Archive for the ‘Research Standards’ Category

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 ( : 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 ( : 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 ( : accessed [access date]).

Traditional vs. Scientific Genealogy, round two

After writing the post “Traditional vs. Scientific Genealogy?,” I discovered that Randy had posted another article in his blog, guest authored by Tamura Jones, entitled “Tamura Jones Guest Post: Scientific and Traditional Genealogy.” In this short article, Tamura attempted to clarify his statements. Among other statements, Tamura asserts,

Traditional genealogists treat official records as “proof” of “their genealogy”. That is wrong; official records do not prove biological relationships at all. That is a simple truth, and there is nothing wrong about acknowledging that truth. You still know who your official ancestors are. You still know who your legal ancestors are. Most importantly, you still know which family you are from, which family your legal parents are from, etcetera; you still know who your ancestral families are. You still know who you call mum or dad, and you are not going to stop doing that just because you became a scientific genealogist and do not have proof yet.

Unfortunately for Tamura, this is a straw man argument, based at least partially on a misunderstanding of what genealogical proof is. And unfortunately for more academic genealogists, many amateur genealogists share this misunderstanding. I will make my argument rather short and simple:

A record does not prove anything.

A genealogical source provides information. This information provides evidence when applied to a specific genealogical problem.

The Genealogical Proof Standard requires that all relevant records be collected and evaluated to form a logical conclusion. The process of collecting records/sources, identifying the information contained within these records/sources, evaluating the reliability of this information, judging the relevance of this information to your research problem, and using the combined evidence to form a conclusion is what proves a genealogical conclusion.

The process of proving relationships to which Tamura refers is actually a rather simplistic reliance on direct evidence. One does not have to have direct evidence to “prove” a relationship. This statement extends to both documentary evidence and biological evidence.

What Tamura claims as the basis of “traditional genealogist” is only the basis of beginning or amateur genealogy. This is not the opinion of the recognized leaders in our field.

Traditional vs. Scientific Genealogy?

Every Saturday night, Randy Seaver posts a “Saturday Night Genealogy Fun” assignment. I have participated in these from time to time (when I have the time), as can be seen in these posts–from its previous incarnation as “Tricks of the Tree”:

This past Saturday, 18 June 2011, Randy posted his weekly SNGF assignment, entitled “Saturday Night Genealogy Fun – Who is Your Most Recent Unknown Ancestor?” The assignment read,

1)  Determine who your most recent unknown ancestor is – the one that you don’t even know his or her name.

2)  Summarize what you know about his or her family, including resources that you have searched and the resources you should search but haven’t searched yet.

3)  Tell us about it in your own blog post, in a comment to this post, or in a status on Facebook.

What seems a rather simple task was challenged in the comments to the post by a blogger named Tamura Jones, who wrote,

I am disappointed that neither Randy nor any of his respondent gave the correct answer.
It is so hard to leave the dogmas and misconceptions of traditional genealogy behind and become a scientific genealogist?

The scientific genealogy truth is simple: for most of you, your most recent unknown ancestors are your parents.

Neither family stories nor vital records constitute any proof of a biological relationship.
Only if a DNA test confirmed who your biological parents are, does the MRU ["most recent unknown"] status move from your parents to your grandparents, etc.
It may be hard to face that fact, it may be an unpopular truth, but it is not less true because of that…

Tamura wrote on a similar subject in his own blog back on 21 March 2011, in “‘Start with what you know.’” [Please note, this site will not open using Internet Explorer 8 or lower.] In this post, he asserts that “Start with what you know,” often the first advice given to beginning genealogists, is inaccurate. He continues,

The first thing a beginning genealogists needs to be told isn’t to write down who their parents and grandparents are. The first thing a beginning genealogists needs to be told is that you have to question what you think you know. The first thing beginning genealogists need to be reminded of is that assumptions aren’t facts.

