Beyond the “Failed” BCG Portfolio

An insufficient portfolio means failure only if the applicant quits. Darcie Hind Posz, CG, submitted three portfolios before becoming board-certified. Each of her submissions represented a great investment of time and money. An evaluation of “insufficient” could have left her stunned, disappointed, or angry. She didn’t quit or appeal the decision. Instead she learned from the judges’ comments and tried again. Darcie had the courage to choose the harder pathnot once, but twice. She describes her journey for SpringBoard readers.

Three Portfolio Submissions, Two Failed, One Successful

By Darcie Hind Posz, CG

I submitted my first certification portfolio prematurely.  I was not ready, and my reasons for seeking certification were immature. I wanted to silence those who discriminated against me because of my youth. (I had heard, “Do you know what a census is?” one too many times.) I soon found out that my youth did not actually give me an edge. I had perused The BCG Genealogical Standards Manual, but had not studied or understood it.[1] I had only two genealogy books (on cemetery research) in my collection. I had not read any quarterly journals and had only attended a local genealogy conference. Because I did not know any better, I thought I was ready and submitted a clunky first portfolio. My kinship-determination project showcased only my ability to find direct evidence in vital records, obituaries and census records.

Darcie Hind Posz, CG

As that portfolio was traveling via postal mail to Washington, D.C., my husband and I were moving to that same city for my new job. City living is expensive. When my portfolio was deemed so far off the mark that it was returned unevaluated along with my check, I was elated just to have the money. I put certification on the back burner.

After that experience I knew I had deficiencies, so I attended lectures . . . but only those that reinforced what I already thought or knew because I did not want to feel challenged. I had subscriptions to quarterlies, but I only flipped through them. I developed a skill for over-researching to find that one piece of direct evidence that answers all questions. I did not understand indirect and negative evidence, let alone how to apply them to genealogical problems. I noticed that direct evidence only got me so far, but I ignored that feeling and went back on the clock.

Around the time that I submitted my second portfolio, I switched departments at work to a position where I reviewed lineages on an hourly basis. Comparing myself to nearly twenty other genealogists in that department, I quickly realized why I may not have been ready for certification. While these genealogists were verifying lineages, establishing proof, and resolving conflicts daily, I had only done lookups. I did not study the standards, I did not study the rubrics, and I did not read Evidence Explained.[2] I only used it as a reference for citations. After months of waiting to hear back from the BCG judges, I received notice that my portfolio had failed, but this time I had the gold mine: the judges’ comments, critiques based on the standards and the rubrics, and all the specific reasons for my failure.

I like to know boundaries, parameters, standards, routes, and rules so that I can assess how I have approached things, what did and didn’t work, and what to change the next time around. With both failed attempts at certification, I realized that I was putting about a third of my energy into it. I wanted a clear and obvious path, a “direct evidence” approach, as if certification could be achieved by pursuing this education or reading/studying that quarterly. Trying to copy what made other people successful prevented me from figuring out what worked for me. I was applying that approach to my career as well as my genealogical research. I needed to learn about indirect and negative evidence and standards so that I could apply them to my genealogical life.

After learning that my second portfolio had failed, I allowed myself to wallow in self-pity for two hours. I realized that it was important to get the proper education and to understand and apply the standards, so I started to weigh my education options. I signed up for a ProGen Study Group and the NGSQ Study Group.[3] I purchased the National Genealogical Society Home Study Course (currently American Genealogical Studies). I began attending lectures that I did not understand, that were over my head and made me feel uncomfortable. I read NGSQ during my lunch breaks. I made my own audio recordings of the BCG standards and the first two chapters of Evidence Explained and listened to them while walking or working. The standards became second nature, and I began to see them simply as best practices genealogists apply to their work, but with a number assigned to them.

