Ten-Minute Methodology: “Reasonably Exhaustive”—How Do We Know We’re There?

Evaluating what we’ve done

There comes a time when we have to stop researching. Sometimes it’s when we feel we’ve answered our research question. Sometimes we’re unsure, fearing we missed something. We can evaluate our research to see if it’s reasonably exhaustive by asking questions about its breadth and strength.[1]

1. Do the research results answer our question? Have we used them to make a convincing case?

2. Does the research address all potentially relevant available sources? This is where we listen to that small voice that reminds us about that repository or informant we’ve been reluctant to visit or contact. Genealogy Standards asks if it covers “sources competent genealogists would examine to answer the same research question.”[2]

Hmm. How do we know, aside from the big names in the field, who’s a “competent genealogist”? How do we know what sources they would examine to answer our research question? This seems like a very subjective measure. It helps to go back to the last post and look at it with the mindset that competent genealogists wrote the standards. That’s better. Then we can see the lists of factors to consider when selecting our sources and use them as our guide.

3. Does the research cover a wide variety of sources and does it “replace, where possible, relevant authored narratives, derivative records, and information that is secondary or undetermined”?[3] We have to dig deeper and find out where those derivative sources got their facts. We can’t just trust someone who collected and published names a century ago.

4. Have we tested our collected data by analysis and correlation to establish its accuracy and consistency? Put another way, do “at least two sources of independent information items agree directly or indirectly on a research question’s answer”?[4]

5. Does the research provide “at least some primary information and direct, indirect, or negative evidence from at least one original record”?[5] This is the really big question that urges us to seek out the primary information from original sources beyond where the internet can take us.

6. Have all conflicts been resolved? How well?

When we’re ready to stop researching we acknowledge that when we make our conclusion public (in whatever format we choose), there is a possibility that someone somewhere will turn up a source with new evidence. These questions are intended to minimize the likelihood of that happening. We may ask one last overall question:

7. What is the risk of new evidence coming to light that will overturn this conclusion?

What? There’s more research to do?


[1] The definition of “reasonably exhaustive research” in Genealogy Standards informs most of these questions. See Genealogy Standards (Nashville, Tenn.: Ancestry.com, 2014), Glossary, 74–75. The criteria are treated more fully in Thomas W. Jones, Mastering Genealogical Proof (Arlington, Va.: National Genealogical Society, 2013). See especially Chapter 3, “GPS Element 1: Thorough Research,” 23–29. Also Thomas W. Jones, “When Enough Is Enough: How Much Searching is ‘Reasonably Exhaustive’?” Association of Professional Genealogists Quarterly 25 (March 2010): 25–33. The author thanks Alison Hare, CG, for invaluable input.

[2] Genealogy Standards (Nashville, Tenn.: Ancestry.com, 2014), 74.

[3] Ibid.

[4] Ibid.

[5] Ibid.


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.

Skillbuilding: Jones on Newfound Evidence

SpringBoard, an official blogger for the 2015 NGS Family History Conference, is pleased to offer a review of this skillbuilding lecture, presented Friday, 15 May 2015:

F321: Thomas W. Jones, Ph.D., CG, CGL, FASG, FUGA, FNGS, on “When Does Newfound Evidence Overturn a Proved Conclusion?” reviewed by Sara Anne Scribner, CG

We’ve come to expect adept analysis and a clear presentation from Dr. Thomas W. Jones. This lecture is no exception. It explores a little-seen topic. Focusing on finished genealogical products, Jones details why newfound evidence may appear and how to proceed when it does.

Thomas W. Jones, Ph.D., CG, CGL, FASG, FUGA, FNGS

Jones notes that both expert and less-experienced genealogists may find a previous conclusion affected by new evidence. This may be due to insufficient research, a “reasonably exhaustive research” that missed something, or to newly available evidence, such as a DNA test result. “Meeting the GPS [Genealogical Proof Standard] neither requires nor ensures perfect certainty.”[1] After explaining the GPS, Jones moves onto methods for handling newfound evidence.

