Archive for the ‘Professional Genealogy’ Category

APG Events at the FGS Conference

The 2011 national conference of the Federation of Genealogical Societies will be held in Springfield, Illinois, next week, from 7 September through 11 September 2011. For more information, visit http://www.fgs.org/2011conference/.

The Association of Professional Genealogists (APG) has scheduled several events to take place at the FGS Conference:

  • Tuesday, September 6, 7:00-9:00 p.m. Annual Meeting & Roundtable. Rendezvous Room, Hilton Hotel. J. Mark Lowe, moderator of group discussion, “Those Difficult Situations…how do I come out smelling like a rose?”
  • Friday, September 9, 8:15-noon, APG Board meeting. Plaza 3, Hilton Hotel. APG members are welcome. Please let Kathleen Hinckley know if you plan to attend so seating can be arranged.
  • Friday, September 9, 12:15–2:00 p.m., APG Luncheon and Awards Presentations. Luncheon presentation by Kenyatta D. Berry, “Discovering a Genealogical Treasure Trove with A.B. Caldwell.”
  • Friday, September 9, 2:00-3:00 p.m., APG PMC. “The Small Business Administration and the Transitional Genealogist” by Mary Clement Douglass.
  • Friday, September 9, 3:30-4:30 p.m., APG PMC. “Developing Genealogical Skills: Mentoring from Novice to Expert” by Melinde Lutz Sanborn.
  • Saturday, September 10, 8:00–10:30 a.m., PMC Workshop, “Think Like a Targeted Marketer: One Marketing Plan Does NOT Fit All” by Natasha Crain.

Updated on 9/5/2011:

When the initial message was sent, one event was inadvertently omitted from the schedule of events:

  • Friday, September 9, 5:00 p.m., PMC presentation, “Apps Galore for the Professional Genealogist” by Pamela Boyer Sayre, CG.

Turning your genealogy hobby into a career

Every professional genealogist I have ever met started out by researching their own family. I did. The most difficult part of becoming a professional is the transition – making the decision to turn your beloved hobby into a career.

Last week, I read an absolutely enlightening article about this very subject on the American Express Open Forum website. This website is highly recommended for all those considering entering the world of small business. In “4 Questions To Ask Before Turning A Hobby Into Your Career,” Rebecca Thebault considers some of the factors that should affect your decision. Ms. Thebault describes her transition from investment banking into a career as the owner of a bakery–something she loved to do!

Ms. Thebault recommends the following four questions:

“1. Are you realistic about what you’ll gain?”

Ms. Thebault recounts the story of returning to work days–not weeks or months–after delivering a child. I often joke about never sleeping. (Well, it’s kind of a joke.) Being “your own boss” is not easy. It is often not very fun. And you have to make all of the hard decisions yourself. As a small business owner, you will be 100% responsible for the success or failure of your business.

Another recommendation Ms. Thebault makes under this heading is to “Be realistic about how much time it will take to achieve your goals.” When I made the transition into the career as a full-time professional genealogist, I had enough money saved to pay my bills for several months. I barely made it. It is vital that you keep in mind just how long it may be before your business can support your goals.

I would also add that you have to think about what you’ll lose. I live 20 minutes from the beach, and though my wife and daughter go swimming at least once or twice a week in the summer months, I have not been swimming in over five years. I miss birthday parties, barbecues, and other social events on a regular basis. My top priority is keeping the business afloat, not having fun.

“2. Are you ready to start at the bottom?”

“You may be extremely good at your hobby, but when people start paying you for it, you’re subject to a new set of standards,” Ms. Thebault writes. This is an important distinction.

You may be great at researching your own family, but can you do the same thing when you no longer have access to the same “family knowledge” of recurring given names, oral history, photo albums, and “stuff Grandma told you”?

Do you know about the Genealogical Proof Standard and other accepted genealogical research standards?

Do you already know how to write a professional research report of your findings?

Create an educational plan. It is important that you continue to raise your own standards up to that of other professionals. This is done through continuous education.

You will want to join the Association of Professional Genealogists. You may also want to consider accreditation through ICAPGen or certification through the Board for Certification of Genealogists.

When you first begin to take clients, no one will know who you are. You will not have a reputation. It is your responsibility to change these facts.

“3. Do you really want your hobby to become your job?”

Ms. Thebault notes, “Hobbies are typically things you enjoy as a distraction from work, so what happens when your hobby is work? Will it make you enjoy your work more or your hobby less? Chances are it will lead to a little bit of both.” I couldn’t say it any better.

I must also add that I no longer have the time for a hobby. All of my time is spent researching other people’s families, not my own. So if you are passionate about researching your own family, you may want to reconsider whether or not becoming a professional is right for you. I love the hunt, the problem-solving aspect of genealogy, even if that family is not my own. I would love to be able to apply my education and experience to my own family. And hopefully I will later be able to do so – I just don’t have the time now.

