Wednesday, June 6, 2012

Elizabeth Shown Mills Ten-point Study Blueprint

In December 2007 I joined a new Rootsweb mailing list called the Transitional Genealogists Forum (TGF). This list provided a place for genealogists transitioning into professional work to network and ask questions. Respected professional genealogists also joined the list to answer questions and share their advice.

In one post to the list I asked Elizabeth Shown Mills about educational preparation for certification through the Board for the Certification of Genealogists [1]. She recommended studying Professional Genealogy: A Manual for Researchers, Writers, Editors, Lecturers and Librarians [2] and attending genealogical institutes and university-sponsored programs. Another participant on the discussion list asked about options for those unable to attend formal programs. Ms. Mills wrote a ten-point blueprint for enhancing the skills of any serious genealogist [3]. She has given me permission to share it on this blog as it is excellent advice for anyone seeking to improve their genealogical skills.

Elizabeth Shown Mills wrote:

What I have to offer is a 10-point blueprint that would provide solid grounding and enhanced skills for any genealogist who is making or considering the transition from "family researcher" to



Read all the "Skillbuilding" articles, study all the work samples, and do the "Test Your Skills" module at the Board for Certification of Genealogists website.


2. Greenwood, Val D.
Researcher's Guide to American Genealogy. 3d ed. Baltimore: Genealogical Publishing Co., 2001.

Read Greenwood from cover to cover--several times or until you feel you have well learned its content. For three decades, this has been the leading textbook for genealogical study, and Greenwood has kept it up to date. It's big, but easily digestible. This is the textbook for the NGS Home Study course and is the equivalent of Samford IGHR's Course 2 (Intermediate Genealogy).

Professional Genealogy: A Manual For Researchers, Writers, Editors, Lecturers, and Librarians. Baltimore: Genealogical Publishing Co., 2001.

For skillbuilding (as opposed to building a business practice), focus first on these chapters:
1 "Defining Professionalism," Donn Devine, J.D., CG, CGI
14 "Problem Analyses and Research Plans," Helen Leary, CG,CGL, FASG
15 "Research Procedures," Linda Woodward Geiger, CGRS, CGL
16 "Transcripts and Abstracts," Mary McCampbell Bell, CLS, CGL
17 "Evidence Analysis," Donn Devine
18 "Research Reports," Elizabeth Shown Mills
20 "Proof Arguments and Case Studies," E. S. Mills
23 "Family Histories," Christine Rose, CG, CGL, FASG
24 "Lineage Papers," Mary Bell & Elisabeth Schmidt, CLS

4. Mills, E. S.
Evidence Explained: Citing History Sources from Artifacts to Cyberspace. Baltimore: Genealogical Publishing Co., 2007.

Thoroughly study the first two chapters (ca. 90 pages of the 885 pp. total):

1 Fundamentals of Evidence Analysis
2 Fundamentals of Citation

(These are not the same as chapters 1 and 2 of the little 1997 "briefcase edition" of Evidence.)

The BCG Genealogical Standards Manual. Provo: Ancestry, 2000.

Read *all* of the standards, starting with the Genealogical Proof Standard. Examine the appendixes for the models they provide.


6. (for Methodology)

National Genealogical Society Quarterly
, 1987-to date. 

**Study** the case studies in every issue you can get your hands on. It does not matter what family or what region the case study deals with. You are studying it for techniques and methods. Almost every library with a genealogical collection,as well as many university libraries, have NGSQ. At you can identify libraries in your region that carry it. NGS has also begun to put back issues online at, if you are a member.

7. (for Methodology)

Rising, Marsha Hoffman, CG, FASG. The Family Tree Problem Solver. Cincinnati: Family Tree Books, 2005. 

8. (for Sources)
Luebking, Sandra Hargreaves, and Loretto D. Szucs, The Source. 3d ed. Provo: Ancestry, 2006).


9. If you live within driving distance of other serious genealogists, consider starting a study group along the Litchman Model that has been discussed over the years in various NGS and APG forums. Basically: the groups that follow the Litchman Model meet monthly, choose a case study (usually from NGSQ) for each month's meeting, require participants to read the assigned case study at least three times, make notes, and come prepared to discuss the methodology, sources, and strengths and weaknesses in the research or analysis. Check the APG-L archives for discussions particularly by the late Ken Aitken regarding his group.


10. Scholarships and awards to attend conferences and institutes (typically in the $500 range) are available through several genealogical channels, particularly these:

A. ASG Scholar Award (for attendance at either IGHR or NIGR)

B. BCG Education Fund Scholarship (for attendance at IGHR,
NIGR, NGS Conference, or FGS Conference)
[Note: This scholarship has been discontinued since the study blueprint was originally posted in 2007]

C. IGHR Jean Thompson Scholarship (to attend IGHR)

D. NGS Family History Writing Contest (to attend NGS Conf)


E. NIGR Richard Lackey Scholarship (to attend NIGR)

Needless to say, winning any of these scholarships puts one on the fast-track professionally, from the standpoint of recognition of one's merit.