In today’s world, where few people have done DNA tests, that does not mean telling them to write down who their parents and grandparents are, it means explaining to them that they do know who their parents and grandparents are.

Despite the conviction with which Tamura states his opinions, they remain opinions. And where there are opinions, there are differences in opinion. Below I will describe my opinion.

There is a standard of proof in genealogy, aptly called the “Genealogical Proof Standard.” This standard, briefly stated, requires (1) the collection of evidence, (2) the analysis of evidence, and (3) the formation of a logical conclusion based on the evidence. The Standard does not require specifically biological (DNA) evidence in order to form a conclusion. It does not even require direct evidence. Published case studies provide numerous examples of logical conclusions based solely on indirect evidence.

To assert that DNA testing is the only way to “prove” parental connections may seem cutting-edge, but is in fact rather naive and, in my opinion, rather lazy. It is equivalent to those beginning genealogists who require direct evidence to “prove” a parental connection. Requiring DNA evidence takes this reliance on direct evidence to its strictest possible extreme. In my professional experience, I have worked on hundreds of different client research projects, and in every single one of them, there was at least one parental connection where direct evidence simply did not exist. This would be even more frequent if DNA evidence were required. If I were to guess, I believe that most ancestral lines simply have no DNA-testing option.

How can documentary evidence be as effective as biological (DNA) evidence?

Here is the documentary evidence that my parents are my parents:

1. My birth certificate names my parents as my parents. This is direct evidence created contemporaneously with the event by parties directly involved in the event (assuming my parents filled out the birth certificate themselves).

2. My parents have both independently, and on many separate occasions, told me directly that they are my parents and that I am their son. This is again primary information providing direct evidence.

3. Other witnesses, including my grandparents and my parents’ siblings, have independently, and on many separate occasions, told me directly that my parents are my parents. This is secondary information providing corroborating direct evidence.

4. I personally remember living with my parents as a child. This is primary information, though indirect evidence of who my parents are.

5. I bear a striking physical resemblance to my father. This may be an opinion, but is commonly shared by many independent observers. Even as recently as ten years ago, when I would walk down the street in my grandparents’ neighborhood, neighbors who knew my father recognized me as being his son.

6. No evidence that my parents are not my parents has ever been located. This provides negative evidence that my parents are my parents.

Of course, with all of the involved parties still living, evidence is available for this case that will not be available for many cases. But none of the evidence cited above involved swabbing my cheek or otherwise providing a DNA sample. Yet the assertion that my parents are my parents is a logical conclusion based on this evidence. I could make similar arguments for my relationships to my grandparents, and though the evidence changes with each generation, all of my “proven” ancestors.

How reliable is this documentary evidence? Well, it just so happens that I did take a Y-DNA test (37 markers) several years ago. All of my close DNA matches bore the surnames HOYT or HAIGHT, both “proven” variants of my surname HAIT. My closest DNA matches shared my great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-grandfather. DNA testing confirmed ten generations of my ancestry, previously proved with documentary evidence.

So if Tamura’s assertions were as “true” as he claims, I would not have been able to prove any of these generations with any certainty prior to taking the DNA test. Not having tested any of my other lines through DNA surrogates, I still feel confident in my conclusions.

There is, of course, one caveat that supports Tamura’s “scientific” opinion. Occasionally, DNA testing reveals what is called a “non-paternity event” (NPE). This is most often concluded when a Y-DNA test leads to a surname other than the one that the testing male bears. Though I do not have exact statistics, I believe that these are relatively rare when compared with the total number of testers.

Contradictory evidence is not a new concept, however. The Genealogical Proof Standard requires that researchers incorporate any newly-acquired evidence into each conclusion. A non-paternal event revealed by DNA testing is not the only evidence that one might discover that overturns one’s previous conclusions. It would be treated in the same way that any contradictory documentary evidence would be.

Genealogists must consider and evaluate all evidence when forming conclusions. DNA testing provides one form of evidence, but by no means the only reliable evidence. At least in my opinion, this is a fact.

