Certified, yes; certifiable… well…

The making of a Certified Genealogist

Prehistoric times – end of 2009. Maybe I’ll go for certification someday. When I get a round tuit. And since nobody sells a round tuit, at least not one in my choice of styles and colors, I have plenty of time.

Early 2010. Write a case study to get into Elizabeth Shown Mills’ Advanced Methodology and Analysis course at the Institute of Genealogy & Historical Research (IGHR) at Samford University. Wonder of wonders, get accepted into course.

June 11-15, 2010. Take the course. Get a gold star certificate (meaning I didn’t flub it entirely).

Board for Certification of Genealogists®

June 20, 2010. Get offered a Walter Lee Sheppard, Jr., prize, which underwrites the costs of applying for certification by the Board for Certification of Genealogists.® The deal: file the initial application within six months of accepting the award and the final portfolio within the next year. Hey, I’m a gold star prizewinner! Sure! I can do this!

June 21, 2010. Take a careful look at the BCG requirements. Document transcription, analysis, research plans. Case study. Kinship determination project (KDP) (full discussion of three generations in one family including two kinship proof arguments). Client report. I don’t even take clients yet. I’m doomed.

June 22, 2010. Realize case study for the IGHR course can be used as portfolio case study. Can ask an in-law or friend to be client. Decide if I stall on the initial application until the very last day, I have 18 months to do this. I can do this. Sure, I can! Well… maybe.

July 2010. Start trying to figure out who I’m going to get to be client to do client report for.

August 2010. Start thinking about a family to write about for the KDP.

September 2010. Start panicking since I haven’t got a client and can’t make up my mind about what family to do for the KDP. Go into usual “when in trouble or in doubt, run in circles, scream and shout” mode.

October-December 2010. Make up my mind daily on who to ask to be a client and what to do for the KDP. Change mind daily. Usually more than once.

December 2010. Carefully complete initial application, take it to Post Office and put it in the mail on the last possible day to comply with the terms of award. YIKES! What was 18 months is now 12 months. I’ll never finish on time. I’m doomed!

January 2011. Discover BCG never got initial application. Panic (“when in trouble or in doubt…”). Breathe deeply. Send PDF of application. Okay. All is well. Except I still don’t have a client and can’t decide on the KDP.

February 2011. Get email from BCG, my original initial application was received. Only clue as to its whereabouts since December: a “received” stamp… at the U.S. Department of Justice mailroom. Uh oh… Make final decision to do both client report and KDP on my brother-in-law’s parents’ lines. Which line for which part of portfolio, I have no clue.

March 2011. Document work. Somebody tell me why I picked a four-page document instead of a short one. Change mind on which line is client report and which is KDP. And change again. And again. And again.

April-June 2011. Settle on client report and family for KDP. Run around the east coast like a lunatic gathering records and taking photographs. Almost get shot by property owner getting photo of Civil War tombstone in cemetery on private property. Wonder why I decided this was a good idea anyway. Decide I’m not sure I even like my brother-in-law any more.

June 2011. Finish client report. Brother-in-law likes it. Decide BCG judges will hate it. Too late now. Got to get KDP research done.

July 2011. Finish KDP research. Wish I could rewrite client report. And document work. And even case study which has already been published.

August-September 2011. Start writing KDP final version. And rewriting. And re-rewriting. Conclude that it’s never getting any better, time to wrap it up.

October 2011. Print entire portfolio on three-ring-hole-punched paper. Package it up and send it off. Return home, read what I sent in, spot every typo I missed, every mistake I made. I’m doomed.

November 2011-January 2012. Conclude that every single word I wrote was total crap and the portfolio will be sent back without a single judge voting in favor of certification and an express suggestion that I take up basketweaving.

February 2012. Hyperventilate each time anyone utters the phrase “have you heard from…” in my presence, even if last part of question is “… your brother lately?”

February 24, 2012. Glance at e-mail account on cellphone. Word “Congratulations” appears. Sender: BCG. Freeze. Stop breathing. Summon courage to peek at email. “Congratulations and welcome! I am delighted to be able to tell you that you are Certified Genealogist no. 1026, effective 24 February 2012.”

February 25, 2012. Start looking at recertification requirements.

I’m doomed…

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90 Responses to Certified, yes; certifiable… well…

  1. Dave says:

    Hey, Judy…I think I know why you got the DoJ stamp…

    The branch for the Board’s PO Box is in the DoJ HQ on Pennsylvania Avenue.

    What was once lost is now found, with a “CG” attached! Congratulations on a job well done.

    • Judy G. Russell says:

      Thanks, Dave! (And I hope you’re right about that DOJ stamp. Now… about the black helicopter hovering overhead…)

  2. Congratulations, Judith! This is hysterical and at the same time made my palms sweaty all over again. You really are amazing to have done your KDP that quickly! Take your experience, remove the stellar jump start, add about 5 years of indecision about which people to use for what and it’s my experience, too. Thanks for making me remember!

