Saturday, February 6, 2016

SLIG: Intermediate U.S. Records and Research, Part II

Over the next few weeks I will be posting reviews of the courses offered at the Salt Lake Institute of Genealogy. I am excited to feature guest authors, as friends who attended each course share their perspective on the institute and the education they received.

SLIG: Intermediate U.S. Records and Research, Part II
by Anne Irvine Savo

As part of my ProGen study group, I created an education plan and set goals for myself to build my career as a professional genealogist. One of the goals was to attend at least one institute each year. After looking into SLIG, GRIP, and IGHR, I decided that SLIG was the best choice for me. SLIG offered several courses I was interested in, was held at a time of year that was convenient for me, and had the added benefit of being in Salt Lake City, close to the Family History Library. 

Since this was my first institute, I was unsure of my skill level and felt an intermediate level course would be a good place to start. I chose the U.S. Records and Research course, hoping to expand my knowledge of resources in areas where I hadn’t done much work before. My personal research has been concentrated in Pennsylvania, Scotland, and Germany. As a researcher based in Connecticut, I have experience with New England records, but that still leaves an awful of country left to cover. While this course is the second part of a two-part course, either section can be taken first.

Our instructors were Paula Stuart-Warren, Josh Taylor, and Debbie Mieszala. Some of the topics we covered were: Clustering and Maximizing Online Searches; Twentieth- and Twenty-First-Century Research; Census Records–Beyond the Basics: Non-Population and Special Schedules; Passport Applications; Lessons and Hints from Public Directories; and Finding Family Gems in Manuscript Repositories and Special Collections. We spent time in the computer lab at the Family History Library exploring some of the online resources we learned about in our lectures. We also had opportunities to bring our own research problems and discuss them with our instructors in a one-on-one consultation.

But it we didn’t just learn from our instructors. When an unusual record was used as an example, a classmate gave the class an introduction to the history of Eclectic Medicine. In addition to our lectures, the class divided up for a group project, which gave us a good chance to get know our classmates and learn from them as well as our instructors. Each of us brought a different skill set and approach to the task. Each group was allowed to choose the direction of their project, and on our last day, we regrouped to discuss our findings.

SLIG also offers several evening events. Sunday night there was a welcome reception with door prizes and light refreshments. On Monday, David McDonald gave an excellent plenary talk and had us all “Thinking Genealogically.” Wednesday was SLIG Night at the FHL. Participants could sign up for consultations or attend lectures, or just gather with other attendees for research and collaboration. All of these are included with your registration fee. Also included with your fee was the Friday night banquet, which featured a moving talk, “Suffer the Little Children,” by keynote speaker Judy Russell. I was excited to win one of the prizes at the banquet, a free course from the Virtual Institute of Genealogical Research (VIGR). I’m looking forward to expanding my education plan with this unexpected opportunity. And, of course, another highlight on Friday is the announcement of the course lineup for the following year. Overall, it was a great experience and I can’t wait to go back next year!
* * * * * * *

Anne Irvine Savo is a Connecticut-based genealogist and lineage society junkie. She holds an MA in history from the University of St Andrews in Scotland. She’s currently enrolled in ProGen 26, and is a member of the Association for Professional Genealogists. This was her first SLIG, but it won’t be her last!

Monday, February 1, 2016

Conducting Reasonably Exhaustive Research

This is part of my ongoing series on Educational Preparation for BCG Certification. It is not limited to those interested in certification, but provides ideas for any interested genealogist. There are links to the other articles in this series at the bottom of this post.

GPS Element #1: Conducting Reasonably Exhaustive Research

To understand “reasonably exhaustive research” you may want to study what that phrase means, and all the record types it includes.

Informal study options:

1. Study chapter 3 on “GPS Element 1: Thorough Research” in Mastering Genealogical Proof by Thomas W. Jones (Arlington, VA: National Genealogical Society, 2013).  
  • Note that “six criteria help us temper the exhaustive search to make it reasonable.” (pages 23-26).
  • Don’t miss table 1 on page 25 that covers “Suggestions for Identifying Sources to Answer Genealogical Questions.”
2. Read and study The Researcher’s Guide to American Genealogy by Val D. Greenwood, 3rd edition (Baltimore: Genealogical Publishing Co., 2000). You may have already done this early in your genealogy education, but it is an excellent textbook on the basic sources genealogists use. It deserves a fresh reading every year or two. If there are any records mentioned that you do not have personal experience researching, then get to a local repository or archive and spend some serious time with the records.

