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Certification: Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ)

Answers to most questions about genealogical certification will be found in The BCG Application Guide. If you have a certification-related question for which you do not find an answer in the guide or the FAQs below, you may send an email to

Except for press inquiries, BCG cannot answer general questions about genealogical research or source materials. The most-common general questions addressed to BCG are included among the FAQs below.

FAQs below are grouped by topic, with those topics arranged alphabetically.

Definition of genealogy
5. What is genealogy, exactly?

Directory of Board-Certified Genealogists
6. Where can I get a list of certified persons?
7. How soon will my name appear on the BCG Certification Roster after I receive my certification?

8. What is the genealogical standard for documentation (source citation)?

Evidence Analysis
9. What is the GPS?
10. Why don’t genealogists use the simple terms “primary source” and “secondary source?”
11. When and where in our work should we use these descriptions of sources, information, and evidence? In footnotes? Research logs? Research reports? Databases? Or just published books and essays?
12. What position does BCG take on "Internet research"? Should someone's skill as a researcher or the quality of one’s research be discounted if one uses digitized or scanned images found on the internet in lieu of original records?

Genealogical Formats
13. What is the difference between a compiled genealogy, a narrative genealogy, a narrative lineage, and a narrative pedigree?
14. What numbering system should I use for my portfolio items?

Kinship Determination Project
15. Can we submit a genealogy or a lineage that someone has already put online or in print, but with errors that need correcting?
16. How much personal detail do you want to see in my Kinship Determination Project?
17. Why does the Kinship Determination Project have to include at least two “proof arguments?”
18. What is the difference between the “proof arguments” for Requirement 7 and the “case study” for Requirement 6?

19 . How should I organize photocopies for all my sources?

20. Do I need a mentor?
21. What support does BCG offer applicants?

Originality of Work
22. What help may I have with my portfolio?
23. Why can I not submit collaborative work? In this age, online collaborative research seems a thing to be encouraged and desired.
24. Why can I not submit previously published work in an initial application?
25. I hear that a family tree website is considered to be published. I have posted research on my family online. Does that mean I cannot use it for the application process?
26. Can published work be submitted in a renewal application?

Portfolios and the Evaluation Process
27. Is there somewhere I can see a successful portfolio?
28. Should I send more than one copy of my portfolio?
29. Will my completed application be handled faster if I send it Express Mail?
30. How long does the evaluation process take?
31. How many judges will review my portfolio?
32. Will I be told what the judges have said about my application portfolio?
33. Is there an appeal process if my application is not successful?
34. My application was denied. May I apply again?
        a. How soon may I reapply?
        b. What should a new portfolio contain?
        c. May I rework my portfolio or do I have to start over?
        d. What will it cost?
        e. When I am ready to reapply, how should I proceed?
        f. Will I be invited to subscribe to ACTION again?
        g. Where else can I get help?

Professional Practices
35. Does BCG set the price on what I charge a client for research?

Research Reports
36. What if I don’t have “client authorizations” to submit with my reports?
37. Will I violate BCG standards if I don’t format research reports a certain way?
38. How can I be sure that my reports are acceptable?

Standards for Editing
39. How does the BCG code of ethics apply to editors?
40. Can my portfolio include work I have edited, rather than written, if it meets BCG standards?

Style Guides
41. Does it really matter what “style guides” I use for writing and citing?


1. Question: Why is certification needed? Genealogy is all over the Internet. Anyone who types an ancestor’s name into a browser can easily find all sorts of information.

Answer: For all subjects, the Internet is a wonderland of ideas, facts, contradictions, and outright misinformation. What is reliable and what is not? To give us a basis for determining reliability, we apply common standards. For legal or medical information, as an example, we know to seek out sites sponsored by legitimate medical organizations and legal bars. Elsewhere on the Web, we look for material written by Board-certified professionals.

In every professional field, certification serves as a “seal of confidence” for careful consumers. Certification says that a practitioner has met the rigorous standards of that field for knowledge and competence. The field of genealogy is no exception.

Historical research of any type is a complex pursuit. We need to know all the sources that exist for the time and place—and we must use them all if our conclusions are to be reliable. We need to know the handwriting of past eras and how to interpret words that meant something different, then, from what they mean today. We need to know the laws that governed each time and place, or we will misinterpret the legal documents we find and reach erroneous conclusions about identity, parentage and other matters. We need to know how to evaluate the evidence—how to identify reliable sources and information. For genealogical research, we also need to know how to assemble lives correctly and separate the identities of all those same-name people who lived in the same place and time.

