CGL, Sandra Hewlett, CG, Debbie Parker Wayne, CG, CGL, Blaine Bettinger, PhD, JD, CeCe Moore, Angie Bush, MA, and Jeanne Larzalere Bloom, CG. Her experience in the ProGen Study Group, Mastering Genealogical Proof Study Group, and NGSQ (National Genealogical Society Quarterly) Study Group—as well as classes at GRIP, Salt Lake Institute of Genealogy, and Institute for Genealogical and Historical Research (IGHR)—also improved her genealogical critical analysis skills.

Karen especially wants to thank Harold Henderson, CG. “He is a fantastic mentor who helped keep me accountable to my timeline. He provided just the right balance between understanding and accountability.”

She committed to the certification process and created a routine. “Early each morning, when my brain works best, I would spend focused quality time with my portfolio. I prepared a ‘portfolio space’ with all the essential materials at hand—the BCG Application Guide, Chicago Manual of Style, Evidence Explained, Genealogy Standards, Numbering Your Genealogy, and the IGHR writing course syllabus.  I bought a second monitor so I could see the docs on one screen and write on my laptop.

“And I took the time to dig deep into the records. Doing that helped me to keep the Kinship Determination Project (KDP) interesting. I spent three years with the KDP family. I think I would have become bored with them without those unusual records and social histories. And a bored writer does not write.

“It was a significant breakthrough to realize that one size does not fit all—that there is no universal template or formula. Within the standards, I had to learn to trust my own decision-making, to feel the freedom to tell the story.”

Karen’s case study identifies the Mexican father of a Michigan adoptee using documentary research, interviews with potential relatives, and analysis of nine people’s autosomal DNA test results, including triangulated matches. This work is contracted for publication in the NGSQ.

How much overlap is there between clinical social work and professional genealogy? “More than I expected, especially in genealogy cases with real present-day emotional impact, such as unknown paternity, misattributed paternity, the appearance of previously unknown half-siblings, and adoption cases.” And the skill sets are similar: “Both require the careful creation of timelines, critical consideration of the source(s) of information, and empathy—the ability to step out of one’s cultural comfort zones in order to view events through the participants’ eyes.”

What’s next for Karen?  She plans to teach and to increase her client work, especially helping people solve family mysteries and break through brick walls using a combination of documentary research and targeted DNA testing. “It’s an exciting time to be a member of the genealogy community.”

Karen can be reached at

[1] Elizabeth Shown Mills and Gary B. Mills, “Roots and the new ‘Faction’: A Legitimate Tool for Clio?” The Virginia Magazine of History and Biography 1 (January 1981): 5–26.  Also, Elizabeth Shown Mills and Gary B. Mills, “The Genealogist’s Assessment of Alex Haley’s Roots,” National Genealogical Society Quarterly 72 (March 1984): 35–49.  Both articles can be viewed at Historic Pathways.



Welcome, Angela McGhie, CG!

Angela McGhie is a familiar name to many for her commitment to excellence in genealogical education. Now we welcome her as a new BCG associate!

Angela P. McGhie, CG

Angela credits her parents’ family history interests and her grandmother’s Swedish and Danish research for an early introduction to the world of genealogy.  As a college student, Angela interviewed both grandmothers and combined photographs with collected stories to present her family’s history. She has been a dedicated genealogist ever since and for the past fifteen years has focused on in-depth research and education.

Moving into the professional field, Angela recognized the need for formalized training to hone her skills. She began attending genealogical seminars and conferences, and completed the National Genealogical Society (NGS) American Genealogy Home Study Course. In 2007 Angela joined the NGS Quarterly (NGSQ) Study Group; she joined the first Professional Genealogy (ProGen) Study Group in 2008.[1] Within six months she became its administrator, writing assignments and recruiting mentors to work with participants. The ProGen Study Group has grown to 328 alumni and over 110 current students. This success is due in large part to Angela’s tireless efforts.

More recently Angela completed a study of Tom Jones’ Mastering Genealogical Proof,[2] then initiated a study group based on the book; to date, forty-five groups have completed the program. She helped design and coordinates the “Advanced Evidence Analysis Practicum” course for the Salt Lake Institute of Genealogy (SLIG); students work to solve genealogical problems and sharpen their evidence analysis skills.

Certification was a logical step for Angela: “I decided that if I was going to be a professional genealogist I should have my work evaluated to show that I met standards.”

Angela prepared for certification through a combination of education and practical experience. She attended courses at genealogical institutes, including Tom Jones’ “Advanced Genealogical Methods” at SLIG and Elizabeth Shown Mills’ “Advanced Methodology” at the Institute of Genealogical and Historical Research (IGHR).

