Answers to many questions about genealogical certification are 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 firstname.lastname@example.org.
Except for press inquiries, BCG cannot answer general questions about genealogical research or source materials. Common general questions addressed to BCG are included among the FAQs below.
FAQs below are grouped by topic, with the topics arranged alphabetically.
1. What credentials identify someone as a Board-certified genealogist?
2. How much does it cost to become certified?
3. Does a certificate from a genealogical education program constitute certification?
Definition of genealogy
4. What is genealogy, exactly?
Directory of Board-Certified Genealogists
5. Where can I get a list of certified persons?
6. How soon will my name appear on the BCG certification roster after I’m certified?
7. I struggle with writing citations. Some of the records I’ve used aren’t covered in Evidence Explained: Citing History Sources from Artifacts to Cyberspace, and I can’t find templates for them elsewhere. Where can I find more help?
8. I know citations are needed for every fact that is not common knowledge, but what facts are considered to be common knowledge?
9. What is the GPS?
10. Why don’t genealogists use the simple terms “primary source” and “secondary source?”
11. What position does BCG take on Internet research? Should my skill as a researcher or the quality of my research be discounted if I use digitized images found online?
12. When is the best time to submit a preliminary application?
13. How many applicants are successful?
14. Why isn’t the pass rate higher?
15. What are common reasons applications fail?
16. Is it true a lot of applicants fail because they don’t follow The BCG Application Guide’s instructions?
17. Is there somewhere I can see a successful portfolio?
18. Is it true that I can’t use my own family for my portfolio?
Originality of Work
21. What help may I have with my portfolio?
22. Why can’t I submit collaborative work? In this age, online collaborative research seems a thing to be encouraged and desired.
23. Why can’t I submit previously published work in an initial application?
24. I hear that a family tree website is considered to be published. I have posted research on my family online. Does that mean I can’t use it for the application process?
25. Can published work be submitted in a renewal application?
28. If I take clients, does BCG set the price on what I charge?
30. 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?
Requirement 2: Development Activities
31. Does BCG require specific development activities?
Requirements 3-4: BCG and applicant-supplied documents
32. How much analysis is expected of the BCG-supplied and applicant-supplied documents?
33. I’m uncertain how to formulate the research question for the two document-work requirements. In real life we rarely encounter a document out of the blue and then pose a question about it that we might answer. We more typically start with a question, which leads to a document. Can my question be one that I might have been investigating when I found the document rather than the other way around?
Requirement 5: Research Report for Another Person
34. Why does The BCG Application Guide say client-commissioned genealogies, biographical narratives, case studies, and lineage-society applications aren’t suitable for Requirement 5, the research report for another person?
35. Requirement 5, the research report prepared for another person, asks applicants to include a letter or communication showing the commissioning individual’s instructions for the work. I did not have a formal contract with my client and his instructions were partially verbal and went through several stages. What kind of documentation would BCG judges expect to see for client work under these conditions?
36. What if I don’t have a contract, email message, letter of understanding, or any other written document showing the commissioning individual’s instructions for the research report?
Requirement 6: Case Study
37. What’s the best way to go about selecting a case study?
Requirement 7: Kinship-Determination Project
38. Can we submit a genealogy or a lineage that someone has already put online or in print, but with errors that need correcting?
39. How much personal detail do you want to see in my kinship-determination project?
40. Does it matter which individuals I use proof summaries or arguments for in the kinship-determination project?
41. The BCG Application Guide asks applicants to submit a narrative genealogy, narrative lineage, or narrative pedigree. Is one of these a better choice for showing genealogical skills than the others?
42. What numbering and formatting options are appropriate for the kinship-determination project and where can I learn more about them?
43. Does it matter what style guide I use for writing?
Answer: BCG currently offers two credentials:
• Certified Genealogist (CG), a research credential held by all BCG associates
• Certified Genealogical Lecturer (CGL), an optional teaching credential
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 are mentioned in older published works.
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.
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.
Definition of Genealogy
4. Question: What is genealogy, exactly? What tools or materials do genealogists use? Do genealogists specialize?
Answer: Genealogy is the study of families in genetic, social, 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.
Directory of Board-Certified Genealogists
Answer: Consult the online BCG roster for certified persons.
7. Question: I struggle with writing citations. Some of the records I’ve used aren’t covered in Evidence Explained: Citing History Sources from Artifacts to Cyberspace, and I can’t find templates for them elsewhere. Where can I find more help?
Answer: Looking for more examples and templates is probably not going to help. Instead consider changing your approach. Crafting citations involves a number of basic principles and many common elements. Once you understand why things are done a certain way, you should be able to more easily write citations for every record you encounter. Studying examples should help you gain the necessary understanding; merely copying examples will not. This approach may take time, but once you grasp the fundamentals, you will have less need to constantly look things up. For a useful supplement to the explanations in Elizabeth Shown Mills’s Evidence Explained, see Mastering Genealogical Documentation by Thomas W. Jones.
