Certified Genealogist®—What Does it Mean?

BCG has received official registration of “Certified Genealogist” as a certification mark with the United States Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO). This is great news, but what does it mean, and why was it needed? Why should we care?

What does this mean?
The certification mark indicates a relationship between the Board for Certification of Genealogists and the person who uses the mark. Its use shows that the genealogist’s work has been peer-reviewed in light of BCG standards for quality and ethics and met the criteria for certification by the Board for Certification of Genealogists. BCG indicates this relationship with the designation Certified Genealogist, now rightfully using the federal registration symbol, Certified Genealogist®. BCG is the legal owner of the mark “Certified Genealogist.”

CG, Certified Genealogical Lecturer, and CGL remain BCG service marks (SM). Registration covers the phrase “Certified Genealogist” and gives this certification mark fuller legal protection. BCG can bring a federal lawsuit against infringers and recover actual and statutory damages along with attorneys’ fees. Registration also gives BCG a mechanism for stopping cybersquatters from registering “certified genealogist” as a domain name, as has been attempted at least twice.

Why does BCG need this?
Despite its former designation as a service mark, the expression “certified genealogist” has been used (often incorrectly) as a general expression. It is not proper usage to say, when referring to BCG certification, “She’s a Certified Genealogist” or “Oh, he finally got his CG.” We sometimes hear these assertions, usually in reference to BCG. Other non-BCG associates and organizations occasionally use “certified genealogist,” hinting that they are somehow approved by or affiliated with BCG. The goal of registering “Certified Genealogist” as a certification mark with the USPTO was to discourage inappropriate use of BCG’s certification mark and protect the status of those who are affiliated with BCG.

Some students of genealogical programs that result in the award of certificates may erroneously refer to themselves as “certified genealogists.” Professional fields and academic programs draw a clear distinction between educational (training) certificate programs and professional certification. One is a function of the educational process. This applies to certificates of achievement (awarded by such programs as ProGen Study Group and Boston University’s Online Certificate in Genealogical Research) and certificates of attendance at institutes. Successful graduates of such programs may state that they have earned a certificate, not certification.

Professional certification, as by BCG, is a third-party assessment of skills and knowledge independent of the educational process. Education does not automatically confer certification.

What does this change?
Using the registered certification mark Certified Genealogist in a general way undermines the significance of registration, which rests on BCG’s claim that the expression and initials are not generic. Rather, they indicate a specific relationship between the user and the Board for Certification of Genealogists®.

So how should we refer to those we’ve been calling “certified genealogists” and “CGs”? Although it may seem cumbersome, it’s accurate and protective of BCG’s status to refer, for example, to a “board-certified genealogist,” a “BCG-certified associate,” or a “board certificant.”

It is appropriate in written communications to use the registered certification and service marks as credentials with a genealogist’s name:

Jane Doe, Certified Genealogist® or Jane Doe, CGSM
I am Certified Genealogist® Jane Doe.

When we correctly use the registered certification mark and avoid using the term “certified genealogist” in a descriptive or general way, we give the BCG credential all the power and significance it merits. “Certified Genealogist®” is BCG’s acknowledgement of its associates’ achievement in working to genealogy standards. Now the force of law stands behind it. Working to standards deserves such protection. Let’s use our words accurately and respect BCG’s certification mark registration.

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.

Researching African American Families that Came out of Slavery

SpringBoard is pleased to present the first in an occasional series of posts about diverse communities. Aimed at intermediate to advanced researchers, the posts will offer tips to those who are new to researching various racial, ethnic, and religious groups. Here LaBrenda Garrett-Nelson, CG, offers guidelines on African American research.

Diverse Communities: Researching African American Families that Came out of Slavery

Researchers of African American families with slave ancestry face a significant challenge because antebellum records reflect the status of those ancestors as human chattel. Records rarely identified slaves by surnames and in some cases failed to record given names. The force of law also guaranteed that few slaves had the ability to record their own histories. Nevertheless, before and after slavery, sources were created that document the lives of the enslaved. What follows are descriptions of these sources, brief discussions of their value to researchers, and tips on how to access them.

First Steps

Family lore is always a good starting point and often provides the most important clues about the origins of slave ancestors. Most slave states did not fully implement statewide registration of births and deaths until the first two decades of the twentieth century. The 1870 U.S. census, the first to enumerate all former slaves by name, is a principal resource for locating a formerly enslaved ancestor in the postbellum era.

A Name for the Research Subject

The surname used by an ancestor in the 1870 census may point to the identity of former slave owners. Documents created by or about them often provide genealogical information about enslaved African American families. For example, names and relationships among slaves might appear in deeds of gift or sale, mortgages, or probate files.

