Some people eat, sleep and chew gum, I do genealogy and write...

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

What about certification of genealogists?

I've had some interesting experiences lately that give me insight into the certification process both from the Board for Certification of Genealogists (BCG) and the International Commission for the Accreditation of Professional Genealogists (ICAPGen).

The first experience involved my wife's 94-year-old first cousin. An amazing person by any criteria with amazing mental abilities and a huge background in genealogy. In visiting with her, I discovered that she was an Accredited Genealogist. I say "was." Even though this lady is probably one of the most knowledgeable researchers I have met, with impressive qualifications, she told me that she was no longer "Accredited" because she had not extended anyone's pedigree by two generations during the year and "they dropped her from the list." This is partially true, ICAPGen has specific renewal requirements that must be completed every five years.

Why was this a notable experience for me? I am a practicing and licensed attorney. I passed the Bar Examination for the State of Arizona back in 1975. Every year, we have a continuing education requirement, and yes, the requirement is mandatory and the Arizona State Bar Association will not renew your license if you fail to provide evidence of having taken the Continuing Education. But there is a difference, when you reach the age of 70, you can "retire," you don't lose your license to practice but you no longer have to qualify every year with continuing education.

Here is a contrast with ICAPGen, apparently, there is no advantage to years of service as a member. Neither do they recognize those who have served for years and years. If you do not meet the renewal requirements, you are out on the street, so to speak. They are the authority, they call the shots.

Here is the second example. I read Martin Hollick's series of articles in The Slovak Yankee on his application to the BCG. He wrote about his experience in applying for certification from Why I Applied to What I Did Wrong and then on to Why I Won't Apply Again. (This is not all of the articles and I suggest you go back through the series and read them all). I was touched by Martin's frankness and also by the striking parallels to my own experience in applying to the BCG.

I also spent a huge amount of time preparing for and applying to BCG. Without going into the details, the rejection criteria were arbitrary, capricious and invalid. As a long time trial attorney, I am well inured to rejection. But there is a difference between disagreement over interpretation and a lack of standards. After reading Martin's series of articles I realized that my experience with the BCG was not likely an aberration but a characteristic of the way things were done. Like Martin, I will not apply again. Why? Because I have no assurance that my subsequent application would not be handled in just the same way and because as expressed by Martin, "I have no confidence in the fairness of the process nor in the competence of the organization itself."

In almost any profession, including law, if you fail the entrance requirements, you have a pretty good idea of the reasons why and what you need to do to pass the exam the next time you take it. I have a number of friends who failed the Bar Exam the first time and re-took the exam successfully. But with the BCG, there is no exam, just an arbitrary set of judges who have no clear criteria for making a determination. I am fully aware of the long list of requirements and standards, but the judge's remarks were not consistent with those standards.

I am certain that there will be those who claim that this criticism is nothing more than "sour grapes." But absent Martin Hollick's series of articles and my discussion with my wife's 94 year old cousin, I would never have mentioned the issues at all. Just like a jury trial that went bad, I would just move on to the next project or case and forget what happened in the past. I will now do that. I still wonder, how many talented and knowledgeable genealogists have been terminally discouraged by both the ICAPGen and the BCG?


  1. Thank you for posting your impressions of these two certification processes. I am relatively new to genealogy though not new to historical research and have considered pursuing certification. Yet, clarity in certification standards seems crucial both in deciding whether I would try as well as in considering someone else's qualifications when hiring a professional genealogist, just as it is when hiring someone is other fields, like health care and law. I appreciate hearing all sides, even those that might be "sour grapes." :)

  2. I'm sorry you had to go through this also. And how cold is the society that let your 94 year old cousin's license expire!! The human condition is imperfect and anything that requires judging be it football, baseball, soccer, ice skating, or genealogy will always need an extra eye or an instant replay.

  3. It’s unfortunate that facts were not checked by the author of this blog before posting it. As chair of the International Commission for the Accreditation of Professional GenealogistsSM, also known as ICAPGen, I would like to enlighten your readers with some real facts about our organization and its renewal process. First, ICAPGen does require a completion of specific renewal requirements every five years to retain an Accredited Genealogist® credential. These requirements are in keeping with standard practices and renewal requirements of many professional organizations, including certain educational requirements and a brief report with supporting documents that demonstrates their practical research skills. Our renewal requirements are given at our website,, and as you will see, they do NOT require members to “extend anyone’s pedigree by two generations during the year” nor for any other time period.

    Second, if someone decides to not renew their credential, they are not automatically “dropped from the list” or “out on the street”. They are given an option to “retire,” so to speak, by becoming an Emeritus AG professional, with no requirements other than an agreement to refrain from professional paid work using their AG credential. Why this particular 94-year-old cousin of the author opted not to become an Emeritus AG professional is not certain, but the fact remains that she had every opportunity to do so.

    My greater concern with this blog is that the author, who describes himself as an experienced, seasoned attorney, did not take the time to investigate some facts first before publishing his comments through a very public medium. A quick browse on the Internet or one phone call to our organization could have provided a very different perspective of this situation. In future blogs, I would hope for a fair assessment of any situation that is based on facts, rather than emotion.

    Linda K. Turner, AG®
    Chair, ICAPGen