Comparative research standards: National Park Service Cultural Resource Management

Two sets of standards have been defined in genealogical literature: the Genealogical Proof Standard and the BCG (Board for the Certification of Genealogists) Standards. Both standards have been defined and delineated by the Board for the Certification of Genealogists. The Genealogical Proof Standard is designed to be applied to one’s research conclusions, as a means of verifying the validity of these conclusions. The BCG Standards have a much wider application, and outline standards to be applied to one’s research process as well as several genealogical work products, including reports, narrative genealogies, etc.

However, in order to further understand and augment these two sets of genealogical standards, I will periodically review standards defined by other historical fields. The process of reviewing related sets of standards should hopefully present an opportunity to widen our perspective on scholarly research.

The first subject will be the Research Standards defined in Chapter 2 of NPS-28: Cultural Resource Management Guideline, as published by the National Park Service. The introductory paragraph to this chapter outlines the purposes of its cultural resource research:

According to the NPS Management Policies, “The National Park Service will conduct a coordinated program of basic and applied research to support planning for and management of park cultural resources.” Such mission-related research can identify and evaluate historic properties, advance knowledge of ethnographic resources and their importance to Native Americans, provide background data on park issues, contribute to interpretive programs, help avoid adverse impacts, and develop technologies for treating, monitoring, and protecting cultural resources. Research will be accomplished with the participation and review of professionals in all disciplines concerned with its subject.

These standards, like genealogical standards, address interdisciplinary and multipurposed research. This similarity makes these standards particularly apt to this comparison.

The standards are broken into nine sections. These nine sections are defined as:

  • Research Methodology
  • Resource Identification, Evaluation, and Registration
  • Service-wide Inventories of Cultural Resources
  • Procedures for Established Areas
  • Baseline Research Reports
  • Abbreviated and Specific Resource Studies
  • Physical Documentation and Material Analysis
  • Qualifications of Researchers
  • Funding and Staffing

Only the first section, “Research Methodology” will be addressed in this comparison. The remaining sections deal with internal procedural and project management directives.

The first point under “Research Methodology,” addresses the “Task Directive”:

The first step in developing a research strategy is the task directive, which serves as the contract between management and the researcher(s). To ensure that the research will be mission-related, the task directive clearly states its purpose and scope and spells out issues to be resolved. It identifies the research team and its consultants. It outlines the specific steps to be taken and products to be prepared. It defines the level of investigation (see next page). It sets time limits and projects a research budget required to deliver specified product(s).

This directive finds its most direct equivalent in professional genealogy in particular, but also in any genealogical research project. A task directive, as defined here, is precisely how genealogists should begin each new project: by defining your problem and outlining a specific research plan. The second subsection, “Research Design,” addresses several of these same concepts as well: “The research design states the goals, methodology, and explicit assumptions of the researcher(s). It can be incorporated into the task directive or prepared separately. It should briefly summarize existing knowledge of the topic, identify research questions, and discuss the rationale for addressing them. It should provide for interdisciplinary study where appropriate, clearly defining relationships between disciplines. It should delineate the physical extent of the area to be investigated and the amount of information to be gathered. The methods to be used, such as documentary research, oral history, field investigation, excavation, destructive investigation, and anthropological fieldwork, should be discussed, and the expected results should be presented.”

When beginning any genealogy project, it will be found quite helpful to plan fully for the research that you will be conducting, in as great detail as possible, just as is prescribed in this passage.

The first section also defines three separate “Levels of Investigation”: “Exhaustive Investigation,” “Thorough Investigation,” and “Limited Investigation.”