Since 1964, the Board for Certification of Genealogists has set the standards for competence and ethics in the field of genealogy. If you are a professional researcher, writer, or teacher, when you seek certification and pass the Board’s rigorous examinations, your credential assures others that you are producing quality research and writing. If you are a consumer, when you employ Board-certified genealogists, you know their credential is backed by a professional body that will serve as an arbiter in the rare event you should experience a problem.


2. Question: How much does it cost to become certified?

Answer: Fees are assessed at two stages of the application process: when you submit your preliminary application and when you submit the final application with your portfolio. Board-certified genealogists also pay an annual maintenance fee. See the current fee schedule.


3. Question: Does a certificate from a genealogical education program constitute certification?

Answer: No. In professional fields (as opposed to some technical fields), a certificate or a degree from a college, university, or institute attests only that you have completed certain educational coursework. Certification, which determines whether you have acquired expertise in a field, is a separate matter whose function is performed by boards or bars that are independent of teaching institutions.


4. Question: What credentials identify somebody as a Board-certified Genealogist?

Answer: BCG currently offers two credentials.

  • Certified Genealogist (CG), the research credential that applicants for the teaching category must also hold
  • Certified Genealogical Lecturer (CGL)

In the last forty years, some credentials have been developed and dropped from usage, including Certified Lineage Specialist (CLS), Certified American Indian Lineage Specialist (CAILS), Certified Genealogical Records Specialist (CGRS), and Certified Genealogical Instructor (CGI). These credentials will be mentioned in older published works.

[Return to Certification questions]

Definition of Genealogy

5. Question: What is genealogy, exactly? What tools or materials do genealogists use? Do genealogists specialize?

Answer: Genealogy is the study of families in genetic and historical context. Within that framework, it is the study of the people who compose a family and the relationships among them. At the individual level, it is biography, because we must reconstruct each individual life in order to separate each person’s identity from that of others bearing the same name. Beyond this, many researchers also find that genealogy is a study of communities because kinship networks have long been the threads that create the fabric of each community’s social life, politics, and economy.

Good genealogists use every resource and tool available, emphasizing original records created by informants with firsthand information. Genealogists have long studied economics, geography, law, politics, religion, and society in order to properly interpret records, identify individuals and relationships correctly, and place their families in historical context. The modern field of genetics has added another valuable tool to their intellectual toolbox.

Serious genealogists do specialize, as do all professional and scholarly fields, because no one can be an authority in all aspects of any subject. Some genealogists specialize in an ethnic group, some in a geographic region, and some in a particular type of resource such as military or immigration records. Some specialize in work with the legal system, others in medical research. The advent of genetics has created yet another specialty: genealogists whose expertise lies in the interpretation of DNA results and its application to genealogical research problems.

[Return to Definition of Genealogy Questions]

Directory of Board-Certified Genealogists

6. Question: Where can I get a list of certified persons? I need someone in a particular specialty.

Answer: Consult the online BCG Roster for certified persons.


7. Question: How soon will my name appear on the BCG Certification Roster after I receive my certification?

Answer: Additions, changes, and corrections to the online roster are made regularly by the BCG Office.

[Return to Directory of Board-Certified Genealogists questions]

Documentation (See also “Style Guides”)

8. Question: What is the genealogical standard for documentation (source citation)?

Answer: Every statement of “fact” that is not “public knowledge” is expected to carry its own specific citation of source. (For instance, a statement that the Civil War began in 1861 would be “public knowledge” because that date is easily found in an array of sources; no source needs to be cited. However, a statement that a certain individual enlisted in a specific unit on a certain day is not public knowledge and must be supported by a reliable source.) Undocumented works are usable for clues but are never considered “proof.”

[Return to Documentation questions]

Evidence Analysis

9. Question: What is the GPS?

Answer: The GPS is the Genealogical Proof Standard, which all genealogists use to evaluate the quality of research and the reliability of conclusions.


10. Question: Why don’t genealogists use the simple terms “primary source” and “secondary source”? In school I was taught to use these to decide whether sources were reliable.

Answer: Determining reliability is not a simple matter. The terms “primary source” and “secondary source” theoretically distinguish reliable sources from potentially unreliable ones. As a point of fact, however, in various fields the terms are used ambiguously by researchers in a number of contradictory ways. Attempting to make a “simple” either-or choice does not enable a researcher to evaluate historical evidence reliably.

Genealogical practice appraises reliability in three ways. We appraise the source (its physical form), the quality of the information within that source, and the type of evidence we can draw from that information. Each of those aspects has three basic qualities. The following provides a brief tutorial:

Sources can be people, artifacts, documents, or publications (printed or digital). They are either

  • ORIGINAL RECORDS , that is, those not based on a prior record;
  • DERIVATIVE RECORDS , that is, records created from prior records by manipulating their content—as with abstracts, compilations, databases, extracts, transcripts, and translations; or
  • AUTHORED WORKS, that is, written products that synthesize information from many prior sources and present the writer’s own conclusions, interpretations, and thoughts.