Not all slaves used the name of the last slave owner. A small child who was separated from his extended slave family might use the last owner’s surname after slavery, but if he was old enough to remember his origins, he might reclaim the surname of an earlier owner. Other freedmen took the surnames of slave owners who held their remote ancestors. The surname used by a family in the 1870 U.S. census may differ from the name used by the same family in the 1880 U.S. census. Comparing first names may identify the same family in a household a decade later.

Free Persons of Color: Local and State Records

The majority of African Americans who lived during the antebellum period were enslaved, but some of these ancestors became free persons of color (FPCs) who obtained their freedom during slavery. Records relating to an ancestor’s status as a FPC might be located at the local or state level, depending on how emancipation was effected. A former owner’s “deed of manumission” might have been recorded in county record books with real property deeds. Where a slave was freed by the terms of a testator’s will, such evidence would be included in a probate file. The legal requirements for emancipating slaves differed from state to state and in different eras. In South Carolina, for example, legislative action was required to free a slave after 1820 and so would have been noted in legislative papers.[1]

After emancipation, FPCs may have generated the same types of records as everyone else, such as tax lists and city directories. In addition, certain states and counties maintained registers of free Negros, some of which are online.[2] A FPC should also appear in pre-1870 census records, as FPCs were enumerated in the U.S. census beginning in 1790.[3]

Federal Records

Many Federal records relating to formerly enslaved African Americans not only predate the 1870 census but also include more biographical information.

The War Department’s General Order 143 established the U.S. Bureau of Colored Troops in 1863, pursuant to which African Americans were recruited without regard to their status as free men or former slaves. Compiled military service records, pension applications, and Civil War service payments also provide information about the lives of former slaves.[4]  Widows’ pension records are being digitized slowly, and a small percentage can be accessed online.[5] Most are textual records, so the file must be ordered from or viewed at the NARA in Washington, D.C.

The Field Office records of the Bureau of Refugees, Freedmen, and Abandoned Lands (“Freedmen’s Bureau”) cover the period 1865–1872 and contain extensive documentation of African American lives immediately after the Civil War era. This collection includes labor contracts—overseen by the Freedmen’s Bureau—between former owners and freedmen and women and other records containing names and personal information about former slaves. The original records, part of NARA Record Group (RG) 105, are not indexed, but an ongoing project is making them searchable online.[6] At present, eighteen of twenty-two record sets can be accessed online free of charge.[7]

The Freedman’s Bank, which operated from 1865–1874, was separate from the Freedmen’s Bureau and created records that are rich in biographical detail. The questions asked when accounts were opened include the names of former owners, parents, and siblings and the last known whereabouts of family members. Thirty-seven branch offices were opened in seventeen states and the District of Columbia. Records of twenty-nine branches of the Freedman’s Bank are available through NARA and online.[8]

An interactive website assists researchers in locating the sites of Freedmen Bureau offices and other institutions such as Freedman’s Bank branches. The website includes sample documents and links to the NARA descriptive pamphlets for the states where the Freedmen’s Bureau operated.[9]


It is difficult but not impossible to prove “marital” relationships in slave populations. Slaves could not enter into the legal contract implied by “marriage”;[10] however there may be evidence that a slave couple entered into a committed relationship that predated emancipation. On 30 May 1865, the commissioner of the Freedmen’s Bureau issued orders regarding the conditions for solemnizing marriages of former slaves and the maintenance of records.[11] State legislatures enacted legislation to validate pre-existing unions.[12] Files of the Freedmen’s Bureau contain hundreds of marriages recorded by field offices in southern states, accessible at NARA and online.[13]

Even during the antebellum period slave owners sometimes recognized relationships by describing a couple as man and wife in a will or other legal document. Evidence of antebellum relationships might appear in Freedmen’s Bureau labor contracts that recorded freedmen and women in family groups.

Fleshing out the Stories

Another source worth consulting is the online collection of “Slave Narratives” compiled by the Works Progress Administration Federal Writers’ Project during the Depression and accessible on the website of the Library of Congress.[14] This collection includes 2,300 typewritten narratives with searchable text and links to 500 photographs of former slaves. The narratives are first-person accounts of life as a slave and often include locations, names of former owners, and information about a former slave’s ancestors and other relatives.


Researching slave ancestors requires both the use of unique record collections and a slightly different focus when using common sources such as probate records and county deed books. The reference books listed below provide additional background and detailed information about these resources.

Recommended Reading

Abrams, Alan. Black and Free, The Free Negro in America, 1830: A Commentary on Carter Woodson’s “Free Negro Heads of Families in the United States in 1830.” Sylvania, Ohio: Doubting Thomas Publishing, 2001.

