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Why recertify?

Yesterday, The Legal Genealogist mentioned that this week is a research week at the Family History Library focused on one task.

I am due to recertify — to renew my credential of Certified Genealogist® from the Board for Certification of Genealogists® — a task all board-certified genealogists face every five years.

And that prompted a question from reader Joanne Shirey Malene.

“I really admire your commitment to this,” she wrote, in a far-too-kind message on Facebook. “You are everywhere – writing, speaking, producing videos, ….and yet even with your academic and professional credentials, you still have to prove your worth.”

And then she continued:

I hesitate to say something is wrong with the system, but inside I am asking why you, of all people, need or have to do this? Please, I am not criticizing you at all or anyone else who does this – but you have been certified once already – do they (this board) assume once you are certified, you quit acting like a professional genealogist?

What a great question! And one to which I’m happy to offer my own unofficial not-speaking-for-the-Board answer.

Continuing educationIt’s simply that things change.

And I for one need the kick in the butt that recertification provides to make sure I keep up with those changes.

Think back to when I was first certified, just a little less than five years ago. How many people in the genealogical community had even heard of autosomal DNA testing then? Even today, it’s the new kid on the block. My lecture on Beyond X and Y: The Promise and Pitfalls of Autosomal DNA is still one of the most often requested; it’s one that I’ll be giving this Saturday at the annual seminar of the Ventura County Genealogical Society at the Camarillo Public Library. The very first autosomal tests for genealogy weren’t offered even for beta testing until 2009; they weren’t widely available until 2010 and the databases are just starting to reach the size how where most people will find a decent match if they test.

Think back to the research options we had 10 years ago. How many of us then could log in to a half-dozen different major record repositories and access wide varieties of records at 3 a.m. In our jammies and bunny slippers? Maybe we all knew about Ancestry then — but how many of us had explored the full range of options? Find My Past. MyHeritage. FamilySearch. The National Archives. The Library of Congress. State archives like the Library of Virginia and Digital Missouri. Local archives like the New York City Municipal Archives.

Think back even to the record access systems we were using 15 or 20 years ago. How many of us had to use and understand Soundex just to have a fighting chance to locate our target people on a census record? When was the last time you used fiche?

Think back to how we learned about all of these things. And think of the first time we all realized we could learn about genealogy from an expert in the field, with an opportunity to ask questions, and do it from our homes through a webinar or other interactive system.

Wow… have things ever changed!

So… How do we ensure that today’s genealogists stay up with those changes? How do we ensure that we think about DNA testing and what it can offer to finding the answers to some genealogical questions? How do we encourage ourselves to explore the wide variety of records available out there? And explore the many options for finding and accessing those records? How do we ensure that all of us who are busy and active still keep learning?

Me, I need that kick in the butt — the need to prove to my peers that I’m continuing my education, expanding my horizons, keeping abreast of developments.

I’m going to need to demonstrate, in my recertification portfolio, that the work samples I select continue to meet the Genealogical Proof Standard, yes. I need to show that I’m engaging in reasonably exhaustive research, citing my sources fully and accurately, analyzing and correlating the data found in my research, resolving conflicts and, finally, writing it all up and supporting my sound conclusion.

But perhaps even more importantly I’m going to need to demonstrate that I’m meeting Standards 82 and 83:

82. Development goals. Genealogists improve and update their (a) attainment of genealogical standards, (b) knowledge of genealogically useful materials and contexts, (c) skills in reconstructing unknown or forgotten relationships, families, people, groups, and events, and (d) abilities to present their findings to others.1

83. Regular engagement. Genealogists engage in formal or informal development activities, or both, on an ongoing basis:

• Formal development activities include attending conference, seminar, and workshop presentations in person or via electronic media; participating in classroom-based or online courses of study; and engaging in virtual or in-person structured study groups, webinars, and similar venues. Development activities via electronic media may occur either when the event is live or afterward; participation with others may be in real time or asynchronous.

• Informal development activities include conducting genealogical research of increasing difficulty, consulting with advanced practitioners, critiquing other genealogists’ work, mentoring or teaching genealogists, studying the field’s peer-reviewed research journals, and subjecting written materials to expert critiques.2

I have to show that I’m keeping up with those changes — that I’m not getting fat and lazy.3

Recertification on a regular basis ensures that I stay up with developments and that I’m continuing to work to the highest standards of our field. It’s a bit nervewracking, yes, but it’s the best incentive I can think of to keep my skills up and not sit back and let changes pass me by unnoticed.


  1. Board for Certification of Genealogists, Genealogy Standards (Nashville, Tenn. : Ancestry, 2014), 43.
  2. Ibid., 43-44.
  3. Okay, not lazy. Be nice, willya?
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