In using a source, we evaluate separately each ”information statement,” to determine whether it offers

  • PRIMARY INFORMATION, that is, details provided by someone with firsthand knowledge of the “fact” reported;
  • SECONDARY INFORMATION, that is, details provided by someone with secondhand or more-distant knowledge (aka, hearsay); or
  • UNDETERMINED INFORMATION, that is, details provided by someone whose identity is not known.

Information that is relevant to the problem is considered evidence. It may be one of three basic types:

  • DIRECT EVIDENCE, that is, relevant information that seems to answer the research question all by itself;
  • INDIRECT EVIDENCE, that is, relevant information that cannot, alone, answer the research question; rather, it must be combined with other information to arrive at an answer; or
  • NEGATIVE EVIDENCE, that is, evidence arising from an absence of a situation or information in extant records where that information might be expected.

11. Question: When and where in our work should we use these descriptions of sources, information, and evidence? In footnotes? Research logs? Research reports? Databases? Or just published books and essays?

Answer: For researchers, the "structure" of evidence analysis is like the framework of a house. No one sees the framework of a well-built house unless, to make an architectural statement, the builder decides to expose a beam. Still, whether visible or not, if that framework is not solid, the house will not be. Carpenters must understand the fundamentals of framing a house, if their buildings are to hold up. Researchers must understand the fundamentals of analyzing evidence, if their conclusions are to hold up.

The terms used for the analysis process (see Q & A no. 10) are not buzz words we inject everywhere. To continue the construction analysis: If one exposes beams and framing all over a house, the house is left looking mighty "raw." So it is with evidence analysis. We describe our sources and its information when and where needed. In our "raw" work, such as research notes, reports, logs, databases, etc., a description of the quality of a source or its information is just as important as the identification of the source. After all, if we don't put the information there in our raw notes, we won't have it when we attempt to draw conclusions from all our research. In our "finished" work, such as genealogies, proof arguments, and case studies, our narrative would discuss issues such as the quality of a particular source, or whether certain information is firsthand or secondhand, only when they are significant issues.

12. Question: What position does BCG take on "Internet research"? Should someone's skill as a researcher or the quality of one’s research be discounted if one uses digitized or scanned images found on the internet in lieu of original records?

Answer: The Internet is a virtual "repository." Like any repository, its materials vary widely in quality.

Q&A no. 10 discusses evidence analysis and the framework (Process Map) by which we separately evaluate sources, information, and evidence. That framework calls for appraising our sources according to whether they are original records (including image copies) or derivative records, or authored works . It calls for evaluating the information within the source as to whether the informant had firsthand (primary) or secondhand (secondary) knowledge of the facts or whether the informant's identity is undetermined. When the researcher decides that information is relevant (that is, it’s actually evidence), then the process calls for considering whether the evidence directly (explicitly) answers the research question or whether it indirectly bears upon the issue, or whether it is negative evidence drawn from the absence of a situation that should exist under the given circumstances.

The word "repository" is not an element on the process map, because the repository is irrelevant to the process.

What is relevant for good research is that (a) we use a variety of repositories—online and offline—, in order to find all needed information; and (b) we thoughtfully and accurately evaluate our sources, information, and evidence so that we arrive at a sound conclusion.

[Return to Evidence Analysis questions]

Genealogical Formats

13. Question: What is the difference between a compiled genealogy, a narrative genealogy, a narrative lineage, and a narrative pedigree?

Answer: Many guides to genealogical writing describe these formats and offer valuable guidance. The essential differences are these:·

  • Compiled Genealogy (Descending or Ascending)
    A compiled genealogy is a reference work that assembles all known family members into some organizational scheme. It provides basic vital statistics for each person; identifies parents, spouses, and children; and, sometimes, offers brief synopses of records found for that person.
  • Narrative Genealogy (Descending)
    A narrative genealogy is an historical account of a family, in which each individual life is presented in historical context with biographical and genealogical details. Typically, a narrative genealogy presents the generations in a descending arrangement. Starting with a more-distant ancestor or ancestral couple, it comes forward through the generations, attempting to account for all known descendants, in all lines (female as well as male) for a certain number of generations.
  • Narrative Pedigree (Ascending)
    A narrative pedigree is essentially the reverse of the narrative genealogy. Instead of starting with an ancestral couple and tracking all descendants forward in time, it begins with a more-recent person and develops his or her ancestry in various branches. As with a narrative genealogy, a narrative pedigree should provide a discussion of the lives that have been assembled for each person, not just a recital of the vital statistics that would appear on a pedigree chart.
  • Narrative Lineage (Descending or Ascending)
    A narrative lineage is a genealogical and biographical account of a family in a direct line, through a certain number of generations. It might start with a more-distant couple and come forward through the generations, or start with a more-recent person and proceed backward in time. A narrative lineage would provide the same personal detail on each couple and their children as called for in a narrative genealogy or a narrative pedigree.