“4. Are you prepared for an emotional roller coaster?”

Running any small business will have its highs and lows — and the more you love what you are doing, the more emotional these highs and lows will be.

I would recommend that anyone thinking of turning your hobby into a career read this article, and then consider long and hard whether this is really what you want.

SOURCE: Rebecca Thebault, “4 Questions To Ask Before Turning A Hobby Into Your Career,” in American Express Open Forum blog, posted 18 August 2011 (http://www.openforum.com/ : accessed 2011).

The 5 Most Misused Words and Phrases in Genealogy

Over the past quarter century, the field of genealogy has developed its own vocabulary to describe the evolving standards. Unfortunately, some of these terms are used in other fields with slightly different meanings. Here, in no particular order, are the top five most misused words and phrases in modern genealogy.

1. “Research”:

Especially to beginning genealogists, the term “research” is equivalent to “looking for records.” The more experience one gains, the more one becomes aware of how little of the research process is actually involved in physically looking for records. Far more research is conducted after a document has been located. Research also includes

  • learning more about the record itself–its creation, background, and purpose;
  • identifying the information the record holds;
  • determining how this information applies to our research problem;
  • assessing the reliability of the information;
  • correlating the information with that held in other records previously located;
  • and deducing what clues in the record point to potential sources for more information.

In all, I would estimate that about 20% of all research is actually conducted in the physical search for records. The remaining 80% involves the forming of conclusions based on the information turned up in that physical search.

2. “Primary” and “Secondary”:

You will often hear researchers in other fields refer to primary and secondary documents or records. In genealogy, we differentiate between original records and derivative records. These terms generally correspond with what other fields call primary (original) and secondary (derivative). Since many of us learned these terms in these other fields (or even in genealogy years ago, before the current definitions evolved), it is common to hear genealogists refer to “primary” and “secondary” records.

In current usage, reliable eyewitness testimony is considered primary, while information provided by someone who was not a witness or participant is considered secondary. Experienced genealogists, who always strive to review the original record rather than a derivative source, understand that any single record can contain information of different natures. A death certificate might provide both birth and death information, for example. In most cases, while the information about the death may be primary, the birth information is secondary. This is why we discuss primary and secondary information, as opposed to primary and secondary documents.

3. “Evidence”:

The term “evidence” refers to how we apply information to our research problem. There are two kinds of evidence, as defined in modern genealogy: direct and indirect.

Direct evidence refers to information that directly answers our research question. For example, if our research question asks, “when was John born?,” then a record containing the information, explicitly stated, that John was born on 4 July 1826, would be considered as containing direct evidence.

Indirect evidence refers to information that is relevant to our question but does not directly answer it. For example, using the same question about John’s birth, we examine a series of annual tax lists. John does not appear on any tax list until 1847. We then review the tax laws of that time period, and discover that men were required to pay taxes beginning at the age of 21. The tax records do not explicitly state John’s date of birth, but we can infer that he was at least 21 years of age at this time. This appearance on the tax lists therefore constitutes indirect evidence of his date of birth.

The term “evidence” is not synonymous with either the terms “information” or “proof,” but this is how it is most often used by many genealogists. Information is held by records. Evidence is how we apply this information to our research problem. And proof is …

4. “Proof”:

We often hear from other genealogists that a certain record proves a certain fact. This is a common misunderstanding of the concept of “proof.” No record contains proof. Records contain information.

As genealogists, we identify, evaluate, and correlate the information in these records, through which process we discern each piece of information’s individual value as evidence. Eventually, we hope to reach a soundly reasoned conclusion. “Proof” refers to the documented summary of the evidence that leads to our conclusion.

The Genealogical Proof Standard, itself an often-misunderstood concept, is the measure by which we judge our proof arguments. In its most common phrasing, the Standard contains five parts: conduct a reasonably exhaustive (or extensive) search for all relevant records, completely and accurately cite all sources used, correlate and evaluate all evidence, reconcile all contradictory evidence, and form a soundly reasoned, written conclusion. The extent to which each of these parts is demonstrated and documented in the written proof argument helps to determine the probable reliability of the conclusions.

Because it is most often phrased as five “parts,” many researchers begin to think of the Genealogical Proof Standard as a five-step process: first we do a search, then cite, then correlate, etc. On the contrary, in the course of our research, these “steps” are rarely completed in order. While searching for relevant records, we must cite and evaluate each individual record as we find it. Certainly, one begins by searching for relevant records and ends with the written conclusion, but the rest of the Standard is an ongoing process. How we define relevant itself evolves with each new record located.

As we begin to form conclusions, we should honestly assess our research against the Genealogical Proof Standard to determine whether or not our conclusion is warranted by our research.