My turning points were a workshop Tom Jones presented to my local chapter of the Association for Professional Genealogists; the Salt Lake Institute of Genealogy (SLIG) Advanced Evidence Practicum; and the Institute of Genealogy and Historical Research (IGHR) Advanced Methodology and Evidence Analysis course by Elizabeth Shown Mills. I have known for years that classroom settings are a weak spot for me, so I had avoided institutes. The workshop presented the materials ahead of time, so I was able to work towards the answer in a controlled environment. It was gratifying to arrive at the correct conclusions by meeting the challenge to understand and apply the Genealogical Proof Standard. The SLIG Advanced Evidence Practicum hit on the same weak spot, and although I was uncomfortable the entire week, I was able to take the work home, take it apart and learn how it was put together in the first place. The Advanced Methodology course reinforced that I do not work well in classrooms, but I still learned on a deeper level. All of these courses provided binders that I consult to this day.

Darcie Hind Posz, CG

By varying educational formats I was able to focus on learning every day rather than waiting for an institute. I ordered audiotapes of genealogy lectures that were advanced and theory driven, and I listened to them daily. Beefing up my education became a priority. What I learned I put into practice in my day job. I worked at it on lunch breaks, evenings, and weekends. I had the rubrics on a bulletin board in front of me when I researched so I automatically checked to see if my work met the standards. The magical day when I realized I finally got analysis and correlation, I knew I was ready to go back on the clock again.

Once I was outside of my comfort zone and no longer insulated, I was able to figure out how I learn. Smart learning is a priority for me. It lasts longer than a course. Knowing how I process and retain information underlies how I research, how I analyze and correlate data, and how I write. Learning that was as important as certification. I knew I wanted to apply again one more time before I was thirty-five years old. Finally ready and with education under my belt, four months before my thirty-fifth birthday I became a  board-certified genealogist.


[1] Board for Certification of Genealogists, The BCG Genealogical Standards Manual (Orem, Utah: Ancestry Publishing, an imprint of, 2000). This publication has been superseded by Board for Certification of Genealogists, Genealogy Standards (Nashville, Tenn.:, an imprint of Turner Publishing, 2014).
[2] Elizabeth Shown Mills, Evidence Explained: Citing History Sources from Artifacts to Cyberspace, 3rd ed. (Baltimore: Genealogical Publishing Co., 2015).
[3] ProGen Study Group is based on Elizabeth Shown Mills, ed., Professional Genealogy: A Manual for Researchers, Writers, Editors, Lecturers, and Librarians (Baltimore: Genealogical Publishing Co., 2001). NGSQ Study Group discusses articles from the National Genealogical Society Quarterly. Follow the links above for more information on each.

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.

How One New Associate Prepared for Certification

“Take the process seriously. It’s harder than it looks and takes investment in ongoing genealogical learning, whether you possess a degree or more in another field or not.”

When interviewed for a SpringBoard blog post, new BCG associate Shannon Terwedo offered advice she would give to someone considering applying for certification. Her suggestions are so on-target, they deserve their own post.

Over a period of years before applying to BCG, Shannon had attended the National Institute of Genealogical Research in Washington, D.C., and other week-long seminars and National Genealogical Society conferences. Although not required, they certainly added to her preparation. Many of her hints for successful preparation are much less expensive and require no travel. Some are free.

Here is Shannon’s advice for specific ways to prepare:

• Take the courses offered by the National Genealogical Society, even if they seem too basic. You may be surprised by some of the essentials you’ve missed.

• Attend conferences and training that provide in-depth training on genealogical research, source analysis and writing techniques.

• Attend sessions on BCG certification several times and pay attention.

• Subscribe to the National Genealogical Society Quarterly at minimum, but I think The American Genealogist and The Genealogist are important and instructive too. Read them regularly and flag the articles most applicable to your own research interests.

• Take clients, even if they’re pro bono, and practice client research and reports.

• Write up your own research and practice proof arguments and source citations.

• Read and refer regularly to both of Elizabeth Shown Mills’ reference books: Professional Genealogy: A Manual for Researchers, Writers, Editors, Lecturers, and Librarians (Baltimore: Genealogical Publishing Co., 2001) and Evidence Explained: Citing History Sources from Artifacts to Cyberspace, rev. ed. (Baltimore: Genealogical Publishing Co., 2009). (Evidence Explained is now available as a 2012 second revised edition.)