Whether researching her own ancestors or those of her clients, Angela found it exciting and challenging to apply the methods she studied, as each case required unique records and methods to solve. Once the methodology became an inherent part of her research process, Angela knew she was ready to complete and submit her portfolio.

Her most challenging project was her portfolio case study. Angela had searched for the parents of her third great-grandfather for about eight years. She performed what she felt was “reasonably exhaustive research,” then “exhaustive research.” The mystery was solved through discovery of her ancestor’s Canadian brother. Angela overcame conflicting information and researched in four countries to reveal their mother’s identity: an invaluable learning experience.

Angela’s advice to aspiring BCG associates? Get a solid education by taking advantage of the many opportunities available. Study the standards and the rubrics until you really understand them. Practice writing research plans, research reports, and proof arguments or case studies. Once you feel comfortable, prepare your portfolio.

Angela appreciates the many mentors who provided education, guidance and encouragement, including Elizabeth Shown Mills, Tom Jones, Claire Bettag, Craig Scott, Rick Sayre, Pam Sayre, Elissa Powell, and every mentor that has participated in the ProGen Study Program.

What’s next for Angela? She says “I love teaching and lecturing and have focused my career in this area for the last few years. I have been blessed with opportunities to teach at the genealogy institutes, and am very grateful as I am passionate about education. I want to continue my focus in this area, but will probably begin taking clients again.” Her blog, Adventures in Genealogy Education, journals Angela’s educational priorities and experiences.

Angela lives in Laurel, Maryland, with her husband and three children. She can be reached at . Congratulations, Angela!




[1] The groups work through Elizabeth Shown Mills, ed., Professional Genealogy: A Manual for Researchers, Writers, Editors, Lecturers and Librarians (Baltimore: Genealogical Publishing Co., 2001).

[2] Thomas W. Jones, Mastering Genealogical Proof (Arlington, Virginia: National Genealogical Society, 2013).

Welcome, Nancy G. Wehner, CG!

Nancy Wehner brings to her genealogy work a scientist’s mindset and experience. With a Ph.D. in immunology, her career took her to the pharmaceutical industry as a toxicologist. Safety testing for new drugs going into human clinical trials required the same kinds of data analysis, integration, and writing seen in the best genealogical research. Nancy shares her story:

I have always loved solving puzzles and the whole process of gathering information and interpreting it to that end. That love has led me to be a scientist professionally and a genealogist personally. My initial childhood interest in genealogy was spurred by my grandfather’s large, extended family. (We took over the county fairground for the yearly reunion.) His sister Nettie’s hand-typed folio showed all the existing members of the family and how they all related to each other. I used Nettie’s folio as a starting point for my own research. I ultimately set as my goals tracing my husband’s and my ancestral lines to the immigrant ancestors and then bringing forward the descendants of each of those immigrants.

Nancy G. Wehner, CG

To accomplish this goal Nancy begins her research in Iowa (her starting point) and Ohio (her husband’s) and reaches back to Massachusetts, Pennsylvania, New York, Virginia, Germany, and Denmark. Now that completing her portfolio has freed up some time, she hopes also to pursue three new genealogical goals. One is a project to save and make old diaries available online through scans and transcriptions. Along with her paternal grandmother’s diary and many others, Nancy has collected the journal of an educated Jamaican-born daughter of a washerwoman that gives insight into the World War I era in Brooklyn.

Another project, inspired by Nancy’s experience in toxicology, would investigate the possible causes of an unusually high GI tract cancer rate in part of her husband’s family. She asks, “Was it just this family? Was it a local issue? Why?” Her scientist’s mind is also intrigued by the prospect of making a detailed evaluation of patterns of births, deaths and marriages in her huge database of descendants.

The National Genealogical Society’s American Genealogy: Home Study Course provided part of Nancy’s preparation for certification. She now serves as an NGS grader and looks forward to teaching and mentoring other genealogists.

Reading good genealogy articles was a huge help, but Nancy counts taking the plunge and writing articles as her best portfolio preparation.  She comments, “The one I did for New York Genealogical and Biographical Record was really great, as both the peer review process and the editor’s help did much to sharpen my skills in critically laying out and proofreading what I wrote.”[1]

Nancy’s advice to someone considering applying for certification is, “Make sure you are really ready for the challenge in terms of time to devote to the process and the skills to meet the requirements. Only time and practice give you the skills. Reading books, articles, and attending lectures helps, but only DOING will get you there.”

