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]).

27 thoughts on “How Not to Become Certified, part one

  1. Michael

    Thank you so much for the article. I have not submitted my first application as I guess I am a little overwhelmed with – thank you for the honesty and have learned from your example

  2. Great post. I was on the fence about seeking certification until just recently. Now plan to pursue it after ProGen ends in April 2012. I look forward to reading your future posts so I can learn from them. One of my big fears is submitting and failing. But I know at this moment I’m not ready to begin.

  3. Thank you, Thank you, Thank you! I wish more CG’s and AG’s would talk about their experience with certification or accreditation – especially those who were unsuccessful the first time around.

    For those of us who want to become certified but are petrified of the process, hearing about others experience makes it a little less scary and intimidating.

    • Dear Petrified Sheri (who does a fantatic job of laughing off all of life’s other frights):

      Do tell us, exactly, what turns you to stone at the thought of the process.

      – Is someone going to take away your license to do genealogy if you don’t pass? (Nope. Our field doesn’t require licenses anyway.)

      – Are you a realist who knows your work won’t be perfect? (You’re right. Perfection doesn’t exist and portfolio evaluators don’t expect it.)

      – Would you rather that, if you do not pass, the world not know it? (That’s easy to solve. Just don’t tell anybody you’re applying. Your three evaluators certainly can’t tell!)

      – Do you suspect that, if you did not pass, it would be held against you in some future effort? (No, it won’t. Michael Jordan failed to make his high school basketball team. And one BCG past-president, who has earned numerous accolades in the field, did not pass certification at first try.)

      You’re an avid learner, Sheri. Instead of thinking of the portfolio prep as a testing process, think of it as another *learning experience.* (Which it is. Michael has just made that point.)

      You’ve already invested much in the educational process at institutes and conferences. Some of those institute courses involve homework or projects, in which you apply what you learned in class and then you get instructor feedback.

      Submitting a certification portfolio is just another project. You apply what you have learned to the creation of your portfolio. In that process—as you develop reports, case studies, and proof arguments—that practice will sharpen your skills. Once you’re done, three of the top genealogists in the country each give you, on average, one to three days of their time in a careful study of your work and preparation of your personal feedback. (So, where else can you get that kind of education for a measely $270? 🙂

      • I have chosen to echo the comments of Elizabeth as my way of thanking Michael for this post. Preparing the portfolio for certification is a great experience. I did much better than I expected to on my first try; and I was certainly unprepared (even less than Michael was in 2007, as described – though we each have our strengths and weaknesses. Note: it took me three tries to pass the CPA exam, in another life; in yet another life, it took me three approaches to finally earn my Ph.D., which was followed by an exemplary fifteen year as a university professor. Now retired, I enjoy watching other approach these challenges and trying to be encouraging, in any way I can.
        While being well prepared is very important, it should not be an excuse for not applying..

  4. Michael, Thanks for sharing. I have not started the clock. Fear is a roadblock I just hope to work through. I am working on my KDP. I’m continually unsure how much of the story in told in a paragraph, and how many footnotes to use. Use them at all? Or put everything in the story? (Although that would be some poor reading, IMO. Items such as a pension record citation in the paragraph just doesn’t seem right.)
    I’ll be following your story.

    • >I’m continually unsure how much of the story [is] told in a paragraph and how many footnotes to use. Use them at all? Or put everything n the story?

      Leslie, as a genealogist you can wipe out most of your uncertainties by replacing the concept of *foot* notes with *reference* notes. When you need to i.d. your source (i.e., your “reference”), put that i.d. in your reference notes. When you’re developing the lives of your people or developing your evidence, your discussion goes in your narrative.

  5. Congratulations not only on your now successful certification status, but also for viewing the initial judges’ remarks as a positive learning step forward. Sharing your reflections will be of great value to others.

  6. Thank-you for sharing this experience. I hope to apply for certification at some point in the future. Information such as this is invaluable.

  7. Pingback: How Not to Become Certified, part two « Planting the Seeds

  8. Michael,

    First, A Stand up Congrats for a much deserved Certification!! I know this has been a goal and what a great achievement after all the work that goes into the process itself.

    Second, thank you for being so honest about the process and telling the lessons that you have learned along the way. Those of us who hope to reach that pinnacle some day are much in appreciation.