Answer: A statement that the Civil War began in 1861 is common knowledge because that date is easily found in an array of sources. However, a statement that a certain individual enlisted in a specific unit on a certain day is not common knowledge. Many of the facts that genealogists establish are not common knowledge, including statements about an individual’s parents and dates and places for events in their lives.
Answer: The GPS is the Genealogical Proof Standard, which all genealogists use to evaluate the quality of research and the reliability of conclusions. For more information on the GPS, see Genealogy Standards, 1-4.
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.
A map illustrating this evaluation process appears here.
Answer: The Internet is a virtual repository. Like any repository, its materials vary widely in quality. Genealogical standards call for appraising our sources according to whether they are original records (including image copies) or derivative records, or authored works. They also call 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. The repository is irrelevant to this 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.
Answer: The best time to submit a preliminary application (also known as going on the clock) will differ from person to person. Some individuals prefer to work on their portfolios without the pressure of a deadline, even if the deadline can be deferred by requesting an extension and paying a fee. Others prefer to go on the clock so they can ask questions and receive encouragement on BCG’s ACTION list. You are free to choose whatever suits you best. When deciding, keep in mind that the types of questions that can be answered on the ACTION list are limited and you are responsible for your own educational development. You should also consider that going on the clock protects you from requirement changes for the next year. Requirement changes are rarely so significant that you would have to start over on a project. It is nonetheless in your interests to submit a preliminary application once you are within a year of completing your portfolio.
Answer: Over the last decade, the number of successful applicants has averaged 40 per cent per year.
Answer: BCG receives many applications from individuals who have not undertaken any development activities. They are passionate about genealogy but have not engaged in any serious study. As a result, their work typically reveals significant gaps in knowledge that prevent them from preparing a successful application.
Answer: The chief cause of failure are weak skills that pervade a portfolio. These may include incomplete or inaccurate documentation, superficial research, use of unreliable evidence, analysis oversights, or unsound conclusions. Unsuccessful portfolios often rely heavily on basic record types such as censuses and vital records while overlooking or misinterpreting important sources such as probate records and deeds.
Answer: Not following instructions is rarely, if ever, the sole cause of failure. The primary focus of an evaluation is on the quality of the submitted work, and when portfolios fail it is invariably because the work has substantive flaws. However, not following the instructions can be a contributing factor if it results in an applicant submitting inappropriate work samples. You should therefore take care to supply the type of work that the Application Guide requests. This will ensure BCG’s judges have sufficient material of the right type to thoroughly judge your ability to meet standards.
Answer: Successful portfolios are available for examination in the BCG exhibit booth at major genealogical conferences and institutes. Viewing them offers general insight into characteristics of a successful portfolio that many applicants find helpful, although you will not have time to closely study the work. Confidence in how well your work measures up may also flow from concentrated study and participation in high-quality learning activities.
Answer: No, it’s not true. The question reflects a misunderstanding of BCG’s requirements. The BCG Application Guide stipulates that you cannot use your own family for Requirement 5, the research report for another person. However, it is perfectly acceptable-and indeed common practice-for applicants to use their own family for the other requirements.
Mentors and BCG’s ACTION list
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.
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 knowledgeable BCG associates are available to answer questions about the certification process and requirements.
Originality of Work
Answer: Certification is a test of an individual’s abilities. Therefore, the work you submit in a certification application is expected to be entirely 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.
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.
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. Regardless of where it was published, a previously published work rarely contains 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.
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.
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 baseline demonstration of skills.
Answer: BCG limits portfolios to no more than 150 pages because that is all it needs to effectively assess an individual’s skills. For many years, applicants were free submit to larger portfolios, but this practice was ended because it created unnecessary work for both applicants and judges.
Answer: If your page count exceeds 150 pages, then you have likely misunderstood one or more of the requirements. One common explanation is that applicants think they must submit all of the documents underlying the case study and kinship-determination project. This is not so. Images are needed for any signature comparisons but are otherwise rarely necessary to illustrate a point. The only requirement for which multiple documents might be required is the research report. The 150-page allowance considers the number of copies that reports might include but if your portfolio is too big your research report may be unnecessarily large. Verbose explanations and unnecessary double-spacing can also swell the page count.
Answer: No, Board-certified genealogists set their own fees.
Answer: No, the stipulation against proofreading applies only to initial applications and is intended to ensure all applicants can work at a basic level without assistance. Associates are otherwise free to use proofreaders as they see fit.
Answer: Yes, absolutely. BCG encourages applicants to resubmit and would like to see you ultimately succeed in your goal of achieving certification.
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.
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. This will allow you to stay abreast of any changes in the requirements.
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.
30d. 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.
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.
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.
