Certified Genealogist®—What Does it Mean?

BCG has received official registration of “Certified Genealogist” as a certification mark with the United States Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO). This is great news, but what does it mean, and why was it needed? Why should we care?

What does this mean?
The certification mark indicates a relationship between the Board for Certification of Genealogists and the person who uses the mark. Its use shows that the genealogist’s work has been peer-reviewed in light of BCG standards for quality and ethics and met the criteria for certification by the Board for Certification of Genealogists. BCG indicates this relationship with the designation Certified Genealogist, now rightfully using the federal registration symbol, Certified Genealogist®. BCG is the legal owner of the mark “Certified Genealogist.”

CG, Certified Genealogical Lecturer, and CGL remain BCG service marks (SM). Registration covers the phrase “Certified Genealogist” and gives this certification mark fuller legal protection. BCG can bring a federal lawsuit against infringers and recover actual and statutory damages along with attorneys’ fees. Registration also gives BCG a mechanism for stopping cybersquatters from registering “certified genealogist” as a domain name, as has been attempted at least twice.

Why does BCG need this?
Despite its former designation as a service mark, the expression “certified genealogist” has been used (often incorrectly) as a general expression. It is not proper usage to say, when referring to BCG certification, “She’s a Certified Genealogist” or “Oh, he finally got his CG.” We sometimes hear these assertions, usually in reference to BCG. Other non-BCG associates and organizations occasionally use “certified genealogist,” hinting that they are somehow approved by or affiliated with BCG. The goal of registering “Certified Genealogist” as a certification mark with the USPTO was to discourage inappropriate use of BCG’s certification mark and protect the status of those who are affiliated with BCG.

Some students of genealogical programs that result in the award of certificates may erroneously refer to themselves as “certified genealogists.” Professional fields and academic programs draw a clear distinction between educational (training) certificate programs and professional certification. One is a function of the educational process. This applies to certificates of achievement (awarded by such programs as ProGen Study Group and Boston University’s Online Certificate in Genealogical Research) and certificates of attendance at institutes. Successful graduates of such programs may state that they have earned a certificate, not certification.

Professional certification, as by BCG, is a third-party assessment of skills and knowledge independent of the educational process. Education does not automatically confer certification.

What does this change?
Using the registered certification mark Certified Genealogist in a general way undermines the significance of registration, which rests on BCG’s claim that the expression and initials are not generic. Rather, they indicate a specific relationship between the user and the Board for Certification of Genealogists®.

So how should we refer to those we’ve been calling “certified genealogists” and “CGs”? Although it may seem cumbersome, it’s accurate and protective of BCG’s status to refer, for example, to a “board-certified genealogist,” a “BCG-certified associate,” or a “board certificant.”

It is appropriate in written communications to use the registered certification and service marks as credentials with a genealogist’s name:

Jane Doe, Certified Genealogist® or Jane Doe, CGSM
I am Certified Genealogist® Jane Doe.

When we correctly use the registered certification mark and avoid using the term “certified genealogist” in a descriptive or general way, we give the BCG credential all the power and significance it merits. “Certified Genealogist®” is BCG’s acknowledgement of its associates’ achievement in working to genealogy standards. Now the force of law stands behind it. Working to standards deserves such protection. Let’s use our words accurately and respect BCG’s certification mark registration.

The words Certified Genealogist are a registered certification mark, and the designations CG, CGL and Certified Genealogical Lecturer are service marks of the Board for Certification of Genealogists®, used under license by board certificants after periodic evaluation.

BCG Free Webinar: Little on Context in Record Analysis

Tuesday, 16 February 2016, at 8:00 p.m. EST, Barbara Vines Little, CG, FNGS, FVGS, will present “The Importance of Context in Record Analysis.”

Source citations provide context for the information we gather. Was the death date from a tombstone, a newspaper obituary, a county history, a Bible record, or a death certificate? The best citations tell us that the tombstone was contemporary with the death, the Bible record was entered in the same hand and the same ink, the county history was written a hundred and fifty years later, and the death certificate was signed by an attending physician. The details provide background context that helps us evaluate the validity of the information and suggests other avenues for research. But this information only scratches the surface. A full evaluation of any record’s context requires that we explore the complete content of the document. We want to know the reason for the document’s existence; the social, legal, and geographical context behind its creation; and what ancillary documents were produced both before and after its creation.

Barbara Vines Little, CG, FNGS, FVGS,

Barbara Vines Little, CG, FNGS, FVGS, is a professional genealogist whose primary interests are Virginia research and brick wall problems. A former president of both the National Genealogical Society (NGS) and the Virginia Genealogical Society, she coordinated the Virginia track for Samford University’s Institute for Genealogy and Historical Research from 2007–2012. She has served as editor of the Magazine of Virginia Genealogy since 1996. Winner of the National Genealogical Society Quarterly Award for excellence in 2001, she has also written for the NGS Magazine, OnBoard: Newsletter of the Board for Certification of Genealogists, and the Association of Professional Genealogists Quarterly. She currently edits NGS’s Research in the States series and authored the West Virginia volume. She has published three volumes of Virginia court records and edited others for publication. She has lectured for the past twenty-five years on research methodology, Virginia and West Virginia resources, and writing and publishing.