Another reason to study this book:
The Board for Certification of Genealogists uses rubrics to judge the seven elements of the application portfolio. The rubric RR2 on page 3 reads:

“Research covered commonly used sources relevant to the problem and extended to those that might illuminate or challenge other findings in the time allowed; and it proceeded in a logical sequence.2

            The footnote #2 states: “‘Commonly used sources’ are defined here as those addressed by
            chapter titles in part 2 of Val D. Greenwood, The Researcher’s Guide to American 
            Genealogy, 3rd edition (Baltimore: Genealogical Publishing Co., 2000).”

You will want to be familiar with, and have experience working with, all the record types that will be included in the evaluation process. Note that the rubric specifies "sources relevant to the problem." You will use your knowledge and experience to determine which sources are relevant to your specific research question. 

3. Read the following articles by Judy Kellar Fox on SpringBoard, the BCG blog:

            Are You Searching or Researching?
4. Read the following articles by Elizabeth Shown Mills on QuickTips, the blog at Evidence

            Reasonably Exhaustive Research: Quantity or Quality?

Formal study options:

5. Michael Hait, CG presented a webinar on “What is a ‘Reasonably Exhaustive Search?” for Legacy Family Tree Webinars. Since this presentation was given BCG has changed the first element of the GPS to be reasonably exhaustive “research” rather than “search.” The recorded version and handout are available to Legacy Family Tree Webinar subscribers at

6. To hear an example of reasonably exhaustive research in a case study, you may want to order a CD of the lecture Reasonably Exhaustive Research: An Immigrant Case Study by F. Warren Bittner, CG, given at the FGS national conference in 2012.  

7. In the past many students took the NGS American Genealogy course (home-study or on CD) to gain experience working with a wide range of genealogical sources. This course is being replaced by a new series of online courses, American Genealogical Studies. This series looks good, but is not yet complete and so does not cover all the records types necessary for reasonably exhaustive research.

There are other courses available, and I would recommend evaluating courses by the thoroughness in the types of records they cover, and if they have assignments to work with records in repositories and archives. Hands-on experience with the records is a better teacher than just reading about each type of record.

8. If you enjoy in-person instruction then I would recommend an intermediate genealogy course at a genealogy institute. These courses generally cover all the records needed to conduct reasonably exhaustive research, and also include some sessions on methodology. Here are some options available in 2016:
  • Intermediate Genealogy course at the Genealogical Research Institute of Pittsburgh (GRIP) 2016 -- Paula Stuart Warren, CG (coordinator)                               

These are just ideas for you to add to your individual education plan as you choose. They are NOT meant to be a checklist where you have to read/study/participate in every option. 

Monday, January 25, 2016

Studying the Genealogical Proof Standard

I am going to start my new series on "Educational Preparation for BCG Certification" by saying that these posts are not just for those interested in certification. Anyone who wants to learn about becoming a better genealogist could benefit.

For the past ten years I have focused on educating  myself in the field of genealogy. It is a fascinating field where there is always more to learn. In this series we will explore all kinds of educational options, from self-study to webinars to genealogy institutes, and everything in between.

We will start with the Genealogical Proof Standard (GPS), and then address each element of the GPS and the certification portfolio in future posts.

The Genealogical Proof Standard, as described on the Board for Certification of Genealogists website, consists of five elements:
  • reasonably exhaustive research;
  • complete, accurate citations to the source or sources of each information item;
  • tests—through processes of analysis and correlation—of all sources, information items, and evidence;
  • resolution of conflicts among evidence items; and
  • a soundly reasoned, coherently written conclusion.
This blog post focus on options for studying the GPS as a whole.

Informal study options:

1. Study how each element of the GPS contributes to the credibility of a conclusion on the Board for Certification of Genealogists website.