    All of these genealogies, lineages, and pedigrees are expected to be soundly and thoroughly documented, of course.


14. Question: What numbering system should I use for my portfolio items?

Answer: Three numbering systems (NGSQ, Register, and Sosa-Stradonitz) have become the “standard” in American genealogy. The system you use depends upon the type of project you choose—i.e., a narrative genealogy, a narrative lineage, or a narrative pedigree—and upon your personal style preferences. The standard choices are these:

Use the NGSQ Numbering System or the Register Numbering System for

  • Narrative Lineage (descending)
  • Narrative Genealogy (descending)

Use the Sosa-Stradonitz Numbering System (aka, "Ahnentafel numbering”) for

  • Narrative Lineage (ascending)
  • Narrative Pedigree (ascending)

All these standard numbering systems are explained and demonstrated in the following booklet:

Joan F. Curran, CG; Madilyn Coen Crane; and John H. Wray, Ph.D., CG, Numbering Your Genealogy: Basic Systems, Complex Families, and International Kin, NGS Special Publication no. 97 (Arlington: National Genealogical Society, 2008).

An acceptable adaptation of numbering for narrative lineages, descending or ascending, is illustrated in Appendix E of The BCG Genealogical Standards Manual (Orem, Utah: Ancestry, 2000) .

[Return to Genealogical Formats questions]

Kinship Determination Project

15. Question: Can we submit a genealogy or a lineage that someone has already put online or in print, but with errors that need correcting?

Answer: Given today's widespread interest in genealogy, it is difficult to find a family that someone has not already pursued. BCG does not require that you do so. Requirement 7, the Kinship-Determination Project, asks you to create a genealogy or a lineage that meets acceptable standards of quality, as described in Genealogy Standards.

Your presentation is expected to be soundly developed and well reasoned. You will use many sources to achieve that. Some will be reliable, and some will not. That means you will exercise many judgments about the quality of your sources, the quality of the information those sources present, and the strength of the evidence that you draw from each piece of information—both individually and collectively.

As with any research project, when others have published misinformation or reached conclusions you feel are in error, you should correct the existing work and support your corrections with sound evidence, direct or indirect. Following BCG standards, throughout your research your emphasis will be on original sources rather than derivatives. In the writing phase, for at least two parent-child relationships in different generations, you must present a proof argument or a proof summary to justify your conclusion.

If the pre-existing work on a particular family does meet the standards set forth in Genealogy Standards you should, logically, choose a different family.

16. Question: How much personal detail do you want to see in my Kinship Determination Project?

Answer: Requirement 7, the Kinship Determination Project, calls for a three-generation study that is either a narrative genealogy, a narrative lineage or a narrative pedigree. (See “Genealogical Formats” above for a definition of each.) To achieve a reliable and meaningful account of each historical person, you should provide not just vital statistics but an account of their lives, demonstrating the use of a wide range of reliable materials that not only put them into their “society” but also help to prove their identity and separate them from other same-name individuals of their place and time. All questionable evidence should be carefully analyzed, all conclusions explained. For each couple, you should also identify all known children, with (at least) whatever vital statistics you are able to find for them. 

17. Question: Why does the Kinship Determination Project have to include at least two “proof arguments”? For everyone in my genealogy, I have a document that plainly states parentage (“direct evidence”), so why would I need to write any proof arguments?

Answer: The fact that a source explicitly states parentage for a person does not mean that the source can be accepted as proof. Records and people do err. The more thorough our research is, the more likely it is that we will find conflicting information as to identity, kinship, or other critical matters. Or we find situations in which statements of kinship are offered by multiple documents of varying quality that call for correlation and analysis. In other cases, thorough research may generate no one document that plainly states a parent-child relationship, although we may assemble various records that—considered together—provide valid evidence of parentage.

In any of these cases, we should present a “proof argument” that identifies the evidence we have found (with full citations), explains any anomalies that need interpreting, describes problems that may exist within the evidence, effectively resolves any conflicts, and otherwise provides the justification for (a) believing the assertions we have found; or (b) reaching a particular conclusion from our ambivalent or incomplete evidence.