New findings often augment or enhance previous work, especially when the original conclusion meets the GPS. Sometimes newfound evidence invalidates earlier work, but Jones notes he has not seen an example of this where the researcher correctly implemented the GPS in the original conclusion.

How one proceeds with newfound evidence depends on who uncovers it. With luck, the original researcher will make the discovery. The lecture provides next steps for the original researcher to authenticate and evaluate the new evidence, essentially by using the GPS to re-evaluate the conclusion in light of the new information. Examples illustrate the use of article updates, useful when a researcher discovers the existence of new evidence either post-publication or just as an article goes to press. Jones also provides tactful and effective strategies to follow when the person with new evidence is someone other than the original researcher.

If you missed this lecture at the 2015 NGS Conference, a recording is available from Jamb Tapes, Inc.

[1] Board for Certification of Genealogists, Genealogy Standards (Nashville, Tenn.: Ancestry.com, 2014), 3.

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.

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.

New President Announcement and News from BCG Trustees’ Meeting


17 October 2014


Genealogists seeking board certification will have a clearer idea of portfolio requirements following the October 12 meeting of the trustees of the Board for Certification of Genealogists in Salt Lake City. The Board also welcomed a new executive committee and two new members. Several trustees volunteered for a newly enlarged marketing committee. Trustee Judy G. Russell, J.D., CG, CGL, made a generous donation to fund a full year of BCG’s new free public instructional webinars.

To emphasize the fact that not all who apply for certification take clients, the fifth required item in an application portfolio will now be called “Research Report Prepared for Another” rather than “Research Report Prepared for a Client.” The item’s requirements remain the same: research and report on a genealogical problem authorized by someone else that does not involve the applicant’s family, showing “analysis of the problem, in-depth and skillful use of a range of sources, and recommendations for further work based on your findings.”

At the end of Sunday’s trustee meeting the presidential gavel passed from Elissa Scalise Powell, CG, CGL, to Jeanne Larzalere Bloom, CG. In her final report as president, Powell commented on many changes, including the publication of revised standards and rubrics, BCG’s increased social-media presence, the new webinar series, as well as the 50th anniversary celebrations. Bloom responded, “On behalf of the associates and the trustees of BCG, I would like to thank Elissa for her capable leadership as BCG’s president these past two years.”

Other members of the new executive committee are Stefani Evans, CG, (vice-president), Michael S. Ramage, J.D., CG (treasurer), Dawne Slater-Putt, CG (secretary), and Russell (member at large). As past president, Powell will also serve on the executive committee in an advisory capacity. Newly re-elected trustees are David McDonald, CG, Evans, and Bloom, joined by newcomers Nancy A. Peters, CG, and Harold Henderson, CG.

Retiring trustees Laura A. DeGrazia, CG, and Thomas W. Jones Ph.D, CG, CGL, were thanked for their long terms of service and for the significant advancements of BCG that occurred under their leadership. DeGrazia served 2005–2014, and as president 2008–2010. Jones served 1997–2007, 2011–2014, and as president 1999–2002.

Sunday’s meeting was preceded by a day of BCG-sponsored lectures offering problem-solving tools from associates Powell, Russell, Evans, and Elizabeth Shown Mills, CG, CGL, hosted by the Family History Library. The lectures were streamed into two additional rooms when the main meeting room filled.

For questions or more information contact: Nicki Birch, CG, 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 certificants after periodic evaluation.


Congratulations to Barbara Mathews, CG, FASG

The Board for Certification of Genealogists extends its heartiest congratulations to Board-certified genealogist Barbara Jean Mathews of Massachusetts on her election as a Fellow of the American Society of Genealogists (ASG).