Picture Nancy in a wooden dory traveling down forty-five major (and many minor) rapids on the Colorado River through the Grand Canyon this spring! This active woman enjoys hiking, backpacking, and rock climbing, as well as gardening and embroidery. Her immediate family includes her husband, two grown children, and cats Frizzle, Xani, and Luxe.

Nancy currently resides in Fremont in California’s East San Francisco Bay Area. Oddly, although it’s a populous region, Board-certified genealogists are rare there. She would welcome a visit with others who share her passion. (BCG associates may have noticed her recent greeting on the BCG List.) Nancy can be reached at Congratulations, Nancy!

[1] Nancy Niles Wehner, “The Steubner Letters, Brooklyn, New York: Tragedy in a German Immigrant Family,” The New York Genealogical and Biographical Record, 145 (October 2014): 259–70.

The words Certified Genealogist are a registered certification mark, and the designations CG, CGL, and Certified Genealogical Lecturer are service marks of the Board for Certification of Genealogists®, used under license by board certificants after periodic evaluation.

Welcome, Cheryl Storton, CG

When introducing herself, Cheryl Storton is happy to tell about her home, Arroyo Grande, on a beautiful stretch of California midway between Los Angeles and San Francisco. Leaving her Iowa roots behind, Cheryl settled permanently in the state one of her ancestors had visited briefly during the Gold Rush. Cheryl found gold in a teaching job at Lompoc Junior High. That got her to California. The weather and lifestyle kept her there. Cheryl is married to Tim Storton and has a son Shawn and eight stepchildren.

While Cheryl’s jobs as a teacher, waitress, bar tender, process server, and accessories vendor, all contributed to her life skills, it’s the business she ran with friend Cafi Cohen that informed her genealogical work. For seven years they operated Bridge to Yesterday, offering client research and creating beautiful family albums with photos, text, and documentation. The work took her into areas of research where her own family had not and expanded her familiarity with records. Cheryl and Cafi closed their business in 2014, and Cheryl began work in earnest on preparing her portfolio.

Cheryl Storton, CG

With encouragement from Cafi, she began attending a number of institutes and joined ProGen. Cheryl took her assignments seriously, which improved her transcriptions, abstractions, proof arguments, and client reports. She found that religiously reading the National Genealogical Society Quarterly improved her writing and source citations. Through the preparation for certification she has gained confidence in her genealogical skills and feels comfortable with source citations to the point of enjoying them most of the time. And she no longer hates to write, but it is still not an easy process for her.

The kinship-determination project provided a satisfying writing opportunity. The last generation included her grandfather, whom she knew personally. Researching him gave her a more complete picture of him. She learned that while many people struggled during the Depression, his story was amazingly different. He always had various jobs including managing a snow fence factory. His daughter had the best shoes, and even saw an orthodontist. Cheryl advises other applicants to write the kinship-determination project about their own families, as they will be spending a lot of time on the research and getting to know the people well.

Cheryl describes herself as very social, so not being able to talk to anyone about the contents of her portfolio was difficult. When asked what advice she would give to someone considering applying for certification, she said, “Focus, focus, focus. What that meant for me was: no Facebook time, no heavy research on family lines, no time for reading and posting to mailing lists, no new clients. Also, I tried to keep to a daily schedule for research and writing. I recommend frequent breaks to exercise and clear your head.”

What will she do now that she is board-certified? Cheryl’s husband, a former sheriff, is researching the sheriffs of San Luis Obispo County with the hope of writing a book. Cheryl’s skills come into play helping with genealogical research and writing biographical sketches. She also looks forward to doing some of that heavy research on her family lines and cleaning up her database and office. That may include work on her third great-grandmother Hannah, born in Pennsylvania in 1805, whose parents and death date and place are still elusive. Another goal is to speak at national genealogical events as a certified genealogical lecturer.

Cheryl has been program director for her local genealogical organization, the San Luis Obispo County Genealogical Society. She also participates in their groups on DNA, genealogical writing, and professional standards, and she’s now their second BCG associate. And she can finally talk about her portfolio. If you run into her at SLIG next year, be sure to say hello and enjoy a visit.  Cheryl can be reached at Congratulations, Cheryl!

The words Certified Genealogist are a registered certification mark, and the designations CG, CGL, and Certified Genealogical Lecturer are service marks of the Board for Certification of Genealogists®, used under license by board certificants after periodic evaluation.

Welcome, LaBrenda Garrett-Nelson, CG!