5. “Report”:

This is a dangerously misused and misunderstood term for aspiring professional genealogists. Unfortunately, the misunderstanding stems most often from genealogical software programs, which are using the same term in a different context.

When one inputs one’s information and conclusions in a genealogy database program, it is common (and recommended) practice to periodically print out this information. In all database software, the output of data into a readable format based on specific parameters is called a report. Genealogy software most often includes the ability to print this data out into a rudimentary compiled genealogy in either NGSQ or Register formats, or compiled pedigree in Sosa-Stradonitz format. These are called, by the database, “reports.”

The research report provided by a professional genealogist–and even those reports one writes for one’s personal research files–are generally not in the form of a compiled genealogy or pedigree. A compiled genealogy or pedigree may be part of the research report, but not necessarily. In my reports, genealogies or pedigrees are most often used as a system of organization or summary of conclusions rather than the body of the report itself.

A professional research report, in general terms, is a detailed, documented report of the research conducted. This would include discussions of all of the processes described above under “Research,” as well as the formation of proof arguments and full conclusions. It also includes all negative searches conducted, that is, those indexes, databases, and record groups searched where no relevant results were located. All of these would be contained in the body of a report.

Professional genealogist’s research reports also contain other sections: a reiteration of the stated goals (both long-term and short-term, if applicable), a summary of all information provided or known at the beginning of the research, a brief summary of the conclusions reached within the report usually located before the main body, and suggestions for further research.

In other words, a research report simply does not resemble the reports printed by database software. The two terms are not synonymous at all–and given the very different contexts of their usage, should not be misunderstood to be so.

These are the words and phrases I see and hear misused most often by other genealogists. What are some other terms that are commonly misused?

If you would like to cite this post: Michael Hait, “The 5 Most Misused Words and Phrases in Genealogy,” Planting the Seeds: Genealogy as a Profession blog, posted 19 Aug 2011 (http://michaelhait.wordpress.com : accessed [access date]). [Please also feel free to include a hyperlink to the specific article if you are citing this post in an online forum.]

So, are you ready for certification?

I have been absolutely amazed at the responses to my last two posts. My intention was to give people a glimpse “behind the curtain,” to see the actual judging process for themselves, as well as raise awareness of some common mistakes. If you have not yet read them, you can read part one here and part two here.

I just want to also remind people that this was an unsuccessful application. My recent successful application is much different.

So, after reading these posts, do you feel ready for certification?

The Board for the Certification of Genealogists offers a short checklist on its website, entitled, “Are You Ready for Certification?” I would recommend that everyone interested in becoming certified go through this checklist to test your readiness. Be honest with yourself though. If you exaggerate your qualifications, you are only hurting yourself.

The BCG also offers other resources to help you in your goal. You should definitely take advantage of all of these as learning opportunities.

1. Read the Application Guide thorougly. Be sure that you understand all of the requirements. Practice them. For example, take a handful of records from your private collection and transcribe them, abstract them, and perform the other “Document Work” requirements. Use a wide variety of record types — deeds, wills, tax lists, census records, etc. If you are not currently conducting client research, take a few of you own research problems and write them up as if you were conducting the research for a client. The BCG also provides two practice records on their website, with the Document work completed. The full Application Guide is available online here.

2. Study the Judging Rubrics. If you have practiced parts of your application on your own, try honestly evaluating these parts according to the rubrics. The best part of the rubrics (in my opinion) is that they state plainly which of the BCG Standards are applicable to each evaluation. You can read the rubrics online here.

3. Read and understand the BCG Standards Manual. A very active and enlightening discussion took place on the Transitional Genealogists Forum mailing list beginning in January 2010. This discussion went through the BCG Standards one by one, with discussion from many Board-certified genealogists, professional genealogists, and “transitional” genealogists. You can see the start of this discussion here. A new thread was started for each individual standard following this one, so you may have to go back to the list archives index to find them all. However, I would credit this discussion with some of the understandings of the standards that I have come to. You can purchase The BCG Genealogical Standards Manual on Amazon.com, or purchase it directly from the BCG.

4. Read the books and articles suggested on the BCG’s “Supplemental Study List.” This list is available on the BCG’s website here. Several of these books were also mentioned in my blog post “The top 5 books on my bookshelf.” Of particular importance, in my opinion, are Elizabeth Shown Mills’s Evidence!, Christine Rose’s The Genealogical Proof Standard: Building a Solid Case, and Numbering Your Genealogy: Basic Systems, Complex Families, and International Kin, by Joan F. Curran, Madilyn Coen Crane, and John H. Wray. This last book, published by the National Genealogical Society, will help you tremendously when writing your Kinship Determination Project. If you are a member of the National Genealogical Society, you will also want to be sure to read the special issue of the National Genealogical Society Quarterly dealing with evidence. This issue was published in September 1999 (vol. 87, no. 3), and can be read online by NGS members.