Barbara Jean Mathews, CG, FASG

As noted on the ASG website, “Election as a Fellow of the ASG is dependent on nomination by current Fellows…. The central criterion is the quality of a genealogist’s published work. Emphasis is upon compiled genealogies and published works that demonstrate an ability to use primary source material; to evaluate and analyze data; to properly document evidence; and to reach sound, logical conclusions presented in a clear and proper manner.”

Barbara’s work includes the 2013 publication of The Descendants of Governor Thomas Welles of Connecticut and his Wife, Alice Tomes, Volume 1, 2nd edition (Wethersfield, CT: Welles Family Association, 2013), which has just been selected as the ASG’s 2014 winner of the prestigious Donald Lines Jacobus Award. That award is “presented to a model genealogical work published within the previous five years.” She is also the author of Philo Hodge (1756-1842) of Roxbury, Connecticut (Baltimore, Md. : Gateway Press, 1992) and the editor of The Descendants of Thomas Lamkin of the Northern Neck of Virginia (Boston: Newbury Street Press, 2001).

She has many published articles in The American Genealogist (TAG) and has also written for the National Genealogical Society NewsMagazine, the Association of Professional Genealogists Quarterly (APGQ), The Connecticut Nutmegger, and The Essex Genealogist. Her book reviews have appeared in the New England Historical and Genealogical Register, TAG, the National Genealogy Society Quarterly, and APGQ.

Barbara is a professional genealogist who specializes in the families of colonial Connecticut and Massachusetts who currently serves on the board of the Massachusetts Genealogical Council. She has served as a BCG trustee and officer, and as an officer of the Connecticut Professional Genealogists Council. Her blog, The Demanding Genealogist, explores issues of quality in genealogical work.

Most of all, though, Barbara loves to teach. She lectures at local, regional, and national conferences and has mentored groups in the ProGen Study Groups program.

Barbara joins Board-certified genealogists Melinde Lutz Byrne of Massachusetts, Frederick C. Hart Jr. of Connecticut, Ronald Ames Hill of Idaho, Helen Hinchliff of British Columbia, Canada, Henry B. Hoff of Virginia, Thomas W. Jones of Virginia, Roger D. Joslyn of New York, Elizabeth Shown Mills of Tennessee, Christine Rose of California, William Bart Saxbe Jr. of Massachusetts, Clifford L. Stott of Utah, and Helen S. Ullman of Massachusetts, as well as BCG emeritus associates John Frederick Dorman of Virginia and Helen F. M. Leary of North Carolina, in the ranks of the ASG Fellows.

Our heartiest congratulations to Barbara Jean Mathews, CG, FASG!

CG and Certified Genealogist 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.

Introducing Jane Beal, CG

Jane Beal, CG

Jane Beal has become the ninth Missourian to currently hold the credential of Certified Genealogist from the Board for Certification of Genealogists.

Jane’s first genealogical mentor remains her most powerful motivating force: her grandfather Richard Dolbeare “entrusted to a teenager many years ago the family papers and photos, obviously seeing in [her] younger self someone who cares about the family history.”

His enthusiasm and his trust started Jane on a journey that began with her New England ancestors and ultimately led her to pursue her genealogical goals and, in 2014, to becoming a Board-certified genealogist.

A registered nurse with both a Bachelor’s and Master’s degree in Nursing, Jane explains that she has worked “in a wide variety of jobs as a nurse,” and continues to work full-time as one “although it is a desk job, not patient care.”

She lives east of Kansas City with her husband of 30 years: “We have a small farm, lots of children and grandchildren.” And, she adds, “All these activities keep me very busy, but the family knows my passion is genealogy.”

Jane started following that passion as a teenager, after getting those precious papers and photos from her grandfather, whom she credits first and foremost as her genealogical hero. Though the time she has had to devote to her passion has varied, over the years she has worked on her own family history, her husband’s, and those of three of her sons-in-law — and that doesn’t include the many others she has helped and the many local projects she’s worked on.

