Tag Archives: board of certification of genealogists

My Path to Certification – Issue No. 8

Happy New Year! I have decided to skip the year in review/new goals post this year. My priority this year is to work on my BCG portfolio. Finding the time to work on the portfolio with an increasingly packed work schedule is going to be difficult this spring. But the bills come first!

I spent a good portion of my winter vacation working on my Case Study (BCG #6). This last week I discovered a new piece of evidence. I was pursuing the GPS (Genealogical Proof Standard)—conducting reasonably exhaustive research—when I discovered the document. I have always been a big fan of collateral research, even as a young genealogist. I discovered early on that if you cannot find the information you desire from the records left by a direct ancestor, try the siblings. I was tracking down a potential sibling when I hit pay-dirt.

Of course, discovering the document boosted my confidence because I did find it, BUT I started questioning what type of evidence it was. You see, in the Case Study, there are rules. The presentation must use one of three techniques:

(a) assembling indirect or negative evidence, or a combination of the two
(b) resolving a conflict between two or more items of direct evidence
(c) resolving conflict between direct evidence and indirect or negative evidence

I am using the first method, using indirect or negative evidence to prove a relationship. Needless to say, I panicked. Did I just find direct evidence that answered my research question? If so, I have just spent months and hours of research on a project that would have to be scrapped?!? Plus, I would have to find a new problem in my research that would fit the criteria of the project.

As part of the BCG process, applicants are invited to join a list serve. It’s a place where questions can be asked, and certified genealogists will attempt to answer the questions. However, the CGs are not allowed to teach to the test. Often their answers are vague, or they will direct the questioner to re-read the Genealogy Standards, rubrics, or other documents which should enlighten nervous applicants. In my case, I was instructed to review the definitions of indirect and direct evidence.

Indirect evidence, as defined in the Genealogy Standards, is “information items that seem to address and answer a research question only when combined.” In contrast, direct evidence is “information that seems to address a research questions and answer it by itself.”

Dr. Thomas W. Jones in his book Mastering Genealogical Proof defines the two types of evidence:

Direct evidence is an information item that answers a research question by itself.”

Indirect evidence is a set of two or more information items that suggest an answer to a research questions only when they are combined.”

There is also a great QuickLesson on the EE (Evidence Explained) website explaining and demonstrating the differences between the three types of evidence.

QuickLesson 13: Classes of Evidence—Direct, Indirect & Negative

The good news is that I am still working on my original Case Study. The better news is that I now know where and when one of my direct ancestors died. I even found his grave-site on FindAGrave. If I hadn’t doggedly pursued the GPS, I would never have located this ancestor. He wasn’t where anyone thought he was when he died.

Since my last post, I have started Jill Morelli, CG®’s Certification Discussion Group. The group meets for seven weeks and discusses each requirement of the portfolio in depth. Having a certified genealogist running the discussion is great! Participants gain access to Jill’s insights into the process as well as to samples from actual passing portfolios. If you are interested, there is a waiting list so contact Jill.

Good luck and happy hunting!

©2018 copyright owned and written by Deborah Sweeney
Post originally found: https://genealogylady.net/2018/01/16/my-path-to-certification-issue-no-8/

My Path to Certification – Issue No. 7

Another month gone…not much writing done, but some serious research accomplished. Hopefully over the next month (and holidays), I will find a stretch of time to do some serious writing.

California State Capital, Sacramento, 2017

I’ve been chasing information for my proof argument instead of my KDP this month. Additionally, I am looking for a good document to transcribe for Part 4: Document Work (Applicant-Supplied Document). Two years ago at Jamboree, when the BCG had a table in the vendor hall with portfolios, I was able to talk to several certified genealogists at length. One of my takeaways was that most portfolios do not feature cases from the western United States. My family waited until the 20th century to migrate to California, providing me with little reason to learn much of California’s rich history and how to access the documents. However, I live and work in California. While volunteering at the library the past few years, I have helped many patrons with California-rich family histories. California has an estimated population of almost 40 million people, ranking her as the most populous state in the nation. Currently, only 15 certified genealogists live in California. There are fewer than 250 certified genealogists around the world, the vast majority from the United States. Hopefully, in the next few years, the number of certified genealogists in California will increase. While I would like to count myself in this group, I know several outstanding genealogists in California who are also working toward this goal as well.