Your Kinship Determination Project may use proof arguments to link direct ancestors to their parents, or you may use them to link a direct ancestor to a child from whom you do not descend. The critical point to remember is this: Requirement 7 asks you to demonstrate your skill at analyzing the evidence that links individuals into a kin relationship.


18. Question: What is the difference between the “proof arguments” for Requirement 7 and the “case study” for Requirement 6?

Answer: A case study typically includes a proof argument, and both have to meet the Genealogical Proof Standard. However, the case study you submit under Requirement 6 has specific parameters and will likely be more complex than the proof arguments you include as part of the Kinship Determination Project. Requirement 6 (Evidence Case Study) allows you a greater choice among problems you have researched, because you may choose a case that involves either identity or relationship in any family. However, that problem of identity or relationship cannot be solved simply by using uncontested direct evidence. It must involve conflicting evidence or a skilled assembly of various pieces of indirect evidence that, taken together, provide an answer to the problem

[Return to Kinship Determination Project questions]


19. Question. For my portfolio, I am including photocopies of my sources behind the body of the text and do not know the proper way to cross reference my photocopies, transcriptions, translations, and abstracts to the text within my papers. Is it proper to place an annotation such as "document #1" after the sentence that refers to the source in the body of the text? How should the photocopies, transcriptions, translations, and abstracts be ordered in the back. Do I place all the wills together, all the title deeds together, etc., or do I place them in the order in which they are presented in the text?

Answer. Photocopies are required only for one work sample, Item 4: Document Work, Applicant-Supplied Document. However, that work sample does not involve the kind of issues you raise about text references and organization. Attached photocopies might be needed for Item 5: Research Report Prepared for a Client. For that requirement, you should submit your research report exactly as you submitted it to the client. If you attached photocopies for the client, then you attach them for BCG—presenting them in exactly the same manner. For Items 6 and 7, the Case Study and Kinship-Determination Project, you cite a quality source for every statement of fact that you make (matters of “common knowledge” excluded), but you should not attach photocopies. BCG expects applicants to use a substantial number of materials for these two projects. It would not be possible for applicants to supply photocopies of all sources and stay within the size limit placed upon the portfolio.

Your question about organization and labeling of documents is essentially a question of how to prepare a client report. The basic standard is this: You report to the client what you have found, what you could not find, and the significance of both. When you refer to a source, you cite it in full. If you are attaching a photocopy, then you simply add a note such as See Document 1, attached. You would then number your documents accordingly, and put a full source citation on each of those documents, on the face, in its margin.

There is no one-approach-fits-all model for organizing this research report and attachments. Conducting quality research requires you to exercise a great deal of judgment. By the same token, preparing a quality research report also calls for exercising judgment. BCG does not certify applicants on their ability to copy a canned model. BCG certifies those who demonstrate the ability to evaluate a research problem, conduct research efficiently and expertly, and report the results in a manner that is appropriate to the project—all of which calls for the exercise of judgment in a myriad of ways.

[Return to Photocopies questions]


20. Question: Do I need a mentor?

Answer: A mentor may be helpful but is not necessary. A mentor cannot educate you about every aspect of research, record interpretation, and evidence analysis. The many educational programs and publications that exist today better serve that purpose. A mentor, however, can serve as a role model and offer valuable guidance and encouragement.

If you think you would benefit from having a mentor, consider asking a professional you know and respect—someone who works in your own specialty. BCG does not assign mentors; the best mentorships develop naturally. A mentoring relationship might arise during educational or networking opportunities such as institutes and conferences or through membership in the Association of Professional Genealogists and participation in APG's online mail list. You can also identify prospective mentors by regularly reading professional journals and contacting authors about shared interests. Conversely, publication of your own work in respected journals can bring you to the attention of more-established professionals who see promise in your work and contact you.

.21. Question: What support does BCG offer applicants?

Answer: 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.

[Return to Mentors questions]

Originality of Work

22. Question: What help may I have with my portfolio?

Answer: Certification is a test of an individual's abilities. Therefore, the work you submit in a certification application is expected to be your own. None of the material in your portfolio should have been reviewed, critiqued, or proofread by anyone other than yourself. A mentor, colleague, instructor or other individual may give you feedback on samples of your work that are not intended for your portfolio, but no one should review or critique material you plan on submitting to BCG.

23. Question: Why can I not submit collaborative work? In this age, online collaborative research seems a thing to be encouraged and desired.

