Introducing BCG’s New President, Jeanne Larzalere Bloom, CG

Jeanne Larzalere Bloom, CG                         President, Board for Certification of Genealogists


In the mid-1990s my father asked, “Why did your great-great-grandfather enlist in an Ohio Civil War regiment when his family was from eastern Pennsylvania, and how did he end up in Kansas?” The attempt to answer those questions rekindled my adult passion for genealogy and family history.

The foundation for my passion and eventual professional calling was laid very early. Before naptime when I was a child my favorite stories were those my grandmother told about growing up on a farm in north-central Kansas—how the gypsies came when my grandmother and her sister were left alone on the farm while their parents went to market day in town, and how the girls hid in the cellar until the gypsies left; my grandmother’s delight at Christmas to receive an orange and a small bag of chocolates; that she played house using catalpa leaves as plates and acorn husks as cups; how, because of her family’s religious beliefs, she could not play games on Sunday, but was allowed to play the card game Authors because it was considered educational.

Until the age of nine I lived in Hays, Kansas. It was a town where, at least for me, many stories made history alive and tangible. Wild Bill Hickok had been the sheriff of Hays City. My doctor’s office was the site of one of Hickok’s shoot outs. The Big Creek flood washed out the camp of General Custer and the 7th Calvary. I accompanied my father on many a trip to search for artifacts in the freshly plowed fields that were once the site of Fort Hays. Entrepreneur Buffalo Bill Cody provided buffalo meat to that Fort. He also attempted to found the town of Rome where he thought the Union Pacific line would be located. Every time we took old Highway 40 we passed the foundations of the buildings for that failed town.

Growing up with an unusual last name—Larzalere—led to my one-name study of that surname and its variations. The descendants of this Huguenot family spread throughout the United States. One of the highlights of the research was the reunion with the White River Apache branch of the family. As a family member (distant cousin) I had the honor of attending a memorable and moving three-day Sunrise Ceremony, a coming of age ceremony for female Apaches.

My love of stories, especially those of the forgotten history of our ancestors, has not diminished over the years. Have I answered my father’s original questions? No. My working hypothesis is that my great-great-grandfather’s occupation as a mason (a skilled worker who builds with stone) involved him in the construction associated with the westward movement of the railroads. My search for proof continues.

My journey with BCG began in the “dark ages,” in the late 1990s before the extensive use of the internet. I was self-taught and working alone. There was little opportunity for feedback about the quality of my work. I thought I was a good genealogist, but the only way to be sure was to have my work peer-reviewed.

Compiling my portfolio was a tremendous commitment of time and involved much angst. During the process I realized I had overestimated how “good” I was and there was much that I needed to learn. Assembling the portfolio focused my genealogy education. The first three judges arrived at a split decision. The arbitrator’s opinion was that my deficiencies were remediable. In September 1999 I earned BCG’s Certified Genealogist credential, certificate number 419.

Fifteen years and three renewals later (the most recent still in the evaluation-process pipeline), I have the honor to be the newly elected president of BCG. I am humbled to follow in the footsteps of the “great ones,” those who previously served BCG as president.

On the horizon I see a number of issues and concerns that the genealogical community will face and that BCG should actively address

  •  promoting ethical behavior,
  •  participating in the Records Preservation and Access Committee,
  •  introducing the standards to the international genealogical community,
  •  combatting the acceptance of a definition of “genealogy” that is limited to unsourced and sourced online family trees.

To help carry out the mission and the work of BCG during the upcoming year I am fortunate to have the opportunity to work with an outstanding and dynamic Executive Committee, Board of Trustees, and group of associates. With their knowledge, energy, and dedication, I know that the next year will be a great one for BCG.

CG or Certified Genealogist is a service mark 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.

Of DNA Evidence and Successful Application Tips

President’s Corner by Elissa Scalise Powell, CG, CGL

as printed in the September 2014 issue of OnBoard (v. 20, no. 3): 19.

New Tools, New Techniques, Same Standards

This summer has seen much attention to the art and science of using genetic evidence in genealogy. Workshops, institute courses, and genetic genealogy conferences have shared what the field can do for genealogical problem-solving. OnBoard has published recent articles to this effect, and Elizabeth Shown Mills’s article “Testing the FAN Principle Against DNA: Zilphy (Watts) Price Cooksey Cooksey of Georgia and Mississippi” appeared in the NGSQ.(1) It is a new and exciting field of evidence, which each user must understand before effectively using the techniques to break through their own brick walls.