Burroughs, Tony. “Finding African Americans on the 1870 Census.” Heritage Quest (January/February 2001): 50–56. Online edition. http://www.tonyburroughs.com/uploads/1/3/2/8/13281200/finding_african_americans_on_the_1870_census.pdf : 2015. Guidelines for making an effective search, including ways to tackle the issue of different surnames on different census records for the same family.

Gutman, Herbert G. The Black Family in Slavery and Freedom, 1750-1925. New York: Vintage Books, 1976. A seminal study of African American families touching on slave kin networks, domestic arrangements, surnames, and other social and cultural practices.

Higginbotham, A. Leon, Jr. In the Matter of Color, Race, and the American Legal Process: The Colonial Period. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1978. An overview of the legal development of the use of race as a badge of servitude.

Morris, Thomas D. Southern Slavery and the Law: 1619-1860. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1996. A useful summary of laws that governed various aspects of slavery, such as inheritance of slaves, the status of children born to slave mothers, and emancipations.

Rose, James M., and Alice Eichholz. Black Genesis: A Resource Book for African American Genealogy. Baltimore: Genealogical Publishing Company, 2003. In addition to important dates in African American History, this is a state-by-state guide to resources relevant to slaves and free persons in the antebellum period.

Smith, Franklin Carter, and Emily Anne Croom. A Genealogist’s Guide to Discovering Your African-American Ancestors. Baltimore: Genealogical Publishing Company, 2008.
Washington, Reginald. “The Freedman’s Savings and Trust Company and African American Genealogical Research.” Prologue Magazine (Summer 1997). Online edition. http://www.archives.gov/publications/prologue/1997/summer/freedmans-savings-and-trust.html : 2015.

Woodtor, Dee Palmer. Finding a Place Called Home: A Guide to African-American Genealogy and Historical Identity. New York: Random House, 1999. For guidance focusing on the Reconstruction Era.

[1] John Belton O’Neall, The Negro Law of South Carolina, (Columbia: John G. Bowman, 1848), 11: “Sec. 37. The Act of 1820, [declared] that no slave should hereafter be emancipated, but by Act of the Legislature.” (https://books.google.com/books?id=r9lBAAAAIAAJ&printsec=frontcover).

[2] See, for example, Virginia and Louisiana registers. Library of Virginia (http://www.lva.virginia.gov), search for “Free Negro register.” Also, a digitization project announced in “Free People of Color in Louisiana: Revealing an Unknown Past,” LSU Libraries (http://www.louisianadigitallibrary.org/cdm/landingpage/collection/p16313coll51).

[4] See, for the compiled military service records, “Soldiers and Sailors Database,” National Park Service (http://www.nps.gov/civilwar/soldiers-and-sailors-database.htm). Also, for pensions, U.S. National Archives, “General Index to Pension Files, 1861-1934,” Microfilm Publication T288, online edition (http://www.archives.gov). The pension index is also online at FamilySearch, Ancestry, and Fold3.

[5] “Civil War ‘Widows’ Pension’ Applications,” Fold3.com (https://www.fold3.com/page/3496_civil_war_widows_pension_applications/#story_2684).

[6] The Freedmen’s Bureau Project (http://www.discoverfreedmen.org).

[7] “Historical Record Collections,” FamilySearch (http://www.familysearch.org/search/collection/list); from NARA microfilm publications M1900–1913. A search for “Freedmen’s Bureau” will generate an alphabetical list by state.

[8] “United States, Freedman’s Bank Records, 1865-1874,” index and images, FamilySearch (https://familysearch.org/search/collection/1417695); from NARA microfilm M816.

[9] Toni Carrier and Angela Walton-Raji, Mapping the Freedmen’s Bureau (http://mappingthefreedmensbureau.com).

[10] O’Neall, The Negro Law of South Carolina, 23: “Sec. 37. A slave cannot even legally contract marriage.” The SC statute is typical of the law that applied in the historical slave states.

[11] Reginald Washington, “Sealing the Sacred Bonds of Holy Matrimony: Freedmen’s Bureau Marriage Records,” Prologue Magazine (Spring 2005), (http://www.archives.gov/publications/prologue/2005/spring/freedman-marriage-recs.html): 37, para. 13.

[12]  For example, see “North Carolina General Statutes,” database, North Carolina General Assembly, NCGA (http://www.ncga.state.nc.us/gascripts/Statutes/StatutesTOC.pl?Chapter=0051), Article 1, § 51–5, “Marriages between slaves validated.” Couples were required to register their marriages.

[13] These are in NARA microfilm publication 1865, part of RG 105. See “The Freedmen’s Bureau, 1865–1872,” National Archives (www.archives.gov/research/african-americans/freedmens-bureau/#marriages). Also, “United States, Freedmen’s Bureau Marriages, 1815-1869,” database and images, FamilySearch (http://familysearch.org).