For my document work, I want to highlight someone local, plus learn a little more about the people who founded my city/county. I live in a suburb of Sacramento. We have several small and old cemeteries, the resting places of some well-known historical figures. Elitha (Donner) McCoon Wilder was one of the surviving children of the tragic Donner Party. Our school district named an elementary school for her. Alexander H. Willard is believed to be last surviving member of Lewis and Clark’s expedition when he died in 1865. He, too, ended up in my town, buried next to another elementary school and the roller skating rink. Many of our early citizens (of European ancestry) came west during the gold rush and stayed on as farmers and ranchers.

William McGraw, c1870

One of the tasks I “completed” this month was tracing the ownership of several parcels of land for my proof argument. I used a combination of original land grants, county land deeds, and a county plat book to determine when my ancestor acquired and sold a particular 40 acre plot of land. Understanding the United States government’s system of townships and ranges and how land was divided and distributed during the 19th century is essential for genealogists. For example [Note: this is not the problem I am using for my proof argument], my ancestor William McGraw married a woman named Martha Higgins. I have no direct evidence of her parents’ identities. However, William purchased a parcel a land adjoining a parcel owned by Jonathan Higgins around the time of his marriage to Martha. The location of the land and the Higgins surname provide indirect evidence of a connection between William, Martha and Jonathan. This evidence would prompt me to research Jonathan Higgins further and determine if there is a connection between him and Martha. Without knowing the physical proximity of these people to one another, I might miss a valuable clue to their relationships and identities. Being a visual person, I also like to look at maps (and draw my own) to see how close people lived to one another.

Another project I have been working on this month is obtaining permission from living persons. Any information that I include about living people in any of the part of my portfolio, I must obtain permission from them. For example, I potentially wish to include some of my DNA research in one of the papers. I must obtain permission from everyone whose DNA I reference. Additionally, one element of the portfolio is a client report. Permission from the client must also be granted before inclusion in the portfolio.

Happy Holidays and happy hunting!

©2017 copyright owned by Deborah Sweeney
Post originally found: https://genealogylady.net/2017/11/20/my-path-to-certification-issue-no-7/

My Path to Certification – Issue No. 6

Holy Cow! Where did the last five weeks go? It’s been almost two months since I submitted my BCG application. Since then my weekly trips to the Family History Center have almost entirely halted. Last week, I finally returned to look at my stash of microfilm. As part of my KDP, I am tracing a pioneer back to his state of origin. I ordered several rolls of land records and an authored narrative of a distant branch of the family. Unfortunately or fortunately for me—however you want to look at it—my ancestor’s father had an uncommon common name. I must dig through many different records to determine which man was my pioneer’s father.

My schedule opened enough to allow a trip to the California State library last week. The California History Room at the library contains a fantastic collection of microfilmed newspapers from around the state. Many of these newspapers are not available online. To my delight, the library now possesses multiple digital microfilm readers. The older, manual readers are being retired. While I have very few relatives who ventured west to California, I find the newspaper collection a valuable resource, and because of this collection, I generally venture to the library two or three times a year.

One requirement for the BCG portfolio is a client report. Over the years I have taken very few clients, primarily because of my day job—which rewards me with a very nice paycheck—but unfortunately leaves little time for finding and retaining clients. Luckily for me, I have plenty of friends and relatives who are willing to be volunteer clients. Because I want to improve my skills in the locality where I live, I plan on writing a series of reports for a relative whose family has deep California and Nevada roots. While I do a lot of my own research by proxy (contacting libraries/societies/archives directly, hiring other researchers, etc.), I want to make sure the work samples in my portfolio highlight my skills to the best advantage.

Sacramento has the advantage of the State Archives as well as the Sacramento History Room at its main library branch. Two weeks ago I attended Melinda Kashuba’s lecture on Replacing Lost Courthouse Records. She discussed several California specific resources that will help me find some of those local records. 

