BCG has received official registration of “Certified Genealogist” as a certification mark with the United States Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO). This is great news, but what does it mean, and why was it needed? Why should we care?

What does this mean?
The certification mark indicates a relationship between the Board for Certification of Genealogists and the person who uses the mark. Its use shows that the genealogist’s work has been peer-reviewed in light of BCG standards for quality and ethics and met the criteria for certification by the Board for Certification of Genealogists. BCG indicates this relationship with the designation Certified Genealogist, now rightfully using the federal registration symbol, Certified Genealogist®. BCG is the legal owner of the mark “Certified Genealogist.”

CG, Certified Genealogical Lecturer, and CGL remain BCG service marks (SM). Registration covers the phrase “Certified Genealogist” and gives this certification mark fuller legal protection. BCG can bring a federal lawsuit against infringers and recover actual and statutory damages along with attorneys’ fees. Registration also gives BCG a mechanism for stopping cybersquatters from registering “certified genealogist” as a domain name, as has been attempted at least twice.

Why does BCG need this?
Despite its former designation as a service mark, the expression “certified genealogist” has been used (often incorrectly) as a general expression. It is not proper usage to say, when referring to BCG certification, “She’s a Certified Genealogist” or “Oh, he finally got his CG.” We sometimes hear these assertions, usually in reference to BCG. Other non-BCG associates and organizations occasionally use “certified genealogist,” hinting that they are somehow approved by or affiliated with BCG. The goal of registering “Certified Genealogist” as a certification mark with the USPTO was to discourage inappropriate use of BCG’s certification mark and protect the status of those who are affiliated with BCG.

Some students of genealogical programs that result in the award of certificates may erroneously refer to themselves as “certified genealogists.” Professional fields and academic programs draw a clear distinction between educational (training) certificate programs and professional certification. One is a function of the educational process. This applies to certificates of achievement (awarded by such programs as ProGen Study Group and Boston University’s Online Certificate in Genealogical Research) and certificates of attendance at institutes. Successful graduates of such programs may state that they have earned a certificate, not certification.

Professional certification, as by BCG, is a third-party assessment of skills and knowledge independent of the educational process. Education does not automatically confer certification.

What does this change?
Using the registered certification mark Certified Genealogist in a general way undermines the significance of registration, which rests on BCG’s claim that the expression and initials are not generic. Rather, they indicate a specific relationship between the user and the Board for Certification of Genealogists®.

So how should we refer to those we’ve been calling “certified genealogists” and “CGs”? Although it may seem cumbersome, it’s accurate and protective of BCG’s status to refer, for example, to a “board-certified genealogist,” a “BCG-certified associate,” or a “board certificant.”

It is appropriate in written communications to use the registered certification and service marks as credentials with a genealogist’s name:

Jane Doe, Certified Genealogist® or Jane Doe, CGSM
I am Certified Genealogist® Jane Doe.

When we correctly use the registered certification mark and avoid using the term “certified genealogist” in a descriptive or general way, we give the BCG credential all the power and significance it merits. “Certified Genealogist®” is BCG’s acknowledgement of its associates’ achievement in working to genealogy standards. Now the force of law stands behind it. Working to standards deserves such protection. Let’s use our words accurately and respect BCG’s certification mark registration.

The words Certified Genealogist are a registered certification mark, and the designations CG, CGL and Certified Genealogical Lecturer are service marks of the Board for Certification of Genealogists®, used under license by board certificants after periodic evaluation.