[14] “Born in Slavery: Slave Narratives from the Federal Writer’s Project, 1936–1938,” digital images, Library of Congress, American Memory (http://lcweb2.loc.gov/ammem/snhtml/snhome.html).

Coming from OnBoard in January 2016

OnBoard: Newsletter of the Board for Certification of Genealogists is scheduled to publish in January 2016. We’re pleased to offer a preview of some of its content.

“Welcome the Neighbors: Solve Genealogical Problems through Neighborhood Research”

Melinda Daffin Henningfield, CG, understands tough research problems arising from common names and migrating ancestors. She shows us how welcoming the neighbors can save time and money in the long run. Expanding her investigation into the “genealogical neighbors” proved the key to identifying her ancestor as the same individual found over time in four different counties.

“A Case Study in Source and Information Analysis: Electa Ward”

Source and information analysis underpins the work we genealogists do to arrive at reliable conclusions. Facing seven sources of varying reliability containing conflicting information, Judy Kellar Fox, CG, shows us how she resolved the problem of a New England female ancestor’s birth, death, and spouse’s name.

OnBoard publishes three issues per year. A subscription is included in annual associate fees and is provided to applicants “on the clock.” Subscriptions are also available to the general public for $15.00 per year (currently) through the BCG website, here. Issues back to 1995 can also be ordered online, here.

by Nancy A. Peters, CG, Editor, OnBoard

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.


Free BCG Webinar on Reliability and Reasoning

Michael Ramage, JD, CG, “Reliability: The Keystone of Genealogical Reasoning, with Judicial Comparisons” was presented 15 December 2015. A recording is now available from Vimeo, here.

Reliable evidence is essential to sound genealogical conclusions. Illustrating the importance of this quality, the term reliable and its synonyms appear in no less than seven standards in Genealogy Standards.[1] The Genealogical Proof Standard (GPS) does not mention the word reliable, yet it “requires genealogists to base conclusions on reliable evidence.”[2] What does reliable mean? How is it assessed?

Michael Ramage, JD, CG

Come explore the nebulous but important principles surrounding reliability from the perspective of genealogy and the law. The laws pertaining to the admission or exclusion of expert witness testimony provide relevant insights into what is and is not reliable. This is of crucial importance to those attempting to draw a conclusion based upon the GPS.

Michael Ramage, JD, CG, is a Board-certified genealogist and licensed attorney with over thirty years of professional research and writing experience. He specializes in the field of missing and unknown heirs in estate, trust, and real estate title matters.

To register for Michael Ramage, JD, CG, “Reliability: The Keystone of Genealogical Reasoning, with Judicial Comparisons” on 15 December 2015, 8:00 p.m. EST (7:00 CST, 6:00 MST, 5:00 PST), go to  https://attendee.gotowebinar.com/register/4736616197104408066.

After registering, you will receive a confirmation email containing information about joining the webinar. Attendance is limited for this free webinar. Once registered, please sign in early to avoid disappointment.

President Jeanne Larzalere Bloom, CG, says, “The Board for Certification of Genealogists is proud to offer this new webinar as part of an ongoing series that supports our mission to provide education for family historians. This webinar will address questions regarding the genealogy standards for research. By promoting a uniform standard of competence and ethics the BCG endeavors to foster public confidence in genealogy.”

The BCG is an independent certifying body and author of the 2014 Genealogy Standards.

Please visit SpringBoard‘s webinar page to learn about BCG’s previous webinars.

[1] Genealogy Standards (Nashville, Tenn.: Turner Publishing Co., 2014), passim.

[2] Ibid., 23.

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.

Genetic Genealogy Education

We can’t stick our heads in the sand any more when it comes to learning about using DNA testing in genealogical research. Millions of people are taking DNA tests, and many (ourselves included) will need help understanding test results. Additionally, we must at least consider genetic genealogy as part of our reasonably exhaustive research. Not all projects require DNA testing, but some will benefit from it, and others will be difficult to pursue without it. We can’t ignore the value of genetic testing as a research tool. Let’s learn how to use it!

In informing ourselves about DNA testing we also meet continuing education standards. The two knowledge and skill development standards apply to genetic genealogy as well as to document-based work.

82. Development goals. Genealogists improve and update their (a) attainment of genealogical standards, (b) knowledge of genealogically useful materials and contexts, (c) skills in reconstructing unknown or forgotten relationships, families, people, groups, and events, and (d) abilities to present their findings to others.[1]

83. Regular engagement. Genealogists engage in formal or informal development activities, or both, on an ongoing basis:

  • Formal development activities include attending conference, seminar, and workshop presentations … participating in classroom-based or online courses of study; and engaging in virtual or in-person structured study groups, webinars, and similar venues.
  • Informal development activities include conducting genealogical research of increasing difficulty, consulting with advanced practitioners, [etc.].[2]

Here are many options for both self-directed and guided genetic genealogy education. A huge thank-you to Blaine Bettinger, PhD, JD, for assembling and providing the second part of this post. Debbie Parker Wayne, CG, and Judy G. Russell, JD, CG, also made helpful contributions.