5. Consider a formal education program. The BCG has compiled a list of educational programs, including university-sponsored programs, institutes, major conferences, and independent study courses. This list can be read here.

6. Read the “Skillbuilding” articles. These articles provide some great tips for using specific record groups in great depth, tips for methodology, and other articles that will help to prepare you for the depth of research expected of Board-certified genealogists. These articles, originally printed in OnBoard, can be found on the BCG website here. Of particular interest to the readers of this series of posts is “Skillbuilding: A Judge’s Notes From an Application for CG,” which provides similar information from the perspective of a BCG judge.

7. Read the “Ten Tips for Success” article. This article shares some common elements with this blog post. It can be read here.

8. Study the Work Samples. Several examples of case studies, proof arguments, compiled genealogies, narrative lineages, and research reports have been posted on the BCG website here. Read them and study them. Compare them to the rubrics and standards, to see how they meet each one. And then apply the lessons you have learned to your own work.

9. Watch the seminar video. Thomas Jones, CG, and Elissa Scalise Powell, CG, present a seminar on becoming certified at various national conferences and institutes. If you have not attended the seminar in person, you can still benefit by watching the video. This video can be viewed on the BCG website here.

10. Read the “Application Strategies.” Five articles, originally published in the BCG’s OnBoard journal, have been reprinted on the BCG website. These articles specifically deal with the application process, from details on putting together the physical portfolio to a survey of a group of successful applicants. You can read these articles here.

In addition to all of the above resources provided by the Board itself, I would also make the following recommendations:

11. Join the Transitional Genealogists Forum mailing list. This list often has some great discussions, as noted above on the BCG Standards, and as noted before when discussing citations in my post “Source Citations: Why Form Matters, part one.” The list is extremely welcoming of genealogists of all levels, and is frequented by many professional and Board-certified genealogists, including Elizabeth Shown Mills, Elissa Scalise Powell, Thomas Jones, and others! The Archives of the mailing list comprise another great source for information, as we discuss issues relevant to conducting professional-level genealogical research. Details of this Rootsweb-hosted mailing list can be seen here.

12. Join a study group. The ProGen Study Group is great for those aspiring professional genealogists who are considering certification. This 18-month program take an in-depth look at the book Professional Genealogy: A Manual for Researchers, Writers, Editors, Lecturers, and Librarians, edited by Elizabeth Shown Mills. Each month studies an individual chapter with a practical assignment for each, including several that will help you with the basics of establishing a business. Other assignments help with evidence analysis and writing a proof argument. A second useful study group meets monthly to discuss a selected article from the National Genealogical Society Quarterly. This group picks apart the article and discusses what went right, what went wrong, what could have been explained better, etc. There is not currently a website, but you can obtain more information by sending an email to the coordinator, Sheri Fenley.

There is, of course, no amount of education and practice than can guarantee success. Some people may be able to succeed without all of the preparatory steps I note above. Others may be able to perform all of these tasks and not succeed the first time. But stick with it if you are interested. The judges comments are a great learning experience in and of themselves, as noted in the previous post.

If you think you are ready to begin certification, go ahead and submit your Preliminary Application. You have a full year to complete the portfolio, and during that time you will have access to the BCG-ACTION mailing list for help on preparing the application itself, as well as a complimentary subscription to OnBoard. If you are not ready after the first year, you can always request an extension, at the cost of $50 per year. It is better to pay $50 for the extension and succeed, than to pay $220 to fail.

So, are you ready for certification?

If you would like to cite this post: Michael Hait, “So, are you ready for certification?,” Planting the Seeds: Genealogy as a Profession blog, posted 17 Jul 2011 (http://michaelhait.wordpress.com : accessed [access date]).

How Not to Become Certified, part two

I promised in my post “How Not to Become Certified, part one,” to share some of the judge’s comments from my unsuccessful 2007 application to the Board for the Certification of Genealogists. I feel that this can be a valuable learning experience for those planning their own application for certification. Read the first post for my own opinions as to why that portfolio was unsuccessful.

Please note that the judging system in use at that time is no longer used by the BCG. However, the judge’s comments are still appropriate. To learn about the current BCG judging process, read “The Judging Process” on the BCG website, and review the current evaluation rubrics.

This application received a mixed decision: one judge approved the application, two judges disapproved it. The BCG regulations require all mixed decisions to be reviewed by a fourth judge, whose decision is final. Below are comments from all four judges, both positive and negative, that address common problems that researchers have. I will not add my own commentary but allow the judge’s words to speak for themselves.

[Regarding "Understanding & use of contradictory evidence"] “While noted as contradictory, no resolution was offered…”

“Did not apply the Genealogical Proof Standard.”

“An efficient research plan would call for identifying the location prior to searching for a document.”

