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.
http://lists.rootsweb.ancestry.com/index/other/DNA/GENEALOGY-DNA.html.

“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.

More BCG Webinars Available On Demand

The two most recent BCG webinars (October and November 2015) are now accessible on demand from Vimeo.com. Both are available for twenty-four-hour rental ($2.99 each) or for purchase of unlimited streaming and download ($12.99 each).

The new webinars are

Melanie D. Holtz, CG, “Applying the Standards to International Research,” and

Harold Henderson, CG, “Do You Have the Reflexes You Need to Become Certified?”

Go to the BCG Webinars tab at the top of this page for free previews and links to Vimeo recordings of both.

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, Fuller “Sonny” Jones, CG

BCG’s newest associate came to genealogy twenty years ago after “growing up” with the U.S. space program. A veteran of more than 150 space vehicle launches, Fuller “Sonny” Jones is a retired National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) engineer whose career spanned more than four decades. Born in Alabama, he graduated from Auburn University with a degree in mechanical engineering. In 1958 (pre-NASA) he started work at the Army Ballistic Missile Agency in Huntsville. This was the Werner von Braun team that launched the first American satellite, Explorer 1.

Fuller “Sonny” Jones, CG

Later Fuller’s desire to become more directly involved in the space program led him to Cape Canaveral. He participated in the development of the Atlas-Centaur and the early planetary exploration launches. In 1979 he moved to the Space Shuttle Program and later was the shuttle main engine lead engineer. Preparation of propulsion systems analysis reports and launch summaries honed his writing skills. The painstaking requirements of pre-launch checkout developed the attention to detail necessary in genealogical research and documentation.

Regarding genealogy Fuller says, “There is no telling when the genealogy bug will bite. It may happen when reading a family history, looking at old photographs, or visiting old graveyards.  There may be periods of ‘remission,’ but the bug can bite again at any time, and there is no cure.” Fuller’s interest in genealogy actually started about 1960 when his mother-in-law showed him the history of her Holden family from the early 1600s in England. He did not realize that the genealogy bug was present. Later, during the documentation of his wife’s Holden line for her application to the Daughters of the American Revolution, the genealogy bug bit deep.

Although interested in genealogy for many years, Fuller’s career did not allow much time for genealogical research. After he retired in 1995 from shuttle launch operations, Fuller joined the local genealogical society and started studying research methodology. The Genealogical Proof Standard (GPS) led to the realization that a “brick wall” could be overcome using well-documented indirect evidence.  Intensive study of the GPS requirements raised his research skills to the next level. Tom Jones and Elizabeth Shown Mills are his genealogical heroes, and he credits them with providing the inspiration to continuously improve and to attempt certification.

Fuller believes in the “boots on the ground” approach of on-site research. Such work at rural courthouses provided two breakthroughs in the research of his maternal Matthews family.  His fourth great-grandfather Rev. Willis D. Matthews died in Alexander City, Tallapoosa County, Alabama, in 1864, and family stories hinted at a will. The search began at the county courthouse in nearby Dadeville. After hours of searching through the old courthouse basement archives, Fuller asked one of the older workers for help. She came back after about ten minutes carrying an old leather wallet with the original handwritten will naming all of his children! There was no will book or index. Without the personal search and request, this invaluable document could not have been found.

Two 1930s “genealogies” of his Matthews family included many erroneous conclusions. The most egregious asserted that Fuller’s fifth great-grandfather James Matthews (father of the above Willis) died in 1810 and also reflected a change of four children’s birth dates accordingly. There were some good clues, however. One stated that James died in Pendleton District (now Anderson County), South Carolina. A research trip to the Anderson County courthouse solved the James Matthews problem. Fuller found an 1828 reference to James’s wife, Nancy Matthews. This led to a document proving that her husband died in late 1827, not 1810, while in the process of selling his land. Because James died before the sale was finalized, widow Nancy was forced to complete the sale. The resulting document, found on microfilm in the Anderson County Library, identified all the living sons and sons-in-law. Later research identified the correct birth dates of the four children born during the “lost” years of 1810–1827. Again, a research visit to the courthouse was essential for success.

A member of the National Genealogical Society, Fuller is also a long-time member and past president of the Brevard [Florida] Genealogical Society. After finding several Revolutionary War ancestors, Fuller joined Sons of the American Revolution (SAR). This led to his current passion of helping other men with their research to join the SAR.  He does this without compensation as his way of contributing to the organization.

Fuller found that poor quality documentation was prevalent in many SAR applications. He was instrumental in correcting some of this at the national level by recommending the use of the GPS and stricter documentation requirements. These improvements have now been implemented. Providing improved documentation for SAR applications was Fuller’s primary reason for seeking certification. Plus, certification was on his “Bucket List,” and now it is crossed off!

Many congratulations, Fuller, and all the best as you pursue the next item on your list!

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.