Answer: BCG recognizes the important role of collaboration in research and does not expect researchers to work in a vacuum, but certification is a test of your skills and knowledge. If you submit a collaborative effort, your portfolio evaluators have no way to know what part of the work reflects your own expertise. BCG does not intend that applicants should never collaborate. But when you apply for certification, the work you submit needs to be your own-your own analyses, your own correlations, your own citations, your own organization, your own writing, and your own conclusions.

24. Question: Why can I not submit previously published work in an initial application?

Answer: A certification application calls for specific work products that meet specific standards and demonstrate specific types of knowledge that span a broad range of skills. Rarely does a previously published work-regardless of where it was published-contain all the elements that an applicant is asked to demonstrate. In the rare case in which a previously published work does meet all criteria of a portfolio requirement, prior publication would raise questions as to what aspects of the work were "purely" those of the applicant and what aspects represent editorial emendations. However, if you have a published work that meets all the criteria of a portfolio requirement, you may submit the work in its original pre-published form.

25. Question: I hear that a family tree website is considered to be published. I have posted research on my family online. Does that mean I cannot use it for the application process?

Answer: A family tree website, like other types of published work, would rarely fulfill any of BCG's specific requirements. However, the fact that an applicant has published some "information" about a family in one or another forum does not mean that the applicant cannot use that family for a portfolio requirement that entails a significantly different treatment of the subjects.

If you are uncertain whether your previous use of a particular project renders it ineligible for inclusion in an application, then it may be best to choose another one about which you have no doubt. Successful applicants are those with a solid base of experience and will have a variety of projects from which to choose. If you find that your choices are limited, it may be a sign that your plans to apply for certification are premature.

26. Question: Can published work be submitted in a renewal application?

Answer: Yes, BCG encourages its associates to publish, and published material is permitted in renewal portfolios. Published material is ineligible only for the original application in which applicants make a base-line demonstration of skills.

[Return to Originality of Work questions]

Portfolios and the Evaluation Process

27. Question. Is there somewhere I can see a successful portfolio? I do not personally know anyone who has applied, so I do not know whether my own work measures up.

Answer: Completed portfolios by successful applicants are available for examination in the BCG exhibit booth and at certification seminars at major genealogical conferences and institutes. At most conferences you can “check out” a portfolio for an hour or so, to permit a more-detailed examination. Beyond this, our “Sample Work Products” link displays actual research reports, case studies, and narrative genealogies that have resulted from sound genealogical work. For more explicit discussions of standards and different types of genealogical writing, see Genealogy Standards.


28. Question: Should I send more than one copy of my portfolio?

Answer: No. One copy will suffice. Your portfolio's progress is tracked by the BCG Office. You should keep a duplicate copy for your files, however. On rare occasions, mail services lose packages in transit.


29. Question: Will my completed application be handled faster if I send it Express Mail?

Answer: No, instead use Priority Mail with Delivery Confirmation. Sending an application via Express Mail will not make a difference in the time it takes to process your application.


30. Question: How long does the evaluation process take?

Answer: Allow about five to six months. Our judges volunteer their time and devote many hours to each application they evaluate. Because the judges are so highly qualified, they typically are very active professionals and volunteers for other organizations, as well.


31. Question: How many judges will review my portfolio?

Answer: At a minimum, three. Those three judges work independently of each other, without seeing the evaluations prepared by the others. If all three judges approve your application, you are automatically certified. If only one or two judges recommend certification, your entire portfolio will be sent to a fourth judge (an arbitration judge), who will review your work and the evaluations of the three prior judges. The arbitration judge's decision is final. (However, an applicant who feels that extenuating circumstances exist does have the right to appeal to the full board of trustees.) All judges remain anonymous.


32. Question: Will I be told what the judges have said about my application portfolio?

Answer: Yes, you will receive a full copy of each judge’s evaluation, both quantitative and substantive. Each judge prepares comments specifically for you.


33. Question: Is there an appeal process if my application is not successful?

Answer: If your application is unsuccessful and if you feel it has been inappropriately judged, you may file an appeal. Appeals are decided by the full board of trustees. The BCG Application Guide describes the procedure you must follow.

34. Question: My application was denied. May I apply again?

Answer: Yes, absolutely. BCG encourages applicants to resubmit and would like to see you ultimately succeed in your goal of achieving certification.

34. a. Question: How soon may I reapply?

Answer: This decision is up to you, but it is not a step you should rush. Work on the problems noted by your judges. Remedying the weaknesses they have identified will usually require additional study and more hands-on experience.

34. b. Question: What should a new portfolio contain?

Answer: Applicants who reapply are subject to the same requirements as those applying for the first time. Your new portfolio should therefore contain Requirements 1 through 7 as described in The BCG Application Guide. You will need to follow the instructions in whatever edition of the Guide is in use when you submit a new Preliminary Application Form. The latest edition of the Application Guide can be downloaded for no charge from the BCG website address given in Question 6. This will allow you to stay abreast of any changes in the requirements.