“The abstract has entirely too many abbreviations, and the style changes from naming the devisee first, to naming the property first.”

“The outline form for results works well.”

“The applicant consistently referred to the typescript extract of a letter as a transcript. As he demonstrated with the document work, a transcript is a full, word for word, copy of a document. These few lines, taken out of a letter, are not a transcript.”

“A lot of interesting information is still in the footnotes. Moving information from footnotes into the text would create a more interesting story.”

“The text hinted at discrepancies, but did not develop the proof.”

“It is disappointing ot read between the lines and see a competent genealogist, yet realize that the work presented in this portfolio does  not meet the BCG Standards for Certification. The problems with the Case Study and report could be rectified with experience and attention to detail. However, due to the fact there was no attempt to apply the Genealogical Proof Standard or write a proof summary in any part of the portfolio, this judge is unable to recommend approval.”

“Use a wide range of sources per standard 19.”

“Heavy reliance on derivative sources.”

“Some kinship proof weak, see standard 50.”

“Proof summary inadequate, insufficient discussion, see standard 41.”

“Need a wider range of sources, see standard 19.”

“[T]he applicatioin guide states that applicants should show which of the three formats they chose for the case study. This was not done and therefore creates another area of uncertainty for judges.”

“Judges do expect more biographical data and historical or cultural context in the Kinship-Determination report and the portfolio was weak in these areas.”

“Footnote 5 might also be a possibility [for creating a proof summary] as it summarizes indirect evidence for the parents of Mary Lusby, but it wasn’t developed into a proof summary.”

“The Kinship-Determination project was the weakest part of the portfolio. There was very little biographical information, the format was not a recommended style, and it lacked the required two proof summaries. Without demonstrations of proof summaries this portfolio cannot be approved.”

“It is unfortunate that although Mr. Hait has satisfactorily met many of the standards, several major ones are unmet and they are so serious that certification cannot be recommended. However, Mr. Hait is encouraged to learn from the judges’ comments, correct the noted deficiencies and omissions, and later apply with a new portfolio that demonstrates what he has learned.”

And I did just that.

If you would like to cite this post: Michael Hait, “How Not to Become Certified, part two,” Planting the Seeds: Genealogy as a Profession blog, posted 16 Jul 2011 (http://michaelhait.wordpress.com : accessed [access date]).

How Not to Become Certified, part one

First, I would like to thank all who have left me notes of congratulations here on my blog, Facebook, Twitter, and by email. Achieving the Certified Genealogist(sm) status has been a long process for me, involving a lot of work and continued education.

Many would be surprised to learn that I applied for certification once before, and failed, back in 2007. At that time, though I had years of experience researching my own family, I had only been conducting client work for about a year. For several reasons, I did not succeed. After receiving the notice of the disapproval of my portfolio, it took about two years before I could look back on that first application and understand what it had been missing. I would like to share these lessons with you.

1. I had no support structure behind the initial submission. As I stated above, in 2007, when I originally applied, I had only been conducting client research for a little over a year. I was unaware of the APG mailing list, and, though I was a member of several societies as well as the Association of Professional Genealogists, I had never attended a meeting. I had never attended even a local conference. At that point, I was completely self-educated and had relatively little professional experience (even though I had researched my own family for many years).

2. I did not understand the instructions for the kinship determination project (KDP). I had no clear definition of a “compiled, narrative” genealogy in my mind. What I submitted fell far short of what was expected because of this problem. The discussion of sources and evidence was done entirely in the footnotes, rather than in the text body, and much of the KDP included only sparse vital information on each individual. The research clearly did not meet what I now understand of the Genealogical Proof Standard.

3. I rushed through the final processes involved with the submission, because I did not want to file for an extension. As it was, I mailed the portfolio Priority Mail from a Washington, D. C., post office to the BCG’s Washington, D. C. post office box address, on the day prior to the due date. Had I simply paid the $50 (at the time) for the extension, I could have done a better job of editing, and could have included much more information in the body of the KDP, to better fit my own vision of what was expected.

4. I did not clearly separate and define the sections, leading at least one of the judges to mistake my case study as the client report.

5. My client report itself was poorly selected. I selected a project that I was personally proud of, as it involved the identification of the next of kin of a Korean War POW for the purposes of DNA testing of the newly-located remains. However, I failed to realize that this report was not much better than a document retrieval. While it did not receive too much negative criticism from any of the judges (other than the notice that it was ultimately a document retrieval), neither did it represent the best of the work that I was doing at the time.

These are not the judge’s actual comments and criticisms, of course. These are only my own reflections on why I failed. My continued education and experience, as well as discussions with other CGs has led me to these understandings. I will actually share some of the judge’s comments in a future post. This first application, however, was judged under a now-outdated evaluation form, prior to the creation and adoption of the current judging rubrics. The judge’s comments, however, will still prove valuable to those seeking certification.