    • Judy G. Russell says:

      Polly, thank you so much! And don’t be amazed: I didn’t have a choice! There was no way in God’s green earth I was going to stand in front of Elizabeth Shown Mills and the benefactor of the Sheppard Prize and tell ‘em I had failed! I mean, really… what a motivator!

  3. Judy, it absolutely wasn’t a question of whether you could do it, just when! I’m so happy for you! Certification is a wonderful achievement :)

  4. Candace WIlmot says:


  5. Leslie Lawson says:

    Congratulations! Way to go! I so appreciate your humor in this, thank you for sharing yourself the way you do.
    Outstanding accomplishment!

  6. J. Mark Lowe says:

    Your timeline is not only humorous, but helpful to those who might follow your path. Thanks for sharing your experience. Congratulations on your new perspective and good luck on your renewal.


    • Judy G. Russell says:

      Thanks for the kind words, Mark (and for the luck — I may need it!). I’m honored to be following in footsteps of folks such as yourself who’ve done this — repeatedly — before!

  7. Congratulations, Judy! What a pride-worthy accomplishment!!

  8. MarthaF says:

    Judy, I think you left out a point on Feb. 24, after the e-mail message – but I’m not quite sure what it was: “Fall on floor in disbelief”? “Laugh myself silly”? “Try to find and re-attach all the hair I’ve torn out”? ???

    I’ll add my “congratulations” to theirs!


    • Judy G. Russell says:

      I didn’t have a chance to do all of those things, Martha! I was too busy trying to breathe!

      Thanks for the congratulations!

  9. Warren Geissler says:

    Hey, can you help me out with sumptin? My wife is my sister AND my mother. What’s that gonna do to my family tree? I dunno what to call my son. Is it brother, cousin, or what? All this here genereol…ginorology…dang it, family hisstury stuff is messing with my haid!

  10. Tanya says:

    Judy, what a long a winding road you’ve been on! Thanks for the insight on what it takes to be “certified”. Congratulations!

  11. Certainly better than the “the fourth judge we called in didn’t think you were quite ready either” letter I got a few years ago… Thanks, so much, for sharing your experience. There was never a doubt in my mind that you would get it! ;-)

    • Judy G. Russell says:

      Thanks so much, Bill! It’s so hard to know when you’re really ready to try for certification. I was so amazingly fortunate to have Elizabeth Shown Mills telling me she thought I was. And so grateful I was able to prove her right.

  12. Celia Lewis says:

    I’m taking heart… not ready yet but moving in that direction, and learning all I can as I go. Thanks once more for a very honest and humourous replay of your 18 months of quivering with self-doubt! Cheers!!

  13. Congratulations!
    I was bowled over by your post’s ending. I was more nervous about REcertification than the original (too dumb to know better at that time.) In all had to relive some of my tense moments “on the clock.”
    Also, thanks for this great blog.

    • Judy G. Russell says:

      Thanks, Jean… but oh my… I’m sorry you sweated so much over recertification! Sigh… I suppose I can always hope I get hit by a bus some time in the next five years!

  14. Kathy Purdy says:


  15. Michael Hait says:

    I know I was one of the people who has driven you crazy with the “Have you heard from…” questions. Congratulations, and exhale!!

    Now imagine going to IGHR after submitting but before hearing back…. :)

    • Judy G. Russell says:

      Thanks, Michael!

      And I sure can imagine IGHR after submitting but before hearing back. (shudder) After all, my imagination had me going to IGHR after submitting and after being told I hadn’t made it! Talk about nightmares!!!

  16. Pat Morgan says:

    Congratulations! Your experience reminded me of that saying – “That which does not kill us makes us stronger” Thank you for sharing your story!

    • Judy G. Russell says:

      Thanks, Pat! I have to say the adage is correct. And in the “that which does not kill us” department, I keep reminding myself that at least the cemetery property owner didn’t shoot me!

  17. Barbara Schenck says:

    COngratulations! I have an inkling of how hard you worked, and I’m so pleased that it all paid off. I’m sure the view from the CG mountaintop is spectacular.

  18. Congratulations! And what a great write-up too!

  19. Nikki LaRue says:

    Wow, what a timeline! That matches up pretty well with what I was envisioning the process would be like. Yikes! Big congratulations to you on your accomplishment!

    • Judy G. Russell says:

      Thanks, Nikki! I think most people would find the 18 months to be what’s needed — some may take a little less, some a little more. It’s getting to the point where you can do it in 18 months that takes the most time!

      • Michael Hait says:

        I had all of the KDP research finished before I submitted my preliminary application – it still took me the full year, plus another one-year extension (2 full years) and I sent in my application Priority Mail on the day before the deadline. It seems there’s always more to be done, and it’s never ready!