“I take every opportunity I can to attend genealogical conferences, learn the local history, and expand my knowledge base,” she said. “I particularly love doing research in courthouses, and of course the nearby Midwest Genealogy Center [a wonderful place].” But, Jane notes, even though she started as a teenager, she wishes she had started earlier to “focus more on the stories, history and people, rather than just getting a lot of names and dates. I think most people start off that way, I know I did.”

Today, she said, she is “passionate about the stories and history behind the names and dates, to understand what happened and why in their lives.” Her favorite project now is the ‘brick wall’ case, “particularly if they revolve around women whose history has been lost, due to either an early death or lack of a known maiden name. I like to give them back their identity.”

Jane’s advice to those considering certification is to “download and read the BCG Application Guide, outline what projects need to be done for one’s portfolio [maybe an individual has a project they have recently worked on that would fit with some tweaking or could be used with an in-depth effort], and at least start on the bigger parts of the portfolio prior to beginning the ‘clock’.” She added that it’s necessary to “stay on focus during that year, and if at all possible avoid an extension. I think you start to second guess yourself the longer it takes you.”

Besides her grandfather Richard Dolbeare, Jane considered Elizabeth Shown Mills and Thomas Jones as her role models and genealogical heroes. “During my journey to completing my portfolio, I absorbed much knowledge from their presentations [I listened to a lot of CDs from past conferences, and listened over and over again], as well as from their books and articles,” she explained. “I felt they brought me to a higher level and expectation of myself and my work.”

She hopes to have her own genealogy research business in the future, mainly focused in individual clients, and looks forward to contributing articles on genealogy to various publications.

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.

BCG Announces New Webinar Series!

The Board for Certification of Genealogists believes in education and would like to share with the public some of the expertise represented in BCG through a series of webinars.

Open to everyone who wants to improve their skills, these live webinars are set for 8 pm Eastern for the following dates:

Monday, September 22, Thomas W. Jones, Ph.D., CG, CGL, FASG, will present “Fine Wine in a New Bottle: Guidelines for Effective Research and Family Histories.” Updated, retitled, and reorganized, genealogy standards first published in 2000 are now available in a new edition. The webinar will describe the changes and what they mean for all family historians. Dr. Jones teaches at three genealogy institutes, co-edits the National Genealogical Society Quarterly, and is the author of Mastering Genealogical Proof.

To register for the September 22 webinar, please use this link:

On Wednesday, October 15, Judy G. Russell, J.D., CG, CGL, will explain “Kinship Determination: From Generation to Generation.” Requirement 7 of the BCG certification application asks for a Kinship Determination Project in which the applicant writes a three-generation narrative and explains how the relationships are documented. All genealogists do this regularly while placing relatives with their appropriate connections in the family tree. A familiar speaker at conferences across the country, Judy will coordinate the Advanced Methodology & Evidence Analysis course at the Institute for Genealogy and Historical Research in 2015.

To register for the October 15 webinar, please use this link:

Look for future announcements on other upcoming webinars on this blog. You may sign up on the sidebar for email notifications when a new post is written.

Early Bird Registration Ends October 31st for SLIG 2014 – Course 5 – Credentialing: Accreditation, Certification, or Both?

Last weekend in Salt Lake City we kicked-off celebrations of the 50th anniversaries of two credentials, those administered by the Board for Certification of Genealogists® and the International Commission for the Accreditation of Professional GenealogistsSM. The banquet in Salt Lake City heard speaker Judy G. Russell, JD, CGSM, CGLSM, discuss the instigating factors for the establishment of credentials as well as the developments in those organizations over the last 50 years.

Elissa Scalise Powell, CG, CGL

To continue the celebration in the “50th year of our age,” a track on accreditation and certification is included in SLIG 2014. Apryl Cox, AG®, Co-Chair of the Testing Committee of ICAPgen, and Elissa Scalise Powell, CGSM, CGLSM, President of BCG, will coordinate Course 5 in the upcoming Salt Lake Institute of Genealogy, 13-17 January 2014. Course 5 is “Credentialing: Accreditation, Certification, or Both?”