Stay tuned for more…

If you would like to cite this post: Michael Hait, “How Not to Become Certified, part one,” Planting the Seeds: Genealogy as a Profession blog, posted 15 Jul 2011 (http://michaelhait.wordpress.com : accessed [access date]).

What is a Certified Genealogist(sm)?

According to the brochure “Why Hire a Board-Certified Genealogist?” published by the Board for the Certification of Genealogists,

Certified Genealogist (CG): one who is proficient in all areas of genealogical research and analysis. Those who carry this credential conduct broadly based projects whose goals are to find and interpret evidence, assemble proof of identity and relationships, and prepare sound reports and historical accounts of families, past and present.

To become a Certified Genealogist, one must have a portfolio reviewed by three judges, themselves Certified.

This portfolio consists of various genealogical work products, including

  • Document Work. Each applicant is provided with a photocopy of an original document. The applicant must first transcribe and abstract the document. Then the applicant must identify a hypothetical research focus in which this document would be used, analyze the information in the document in light of this focus, and submit a short research plan to follow up on the information in this document. All of these same steps must then also be completed using a document provided by the applicant.
  • Research Report. Each applicant must provide a recent client research report, exactly as it was delivered to the client. No modifications can be made prior to submission. Permission from the client to submit the report must also be provided.
  • Case Study: Conflicting or Indirect Evidence. A written case study utilizing either conflicting or indirect evidence must be submitted. The case study should describe the research problem and all research steps taken to solve this problem. Often these case studies will be akin to what one would read in the top genealogical journals, such as National Genealogical Society Quarterly.
  • Kinship-Determination Project. Each applicant must submit a narrative genealogy, narrative pedigree, or narrative lineage covering at least three sequential generations. Within this project, the applicant must discuss evidence proving at least two parent-child links in different generations. Every statement of fact must be documented, and the project must demonstrate broad research meeting the Genealogical Proof Standard.

Certified Genealogists represent those whose work has been judged to meet the stringent BCG Standards. Among the CGs active today are the best and brightest genealogists nationwide. A look at the online roster on the website of the Board for the Certification of Genealogists is like reading a “who’s who” of genealogy.

Certified Genealogists are many things to many people.

But the short answer to that question, as you will see in my new profile, is that, as of 9 July 2011, I am now a Certified Genealogist! It was a long, two-year process (I needed an extension just to be sure I had my portfolio ready!), but the results finally came in!

If you would like to cite this post: Michael Hait, “What is a Certified Genealogist(sm)?,” Planting the Seeds: Genealogy as a Profession blog, posted 11 Jul 2011 (http://michaelhait.wordpress.com : accessed [access date]).

The top 5 books on my bookshelf

Once again, I am taking a “page” out of Marian Pierre-Louis’s blog Marian’s Roots and Rambles; this time it is a different post, and I am not the first. Please take a look at Marian’s post, “The Top 5 Books on My Bookshelf,” and the post “My Top 5 Genealogy Research Books,” from Greta’s Genealogy Blog. These two posts–and hopefully others to come from other bloggers–provide recommendations for their 5 favorite genealogy books.

Here are my five, in ascending order:

5. Marsha Hoffman Rising, CG, The Family Tree Problem Solver: Proven Methods for Scaling the Inevitable Brick Wall (Cincinnati, OH : Family Tree Books, 2005): This book is the only standard methodological text that I consider absolutely necessary for every genealogical researcher. Ms. Rising goes through many different methods. There is also a newer book by the same author, entitled The Family Tree Problem Solver: Tried and True Tactics for Tracing Elusive Ancestors, published in 2011. I have not read this book yet, and do not know whether this is the same text or entirely new material. If it is new material, then I would once again have to recommend it.

4. The Board for the Certification of Genealogists, The BCG Genealogical Standards Manual (Orem, Utah : Ancestry Pub., 2000): The BCG standards require a high degree of thoroughness and accuracy in your research, but isn’t this what we all strive for? After all, who wouldn’t hate to discover that after years of research, you had been tracing someone else’s family? Many of the standards also deal with the work products of genealogical research, such as compiled genealogies and research reports.

3. Elizabeth Shown Mills, CG, editor, Professional Genealogy: A Manual for Researchers, Writers, Editors, Lecturers, and Librarians (Baltimore: Genealogical Publishing Co., 2001):

2. Elizabeth Shown Mills, CG, Evidence Explained:Citing History Sources from Artifacts to Cyberspace, 2nd Edition (Baltimore: Genealogical Publishing Co., 2009):

I admit it–I cheated a little bit. There are really 6 books on my list, because I could not decide which of the next two books was more important. So first place is a tie between these two books.