When solving a problem, we consider: Is the evidence consistent with what else we know? Can it be “lying” to us, as in a false positive? Is there enough evidence to make our case? Can we resolve conflicts in the evidence? The elements of the GPS are important for building a reliable proof and DNA evidence is just one part of that proof. It behooves each of us to understand this new marriage of genetics and genealogy, even if we never practice it ourselves.

BCG Wants Applicants to Succeed

There is always a general curiosity about what percentage of certification applicants are successful. The number varies from year to year because the applicants’ portfolios vary from year to year. Certification is not a “numbers game,” but rather it’s about whether or not you understand the Genealogical Proof Standard and can demonstrate that understanding by adhering to the standards. There is no other “secret sauce” ingredient, although following the directions given in the free downloadable BCG Application Guide is key. It is amazing how many applicants don’t follow the advice to “1. Read the directions. 2. Do the work. 3. Read the directions again to make sure the work follows the directions.” This applies to every applicant, even those who think they know what to do based on experience in other fields. Genealogy has its own terminology and standards— make sure you understand and use them.

In a field where “you don’t know what you don’t know,” it is helpful to have a system by which you ask three evaluators to give you independent feedback on how your work measures up against standards. The benchmark is Genealogy Standards.(2) If you read its short seventy-nine pages and find yourself nodding, “yes, I do that, and this other just makes common sense,” then you are more likely to succeed because you have internalized the standards. Making the standards a part of our every-day work habits pervades everything we do, including the work we send to BCG for evaluation. If that is the case then we demonstrate our abilities and meet standards.

If you would like a general overview of what it takes to become certified, or perhaps you know someone who is curious, a good resource is the free webinar that I did for Legacy Family Tree in July. You can see the details and link to the free recording in the BCG SpringBoard blog: http:// bcgcertification.org/blog/2014/07/free-bcg-certification-webinar. In addition, BCG just announced that it is offering its own free webinar series. Details can be found on SpringBoard.

BCG wants applicants to succeed! Whether for a new application or a renewal, we try to make every aspect of the evaluation process as transparent as possible. The rubrics (used by evaluators to rate submissions) are available at http:// www.bcgcertification.org/brochures/ BCGNewAppRubrics2014.pdf. To better prepare your application, use the rubrics and their corresponding standards to evaluate your work samples. It is another “lens” through which to check your submission—and the same one evaluators will be looking through.

To help the public understanding of standards and rubrics, I will be giving a workshop at the Association of Professional Genealogists (APG) Professional Management Conference (PMC) on Thursday, 8 January 2015, in Salt Lake City, Utah. “Measuring Yourself Against Standards: A Practical Guide for Improving Your Skills” will have participants working with documents, research reports, and standards, and doing self-evaluation with rubrics. See https:// www.apgen.org/conferences/index.html for more information.

The certification process is like a mirror that reflects an honest picture of where you currently stand on the genealogy education continuum. What you see in that reflection, and what you do about it, are up to you. We hope that if you don’t like the picture at first, you take the evaluators’ comments to heart and seek the needed skills. Then ask again for another evaluation on new material. You may be successful on a subsequent attempt, as one recently certified person did with her third portfolio application. You can bet she is proud of her achievement, but it took perseverance, determination, and skill-building to work through premature applications to come to the point where she could be successful. What else can BCG do to help you become the skilled genealogist you want to be?

1. Elizabeth Shown Mills, “Testing the FAN Principle Against DNA: Zilphy (Watts) Price Cooksey Cooksey of Georgia and Mississippi,” National Genealogical Society Quarterly 102 (June 2014):129–52.

2. Genealogy Standards (Nashville, Tenn.: Ancestry.com, 2014).

It Takes a Village to Raise Awareness

This is the President’s Column from the May 2014 issue of OnBoard written by Elissa Scalise Powell, CG, CGL.

Pennsylvania researchers received a holiday gift on April 18th when Ancestry.com published a segment of the Pennsylvania death certificates online. As soon as the Pennsylvania legislature opened access to death records over fifty years old and birth records over one hundred five years old, Ancestry negotiated to digitize, index, and make them available.

