SpringBoard is pleased to present a series by associates writing about their path to certification. These posts spotlight the many ways to reach that goal and provide encouragement and ideas for anyone considering their own roadmap to becoming a Certified Genealogist®. Margaret R. Fortier, CG®, became Associate #1099 on 18 August 2018. Her story follows in her own words.
I was named for my grandmothers and inspired by my mother’s phenomenal memory and enthusiastic encouragement. I started out researching my family and my husband’s family. His family has French-Canadian roots. As I traced them back to France I was thinking that genealogical research was easy. Helping friends and relatives with their research, I soon came to a different conclusion.
My business focuses on immigrants to New England, particularly those of French-Canadian, Italian, and Portuguese ancestry. Being the daughter of an immigrant, this focus resonates powerfully with me. For most of us (not all) in the United States, we are here because someone, somewhere, decided to leave everything they knew, everything familiar, for something unknown. I believe those stories deserve telling with honesty and compassion.
Based in the Boston area, I am happily within easy reach of an abundance of repositories, libraries, and archives. I am grateful for the open records access we enjoy in Massachusetts.
Technical writer, instructional designer, business analyst, manager, program developer, and editor were some of the roles I had before I decided to become a professional genealogist. The extensive writing and editing that had been key in my pre-genealogy career proved enormously helpful in constructing my portfolio.
The Path to Certification
The BCG application process was challenging. I alternated between believing it was doable and thinking I had bitten off more than I could chew. I had chosen a research report but as I had more and more clients, I sharpened my skills and ended up with a different report. Participating in Jill Morelli’s Certification Discussion Group greatly increased my confidence.
The best preparation for me was the Boston University (BU) Certificate in Genealogical Research. At the time, I had decided to pursue genealogy and wanted to know what I was doing right, what was I doing wrong, and what I did not know. The BU program provided that as well as a wonderful community of colleagues in the BU Alumni group.
I followed this with a ProGen Study Group. I vividly remember my first ProGen session: I had gotten off the waiting list just before a scheduled trip to India. Thankfully, I had a good connection in my hotel and the time change was at a reasonable hour.
For those considering applying for certification I suggest educating yourselves, and especially applying what you learn. Anton Chekhov said, “Knowledge is of no value unless you put it into practice.” It’s great to attend institutes and conferences, to listen to webinars, to read foundational books, but, in the end, if you can’t put what you understand into practice, you have only partially absorbed the lessons.
My most surprising genealogical project involved discovering an ancestor who changed his name and married without benefit of divorce. I was able to locate an elderly niece who had no idea of his deception but was very generous in sharing photographs and stories.
Brick Walls and Discoveries
My brick wall is my great grandmother’s early life. When she immigrated in 1903 to Luzerne County, Pennsylvania, she was going to her intended husband, someone who was well off. When I dramatically surprised my extended family with this fact at a 2005 reunion, no one had heard of him. She did not marry him, and instead married a poor coal miner, my great grandfather.
Most satisfying to me, however, was locating the marriage record for my friend’s Portuguese immigrant ancestors. They had married in a California mission, far from where they eventually settled in Massachusetts. Over 150 years later, on the Feast of the Holy Family, my friend and her husband walked down the same aisle in the same church as Maria and Joaquim. To be part of creating that moment is why I am a genealogist.
Sincere thanks to Margaret Fortier, CG® for sharing her story.
The words Certified Genealogist and letters CG are registered certification marks, and the designations CGL and Certified Genealogical Lecturer are service marks of the Board for Certification of Genealogists®, used under license by board certificants after periodic evaluation.