There are two main ways to learn about DNA; self-education and organized courses or institutes. In the “early days” of genetic genealogy, the only option was self-education. Today there are numerous options for professionals to learn about genetic genealogy.

Genetic Genealogy Self-Education

1. The single best way to learn about genetic genealogy is the hands-on approach: test yourself and numerous family members, and then explore the results using the tools at the vendor(s)’ website.

2. Books and articles are a good way to gain a basic understanding of the fundamentals of genetic genealogy.

Association of Professional Genealogists. Quarterly. https://www.apgen.org/publications/quarterly/archives/1979-2014SeptAPGQindex.pdf, 23–24 (DNA) and 30 (Genetic Genealogy). A regular feature begun in March 2014 follows good pieces published earlier.

Aulicino, Emily D. Genetic Genealogy: The Basics and Beyond. Bloomington, Ind.: AuthorHouse, 2013.

“Chromosomes and Inheritance.” University of Utah. Learn.Genetics: Genetic Science Learning Center. http://learn.genetics.utah.edu/content/chromosomes/.

Dowell, David R. NextGen Genealogy: The DNA Connection. (n.p.: Libraries Unlimited, 2014).

Hill, Richard. Guide to DNA Testing: How to Identify Ancestors and Confirm Relationships through DNA Testing. 2009. Kindle edition. http://www.dna-testing-adviser.com/DNA-Testing-Guide.html.

Kennett, Debbie. DNA and Social Networking: A Guide to Genealogy in the Twenty-First Century. Gloucestershire, UK: The History Press, 2011.

National Genealogical Society Magazine. http://www.ngsgenealogy.org/cs/members_only/publications_archive/magazine_online/magazine_archives?null (members only). See Oct-Dec 2011 (Judy G. Russell), Oct-Dec 2013, Apr-Jun2014, and regularly beginning July-Sept 2014 (Debbie Parker Wayne).

Smolenyak, Megan Smolenyak, and Ann Turner. Trace Your Roots with DNA. Emmaus, Penn.: Rodale Press, 2004. Discusses Y-DNA and mtDNA; published before widespread atDNA testing, but useful general introduction to genetic testing.

Wayne, Debbie Parker. http://debbiewayne.com/presentations/gatagacc_biblio.php. This site lists print and online educational publications by Debbie and others she recommends.

3. Blogs, forums, and mailing lists help us stay on top of the newest developments. Often news is shared the very same day it is available. Here is an essential list of blogs, forums, and mailing lists for the professional genetic genealogist.

Essential Blogs:

23andMe. The 23andMe Blog. http://blog.23andme.com/.

AncestryDNA. Articles About AncestryDNA. http://blogs.ancestry.com/ancestry/category/dna.

Aulicino, Emily. DNA—Genealem’s Genetic Genealogy. http://genealem-geneticgenealogy.blogspot.com.

Bartlett, Jim. Segment-ology. http://segmentology.org.

Bettinger, Blaine. The Genetic Genealogist. http://www.thegeneticgenealogist.com.

Christmas, Shannon. Through the Trees. http://throughthetreesblog.tumblr.com.

Cooper, Kitty. Kitty Cooper’s Blog: Musings on Genealogy, Genetics, and Gardening. http://blog.kittycooper.com.

Dowell, David R. Dr D Digs Up Ancestors. http://blog.ddowell.com.

Estes, Roberta. DNAeXplained—Genetic Genealogy. http://dna-explained.com. This post discusses genetic genealogy educational opportunities: http://dna-explained.com/2015/11/12/dnaexplained-archives-educational-opportunities/.

Moore, CeCe. Your Genetic Genealogist. http://www.yourgeneticgenealogist.com.

Owston, Jim. The Lineal Arboretum. http://linealarboretum.blogspot.com/.

Russell, Judy G. The Legal Genealogist. http://www.legalgenealogist.com.

Wayne, Debbie Parker. Deb’s Delvings in Genealogy. http://debsdelvings.blogspot.com.

Some Essential Forums and Mailing Lists:

“DNAAdoption.” Yahoo! Groups. https://groups.yahoo.com/neo/groups/DNAAdoption/info.

“DNA Detectives.” Facebook.https://www.facebook.com/groups/DNADetectives/. The group is closed, with membership by application.

DNA: GENEALOGY—DNA mailing list.

“DNA-NEWBIE.” Yahoo! Groups. https://groups.yahoo.com/neo/groups/DNA-NEWBIE/info.