Apryl Cox, AG    

The two called on great speakers to present topics in the week’s worth of classes. Their instructors include David Rencher, AG, CG; F. Warren Bittner, CG; Judy G. Russell, JD, CG, CGL; Kelly Summers, AG; Linda Gulbrandsen, AG; Ray Clifford, AG; Raymon Naisbitt, AG; Thomas W. Jones, PhD, CG, CGL; and Mark Lowe CG. Classes will cover the histories of the two organizations, their application processes, and how the applications are judged. Practical exercises will be part of the workshop experience. In the concluding lecture, David Rencher will ask, “How Many Credentials Should I Have?”

Early-bird registration ends of October 31st for the Utah Genealogical Society’s 2014 Salt Lake Institute of Genealogy. There are still a few seats left in Course 5. For more information, click here.

Schedule of the 50th Anniversary Lecture Series, October 10th and 11th

BCG’s 50th Anniversary Lecture Series

Greetings from Salt Lake City. Today marks the start of the one-year celebration of BCG’s 50th anniversary. It starts with two days of lectures. The BCG board has presented lectures here in the past. Those lectures were open only to Family History Library staff. This is the first time we’ve been able to open them to the general public. They take place in the auditorium in the basement of the LDS Church History Museum immediately north of the library.

The program chair for this series is F. Warren Bittner, cgSM, cglSM, of Centerville, Utah. He issued a Call for Papers to BCG associates. He also elected to reprise few lectures that had been popular in the past in the small audiences.

Please come on by. If you are busy during work hours, remember that the Keynote takes place tonight, at 7:00 PM, in the museum auditorium.



BCG Application Portfolios at Jamboree and IGHR; FGS Early Bird Deadline

Posting by Elissa Scalise Powell, CG, CGL
President, BCG

This week is quite busy for those attending the Southern California Jamboree and the Institute of Genealogical and Historical Research (IGHR) at Samford University, Birmingham, Alabama, and for those attending both!

For those who cannot make these events, please check out the new audio clips at the bottom of http://www.bcgcertification.org/certification/why.html. Thank you, Joan Hunter, CG, Alvie Davidson, CG, and Kathy Hinckley, CG, for telling us about your individual pathway to certification.

It is with pleasure that I can say that BCG will have a presence at both Jamboree and IGHR and be able to have available successful portfolio applications for attendees to browse on a limited basis. At Jamboree, look for the BCG table on Friday, June 7 (only) from noon to 6 pm. There you will meet some of our associates. We thank Stefani Evans, CG, for spearheading this volunteer effort.

In addition look for the Jamboree speakers who are Board-certified including: Jean Hibben, CG, Judy G. Russell, CG, CGL, Craig R. Scott, CG, Paula Stuart-Warren, CG, and Debbie Parker Wayne, CG, CGL. They may be able to answer your certification question or point you in the right direction.

On the Samford University campus, where ten courses will be occurring simultaneously all next week, the BCG portfolio applications will be in the classroom of course 6, “Genealogy as a Profession” in Ralph W. Beeson University Center Annex, room 212. Anyone may come and look at the portfolios in the classroom during break times. IGHR attendees can also attend the Tuesday evening lecture (6 p.m.) on the why and how of getting certified given by Elissa Powell, CG, CGL, and Thomas W. Jones, Ph.D., CG, CGL.

With BCG being a sponsor of IGHR for the past several decades, it is no surprise that nine of the eleven course coordinators are Board-certified and that six out of seventeen instructors are also certified. You may see them all at http://www4.samford.edu/schools/ighr/IGHR_faculty.html.

The next national conference is the Federation of Genealogical Societies in Ft. Wayne, Indiana, August 21-25. See www.FGS.org to sign up for the early bird registration before July 1. BCG will have a luncheon, a booth, and two sessions (not overlapping) on how and why to be come certified. Genealogical education is important to achieve if you want to become certified or just learn “cool stuff.”

See you there!