2. Study Mastering Genealogical Proof by Thomas W. Jones (Arlington, VA: National Genealogical Socitey, 2013). When I say study, that is what I mean. This is not a book that you just read. It is a book that you read, ponder, discuss, and complete all of the exercises provided. This is one of the best educational options available, and all for $30.00 and a dedication of time. Tom Jones provides practical exercises for understanding and applying each of the elements of the GPS. Get out your highlighter, star the key concepts in each chapter, and challenge yourself to complete each and every one of the exercises.

The paperback book is available from the National Genealogical Society or Amazon, and the Kindle version is available here.

3. Study the book Genealogy Standards produced by the Board for Certification of Genealogists (Provo, Utah: Ancestry, 2014). Again, I do not mean just read the book. This one also requires study. This book is essentially a collection of best practices in the field of genealogy. You may need to look up terms in the glossary in the back of the book, as definitions may be slightly different than those used in other fields. You may choose to evaluate your own research process, and add or refine steps as described in the standards. If you apply for certification these are the standards you will be judged by, so be sure you understand each of them, and incorporate them into your work habits.

For further study consider the following:

4. Read Genealogical Proof Standard: Building a Solid Case by Christine Rose, 4th edition revised (San Jose, California: CR Publications, 2014). Available from CR Publications.  

5. Read Genealogical Standards of Evidence: A Guide for Family Historians by Brenda Dougall Merriman (Toronto, Canada: Dundurn Press, 2010). Available on Amazon.

6. Listen to an interview with Christine Rose on the Genealogical Proof Standard in the Learning Center at

7. Read the article “The Genealogical Proof Standard: How Simple Can It Be?” by Thomas W. Jones from OnBoard, 16 (September 2010). 

8. Listen to “The Genealogical Proof Standard: What It Is and What It Is Not,” a lecture presented by Thomas W. Jones at the 2011 Federation of Genealogical Societies Conference, in Springfield, Illinois. The recording is available through Fleetwood Onsite Conference Recording.

Formal study options:

9. If you would like to study the concepts in Mastering Genealogical Proof  with others, then consider joining a GenProof Study Group. These groups study the book chapter by chapter and then meet online to discuss the concepts and exercises. See more information at  GenProof Study Groups or to get on the waiting list for a future group.

10. Another option is to watch the recorded version of Dear Myrtle's "Mastering Genealogical Proof Study Group" archived on YouTube. Here are the links for MGP1 (2013) and MGP2 (2014). 

11. In 2015 Thomas W. Jones taught a course called "Determining Kinship Reliably with the Genealogical Proof Standard" at the Genealogical Research Institute of Pittsburgh. This course may be repeated in the future, and if so, I will post about it. 

Feel free to comment on other resources you have found helpful in studying the Genealogical Proof Standard.

These are just ideas for you to add to your individual education plan as you choose. They are NOT meant to be a checklist where you have to read/study/participate in every option. 

I would like to thank my friend Debra Hoffman, who has agreed to be my editor for this blog series.

Friday, January 22, 2016

Educational Preparation for BCG Certification

I recently completed an application for certification through the Board for Certification of Genealogists (BCG). I had been thinking about writing a few blog posts on my educational preparation (now that I have a little more free time), and this week BCG began including educational preparation as part of the evaluation process.

The announcement by the Board for Certification of Genealogists on January 19, 2016 includes:

"BCG today released a 2016 edition of the BCG Application Guide. The new guide implements two changes for initial applicants approved by the board last May. Two clarifications address common problems in new portfolios.

The most significant change will see applicants evaluated on their genealogically related educational activities. Initial applicants have long been asked to describe the activities that helped them prepare for certification but only now will this information be evaluated. The new practice is meant to stress the importance of development activities as these have been statistically shown to increase an applicant’s chances of attaining certification."

