Becoming a professional genealogist is rarely accomplished in a straight line, and unlike many other fields, there is no single accrediting authority that determines whether researchers can call themselves professionals. In this blog post, researcher Christy Fillerup discusses some options for genealogists to gain credentials and professional standing.
At Legacy Tree Genealogists, our core team members have at least one of the following: a genealogy degree or genetics-based degree, a professional accreditation, or a minimum of ten years of professional-level research experience.
Some genealogists acquire their professional status through many years of experience and self-education. There are also several higher education genealogical education opportunities, although few are full degree-granting programs.
Professional standing is often determined by a researcher’s body of work as reviewed by one of two accrediting organizations: the Board for Certification of Genealogists and the International Commission for the Accreditation of Professional Genealogists. These accreditations and certifications have become increasingly important as the forensic genealogy world has expanded and are the most universally accepted indicators of status as an expert witness.
Board for Certification of Genealogists
The Board for Certification of Genealogists (BCG) was established in 1964 and has certified many of the world’s most renowned genealogists. The organization awards two credentials: Certified Genealogist® (CG) and Certified Genealogical Lecturer℠ (CGL). The certifications are intended to stand as an attestation that the holder’s “research, analysis, kinship determination, and reporting skills” meet professional standards.
BCG places a strong weight on genealogical standards and published the volume, Genealogy Standards, as a guide to all genealogists on how to achieve the most trustworthy genealogical conclusions possible. The volume is meant not just for those pursuing certification with BCG, but for all genealogists who want to pursue their family history in an accurate and professional manner.
To achieve certification with BCG, a portfolio that is indicative of a genealogist’s normal work product must be submitted. The portfolio is evaluated by three judges who utilize a rubric to determine if the work meets genealogical standards.
The portfolio should include:
- The signed and dated Genealogist’s Code
- A resume that details the researcher’s educational and developmental activities
- Document transcription and extraction (the document is provided by BCG)
- A research report that was prepared for another person
- A case study that utilizes conflicting, indirect, or negative evidence
- A Kinship Determination Project
BCG’s mission statement succinctly states why its certification is so highly valued:
Since its founding in 1964 by leading American genealogists, BCG has fostered public confidence in genealogy as a respected branch of history in two ways:
- We promote attainable, high, and uniform standards of competence and ethics among genealogists through programs of outreach, publication, and education. We continue to publish, disseminate, and update these standards as appropriate, and collaborate with others who share this goal.
- We award the Certified Genealogist® credential to persons whose work meets these standards.
International Commission for the Accreditation of Professional Genealogists
The International Commission for the Accreditation of Professional Genealogists (ICAPGen℠) awards accreditation for genealogists whose works meet a certain degree of excellence. ICAPGen℠ utilizes a combination of both a submitted work product and in-person testing to evaluate candidates. It differs significantly from the Board for Certification of Genealogists in that it asks applicants to focus on a specific region. In this way, professionals can hold several AG® credentials in different regions.
The program is divided into three levels:
- Level 1: The application and Four-Generation Project.
- Level 2: The Written Exam Part 1. This level includes two sections of the written exam which is focused on general knowledge of history, geography, methodology, and records pertinent to the applicant’s chosen area. It is expected that applicants will have knowledge of how to research their area from the present to 1600.
- Level 3: The Written Exam Part 2 and Oral Review. Part 2 of the written exam tests data analysis, research planning, and report writing. Afterward, an oral review is conducted with the testing proctors.
ICAPGen’s℠ mission statement is a clear indication of their dedication to ensuring practicing professionals are working to genealogical standards:
The mission of ICAPGen℠ is to advance family history/genealogy work around the world by accrediting and promoting genealogy professionals who are competent, ethical, and reliable, and to work to promote the preservation of genealogy materials. The central functions of ICAPGen℠ are:
- Recruiting, encouraging, mentoring, and educating genealogists.
- Testing each applicant’s competency as a prerequisite for accreditation.
- Requiring periodic re-accreditation to assure currency of skills.
- Stipulating adherence to ethical standards.
- Maintaining a public directory of ICAPGen℠ accredited professionals.
- Educating consumers about the value, process, and complexity of family history/genealogy research and maintaining goodwill by working with clients and AG® professionals if a dispute arises.
- Promoting the preservation of genealogical materials for future generations.
Brigham Young University Family History Degree
Brigham Young University (BYU) offers a bachelor’s degree in family history through its history department. This is a full four-year degree that allows students to tailor their experience based on the regions of the world in which they plan to research. Some of the niche courses include “Romance Languages Paleography,” “Southern US Family History Research and Methodology,” “Historical Narrative: A Writing Workshop,” and “Genetic Genealogy.” Graduates of the BYU degree program strive to achieve a well-rounded experience base before moving into the workforce.
Boston University Genealogy Studies Program
Boston University offers a Certificate in Genealogical Research that is affiliated with their history department. It is a 15-week course taught completely online, and while it is a non-credit course, its goal is to prepare students for certification with the Board for Certification of Genealogists. The two, however, are not affiliated. The course offers four modules and is particularly useful for students who want to pursue forensic genealogy as a career. The four modules are:
- Evidence, Evaluation, and Documentation
- Forensic Genealogy
- Genealogical Methods
- Genealogy as a Profession
University of Strathclyde
The University of Strathclyde in Scotland offers a postgraduate genealogical studies program with three degrees of intensity. One can pursue a certificate, diploma, or master’s degree on campus at the University of Strathclyde and also via distance learning. The University of Strathclyde’s history department also considers Ph.D. proposals with a genealogical focus. The University of Strathclyde is by far the most structured genealogical degree program, and if you enjoy distance learning, this might be just the program for you.
Genealogical credentialing, whether through the Board for Certification of Genealogists or through the International Commission for the Accreditation of Professional Genealogists, is an excellent way to demonstrate your skills and prove your readiness to move into professional genealogy. Formal education through one of the degree programs discussed above is another option.
If you love genealogy but lack the time, skills, or availability to pursue it in greater depth, consider hiring the professionals at Legacy Tree Genealogists to do it for you! Contact us today for a free consultation.
I have been researching since 1966 on an off made many mistakes but leaned from them.
I have written a private book hard covered on my family history called Chalmers of Alvah from 1680 to present day. I do not have any letters after my name but would like to. How do I go about it. Thank you, Declan Chalmers
Heather - Legacy Tree Genealogists says
That is fantastic that you went through that much work and created a family book. What a treasure. You would most likely pursue credentialing through the Board for Certification of Genealogists (BCG). You can find more about how to prepare for the process here https://bcgcertification.org/overview/how/.