Upcoming Activities

  • I will be assisting/genealogy coaching at the Nikkei Pilgrimage in Placerville, CA, in early October
  • My monthly DNA Study group meets on October 21
  • I am lecturing at the San Joaquin Genealogical Society on October 19th
  • I continue as the coordinator for ProGen 35
  • I signed up to join one of Jill Morelli’s Certification Study Groups for some point in the future…

©2017 copyright Deborah Sweeney
Post originally found: https://genealogylady.net/2017/09/27/my-path-to-certification-issue-no-6/

My Path to Certification – Issue No. 5

Last week I was immersed in my pre-service teaching days and getting to know my new students. My school district is converting to a new online records-keeping system so the next year will be a learning experience for everyone. I spent little time working on genealogy, although I did sneak away for a few hours last Wednesday to the Family History Center.

Mostly I continued to scan the civil court records for my ancestor’s county. So much good stuff! I found one record for a man exposing himself in public. Oh my! And another for a woman accused of adultery. Apparently she had been living in sin with the gentleman for quite a while. The court’s punishment was to spend one minute in jail. However, the best part of the afternoon was finding the divorce record for a many times great aunt.

Judgement from the adultery case of Nancy King

Indiana appears to have been quite lenient in granting divorces in the 19th century. Most every quarter session of the civil court has two or three divorce cases in my county of interest. I figured my aunt had to have been divorced because I found two marriage records and the first husband appeared to be alive after the second marriage. The complete court records spell out very neatly why she wanted a divorce. Her husband had deserted her. Five years previously he had been wanted for larceny. It seems he fled the county and hadn’t been seen since.

Since my last post, I received a sampling of documents from the Indiana State Historical Society. I found a manuscript in their collection online through ArchiveGrid. I can’t recommend ArchiveGrid highly enough at the moment. Managed by WorldCat, ArchiveGrid is an online catalog of manuscript collections around the world. Unpublished manuscripts are an untapped resource for genealogical and historical information. They are also the least likely to be digitized, and can only be accessed by going to a repository. Or in my case, contacting the repository and/or hiring a researcher.

The document in question was an 1830s account book from a local merchant. I had no idea if any of my ancestors favored this merchant—there was more than one store in town. But I had to find out! I sent the historical society a preliminary surname list while the research form and my check followed in the mail. My ancestor appears over thirty times in the register. Below is one of my ancestor’s entries, likely purchases by, or for, his wife.

Account book entry for my ancestor

Jackonet is a lightweight cotton fabric. During the 1830s, Greek and Roman motifs/style influenced fashion.

The Rubrics

Another essential part of the portfolio process is understanding the rubrics. As a teacher, I rely on rubrics whenever I correct writing assignments or score non-multiple choice test questions. My biggest complaint during the Boston University Research Certificate program was the lack of rubrics. (I graduated many years ago so I do not know if this aspect has changed. I just know what it was like when I participated.)

I do not like to be graded in a vacuum. How do I know if I am achieving the goal of an assignment? Students perform better when they know their expectations. The same is true with the BCG portfolio. The portfolio rubrics are available to download on the BCG website. Two books are referenced in the rubrics: Genealogy Standards: 50th-anniversay edition and Val Greenwood’s The Researcher’s Guide to American Genealogy. These books should have a place in every serious genealogist’s library.

Other Genealogy Related Activities

  • I submitted six lecture proposals for the 2018 SCGS Jamboree. Hopefully, at least one will be chosen!
  • Yesterday was the monthly meeting of my DNA study group and my volunteer hours at the local library. I consider volunteering or mentoring others as a valuable component of my long-term education plan. One of my clients had a branch of her family who immigrated from Canada in the 1920s. There were many great record groups that I explored with her. I do not have anyone in my family who immigrated to the United States in the 20th century, so I have no reason to look at those records. Helping others is a great way to learn about records you might not access regularly.

©2017 copyright owned by Deborah Sweeney
Post originally found: https://genealogylady.net/2017/08/20/my-path-to-certification-issue-no-5/

My Path to Certification – Issue No. 4

Today is August 1st. I promised to submit my application to the BCG on August 1st. Well, I completed the application last Friday and put it in the mail. Hopefully, it arrived in Washington, D.C., about today. I can’t take it back at this point so I should consider myself officially on the clock. I feel a mixture of emotions from excitement to panic. I wonder if I can possibly pull this off in the next year. We shall see!