34. c. Question: May I rework my portfolio or do I have to start over?

Answer: No applicant may submit material that has been reviewed, critiqued, or proofread by another individual. Once your work samples have been evaluated by the judges, they are therefore inappropriate for reuse in a BCG application. New work samples must be submitted. Preparing new material will increase your level of experience and help you develop the skills your application should demonstrate.

34. d. Question: What will it cost?

Answer: The fees for reapplying are the same as for first-time submissions. This means you will again be subject to the preliminary application fee as well as the final application fee. These are standard fees for anyone submitting a portfolio. The same amount of work will be required to evaluate a second application as was needed for the first. To see the exact fees in effect at a given time, consult the current fee schedule.

34. e. Question: When I am ready to reapply, how should I proceed?

Answer: When you are ready, download a copy of the latest Application Guide as well as a copy of the Preliminary Application Form. Complete and submit the form to the BCG office along with the preliminary application fee. The office will send you a new Category Application Form and a new BCG document.

34. f. Question: Will I be invited to subscribe to ACTION again?

Answer: Yes, all preliminary applicants are invited to join BCG’s online support group ACTION (Aids to Certification Testing: Interactive Online Networking), regardless of whether they are applying for the first time or reapplying.

34. g. Question: Where else can I get help?

Answer: Consult BCG’s website and the Application Guide’s “Getting Help”section for a list of helpful resources.

[Return to Portfolios and the Evaluation Process questions]

Professional Practices

35. Question: Does BCG set the price on what I charge a client for research?

Answer: No, Board-certified genealogists set their own fees.

[Return to Practices questions]

Research Reports

36. Question: What if I don’t have “client authorizations” to submit with my reports? Requirement 5 (research report prepared for a client) instructs us to include a letter or communication from the client authorizing the work. In the case of pro bono research, there might not be a formal contract or the discussion leading to a project may have been partially verbal and gone through several stages. What kind of documentation would BCG reviewers expect to see for client work under these conditions?

Answer: BCG asks to see a client’s authorization for both legal and evaluative purposes. While BCG needs to ensure there is no legal barrier to its circulation of client material, its portfolio evaluators also need to appraise how well the researcher fulfills a client’s mission and directives. Whether a researcher is paid by a client or not, the preliminary discussions might go through several stages before they come to a meeting of the minds on how to proceed. In those cases, you might employ one of the following approaches:

  • If you corresponded via e-mail, include copies of messages in which the client states the goal, time/cost limitations, and starting-point information.
  • If you discussed details via telephone or in person, write a “letter of understanding” to the client, summarize the points you discussed, and ask the client to initial or sign the letter in agreement. (Whether or not you submit a portfolio, it is always a wise practice to put things in writing before beginning a project.)


37. Question: Will I violate BCG standards if I don’t format research reports a certain way? The attorneys for whom I work often request that I format my reports their way, not “the BCG way.” Will I violate BCG standards if I follow their format?

Answer: BCG does not have one standardized format that it requires for client reports. In everyday practice, there are multiple ways to approach almost everything we do, and each individual case differs in some particulars that call for exercising judgment. Genealogy Standards details certain pieces of information that are considered essential for most genealogical research reports and it explains why these elements are needed. The Manual and the Sample Work Products posted on our website provide various examples of ways these principles can be practiced. As a professional, you should balance those essentials against your client’s requirements to produce research that maintains the highest quality possible.

When you prepare a certification portfolio, you will, of course, want to choose one of your reports that best exemplifies the recognized standards of our field.


38. Question: How can I be sure that my reports are acceptable? I hear that “BCG expects every i to be dotted and every t crossed a certain way” and I’m afraid I won’t do something “right.”

Answer: Certification is about skill and quality—not i's and t's. When BCG evaluators appraise a portfolio, their focus is not on mechanical things such as how a report is formatted or whether its source citations put a comma where a certain style manual suggests the use of a semicolon. The focus of BCG judges is upon five things:

- whether the research is well done,
- whether good judgment has been exercised,
- whether findings are accurately interpreted,
- whether documentation adequately identifies the sources, and
- whether the report itself is understandable.