The BCG Application Guide is available at

I will write a series of blog posts over the next month that include formal educational activities, such as conferences and classes, as well as informal educational activities such as books, webinars and study groups. I will address educational opportunities for the following topics:
  • Understanding the Genealogical Proof Standard
  • Skills necessary to prepare a portfolio, including:
    • Transcripts, abstracts, and research plans 
    • Kinship determination and writing a biographical sketch
    • Writing a proof argument or a case study
    • Preparing research reports
  • BCG suggested areas of study
    • attainment of standards
    • knowledge of genealogical sources and materials
    • skills in reconstructing relationships
    • presenting findings
I will create hotlinks from this page to each of the new blog posts, so there will be a reference to the complete set of posts. Each piece will include educational options that I have found to be useful, and others options that I am aware of, but may not have participated in personally. I hope to stay on a schedule of posting twice a week, so I should be finished with my topics in six weeks. I will invite others to comment on the posts and add educational opportunities for each topic that I may have missed. I think it will be a fun journey.

If you have the book Genealogy Standards you will want to reference Standards # 82 & 83. 


Thursday, December 31, 2015

Top Ten Genealogy Education Posts of 2015

I am grateful to all those who have supported my genealogy education blog this year, especially the guest authors who wrote reviews of genealogy institute courses. These were some of the most popular posts this year.

For 2016 I plan to write more on genealogy education topics and resources. I will still post announcements and press releases on my Adventures in Genealogy Education Facebook page. Be sure to follow that page to be alerted to new opportunities, genealogy conference and institute registration openings, and other timely topics.

These are the top ten posts with the most page views in 2015. You will notice some themes, such as DNA, new genealogy classes and genealogy institute course reviews.

Review of Genetic Genealogy for Professional Genealogists

Whether Right-Brained or Left, This DNA Class is for You!

Review of Advanced Genetic Genealogy and Unknown Parentage Cases

Two New Gen Proof Study Groups To Begin in April

New Course on Federal Land Records

Advanced Genealogical Methods with Dr. Thomas W. Jones

International Newspaper Links

Review of “Genealogical Evidence and Proof”

NGS Conference to Live Stream Two Tracks

2015 NARA Virtual Genealogy Fair Schedule

and the number one visited post this year (thanks to Cyndi Ingle for posting it on Cyndi's List) --

Research Plan Template

I will have to think about posting the syllabus material that goes with the Research Plan Template.

Monday, December 28, 2015

NIGR Renamed Genealogical Institute on Federal Records (Gen-Fed)

I was interested to receive the following press release regarding the renaming of the National Institute on Genealogical Research (NIGR) as the Genealogical Institute on Federal Records (Gen-Fed). I attended NIGR in 2008 and taught at NIGR in 2011. It is an excellent institute program on researching in federal records, and I am excited about the changes for 2016. 

December 28, 2015

The Board of Trustees of the National Institute on Genealogical Research has announced that the institute’s name was changed to the Genealogical Institute on Federal Records (Gen-Fed) on December 22, 2015. The institute, held annually at the National Archives in Washington, D.C., was founded in 1960 as a three-week general course on genealogy. In 1987, it narrowed its focus to federal records.

The institute was incorporated in 1989 as a non-profit 501(c) (3) organization. Trustees are representatives of the American Society of Genealogists, Association of Professional Genealogists, Board for Certification of Genealogists, Federation of Genealogical Societies, National Genealogical Society, and the institute's alumni association. The National Archives, a non-voting member, provides strong support.

“Given the growth in genealogical education, it made sense to choose a name that clearly identifies the institute’s mission,” said Malissa Ruffner, JD, CG, director. “A new website,, offers a closer look at the program, which is scheduled for July 11–15, 2016.  You can also follow the institute on Facebook and Twitter (@GenFedInstitute).”

Diane Dimkoff, coordinator of research customer support at the National Archives, stated, “We are pleased that the institute’s new name reflects the significance of federal records and look forward to continuing our traditional collaboration.”
Gen-Fed is for experienced genealogists, and for archivists, historians and librarians interested in using federal records for genealogical research. It is designed to instill a methodological framework and foster creative thinking about relevant records. Online registration for the 2016 session will be held in late February.

Malissa Ruffner, JD, CG

Wednesday, December 16, 2015

Review of “Genealogical Evidence and Proof”

Once again I am pleased to have a guest author review one of the courses from the Virtual Institute of Genealogical Research. This post features a course on genealogical evidence, and is written by my friend Cari Taplin, CG. 