  20. Congratulations, Judy! I so appreciate your honest recap of all the indecision, self-doubt, and hard work that went into the application process. It gives me some hope that one day I might be able to climb that mountain, too. Well done!

    • Judy G. Russell says:

      Thanks, Shelley, and believe me: if I can do it, you can do it. Climb that mountain! As my friend Barbara Schenck says, the view from up here is terrific!

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  22. Congratulations Judy! Nice to see a down-to-earth post about certification. It’s really inspired me to move in that direction myself.

  23. Nan Harvey says:

    Congratulations, Judy! That’s a path I’ve thought might be in my future and it’s nice to see a down to earth account of the process told with your wonderful sense of humor.

  24. Sheri Fenley says:

    Judy Dahling! This is wonderful news! Congratulations! Must go – The “tick, tick, tick” pounding in my head is deafening.

  25. Melinda Henningfield says:

    What a wonderful story. Congratulations!!

  26. Jill Morelli says:

    First congratulations! Your timeline gave me hope. I have been blogging about the process of certification and it has had several of the same fits and starts you describe. I most recently wrapped up my first (and only) client report and deemed it not right for BCG. I have started over. Good news? My transcription is only one page. :-) . Thanks.

    • Judy G. Russell says:

      Thank you! And Jill, you’ll do fine. Just found your blog, and have signed up to follow your adventure and cheer you on!

  27. WOW! Congrats to you, but I must say Wow! Again. I pray when I get to the road I must travel, there will be hope for me. Thank you for sharing your journey to us newbies. ;-)

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  29. Greetings Judy!
    So glad you weren’t able to find some one who sold a round tuit, and that you decide to getuit instead. Congratulations on your certification! Thanks for sharing with us your worries, procrastinations, doubts and successes with us.
    ~ Kathryn

  30. Congratulations, Judy!!!

  31. Congratulations, Judy – what a terrific accomplishment! And if you have a round tuit to spare, I could sure use one!

  32. Karen Mauer Green says:

    Congratulations, Judy, and thanks for the trip down memory lane! I’m #1013 and heard this time last year (2-23-11 actually), exactly the way you did. I checked email on phone, saw “Congratulations!” My first thought was that it must be spam, someone congratulating me on being chosen at random for some promotional deal. Then the sharp intake of breath when I saw the sender was BCG. I think I read the email about 10 times before I finally told anyone, just making sure I wasn’t misunderstanding!

    Many congratulations!

    • Judy G. Russell says:

      Thanks, Karen! And I’m so glad I’m not the only one who read, and re-read, and re-re-read, the email… And then read it again. And printed it out. And…

  33. Nancy A. Peters says:

    Congratulations, Judy!!! You’ve captured the intensity of the experience in such a hilarious way.
    Well done!

    • Judy G. Russell says:

      Thanks, Nancy! The whole experience is one that leaves you teetering between hilarity and horror. Sometimes both at the same time! But oh… what a payoff at the end…

  34. Sandi Hewlett says:

    Congratulations, Judy! Loved your blog about the certification process—even after 10 years, I can relate to every word! Thanks for making me laugh about it all. Now, back to thinking about my recertification, due in 2016…yikes!

  35. Malissa Ruffner says:

    Very inspiring, Judy! I think I actually feel the fire lit under my seat.

  36. Congratulations, Judy! Your blog about the certification process is right on. I know just how you feel. My recertification is due in 2013…

  37. Julie Tarr says:

    Congrats! Still haven’t figured out what I’m going to do, nor sent in my app, but I’m strangely encouraged by your post!

    • Judy G. Russell says:

      “strangely encouraged”

      Well, you have to be a little strange to put yourself through this process, but oh yeah… I want to encourage you and anybody else who really wants to put skills to the test. It is soooooo worthwhile.

  38. Carolyn Ybarra says:

    Very fun account! Congratulations on your achievement. Don’t forget to go out and celebrate, before you move on to the next thing.

  39. Warren Bittner says:

    Judy Congrats!
    I almost got thrown out of the Family History Library today for laughing too loudly as I read your timeline. How true your descriptions are to the ordeal. But well worth it.
    Well done!

    • Judy G. Russell says:

      Thanks so much, Warren! It is well worth it! But did the letter of congratulations HAVE to give me a deadline for my recertification portfolio already???

  40. Brenda says:

    Welcome and congratulations on your CG. And a wonderful, certifiable blog!

  41. Randy Clark says:

    Did you say that you needed one of these?

    • Judy G. Russell says:

      Laughing out loud at that one, Randy, and thanking heavens I don’t need it now! But hey… I’ll be happy to loan that one to anybody else who’s thinking about certification!

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  43. Love this! I hadn’t seen it before. And I feel your pain. Need to get my butt into gear here. :-(

    • Judy G. Russell says:

      So… get a move on, my friend! You can do it! And I want to see a LOT of new folks with those CG initials after their names!

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