“International Society of Genetic Genealogy (ISOGG).” Facebook. https://www.facebook.com/groups/isogg. The group is closed, with membership by application.

International Society of Genetic Genealogy [ISOGG] Wiki. http://www.isogg.org/wiki/Wiki_Welcome_Page. This is an essential resource. Although this Wikipedia-style source of information is curated by volunteers, it contains some of the most sophisticated and detailed analysis of genetic genealogy. The following pages, for example, are among those absolutely essential for every genetic genealogist:

Genetic Genealogy Educational Courses and Institutes

1. Instructor-led courses and institutes include but are not limited to the following. Some of the advanced courses and tools courses have prerequisites.

DNAAdoption. http://dnaadoption.com/index.php?page=online-classes. While its main focus is providing DNA information for adoptees, it offers several online courses for genealogists as well.

Family Tree University. https://www.familytreeuniversity.com/. FTU offers beginning Genetic Genealogy 101 and Genetic Genealogy 201 courses.

Genealogical Research Institute of Pittsburgh (GRIP). http://www.gripitt.org. In the summer of 2016, GRIP is offering two weeklong courses, “Practical Genetic Genealogy” and “Advanced Genetic Genealogy.”

Institute of Genealogy and Historical Research (IGHR). http://samford.libguides.com/ighr. In the summer of 2016, IGHR is offering a weeklong “Genetic Genealogy Tools & Techniques” course.

Salt Lake Institute of Genealogy (SLIG). http://ugagenealogy.org. In January 2016 SLIG is offering two weeklong courses, “Beginning Genetic Genealogy” and “Advanced DNA Analysis Techniques for Genealogical Research.”

Virtual Institute of Genealogical Research. http://vigrgenealogy.com/. VIGR offers several levels of genetic genealogy courses online. Most are recorded and can be accessed after the live air dates at http://vigrgenealogy.com/store/. “(Finally!) Understanding Autosomal DNA” is available now. New courses are added periodically.

2. Lectures and webinars

DNA is a now a very popular topic at every major genealogy conference in the United States, with some conferences offering one or more DNA-focused days. Here are nationally recognized speakers and presentations.

Bettinger, Blaine. http://www.thegeneticgenealogist.com/presentations/.

Bush, Angie. http://www.genesandtrees.com/upcoming-events-and-presentations.html.

“FamilyTreeDNA.” YouTubehttps://www.youtube.com/channel/UCGXMVPJ5TBwcIvvRt3XWpDw. FamilyTreeDNA webinars have been archived at this free site.

Gleeson, Maurice. http://dnaandfamilytreeresearch.blogspot.com/p/presentations-downloads.html.

Moore, CeCe. http://www.yourgeneticgenealogist.com/p/in-person.html ; resources: http://www.yourgeneticgenealogist.com/p/resources.html.

Russell, Judy. http://legalgenealogist.com/lectures/upcoming.

Southard, Diahan. http://www.yourdnaguide.com/lecture-schedule/.

Wayne, Debbie Parker. http://debbiewayne.com/index.php.


[1] Genealogy Standards (Nashville, Tenn.: Turner Publishing, 2014), 43.

[2] Ibid., 43–44.

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.

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.

Marie Varrelman Melchiori, Certified Genealogist Emeritus

BCG offers Emeritus status to a certified person who has had a long and distinguished career with BCG and who is retired or semi-retired. In 2015 the Board of Trustees voted to offer this designation to Marie Varrelman Melchiori.

Forty years ago Marie Varrelman Melchiori found her great-grandfather’s Civil War discharge paper. It set her on a quest for more information that resulted in a career in genealogical research, service to organizations in the field, and honors that include her election this year as a Certified Genealogist Emeritus.

Learning of her great-grandfather’s service in the 131st New York Infantry led Marie to acquire his Civil War pension file. The National Archives (NARA) in Washington, DC, was a reasonable commute from her home. She became familiar with its Civil War records holdings as she worked on her own ancestor and later for clients who were dealers and collectors of Civil War memorabilia. Marie explains that they had “letters, guns, swords, drums, etc. that belonged to a soldier. It was a pleasure to find the person who carried the item, usually a plain, ordinary soldier who would not have been mentioned in a history book.” Because of her research, this soldier’s name now became known. “The same was true of the vague ancestor whose name might appear on a family tree. Now he became a person who fought in battles that everyone had heard about.”

Marie Varrelman Melchiori, CG Emeritus[1]

In 1980 Marie’s successful application to BCG earned her the Certified Genealogical Record Searcher (CGRS) status. Her email address (MVMcgrs) still reflects that designation. The initials remained the same when the category changed in 1993 to Certified Genealogical Record Specialist, which best describes Marie’s work. “My specialty was Civil War records at NARA. This specialty expanded to include NARA military records for all wars and NARA researching in general.”