• Read Thomas W. Jones, Mastering Genealogical Proof (Arlington, Va.: National Genealogical Society, 2013), then read it again.

• After all that, look at the example certification portfolios at conferences.

• Take advantage of online guidance offered by the BCG. The questions you didn’t think to ask will get answered.

Shannon offers this encouragement: “Don’t give up, even if you have to extend beyond a year (or more).” She knows from experience the benefit of persistence, as work and family obligations forced her to extend four times before submitting her (successful) portfolio.

ACTION: Mutual Support for Those Assembling Application Portfolios

Image courtesy of Microsoft Office

BCG established a mutual support network for applicants, called ACTION. Here is how our Certification FAQ describes this list:

BCG invites preliminary applicants to subscribe to an email mentoring group called ACTION (Aids to Certification Testing: Interactive Online Networking). This list does not provide educational preparation; it will not teach applicants about sources, citations, analysis, or any other aspect of research. It does, however, provide a supportive forum where applicants can meet other applicants, and BCG trustees and members of BCG’s Outreach Committee are available to answer questions about the certification process and requirements.

What is it like? Don’t forget that all current Board-certified genealogists have already gone through the process of assembling a portfolio and can relate to the emotional and intellectual issues involved. Several have volunteered to participate in ACTION.

In an ACTION conversation on May 15th of this year.  BCG President Elissa Scalise Powell wrote at 8:04 pm, “So how does … our sense of perfection affect our portfolio process? Does it affect the work sample selections? Does it affect the inability to submit until we find that one last perfect record or case?”

Then at 8:36 pm, Patti Hobbs came back with a story to which we all can relate.

I, too, since I started the clock, am just trying to finish up stuff I’ve been working on for many years. I returned to a courthouse I’d visited about 8 years ago because I hadn’t developed my system for photographing book covers that I now have implemented, and I didn’t have exact titles to use for citations. I also made a trip to Wisconsin just to look for a tombstone that was not on Find-A-Grave and no cemetery book exists outside of the town where the cemetery is located. And the library will not do look-ups because of staffing problems. But without it, I had no proof of one person’s death. Thank goodness she actually had a tombstone!

My first issue was deciding which family to use for my KDP. I worked on two, and then decided not to use either. All totally different. One was a Pennsylvania family, one was a Virginia to Indiana to Iowa family, and the one I settled on is a New England to New York to the Midwest and to-many-parts west.

Then since I had not done “client” work, I did several projects, two of which were very time-consuming, for other people to find a good client case to use. (I do not lack for people to help with their genealogy since I work in a library.)  I rejected using cases I had not solved even though I know that’s permissible.  And even now I don’t think the one I’ve chosen is necessarily the best I could do because I’d prefer to do something more challenging. But as it is no one “out there” had the answer, and I found the answer. Although by the time I submit my portfolio relatives of the now-deceased “client” (pro-bono) may get it out there.

Then I spent a very long time tracking collaterals for the KDP, and probably doing much more than is necessary for the portfolio. But in that process, I found that I really enjoyed doing that. I felt that what I learned from fleshing out all the collaterals, who did not move en masse to the same areas, was very interesting for learning about migration. So I have more biographical detail on the collaterals than is needed. I also did an extra generation because there’s a facet that is in the first generation I wanted included, and there’s a facet to the fourth generation I wanted included. I also wanted the KDP to be enjoyable and informative for other family and not necessarily just those in my direct line.

For me, I had too many other things in my life that were more important in the grand scheme of things than submitting my portfolio for me to make it a priority. That has now changed. And a big motivator for me is I really want to get to work on some other families that are just dangling around waiting to be written up.

Thank you, Patti, for sharing your process for choosing portfolio elements.

To all our readers, once you are on-the-clock, you can participate in ACTION. We look forward to seeing you there!