  • Exhaustive Investigation is defined thus: “For historical studies this means employing all published and documentary sources of known or presumed relevance,interviewing all knowledgeable persons regardless of location, and thoroughly analyzing and presenting findings from all data of direct and indirect relevance. For archeological studies sufficient data are collected and analyzed to determine location, characteristics, and scientific values of archeological resources through systematic intensive surveys. Techniques include surface collection, subsurface testing, remote sensing, excavation, and thorough analysis of recovered materials. For architectural and landscape studies it means investigating all features, with destructive investigation asnecessary, to establish as exactly as possible all recoverable detail (usually in response to a restoration or reconstruction management objective). For museum objects it means exhausting all original documentary sources, making physical comparisons with similar objects,and sampling and testing fabric for identification, dating, and circumstantial evidence. For ethnographic studies it means collecting empirical data by observation, interviews, and censusing and reviewing and analyzing accessible archival and documentary materials, requiring at least a year of full-time work and a team approach.”
  • Thorough Investigation is defined, in part, thus: “For historical studies this means research in selected published and documentary sources of known or presumed relevance that are readily accessible without extensive travel and that promise expeditious extraction of relevant data, interviewing all knowledgeable persons who are readily available, and presenting findings in no greater detail than required by the task directive. …”
  • Limited Investigation is defined, in part, in this way: For historical studies this means research in available published sources, usually of a secondary character; research in documentary sources if easily accessible and known to be of high yield; brief interviews of readily available persons to answer specific questions; and a report in no greater detail than directly required by the task directive. …”

Only the Exhaustive Investigation definition was reprinted here in full. This should ultimately be the goal of all genealogical research projects, as outlined in the Genealogical Proof Standard’s first requirement of conducting a reasonably exhaustive search for all relevant records. However, the definition of Exhaustive Investigation provides a far more detailed review of just exactly what this type of research entails. Many genealogists struggle with the concept of “a reasonably exhaustive search”–what it means, how to accomplish it, and how you will know it has been completed. Reading the definition of an Exhaustive Investigation in several related fields of study may provide insight into the full scope of this concept.

Yet I also include here partial definitions of the Thorough Investigation and Limited Investigation concepts. These two concepts also have a place in genealogical research. In some cases, a full investigation may not be necessary to disprove a certain hypothesis or working theory. In these cases, one need not conduct “a reasonably exhaustive search” for all pertinent records, but only those records necessary to decide whether an Exhaustive Investigation should be conducted or not.

The fifth point under the “Research Methodology” section covers the “Report.” This point states, in part, that, “[o]nce the documentary research and field investigation (including physical examination) are completed, the photographs, drawings, material samples, field notes, data files, and construction files are analyzed and interpreted in preparation of the final report.” As I have stated repeatedly, identifying, locating, and collecting relevant records is only a small part of the research process. Far more important is the analysis of each individual record on its own, and the development of the combined evidence into a valid conclusion. It would seem that the NPS agrees.

Other Standards defined in this first section include the following:

  • Outside consultation and peer review provide opportunitiesfor other professionals and interested parties to comment.
  • Final reports concerning history, historic structures, cultural landscapes, and museum objects generally conform in punctuation, footnote and bibliographic form, and other stylistic matters to the latest edition of A Manual of Style by the University of Chicago Press. (Footnotes are preferred, but endnotes are permissible.) Final reports in archeology are consistent with the style prescribed by the Society for American Archaeology. Formal reports in ethnography and cultural anthropology conform to the style prescribed by the American Anthropological Association.

These two standards have been extracted specifically because they apply equally to genealogical research. The first of these two standards requires the submission and review of research by other researchers. Periodic peer review, when submitting case studies to journals or submitting work products to the Board for the Certification of Genealogists, is vital to maintaining your own standards. It allows other skilled researchers to provide input and advise into the research that you are conducting, providing a unique learning experience. The second of these standards demands a consistent, industry-accepted format for all reporting and documentation. This has been addressed within this column previously in parts one, two, and three of “Source Citations: Why Form Matters.”

For further reference, read:

National Park Service. NPS- 28: Cultural Resource Management Guideline. Electronic publication. : 1998.

Chapter Two: Research.


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