Good luck,


Elizabeth Shown Mills, CG, CGL, FASG

Comments by Angela:

Those of us on the TGF list at the time took Elizabeth's advice to heart. She had recommended participating in study group and so we organized online study groups to connect with others across the country. The first was an NGSQ study group, which still meets monthly and accepts new participants. Contact Sheri Fenley at for more information. The second is the ProGen Study Group studying the manual Professional Genealogy. This study group was very successful and many others wanted to participate. There are now eighteen ProGen Study Groups with over 300 people participating. For more information on this program see

Reference Notes:

[1]  Angela McGhie, "Thanks Elizabeth " Transitional Genealogists Forum, discussion list, 18 December 2007 ( : accessed 6 June 2012).

[2] Professional Genealogy: A Manual For Researchers, Writers, Editors, Lecturers, and Librarians. Baltimore: Genealogical Publishing Co., 2001.

[3] Elizabeth Shown Mills, "Educational prep & mentorships," Transitional Genealogists Forum, discussion list, 19 December 2007 ( : accessed 6 June 2012).


  1. This is fabulous! Thank you so much for sharing and thank you Elizabeth Shown Mills for such a great breakdown.

  2. Likewise, this is great information! Thanks ESM and Angela for sharing.

  3. Excellent information! I second Valerie's thanks to both of you.

  4. And since this list was first written, Elizabeth has established two additional sites for free education, Historic Pathways and Evidence Explained.

  5. Thank you so much!!! I am tossing around the idea of pursuing that so now I have a blueprint.

  6. I agree with Valerie, fabulous!! So glad to have such a definitive study guide to follow! Thanks for sharing!

  7. I can't remember why I joined TGF in digest form but have tried to keep up with each digest that comes often several times a day. I am still mostly lurking, but am so impressed with all the advice that is given by all. I realize that I need to work on my skills and appreciate this guide Ms Mills has provided to help me organize my study. Too bad my birthday was last month as my birthday wish list will now include the books suggested for study! Thanks for bringing this list to my attention; I seemed to have missed it on the TGF list.

  8. Thanks so much for posting this, Angela, and thanks to Elizabeth for preparing it. It's a very helpful post.

  9. Thank you for noting the change in BCG Ed Fund policy. The scholarships benefitted so few people, only four or so each year. Instead the Ed Fund now offers preconference workshops open to 60 people each year. They occur prior to the national NGS conferences, although cross-registration is not required. They are an inexpensive (one day only, lunch included) way for people to get the feel of attending a genealogical institute.

    1. Barbara, Thank you for the explanation. I attended the BCG workshop at the 2011 NGS conference and it was excellent! I think this is a wise use of the Education Fund.

  10. Angela - thank you so much for putting all this on your blog - and for asking Elizabeth S Mills for permission! Both of you deserve gold stars for generosity in your sharing. As I'm retired (no assets/no pension etc.), everything I do in genealogy has to be as free as it can be, so I'm truly grateful for this brilliant list. Thank you both once more.

  11. Thank you, Angela, for this timely and concise summary. Where would we be without: a) terrific thinkers/writers/leaders who have put so much time and experience into paving the way; b) books; c) those-who-are-paying-attention to help spread the word (e.g., bloggers!)?

  12. Thanks for the great list...I see I have some gaps to fill. Question -- Professional Genealogy is more than 10 years old; are there any plans to revise it soon?

    1. Julia,
      I know there is a revision in the works as one of the chapter authors said she had revised her chapter and sent it to Elizabeth. I do not know when it will be completed and available.

  13. Thank you so much for putting this information out to all of us who are non-professionsals, but wishing we were.

    I have attended several of ESM's lectures and very much appreciate her letting you openly share her breakdown.

  14. I really appreciate this blog. I have gained so much information after reading this. I could also see that the one who did is credible.

  15. Angela, I've referred back to this post time and time again. I find it so valuable. I'm very surprised that, or I wouldn't be surprised if, the BCG presented this "blue print" as a webinar or even as a session at conferences. Time and time again I see the question asked, "what are the educational options, what should I do first?". Here it is, step by step. Have you seen this blue print any place else, besides the TGF? Thanks again for posting.

    1. Jenna, I am glad you found this study blueprint helpful. The only other place I have seen it published is along with an article I wrote for the Association of Professional Genealogists Quarterly (APGQ) in June of 2009. Elizabeth Shown Mills gave me permission to include it as a sidebar with my article, and also to post it here on my blog. I also think that it contains excellent recommendations and that is why I choose to share it.

  16. Thank you, Angela! This is a wonderful list of important sources and advice. I don't know how anyone can complete all this in one lifetime, but it is an exciting prospect to consider starting! I will copy this URL and also your list within this post. Thank you for this service to all of us newbies/intermediates who are just feeling our way!