After taking the plunge and finally submitting the application, I worked on some other aspects of my plan. I don’t really have a plan, per se, past knowing that I have a year to submit my portfolio. I know some people who schedule what element they will work on each month. I do want to do a major portion of work on my KDP first so that I can put it aside and come back to it later. I feel such a large piece of writing needs to sit so I can go back and make improvements with a clearer vision. I can only do that if I walk away at some point. Right now I’m try to figure out how to continue researching but transition from research to writing. One strategy I am trying is—to just sit with a pad of paper and pencil and write with a purpose. For example, chose one section of the KDP to write about. No fact-checking or writing footnotes. Just write. I can go back later and correct the specifics and add the footnotes.

I received a great recommendation for a book this week—On Writing Well by William Zinsser. The 30th anniversary edition includes a chapter on writing family history (which I haven’t read yet). I believe the book is helping my brain make this transition from researching to putting pen to paper (or fingers to the keyboard). Writing is such an important part of the portfolio (or the job of being a genealogist). Learning to write well should be an integral part of any genealogist’s education plan. I have read my share of absolutely boring family histories. I do not want to be one of those family history writers who strings a bunch of facts with footnotes together to make a narrative. I want to breathe life into my ancestors! Finding a balance between sound technical genealogical writing and entertaining family narrative is my goal. A couple take-a-ways from the book so far:

  • Use action verbs and consistent verb tenses – These are both lessons I learned during my time at BU and ProGen, and I cannot stress them enough. I hear them repeated at genealogy seminars and conventions continually. It’s great to read a non-genealogy related person give the same advice.
  • Writing is hard work. It requires practice just like any other craft. Find a writer whose style you admire. Read the journals—NEHGS, NGS, TAG, etc.—to find a fellow genealogist whose style you like.
  • Use a dictionary and thesaurus – I have a beat-up copy of Roget’s Thesaurus that I have used since my college days. I still use it!
  • De-clutter your words – If you can get the point across with fewer words, do it!

In the last week, besides my trip to the Family History Library to copy microfilm, I spent part of my weekend downloading journal articles (and not genealogy ones!) In order to add historical context and knowledge to my narrative, I must learn about the social, historical, and economic factors that may have influenced my ancestors lives. Sites like JSTOR and Internet Archive provide access to historical texts. I downloaded articles on the early history of my county as well as contemporary books that were written for people interested in migrating to the region where my ancestors lived. With these, for example, I gained insight on diseases that may have affected my ancestors or construction projects (railroads, canals) that impacted their lives.

Genealogical Standard 57: Background information“Assembled research results provide sufficient background information for readers to understand…what [an item] means in context of…place and time…[which] may include concepts from economics, ethnic studies, genetics, geography, government, history, law, religion, sociology, and other fields.”


I finished my sweater this weekend. Now, I’m working on completing another “almost-done” project—a sweater I started for my son last fall. He has grown a couple inches since then so hopefully he will get some use out of it!

My teacher hat goes back on this week. School starts next week so I must parcel out my time and prioritize my various projects more efficiently. Until next time!

©2017 copyright owned Deborah Sweeney
Post originally found: https://genealogylady.net/2017/08/01/my-path-to-certification-issue-no-4/

My Path to Certification – Issue No. 3

Since bringing home so many land deeds last week, I began the task of transcribing them. Out of seventy plus deeds, nine are completed. While doing this is important for the sake of my research (for my comprehension), transcribing the deeds serves a secondary purpose as well. For the Board of Certified Genealogists’ portfolio, items 3 and 4 (Document Work) consist of transcribing and abstracting a document, as well as constructing a research question, analysis, and formulating a research plan. There are no limitations on what type of document one chooses to transcribe and abstract, but two of the most common types of documents are wills and land deeds. The first time one transcribes a document should not be for the portfolio. Practice is required!

I consider myself a fairly competent transcriber, especially after deciphering my grandparents’ handwriting over the course of the WWII project. But transcribing wills and deeds requires an additional set of skills. Because these are legal documents, having a familiarity with legal terms is a must. Learning to recognize unfamiliar terms in a clerk’s chicken scratch can be difficult. Even though I have only transcribed nine deeds so far, I am very familiar with the terms “hereditaments” and “appurtenances” at this point. After a while the boilerplate language becomes predictable and easier to transcribe. Again, this is where I stress practice!