Review of “Genealogical Evidence and Proof” taught by Warren Bittner, CG for the Virtual Institute of Genealogical Research
by Cari A. Taplin, CG[1]

When I first learned about the “Genealogical Proof Standard” and its five components, I was overwhelmed; a lot of beginning or intermediate genealogists probably are. It took a long time for me to embrace the GPS in my daily genealogical practice. No matter how many lectures you might attend on the subject, the process will never be as simplified and broken down into steps for you like the latest course by Warren Bittner from the Virtual Institute of Genealogical Research (VIGR) titled “Genealogical Evidence and Proof.” It is a must have in your genealogical education plan.

This course cuts through a lot of GPS confusion and breaks it down to manageable and understandable pieces. The four lectures this course consisted of are:

    Complex Evidence: What it is, How it works, Why it matters
    The Web of Evidence: Proof and Disproof
    Proof Arguments: How and Why
    Exhaustive Research, Evidence Analysis, and Genealogical Proof

Each of these lectures contained educational gems for genealogists of any level. Every class began with a reminder that genealogy is the pursuit to: identify an individual and identify correct relationships between individuals. “Failure to do these two things is a waste of time,” he said throughout the course. Proper use of the GPS ensures we are not wasting our time.

Warren has a gentle teaching method yet still tells it like it is. One of my favorite quotes from the second class, “There are two kinds of genealogists: those that read the NGSQ and those that don’t.” He pointed out that he (and other top-notch genealogists) learned to use the GPS and write proof arguments through reading quality journal articles, not only from the National Genealogical Society Quarterly, but also the New England Historical and Genealogical Register, The American Genealogist, The New York Genealogical & Biographical Society Record, and the American Society of Genealogists’ The Genealogist. Only by reading and studying other, high quality proof arguments, regardless of their geographic subject or the surnames involved, will we be able to craft our own.

He especially encouraged the class to complete GPS step five, “a soundly reasoned, coherently written conclusion,” because failure to write down our thought process identifying the correct person or relationship dooms the next generation to repeat the research.[2] Warren discussed approximately sixteen different steps for writing a proof argument, beginning with making a statement about what is going to be proven, stating the type of proof that will be used (direct, indirect, conflicting or most likely a combination of all), and working through steps for analysis, resolving conflicts, and drawing conclusions. Sixteen! I have never had an instructor break the process down so completely. It was utterly amazing and his course made so many often unnoticed details become visible.

Warren ended the series of classes by stating that “the more I work with the GPS the more I am impressed by it.” He also admonished those who have shied away from pursuing certification from the Board for Certification of Genealogists (BCG) because they didn’t have a “good case study” for the portfolio. He said he doesn’t know one genealogist that doesn’t have at least two documents with points of conflict that could be written into an acceptable case study. Whether or not you are interested in certification, this course should be high on your list of educational requirements for yourself. Warren’s deconstruction of the process is invaluable for gaining a better understanding of the GPS process.

[1] CG and Certified Genealogist are service marks of the Board for Certification of Genealogists, used under license by board certified associates after periodic competency evaluations, and the board name is registered in the US Patent & Trademark Office.
[2] For the description of step five of the GPS see Board for Certification of Genealogists, Genealogy Standards (Nashville, Tennessee: Ancestry, 2014), 3. 

Cari Taplin is related to Roy Rogers. Or at least the stories her grandparents told her as a child said so. As a result, she has been working on finding her true heritage since the year 2000. She is a native of Wood County, Ohio but migrated to Wyoming, Colorado and now Pflugerville, Texas which is just outside of Austin. Cari is a Certified Genealogist and has served in a wide variety of volunteer and leadership positions for several state, local, and national societies, most recently elected as Region 2 - Midwest Director for the Association of Professional Genealogists, Director of the Federation of Genealogical Societies, and the Education Committee Chair for the Austin Genealogical Society. She has been a speaker to local and state societies since 2004. As the owner of GenealogyPANTS, she provides speaking, research and consultation services. She is also a graduate of ProGen 16. When she’s not working on her genealogy, she is a wife and mother of two/too cute kids.