LaBrenda Garrett-Nelson focuses on African American families with roots in the South, primarily the Carolinas, and she gets a great deal of personal satisfaction from helping families with slave ancestors to recover their lost histories. As a result she considers herself a genealogist with a mission: to research, write, and lecture to inspire descendants of African American slaves to document their family histories, and to raise the consciousness of all Americans about the contributions of these ancestors.

LaBrenda Garrett-Nelson, CG

To ensure that she had the skills and the knowledge to do this critical and difficult work the right way, she decided to work towards the Certified Genealogist credential, a goal she achieved just a few weeks ago.

LaBrenda is a graduate of John Jay College of Criminal Justice, City University of New York, and holds both a law degree and a Master of Laws degree from New York University. She spent most of her 35-year legal career as a corporate tax attorney, including five years on the staff of the nonpartisan Joint Committee on Taxation of the U.S. Congress.

No newcomer to genealogy, she had authored and privately published three editions of her family history (The Source: The Garrett, Neely, and Sullivan Families) and was the principal writer and editor of two church histories documenting their founding African American families while still in active law practice. But, LaBrenda said, even with her legal training, she made many of the mistakes of a novice genealogist. While her background gave her the needed analytical and writing skills, she didn’t fully realize just how much she had to learn about genealogy until she enrolled in the online certificate in genealogical research program offered by Boston University.

After completing the Boston University program, she immersed herself in genealogy, beginning with ProGen Study Group 13. That’s where she came into contact with her genealogy hero: Sandra MacLean Clunies, CG, who served as the mentor of that group during and even after the group’s 18-month study program. It was Sandy’s encouragement that led LaBrenda to enter the 2013 International Society of Family History Writers and Editors (ISFHWE) Excellence-in-Writing Competition, where she took first place for unpublished material by published authors. Her winning article, “Searching for the Slave Owners of Isaac Garrett: Expanding Research Beyond Online Sources,” was published in the June 2014 issue of the ISFHWE quarterly, Columns.

She also attended the 2012 session of the National Institute on Genealogical Research (NIGR), and joined the GenProof 25 study group to gain a solid grounding in basic genealogical methodology. In addition to formal courses of study, she joined genealogical organizations that offer online tutorials and/or journals or newsletters, and attended national and local conferences where she could ask questions of established experts, and she noted how impressed she was with “how extraordinarily generous members of the community are with their time and knowledge.” She singled out Thomas W. Jones, PhD, CG, CGL, whom she first met through the Boston University program, and noted that the speakers at the annual National Genealogy Society conference were uniformly excellent: “Elizabeth Shown Mills, Judy Russell, Michael Hait, and Reginald Washington have never disappointed.”

She found conferences valuable to network with other genealogists, and learn more about her area of interest. When she started thinking about certification, LaBrenda made sure to attend online and in-person sessions that discussed the BCG requirements. Along the way, she picked up one of the best pieces of advice for anyone looking to achieve certification: “use your own family for the kinship determination project.”

She also turned again to her mentor Sandy Clunies, and it was Sandy’s feedback that proved invaluable in helping decide she was ready to begin the BCG certification process. LaBrenda emphasizes, though, that being ready to do the work and being ready to start the BCG clock can be two different things. While she’d reviewed the projects she wanted to include in her portfolio before filing her preliminary application, she hadn’t done any of the work and found herself pressed for time as the one-year deadline approached. So a key piece of advice for others is not to take that one-year time frame too literally: “It’s better to do as much preparation in advance as you reasonably can,” she said. “Limiting myself to that one year time frame wasn’t realistic, and certainly made the process harder than it needed to be.”

That experience doesn’t change her overall view however: “the certification process itself was worth doing because it sharpened my skills, particularly my facility with the citation forms and numbering system.”

She hopes to use those newly-honed skills to publish scholarly articles and lecture in her area of interest and to prepare to renew her credential in five years.

LaBrenda divides her time between Washington, D.C., where she has lived since 1982, and Laurens, S.C., where she maintains a residence on land that was once part of her Garrett great-grandfather’s farm. She is married to Paul Nelson, an ordained Baptist minister, and is the mother of a daughter who works as a journalist in New York City. In her “spare time,” she serves as a member of the board of trustees of the John Jay College Foundation in New York.

Congratulations and welcome, LaBrenda!

Photo courtesy of Raza-Ry Photography.

CG, Certified Genealogist, CGL, and Certified Genealogical Lecturer, are service marks of the Board for Certification of Genealogists, used under license by Board-certified genealogists after periodic competency evaluation, and the board name is registered in the US Patent & Trademark Office.