A recent review of portfolio critiques for the last two years cataloged comments made by the evaluators—both positive and negative, as well as general suggestions for improvement. For research reports, some of the recurring issues are, of course, more grievous than others. In all cases in which an application was not successful, the portfolio displayed a number of problems; and—by and large—the problems seen in a research report also occurred in other types of submissions by the same applicant. Despite those i and t rumors that can help unsuccessful applicants “save face,” the difference between success and disappointment typically lie in the comments below:

Unique project and report, well done
Clearly explained and well-executed research
Quality research, clearly reported
Articulate discussions
Good detective work!
Innovative research
Thorough research within limited time
Presentation easy to follow
Conclusions well explained
Both negative and positive findings reported
Well-thought out research plan
Statements are appropriately "qualified," when "qualifications" are needed
Offers good balance between original and derivative sources

Used work of others without attribution
Did not pursue client's stated objective
Searched wrong time period for the stated problem
Misinterprets the documents attached to report
Seriously misreads basic legal language
Missed important clues in documents
Reached premature conclusions
Statements made without substantiation
Critical detail omitted from abstracts
Attached family group sheets have no citation
Attached photocopies have no documentation
Source citations in body of report are nonexistent or seriously incomplete
Research plan is weak
Serious grammatical problems make findings difficult to understand
All research is done in derivative records
Does not understand Genealogical Proof Standard
No analysis provided at all
Provides undocumented material to client, with no caution

Research reports should
- be paginated
- state the research objective
- summarize findings
- offer recommendations for continued work
- be proofread before they are released

Assembling a portfolio for peer review, whether it is our first application or our sixth renewal, is a wonderful opportunity for all of us to pause and candidly evaluate the work we are actually doing. Out of that self-evaluation, we naturally pick our best work to submit. From the peer review, then, we gain the gift Robert Burns wrote about so eloquently: the chance to see ourselves as others see us.

[Return to Research Reports questions]

Standards for Editing

39. Question: How does the BCG code of ethics apply to editors? I follow BCG standards in my own research, reports, and articles. Will I violate the BCG code of ethics if I am the editor of a society magazine that publishes inadequately documented genealogical research? I am not yet certified by BCG but have been working on my portfolio.

Answer: As editor of a society magazine, you are in a key position to encourage the adoption of sound standards. Until that can be achieved, you are governed by a basic principle all writers face: if they are to be published, they must produce work that follows the guidelines set by the editor or publisher (in your case, the society) to whom they submit their work. In any case, your portfolio should not be affected, given that you would be submitting work products that represent your own research and writing, not that of others whose work you prepared for press.


40. Question: Can my portfolio include work I have edited? I edit a state-level society journal whose articles must meet high standards; they undergo peer review by subject-area authorities as well as extensive editing and fact-checking by me. I don’t have a lot of time for writing of my own. When I apply for renewal, may I submit a copy of my publication as a sample work product?

Answer: Your initial certification established the fact that you work to BCG standards in all essential areas. Therefore, your renewal portfolio can allow you greater leeway to demonstrate the kind of work you typically have done over the course of the five years you were certified.

Your description of your work suggests that you heavily influence the quality of your publication by setting its standards, selecting appropriate manuscripts, and applying the expected editorial controls. Certainly an issue of your journal deserves to be considered as a sample of the quality of your work. However, you would need to also submit other work samples that represent your sole work—if not published material, then unpublished genealogical narratives or research reports you have made to your own files.

[Return to Standards for Editing questions]

Style Guides

41. Question: Does it really matter what “style guides” I use for writing and citing? As style and reference guides, Genealogy Standards recommends Chicago Manual of Style's ("humanities style,” not “scientific style”) and Evidence Explained! Citing History Sources from Artifacts to Cyberspace (which covers many original record types not handled by CMS). I have published genealogical articles in two major peer-reviewed journals, one in genealogy and one in another academic field. Each of those had its own preferred style. Would those peer-reviewed articles be acceptable "sample work products" to submit at renewal?

Answer: Different journals, publishers, and fields do have different style preferences that reflect their needs—often economy or certain situations that exist in their research areas. When submitting work to any press, writers are expected to follow the prescribed style of that press. However, even when major scholarly journals publish abbreviated citations, the research they publish will have undergone extensive peer-review and fact-checking to ensure that it meets standards of the field.

BCG welcomes work samples of a genealogical nature that have been published in peer-reviewed journals. Several examples, from a variety of genealogical journals, appear at this "Sample Work Products" link. Your judges will make their own evaluations of everything you submit, based upon their own expertise, but they would not "penalize" you for the fact that your published material reflects the particular house-style of a journal. In order for them to better evaluate your own work, most judges would prefer that you also include a copy of your manuscript, as you submitted it, as well as the final, edited publication.

When you submit either unpublished work or published work samples from genealogical magazines that allow you to choose your own presentation styles, BCG's judges would expect you to cite your sources fully by the standards of its recommended guides.

[Return to Style Guides questions]

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