    Third, I wanted to take this moment to tell you how much I am enjoying this new blog of yours. Why, I even am learning that I need to go back and read the comments afterwards! After all, ……if Michael Jordan can overcome his defeat, surely to God I can overcome mine!!!

    Again,, Congrats!!


  9. First, let me say congradulations to you on a job well done getting your certification. I have enjoyed your blogs and what you have contributed to the genealogy world. I too got turned down by the BCG. Since then, I have obtained my BA and MBA in the five years following. I have also attended MANY confrences, instituts, and what ever I could to better myself. I am sure you will agree that what came out of getting turned down was an education in itself. It takes a consumate professional to share the initial failure publicly and I have a huge respect for you. Your sharing will help others realize there are so many people to help and mentor just for the asking.

  10. Michael,
    I join everyone in congratulating you AND in sharing these valuable insights. I have shared your thoughts with the ProGen class I’m now working with, and referred them to your blog. Your candor is so very helpful! Again, many, many thanks!


  11. Michael,

    Thank you so much for sharing your genealogical journey. I had purchased my BCG packet many years ago at the NGS Conference in Pittsburgh. Due to circumstances of life (going from a stay-at-home mom to working 50+ hours per week), I fell short of my goal to submit my portfolio before my 50th birthday.

    I believe that may have been a good thing since I was able to participate in ProGen where I learned so much about the research process and it also exposed some of my weaknesses. I have set a new goal for submission and hopefully I will be able to meet that one.

    I have looked over many portfolios at conferences which helped me to understand the requirements better, but your blog has given me additional information about the journey itself as well as a boost of confidence. Thank you!


  12. Michael,
    I join everyone in Congratulating you on your Certification. I also want to repeat the same sentiment of thanking you for sharing your journey. I too have been worried if I have what it takes to “submit a successful portfolio”. After reading your blog and the comments posted, I feel like I might just be able to do this, maybe after at least one extension… Thank you again.


  13. Pingback: So, are you ready for certification? « Planting the Seeds

  14. I’m still on the fence but I think it’s pride now holding me there. Thanks Michael for sharing that even if the outcome is not a positive one, you won’t be featured on the wall of fame. And it is nice to see Elizabeth Shown Mills response to Sheri reminding us that the judging is confidential. Now where do I buy a bucket of confidence? I’m thinking Samford U?

  15. I’m still on the fence but I think it’s pride now holding me there. Thanks Michael for sharing that even if the outcome is not a positive one, you won’t be featured on the wall of shame. And it is nice to see Elizabeth Shown Mills response to Sheri reminding us that the judging is confidential. Now where do I buy a bucket of confidence? I’m thinking Samford U

  16. Congratulations and thank you for willingness to share some of your experience with the process. I had begun my formal work on the process when I learned in the newsletter that persons who were not doing work for pay for others would no longer be considered for certification. Even so, the preparation was a learning experience. As you suggest, applicants should expect to learn and benefit through it.

    • Where did you hear that “person who were not doing work for pay for others would no longer be considered for certification”? That is not true at all. There is no requirement whatsoever that one has to be a paid professional genealogist, and, in fact, there are quite a few Board-certified genealogists who are not. There is a requirement to write a client research report, but it does not specify that it has to be “for pay.” I know several non-professional genealogists who have created a research report for friends without charge to fulfill this requirement.

      • I do not doubt that current provisions differ from those of 10-15 years ago and further back. I stopped following rules changes.

      • Jade, you are right that certification requirements periodically change, to keep abreast of rising standards and expanding skills. I’ve been certified since January 1976 and have periodically been an officer or trustee since 1984. Within that time frame, BCG has never had a policy that those “not doing work for pay for others would no longer be considered.” Throughout these years, the number of those who do not accept clients have typically ranged from 15-20 percent.

        All sorts of rumors do abound, regarding BCG requirements and the expectations of those who evaluate portfolios. These can be easily checked online.

        For the application guide:

        For the rubrics against which portfolios are evaluated:

        Click to access BCGNewAppRubricsDec2010.pdf

  17. Pingback: Motivation Monday – Going for Certification | Family History Research

  18. Wow! Thank you for the wake-up call before I even get started at taking an online course so that I can eventually get certified. Your fear of not sharing your failure and then your success, will help many as I feel is going to help me right now. Now I know what to expect and will be cognizant of it.

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