Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Why Ambitious Genealogists Need Credentials

Few of us know exactly what we don't know. And few of us have the right sort of friends, mentors, and teachers -- those who will tell us! That's what the credentialing programs offered by ICAPGen (accreditation) and the Board for the Certification of Genealogists (certification, my choice) do.

Nobody needs a credential in order to be a good or great genealogy researcher. But until we try to meet those standards, we don't know how good we really are. There are plenty of people who will pat us on the back and say, “It's fine,” whether it is or not.

I always knew I wanted a credential. I was impressed that BCG's is entirely performance-based. Attendance at conferences, institutes, or universities may help you learn but is not required. Degrees and attendance records don't count. Being good in class or talking a good game doesn't count. How you actually research and report is all that matters.

Many people will express skepticism about having "letters after their name." Some have encountered or heard of credentialed people who made mistakes. But that's a straw man: no one ever claimed that being certified or accredited would make you infallible! Ideally, we don't make as many as we used to, and we learn from the ones we do make.

Others say, "Well, I think I'm pretty good and all my friends and clients say so, I don't need it." The first part may well be true, but the second part does not follow. It takes a staunch friend to point out that your citations are inconsistent and your lectures wander. The judges upholding the value of CG or AG designations aren't under the obligations of friendship.

And frankly, we've all had the experience of thinking we were pretty good when we weren't. I submitted an entry to the NGS writing contest a few years back. It was a lot of work; it chronicled a large family -- and it contained close to zero citations to either property or probate records. Needless to say, it didn't win, and one of the judges explained that was one reason why. 

Later on, I tried for certification twice and recently succeeded the second time. Tomorrow, a few thoughts on what worked and what didn't.

Harold Henderson, "Why Ambitious Genealogists Need Credentials," Midwestern Microhistory: A Genealogy Blog, posted 14 August 2012 (http://midwesternmicrohistory.blogspot.com : accessed [access date]). [Please feel free to link to the specific post if you prefer.]

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