Marie began lecturing nationally in 1986 and earned the Certified Genealogical Lecturer (CGL) credential in 1995. She had heard many lecturers talk about what great things could be found in basic military records, but they said very little about how to access the records. Marie covered what most lectures missed: the important NARA finding aids. Her handouts were in outline format and contained record group number, entry or microfilm publication number, and title. She also included the all-important source citations. In later years she added mention of records that had been digitized, the company that digitized them, and the idiosyncrasies of the digitizing process. These outlines became shopping lists that could be taken to NARA in person or online. All the necessary information was there for ordering records.[2]

When BCG consolidated the CGRS and Certified Genealogist categories, Marie’s designation became CG. She felt, she says, “like the family who never moved, but the county lines changed around them. I am very much record-oriented and feel that it is important to have people who know their local records so well that they are the ‘go-to person’ for a particular area or subject. NARA doesn’t have many specialists left. Most are generalists.” She hopes BCG will continue to value the specialists.

Image technology has changed dramatically in the years since Marie first started working with NARA records. She describes the differences:

Huge census copies made on the old machine at NARA can now be made on smaller paper and with better quality. I have recopied my great-grandfather’s Civil War pension file each time NARA purchased a new copy machine. The information never changed, but the quality of the copy did. Now many of the NARA series are digitized, a big improvement over scratched microfilm. This also allows researchers to search records at home, at midnight and on holidays.

When I started lecturing, examples were presented as overheads or transparencies, and now they are slides made in PowerPoint (PP). Since my transparencies were straight from the document or the microfilm, there wasn’t much that could be done about the quality. As assistant director of the National Institute on Genealogical Research I had the chance to read reviews of the first PP presentations given. For several years the comments were more about the bells and whistles of the presentation than the material content. When the focus changed back to content I went to computer presentations. PowerPoint slides can be tweaked, and the documents used may be from a cleaner, digitized version. A lot of what is taken for granted now was at one time cutting edge.

Marie’s forty years of genealogical research, thirty-five of client work, and many years of lecturing accompanied service to genealogy organizations, too. She was assistant director of NIGR from 1987 to 2002. A member of the Association for Professional Genealogists (APG) since 1983, she served as its vice president from 1991–93 and trustee from 1994–99. In 1999 she was awarded the Grahame T. Smallwood Jr. Award of Merit in recognition of her personal commitment and outstanding service to APG. She counts as a proud moment being elected by her peers to the BCG Board of Trustees, where she served from 2002–2006.

Marie comments, “Thank you, BCG, for an association that spanned thirty-five years and helped me meet so many really great people. I have enjoyed being certified and feel it is a natural progression when someone wants to become a professional. It’s time to stop client research and get back to my own family. Thank you to the Board for granting me Emeritus status.”

On behalf of BCG and the genealogical community, thank you, Marie, for sharing your time, your energy, and your expertise to help us all grow. Congratulations!

[1]Photo courtesy of Ryan Morrill Photography.

[2] Recordings of Marie’s lectures for National Genealogical Society and Federation of Genealogical Societies conferences from 2012 and earlier can be accessed from Jamb Tapes, Inc. Her outlines were published for conference attendees in each year’s syllabus, possibly available now in genealogy libraries.

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.

Free BCG Webinar: “Do You Have the Reflexes You Need to Become Certified?”

Tuesday, 17 November 2015, at 8:00 p.m. EDT, Harold Henderson, CG, will present “Do You Have the Reflexes You Need to Become Certified?”

A recording of this webinar is available for a small fee from Vimeo.

Like all professionals, good genealogists learn to take certain approaches and attitudes toward our work. For example, citing and questioning sources are among the many skills and practices we slowly and painfully learn. Once learned, they become automatic—and then it’s easy to forget that reflexes even exist, and that not everyone has developed them. In this talk, Harold will discuss several important reflexes genealogists need to cultivate for successful research using the standards set forth in the book Genealogy Standards. He will help audience members answer the question, “Am I ready to try for certification?”

Harold Henderson, CG, has been a professional writer since 1979, a professional genealogist since 2009, and a Board-certified genealogist since June 2012. He lives and works in northwest Indiana, and serves as a trustee of the Board for Certification of Genealogists. He has published articles in American Ancestors Journal (annual supplement to the New England Historical and Genealogical Register), the National Genealogical Society Quarterly, the New York Genealogical and Biographical Record, and several state publications. His website, www.midwestroots.net, includes free resources and a link to his blog.

To register for Harold Henderson, CG, “Do You Have the Reflexes You Need to Become Certified?” on 17 November 2015, 8:00 p.m. EDT (7:00 CDT, 6:00 MDT, 5:00 PDT): https://attendee.gotowebinar.com/register/5631969406323382786.