Requirement 2: Development Activities
Answer: No, BCG does not require specific development activities, but statistics show there is a higher success rate among applicants who participate in intensive activities such as institutes or the ProGen study program. Applicants who are self-taught and neglect to thoroughly absorb important works by the field’s most knowledgeable researchers and instructors are more likely to fail.
Requirements 3 and 4: BCG and applicant-supplied documents
33. Question: I’m uncertain how to formulate the research question for the two document-work requirements. In real life we rarely encounter a document out of the blue and then pose a question about it that we might answer. We more typically start with a question, which leads to a document. Can my question be one that I might have been investigating when I found the document rather than the other way around?
Answer: Yes, your approach is valid as long as your question follows The BCG Application Guide’s stipulation that the question should involve someone named in the document and say what you hope to find out about him or her. It should also meet Standard 10’s guidelines for questions that are sufficiently broad yet also sufficiently focused to be tested against the Genealogical Proof Standard.
Requirement 5: Research Reports
34. Question: Why does The BCG Application Guide say client-commissioned genealogies, biographical narratives, case studies, and lineage-society applications aren’t suitable for Requirement 5, the research report for another person?
Answer: A research report is a unique work product that provides a detailed account of work undertaken to answer a research question. Presentation of the raw data found during that investigation is one of a report’s most important components. Genealogies, biographical sketches, case studies, and lineage-society applications serve different purposes and don’t qualify as reports, even when written for another person.
35. Question: Requirement 5, the research report prepared for another person, asks applicants to include a letter or communication showing the commissioning individual’s instructions for the work. I did not have a formal contract with my client and his instructions were partially verbal and went through several stages. What kind of documentation would BCG judges expect to see for client work under these conditions?
Answer: It is not unusual for preliminary discussions to go through several stages before there is a meeting of the minds on how to proceed, and such discussions will be essential if the client’s goal is unrealistic or lacks an effective research question. If this process ends without the client supplying a written account of what was agreed on, then before commencing work the onus is on you to write a letter of understanding, summarize the points that were discussed, and ask the client to sign it.
Answer: If you are unable to provide the commissioning individual’s authorization, your judges will be unable to evaluate whether you appropriately responded to the client’s wishes as is required by genealogical standards and by the code of ethics. It would be better to submit a different work sample that meets genealogy standards, the code of ethics, and the requirements of The BCG Application Guide.
Requirement 6: Case Study
37. Question: What’s the best way to go about selecting a case study? I’m researching several problems that might be suitable, although work on them remains incomplete. I don’t know which one I should focus on.
Answer: The best way to select a case study is to have several completed options from which to choose. The process of researching and writing up several is an excellent way to develop your skills, and seeing each one in its final form can help you decide which one is best. This same approach will also serve you well with the other portfolio requirements. Submitting the first case study, research report or kinship-determination project you ever do is generally not a good idea.
Requirement 7: Kinship-Determination Project
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, lineage, or pedigree 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 genealogical standards, your work should emphasize original sources rather than derivatives. For at least two parent-child relationships in different generations, you must present two proof summaries, two proof arguments, or one of each to justify your conclusion.
If the pre-existing work on a particular family meets the standards set forth in Genealogy Standards you should choose a different family.
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. 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 and all conclusions explained. For each couple, you should also identify all known children with their vital statistics and evidence of kinship.
Answer: Your project should contain proof summaries, proof arguments, or one of each justifying your kinship conclusions for at least two parent-child relationships in different generations. Beyond this, however, it is up to you to decide which relationships need proof summaries or arguments. In a lineage, they might be needed for the individuals in the main line or they might be needed to establish parentage of a sibling or spouse. The type of proof provided should adhere to Standard 53’s requirement for selection of appropriate options. Proof for all of the other relationships in the project should similarly be established using proof statements, summaries or arguments as appropriate for the context. What is appropriate in each case will depend on the evidence.
41. Question: The BCG Application Guide asks applicants to submit a narrative genealogy, narrative lineage, or narrative pedigree. Is one of these a better choice for showing genealogical skills than the others?
Answer: No, all of them are valid choices, equally allowing for a good display of skills. Most applicants choose to submit a lineage. It is generally less work than a genealogy, and an average-size family provides plenty of scope for evaluation purposes.
Answer: Three systems (NGSQ, Register, and Sosa-Stradonitz) have become the standard in American genealogy. For discussion of these systems see:
• 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).
• The BCG Genealogical Standards Manual (Orem, Utah: Ancestry, 2000).
• Genealogy Standards (Nashville, Tenn.: Ancestry, 2014), Standard 65.
Answer: Genealogical standards call for writing that follows “widely accepted conventions and rules,” which means many style guides and dictionaries will provide suitable guidance about capitalization, spelling, punctuation, grammar, and usage that will meet Standard 63 for technically correct writing. The Chicago Manual of Style is one such widely accepted style guide.