Ten-Minute Methodology: When Index is a “Dirty Word”

Genealogical work supported by indexes alone can be unreliable. What? What’s wrong with the Social Security Death Index (SSDI)? It comes from a reliable source. Other indexes are good, too! Why not use them and cite them as sources?[1]

Standard 38, Source Preference, gives us the answer: “Whenever possible, genealogists prefer to reason from original records that reliable scribes carefully created soon after the reported events.”[2]

Standard 13, Source-Based Content, points out that our research plans may include indexes. However, when it’s possible, we “follow such materials to original records and primary information.”[3]

What is an index, anyway? We usually use the word to refer to an alphabetical list or guide that points us to more information elsewhere. By nature it is a derivative source, something created from something else.

Other so-called indexes offer much more than direction to find an item. Some include extracted information, helping us distinguish people of the same or a similar name.

Here’s an example of information gleaned from two online indexes. It gives a pretty good overview of one man. 

  SSDI[4] California death index[5]
Name John Kellar John M Kellar
Social Security Number 560-03-9682 560-03-9682
Death date Aug 1964 20 Aug 1964
Death place Sonoma [County], California
Birth date 14 Jun 1879 14 Jun 1879
Place where benefit was sent California
State (Year) SSN issued California (Before 1951)
Birth place Pennsylvania
Gender Male
Mother’s name Philippi

So what’s wrong with these indexes? Sure, they are derivative sources, but not all derivatives are bad. What can make index a “dirty word”?

There are two issues.

  • Extracting information involves recopying it, which introduces the possibility of error, no matter how carefully the extracts are proofread.
  • Creators of the indexes make choices about what information is extracted and what is left behind. Usually we are not given all the information from the record. This could lead to incorrect assumptions about what we do have. And what we’re missing could be clues to lead our research in productive directions.

The original death certificate for the above example reveals the extraction choices made by the California death index.[6]

If research stopped at the index level, the following information would be missed:

  • employment
  • father’s name and birthplace
  • mother’s given name and birthplace
  • spouse’s name and that she was the informant for the personal information
  • residence
  • length of residence in the state and county
  • medical and health data
  • burial information

Much of this information is primary, provided by knowledgeable informants (the spouse, the physician, the embalmer). This is one reason we are not satisfied with index entries alone. The original source may have errors, but they are not errors of transcription that could creep in when making an extract.

Indexes are useful in pointing the way. We note the information they offer and then set off to find an original source for the information we need.

Here’s the rub. First, we have to figure out if it is even possible to get the originals an index points to. The next step is learning how to get the originals. In the case of many online records, a digitized image of an original document is available with a few more mouse clicks. Other times we must determine the repository and then make contact in person or via telephone, email, or snail mail. Sometimes we are hamstrung by legal restrictions on records access, as with some recent vital records.

In the case of our death certificate example, Sonoma County, California, death records are available on Family History Library microfilm through 1919 only.[7] For a more recent death we can apply to the county or to the California Department of Public Health. (Ancestry even provides a link.) Oh yes, and we have to pay $21 and send an application through the mail. Or we can order online through a third-party site, which reduces the wait and increases the fee.

So here’s the question: Our n-generation genealogy includes many people in recent generations for whom death certificates are available, but not published, not on microfilm, and not online. It’s an expensive and time-consuming proposition to order death certificates for all the individuals. Yet genealogy standards urge us to use original sources. If we don’t, if we opt to use the “dirty word,” our list of source citations can include many derivative indexes. What do we do?

Time and money. That’s often the cost of accessing original records. However they almost always give us far more than the index, and we can judge for ourselves the quality of the source and perhaps the reliability of the information in it. We don’t have to worry about introduced errors. We usually have new hints to work with, too. And we have the satisfaction of working to standards by getting closer to original records and primary information.

Watch for the next SpringBoard post for ways to meet standards when the original records indexes point to are lost, destroyed, or otherwise inaccessible.

 

 

 


[1] See Anita Anderson Lustenberger, “Skillbuilding: Using Indexes,” OnBoard: Newsletter of the Board for Certification of Genealogists 3 (September 1997): 24.
[2] Genealogy Standards (Nashville, Tenn.: Turner Publishing, 2014), 23.
[3] Ibid., 12–13.
[4] “U.S., Social Security Death Index, 1935–2014,” database, Ancestry.com (http://search.ancestry.com/search/db.aspx?dbid=3693) : accessed 28 October 2015), search for John Martin Kellar, d. 1964 California.
[5] “California Death Index, 1940–1997,” database, FamilySearch (https://familysearch.org/ark:/61903/1:1:VP4D-BWH : accessed 28 October 2015), John M Kellar, 20 Aug 1964; Department of Public Health Services, Sacramento.
[6] Sonoma County, California, Certificate of Death no. 4900-1176, John Martin Kellar, filed 26 August 1964; Register and Recorder, Santa Rosa. The Registrar’s Certification Statement is pasted on the left side of the certificate. It has been folded back for purposes of this post.
[7] “Death records, 1873–1919,” catalog entry, FamilySearch (https://familysearch.org/search/catalog/302916?availability=Family%20History%20Library : accessed 6 November 2015); citing Sonoma County Recorder.

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.