If you have read these books, you will understand. If not, you must read them. Though I had years of research experience before I ever read them, these two books changed the way that I look at evidence and genealogical research in general. I am proud to say that I have now met both of these authors personally.

1. Christine Rose, CG, Genealogical Proof Standard: Building a Solid Case, Third Edition (San Jose, Calif. : CR Publications, 2009): This is an updated third edition of the book, but I originally discovered the second edition several years ago. The small book uses examples to show how important it is to (1) conduct a search for all pertinent records related to your genealogical problem, (2) fully and accurately cite your sources, (3) analyze and correlate all relevant information, (4) reconcile all contradictory information, and (5) form a logical written conclusion based on the evidence.

1. Elizabeth Shown Mills, CG, Evidence! Citation & Analysis for the Family Historian (Baltimore: Genealogical Publishing Co., 1997): This book was the precursor to Evidence Explained (see above), written ten years previously. It discusses how researchers should evaluate their sources. It also contains the first citation models for commonly-used record types, though most of them have been adjusted in at least minor ways in EE. Both of these concepts were expanded in EE, but I actually prefer the discussion on evidence in this book.

You will notice one difference between my list and several of the others: I do not name any location-specific or record-specific books. These are important, and I would recommend that every researcher have them, but the best books in this category will vary from location to location. I have many in my library, mostly concerning Maryland, but also several related to Virginia, New York, Delaware, South Dakota, and other states. Your library’s needs in this area are up to you and what you research.

But the research skills that you will need are foundational. Research guides and finding aids will help you in a specific area, but your basic research skills will be the same whether you research in New Hampshire, Florida, Washington (state), or New Mexico, or even Saskatchewan, Galway, Istanbul, or Zimbabwe. For more on this, read my post “Shouldn’t we all be ‘Primary Care Genealogists’?

If you would like to cite this post: Michael Hait, “The top 5 books on my bookshelf,” Planting the Seeds: Genealogy as a Profession blog, posted 8 Jul 2011 (http://michaelhait.wordpress.com : accessed [access date]).

What Exactly Do I Research?

This post is inspired by the post, “What Exactly Do I Research?” by Marian Pierre-Louis in her blog, Marian’s Roots & Rambles (18 June 2011). In this post, Marian describes her research interests. I enjoyed this post quite a bit, and have decided to emulate Marian here. Some of you may think you know what I research, and some of you may not have the slightest idea. So consider this an introduction to my research. …

My main interest is in writing, but my main income comes through client research projects. There are several kinds of projects that I work on:

  • Document retrievals. If someone just needs records from Maryland or Delaware, and lives too far to obtain them for themselves, they will hire me to do so.
  • Lineage research. The vast majority of my research projects are for clients who simply want to trace their lineage, but either do not have the time, knowledge, or access to records, to do so for themselves.
  • Brickwall research. In many cases, clients have worked on a problem for years, and finally decide to hire someone to help them with breaking through the brick wall. This is my favorite kind of project. Sometimes I cannot break through the brickwall, but I do have a high rate of success.

I have conducted research throughout every county in Maryland, though I have the most experience in Prince George’s, Anne Arundel, and Baltimore counties, and Baltimore city. Recent projects have been located in Frederick, Charles, St. Mary’s, and Dorchester counties, in Maryland, and New Castle and Sussex counties, in Delaware.

However, I have also researched African American families around the country, including Texas (click here for an ongoing Texas case study), Louisiana, Mississippi, and Virginia. My own family (not African American) comes primarily from New York, Connecticut, Virginia, and North Carolina, and my wife’s family is primarily from Tennessee, Mississippi, and South Dakota.

Aside from my clients (and my own family, if I ever had time to research them anymore!), I have several research interests of my own.

My primary interests are in African American genealogy and the U. S. Civil War and “Reconstruction” eras. As much progress as has been made on all of these fronts, there are still so many unknown or little-known resources yet to be tapped. Tying into these interests are several other projects:

  • Record groups nationwide, no matter how large or small their focus, that provide direct evidence connecting slaves or former slaves with their slave owners. Beyond the use of these records that provide direct evidence, I am also working on a guide to using indirect evidence to identify the slave owners of former slaves.
  • Compensated emancipation in the border states. Especially the records of the Slave Claims Commissions, which were active in Maryland, Delaware, Kentucky, Missouri, Tennessee, and West Virginia, during and immediately following the U. S. Civil War.
  • Slavery in southern Maryland. For nearly five years, I have been collecting records concerning enslaved families in Prince George’s County, Maryland. This project has included Civil War service and pension records, probate records, bills of sale, runaway slave advertisements, vital records, federal census records, tax lists, and several other record groups concerning slaves and their owners. Some of these families will be the subjects of research case studies, and transcriptions / abstracts / indexes of some of the records will begin to be published later this year. Other segments of this research project will be appearing in magazine and journal articles, and presentations/webinars.

