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.”
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.
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!
Photo courtesy of Ryan Morrill Photography.
 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.