However, neither the release nor the digitization happened overnight. Previously Pennsylvania had been one of the most restrictive states for access to vital records. The efforts of a grass-roots organization, People for Better Pennsylvania Historical Records Access (www.pahr-access.org) headed by Tim Gruber, made public access possible. The long and winding road began in 2007 and through perseverance will end in March 2015 when the last installment of vital records will be available online. Every researcher who has found a lost family member or put a name to an infant who died too soon owes a debt of gratitude to Tim Gruber and PaHR-Access. They exemplify something I have been saying for twenty years: Whenever you say “why don’t they have XYZ?” realize that “they” are “us” who haven’t done it yet!

Genealogy has always been a grass-roots movement of people helping others. Without the record compilers, the society officers, and the newsletter editors, our research would be much poorer. Now, for good or for bad, the Internet makes everyone an expert and gives instant access to old records. Ask “Mr. Google” and he gives you information beyond your interest in the subject down to the most esoteric point. “Ms. YouTube” shows you instructional videos. “Mrs. Facebook” connects you with cousins by the dozens. But the heart of genealogy is still people helping people. Despite technology, we still crave the human touch and the feeling that we belong and can contribute to a greater cause, that our life has meaning..

As one record group opened, access to the latest three years of data for another is being closed. The Social Security Death Index (SSDI) was originally created to expose fraudulent use of social security numbers. The database was intended for banks and credit card companies to check if new applications were using deceased individuals’ SSNs. Genealogists to class reunion organizers have benefited from the only U.S. nationwide death index. Recently the IRS paid out over $70 million for 19,102 claims against deceased individuals’ SSNs, accounting for only 1.9% of fraudulent returns for the tax year 2011. The simple answer is to adhere to the checking system already in place, but instead the most recent three years of SSDI data will be closed to the public. For those who demonstrate a need for access, a “certification” process requiring over $1,000 in fees is available. (This should not be confused with genealogical certification offered by the BCG.)

Community maturity occurs when we realize that by helping a cause which doesn’t directly affect us, others are doing the same in an area that does. How does access to the SSDI affect you? Do you wonder “why don’t they have a digitized national index?” Remember “they” are “us”! How can “us” help? If you want to learn more about the ongoing records access situation and how to help, you can find information posted monthly on the BCG SpringBoard blog (http://blog. bcgcertification.org/) or on the Records Preservation and Access Committee (RPAC) blog (http://www.fgs.org/rpac).

Pennsylvania’s PaHR-Access proved it takes perseverance and the involvement of many interested parties. It takes a village to raise awareness. Are you part of the village?

Thoughts on Olympics and Certification

As president of BCG I run into a lot of people who question why they should become board-certified, and then during the process, how to be successful. This reminds me of watching the Olympics, where you may have seen media interviews asking athletes, “Why did you do it?” and “How did you become so successful?” The old adage “because [the mountain, challenge, world record, etc.] was there” may still hold true but many talked about their passion for their sport and the thrill it gave them to be good at it.

So why would one be interested in certification? There are about a dozen two-minute audio clips on “Why Certify?” on the BCG website with added bonuses of learning how these board-certified genealogists prepared for their journey. You can listen to them at http://www.bcgcertification.org/certification/why.html. In addition, on the same webpage is Pam Sayre’s luncheon talk comparing certification to skiing, which is apropos in this post-Olympics time.

Those who decide to submit their preliminary application (http://www.bcgcertification.org/certification/requirements.html) are invited to the virtual group ACTION (Aid to Certification Testing: Interactive Online Networking). A discussion on that list of “what the judges want” prompted a post by a preliminary candidate, Yvette Hoitink of Holland, who gave the following analogy:

“The whole certification process is like figure skating in the Olympics: the athletes know the types of elements to include in their programs, but the organizers are not going to tell them which music to use or teach them how to skate. Regardless, judges know a good program when they see it. A routine only consisting of triple axels isn’t going to win any medals no matter how awesome they are, since you have to show a variety of techniques and skills. But if you do decide to include an axel, you better make sure you land it properly.”

Certification is sought for a variety of reasons, but like Olympians, passion to do things well is a common theme. It is not “what the judges want” that will make your portfolio of work samples successful, but how you demonstrate your understanding of the GPS and standards.

Stay tuned for more about using the newly edited standards book.

Best wishes, Elissa