Another of my research interests is network theory. A multi-faceted and multidisciplinary study of how networks develop, network theory can be applied to the study of communities. The study of our ancestral communities has already been proven to aid our genealogical research, but I believe that network theory and its application to the development of these communities can take our field to a whole new level. A brief article that I wrote on the subject–though barely scratching the surface of the potential application of network theory–was published in the article “Small Worlds: Researching Social Networks,” published in the Sept/Oct 2009 issue of Family Chronicle magazine. These theories are also being applied in the above long-term project on the enslaved families of Prince George’s County.

Now you know a little more about me and my research.

For more information, you can visit my website, particularly the “Publications” page. Or use the links below for more on my recent books:

If you would like to cite this post: Michael Hait, “What Exactly Do I Research?,” Planting the Seeds: Genealogy as a Profession blog, posted 28 Jun 2011 (http://michaelhait.wordpress.com : accessed [access date]).

Why I Never Rush a Research Job (and Neither Should You)

A few weeks ago, I mentioned the Final Draft Communications blog in my post, “Writing a genealogical case study–Sell the research!” Last week, on 12 June 2011, the post “Why I Never Rush a Writing Job (and Neither Should You)” appeared on the FDC blog.

In this blog post, professional copywriter Karen Marcus writes, “if you do have a choice, avoid rushing a writing job. If you don’t, your quality of work and quality of life will both decline.” Ms. Marcus continues, to address several reasons why:

  • Spotty Research. “Sometimes it takes awhile to get in touch with subject matter experts, to find just the right statistic online, or to receive pertinent reference materials from coworkers. When bombarding people with voice mails and e-mails doesn’t work, you end up developing your piece with missing information…”
  • Lackluster Drafts. “When you don’t have all the information you need, you don’t have much to base your writing job on, and your piece becomes lackluster, unconvincing, and useless to the target audience.”
  • Insufficient Reviews. “If you don’t run the document by everyone who needs to see it, you can bet those people will contribute edits…after the document is published.”
  • Loss of Incubation Time. “Incubation time is something writers and those who work with them don’t always consider, yet it is so important. Being able to look at a document with fresh eyes is critical for catching errors and inconsistencies.”
  • More Work Later. “I say, do it right the first time.”

The rush jobs that Ms. Marcus is really discussing in this post are writing jobs “that [need] to be done YESTERDAY!!!!!” But all of the same issues arise when a professional genealogist rushes through a research job.

Spotty research: The relevance of this should be obvious to all. Research is what we do. If we are rushing through a job, then chances are that we are doing the following:

  • Checking published and indexed sources only.
  • Limiting our search to direct evidence.
  • Not fully collecting, analyzing, and correlating all evidence to form complete conclusions.

A rush research job limits our ability to research thoroughly. According to the Board for the Certification of Genealogists, the Genealogical Proof Standard consists of five “elements”:

  • a reasonably exhaustive search;
  • complete and accurate source citations;
  • analysis and correlation of the collected information;
  • resolution of any conflicting evidence; and
  • a soundly reasoned, coherently written conclusion.[1]

Checking only published and indexed sources, and limiting our searches to only direct evidence do not meet the first element: that of a “reasonably exhaustive search.” By not fully collecting, analyzing, and correlating all evidence, we will not meet the third and fourth elements.

If our research does not meet the Genealogical Proof Standard, then any conclusions that we form should be considered less reliable.

Lackluster Drafts: This goes hand-in-hand with Spotty Research. The fifth and final element of the GPS is to form a logically reasoned written conclusion. This usually comes in the form of a written proof summary (for those rare instances where we have direct evidence and no contradictory evidence) or a written proof argument (when more explanation is needed, as in cases where contradictory evidence must be explained, or cases built on the sum of all indirect evidence).

Rushing through the research usually means forming a conclusion, and writing a proof summary or argument, based on incomplete evidence. Such a conclusion would not be representative of our work, nor would it be able to be considered reliable.

Furthermore, if we rush to publish this research, our conclusions may be rightfully challenged and disproved, which may even damage our professional reputations.

Insufficient Reviews and Loss of Incubation Time: Writers are often told, when self-editing, to put your writing aside and look at it with fresh eyes later. I would give the same advise to genealogists:

Put your research aside, turn it sideways, and look at it later. Sometimes looking at the same documents with fresh and new eyes will allow you to see the same information in new ways. This may prove exactly what you need to solve even the toughest research problems.

Failure to take our time and look at things fully, to squeeze every bit of information we can, out of every record we find, is exactly how brickwalls are built.

More Work Later: “I say, do it right the first time.” No more needs to be said.

[1] “The Genealogical Proof Standard,” Board for Certification of Genealogists (http://www.bcgcertification.org/resources/standard.html : accessed 19 Jun 2011).

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