After registering, you will receive a confirmation email containing information about joining the webinar.

Attendance is limited for this free webinar. Once registered, please sign in early to avoid disappointment.

President Jeanne Larzalere Bloom, CG, says, “The Board for Certification of Genealogists is proud to offer this new webinar as part of an ongoing series that supports our mission to provide education for family historians. This webinar will address questions regarding the genealogy standards for research. By promoting a uniform standard of competence and ethics the BCG endeavors to foster public confidence in genealogy.”

The BCG is an independent certifying body and author of the 2014 Genealogy Standards.

Please visit SpringBoard‘s webinar page to learn about BCG’s previous webinars.

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.

News from October 2015 BCG Trustees Meeting

The trustees of the Board for Certification of Genealogists (BCG) met in Salt Lake City on 10 October 2015. Three new trustees joined the Board: Paul Graham, CG, Judy Kellar Fox, CG, and Richard G. Sayre, CG, CGL. Two trustees retired from the board: Elizabeth Shown Mills, CG, CGL, and Elissa Scalise Powell, CG, CGL. Both have served as president of BCG and provided distinguished service to the Board and the community at large for many years.

BCG officers for 2015–2016 are Jeanne Larzalere Bloom, CG, president; Stefani Evans, CG, vice president; David McDonald, D.Min., CG, secretary; Michael S. Ramage, JD, CG, treasurer; Judy G. Russell, JD, CG, CGL, and Richard G. Sayre, members-at-large.

BCG is in the process of redesigning its website. Judy G. Russell issued a Request for Proposals (RFP) on 26 October 2015. The RFP is for a redesign and update of the BCG website and overall BCG graphics for branding purposes.

The BCG trustees honored thirty-year associate Miriam Weiner with Emeritus status. “Miriam was the first Jewish genealogist to become certified by the BCG and is known for her pioneering work in Holocaust research and Eastern European records,” said President Jeanne Larzalere Bloom. “The Board is grateful for her many contributions to the field of genealogy and for promoting genealogy standards during her distinguished career.”

BCG will host “meet and greet” events at two national conferences in 2016. The gathering at the National Genealogical Society conference (4–7 May 2016, Ft. Lauderdale, FL) will be organized by Nicki Birch, CG. That at the Federation of Genealogical Societies conference (31 August–3 September 2016, Springfield, IL) will be organized by David McDonald.

For questions or more information, please visit http://www.BCGcertification.org or contact Nicki Birch at office@BCGcertification.org.

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.

If You Don’t Care About Genealogy, Skip This Post

If you do, sign here.

Did you know

    • you cannot obtain a death record in Oklahoma during the seventy-five years after a death unless you are the subject of the record, i.e., the deceased;[1]
    • entries are no longer added to the Social Security Death Index until three years after the death occurs;[2]
    • state vital records officers have a Model Act which, if passed in your state, will close access to birth record for 125 years, marriage records for 100 years, and death records for seventy-five years?[3]

Without records we have no research.

We are advising congress and our state legislatures that we need access to public records and that we vote. BCG is a participating member in the Records Preservation and Access Committee (RPAC).[4]  RPAC has crafted the Genealogists’ Declaration of Rights, a petition showing support for loosening recent restrictions on the SSDI and other public records. The goal is 10,000 signatures by the end of 2015, and we’re 90% there.

You can help! Sign the Genealogists’ Declaration of Rights. Ask your societies to urge members to sign. The petition can be signed online. A link is also available on SpringBoard‘s Genealogists’ Declaration page. RPAC Chair Jan Alpert reports that petitions will be available to sign at the November 1st Genealogy Roadshow event at HistoryMiami Museum and November 7th at Ancestry Day in Raleigh, North Carolina.

It takes just a few minutes to read the declaration out loud at your local society meeting or seminar. Pass around a few signature pages (Word doc or PDF), and folks will willingly sign, knowing what the petition is all about. We must all make our voices heard on this critical matter.

We’re 90% there. You care, right? Join in the final push!

[1] 63 Okla.Stat. § 1-323.
[2] 42 U.S.C. §1306c.
[3] §26(c), “Model State Vital Statistics Act and … Regulations,” NAPHSIS (http://www.naphsis.org/Documents/FinalMODELLAWSeptember72011.pdf).
[4] Sponsoring members of RPAC include the National Genealogical Society, the Federation of Genealogical Societies, and the International Association of Jewish Genealogical Societies. Other participating members, in addition to BCG, are the Association of Professional Genealogists, the International Commission for the Accreditation of Professional Genealogists, the American Society of Genealogists, ProQuest, and Ancestry.com.