The Genealogy Standards address transcriptions in a couple of places. Standard 32: Transcribing, Abstracting, and Quoting Principles goes into great detail as to what is expected in a transcription, including “…when quoting and transcribing, genealogists render wording, spelling, numbering, abbreviations, superscripts, and similar features exactly as they appear in the original.” Doing this can be difficult with auto correct in a word processing program. Most of us cringe at misspelled words, phonetic challenges, and inconsistent spellings. However, when doing a transcription, it is vitally important to keep everything the same. I am reminded of the song from the second act of Hamilton when Angelica frets over the placement of a comma in one of Alexander’s letters because it changes the meaning of the phrase. This is why we must retain accuracy in transcriptions. For example, an incorrectly placed comma may create two children in a will when there is only one. (John, William vs. John William)

The book Professional Genealogy edited by Elizabeth Shown Mills has a chapter on transcribing and abstracting documents. Chapter 16 provides a variety of examples and forms, including wills, land deeds, and estate inventories. I highly recommend this chapter for anyone attempting transcriptions or abstracts. In fact, the book lays open on the floor by my desk as I work on my transcriptions.


Until next week! Sadly my summer vacation is almost over as I must return to the classroom very, very soon. August 1st—my self-imposed date for mailing in my preliminary application form to the Board for Certification of Genealogists is rapidly approaching as well!

Things I do in my spare time…I knit. I am almost done with a sweater for this fall. I should have it completed by next week.

My newest, soon-to-be finished, sweater, 2017

©2017 Deborah Sweeney
Post originally found: https://genealogylady.net/2017/07/25/my-path-to-certification-issue-no-3/

My Path to Certification

As much as I freaked out when the Family History Library announced that they would be discontinuing microfilm ordering, I now think I’m in heaven with access to all sorts of digital images! I still wish I knew more about the Family History Library’s schedule for digitizing and uploading to the internet; what are their priorities and limitations due to licensing? Last week I ventured into one of my local centers to see how viewing images at a center would be. I was optimistic and pleased when I left. I copied and uploaded about 100 images to my Google drive. The pain happened when I returned home to download the images. I had not taken the time to name the files so I spent too much organizing them later.

Today I arrived at the center with an organized plan. I spent a good portion of my genealogy time this last week working on a spreadsheet for one of my ancestors. He is featured in the first section of my Kinship-Determination project.  While his parents will provide fodder for my first proof argument in the narrative, he produced a wealth of documents during his lifetime. I am using this spreadsheet to construct a timeline as well as to catalog all the documents I have for him. By knowing exactly what I have, I will see what I do not have or where I may need to do further research. The timeline will also be helpful for when I sit down to begin writing the narrative.

Having a plan really optimized my time at the center today. I retrieved and saved about 80 images. Of that number at least 70 were on my list. I found everything on the list except two lands deeds. Either I copied the page numbers wrong from the index at home or the indexer made an error I need to track down. The rest were bonus and lucky happen-stance. I found a couple of documents that the index had missed; I did not even know to look for them but I still found them!

A compiled general land deed index

Over the next week, I may begin the laborious task of transcribing all the documents I just found! Stay tuned!


“Standard 53 (Chapter 4—Standards of Writing): Selection of appropriate options. Genealogists select the proof option appropriate for the proved conclusion’s context.” – Genealogy Standards, Board for Certification of Genealogist

The Kinship-Determination Project (KDP) requires the use of at least two proof summaries or arguments justifying kinship of two parent-child relationships in different generations. There are three options for writing a proof: proof statement, proof summary, and proof argument.

The BCG website blog has a series of posts called “Ten-Minute Methodologies.” In January 2015, Judy Keller Fox wrote a piece on proof arguments and summaries, explaining the differences between the two.

http://bcgcertification.org/blog/2015/01/ten-minute-methodology-proof-summaries-and-arguments-1/

©2017 Deborah Sweeney
Post originally found: https://genealogylady.net/2017/07/18/my-path-to-certification-2/