To register for Barbara Vines Little, “The Importance of Context in Record Analysis” on 16 February 2016, 8:00 p.m. EST (7:00 CST, 6:00 MST, 5:00 PST), go to https://attendee.gotowebinar.com/register/3474700108047285762.

After registering, you will receive a confirmation email containing information about joining the webinar.

Attendance is limited for this free webinar. Once registered, please sign in early to avoid disappointment.

President Jeanne Larzalere Bloom, CG, says, “The Board for Certification of Genealogists is proud to offer this new webinar as part of an ongoing series that supports our mission to provide education for family historians. This webinar will address questions regarding the genealogy standards for research. By promoting a uniform standard of competence and ethics the BCG endeavors to foster public confidence in genealogy.”

Please visit SpringBoard‘s webinar page to learn about BCG’s previous webinars.

The words Certified Genealogist are a registered certification mark, and the designations CG, CGL and Certified Genealogical Lecturer are service marks of the Board for Certification of Genealogists®, used under license by board certificants after periodic evaluation.

Ramage “Reliability” Video Recording Released

Michael Ramage, JD, CG, “Reliability: The Keystone of Genealogical Reasoning, with Judicial Comparisons,” BCG’s December 2015 webinar, is now available on demand from Vimeo.com, here. It is accessible for twenty-four-hour rental ($2.99) or for purchase of unlimited streaming and download ($12.99).

Go to the BCG Webinars tab at the top of this page for previews and links to all BCG webinar recordings.

The words Certified Genealogist are a registered certification mark, and the designations CG, CGL and Certified Genealogical Lecturer are service marks of the Board for Certification of Genealogists®, used under license by board certificants after periodic evaluation.

Ten-Minute Methodology: How to Ask Good Research Questions

SpringBoard is pleased to present a guest post by Harold Henderson, CG, a Trustee of the Board for Certification of Genealogists. 

Genealogists are often confused. It comes with the territory. We can’t always avoid it, but we would prefer not to wallow in it. Have you ever had a conversation (with yourself or someone else) that began something like this made-up one?

I would like to find out if Joseph born about 1785 who married “unknown” is my fifth great-grandfather, or sixth. Who did Joseph marry? Who were the children? When and where were they born? Is Joseph the father or grandfather of my Jerome J. Jenkins, and if Joseph is not his father then who? And what about Jemima living in Joseph’s household in 1850? Is she his wife?

To escape this confusion, we need to slow down. In particular, we need to ask one question at a time—and make that question specific.

A good research question does two things. First, it identifies a unique individual. (Sometimes it might be a group or an event, but let’s keep it simple for now.) Second, it specifies what we want to learn about that individual.[1]

We can improve the question by working from the known to the unknown and leave the suppositious Joseph on the shelf for now.  But even “Who is Jerome’s father?” doesn’t identify a unique individual. There are too many Jeromes. Better would be, “Who is the father of Jerome J. Jenkins who was born about 1832 in Kentucky and lived in Hamilton County, Ohio, in 1850?” This question identifies a specific individual (Jerome J. Jenkins) and the specific information we’re looking for (his father). It’s specific enough that we can measure a proposed answer against the Genealogical Proof Standard.[2]

Of course, as genealogists we really want to know all about Jerome, so this procedure may strike us as awfully narrow. But a specific question is a magical thing. By concentrating our attention we focus on the right person and learn more than we expected about him. For instance, we might

  • follow Jerome through later censuses and check to see if a possible sibling or a candidate father shows up in or near his household;
  • locate Jerome’s death record (Does it name a father or a county of birth?);
  • seek out a late second marriage record (Does it name a father or a county of birth?);
  • check for any appearance in county history “mug books” where he settled;
  • check his or his children’s marriage records for a church affiliation that might yield information; and
  • find what role Jerome played in the Civil War (If he served, did his muster roll name a county of birth? Did he or any dependents apply for a pension?).

If we find a possible birthplace and a candidate for a father and/or siblings, we can seek out their records, especially the candidate father’s probate. If looking forward doesn’t help, we might cast a wider net and

  • review the 1840 census for heads of Jenkins households in Kentucky containing boys aged 5–10; and
  • look for Jerome in Hamilton County land records and start building a list of friends, associates, and neighbors who might lead back to Kentucky.

And so forth, depending on what turns up in the process. Obviously any leads or contradictions (such as other census records saying he was born in Indiana instead of Kentucky) could redirect the search drastically.

Thorough research for Jerome’s father will inevitably pull in more than just that relationship. When we pursue the answer to this one question, we find ourselves gathering information that answers other questions and even starting to fulfill our original naïve wish to learn “everything” about Joseph.

And we’re sticking with our one question. We don’t start by googling a name and staring at dozens of probably irrelevant results. We follow a strategy that could provide a firm foundation for the next question we ask.

 Seek specifically, and ye shall find abundantly!


[1] Genealogy Standards: 50th Anniversary Edition (Nashville, Tenn.: Turner Publishing, 2014), Standard 10, “Effective Research Questions,” 11–12.
[2] “The Genealogical Proof Standard,” Board for Certification of Genealogists (http://www.bcgcertification.org/resources/standard.html : viewed 22 January 2016).

The words Certified Genealogist are a registered certification mark, and the designations CG, CGL and Certified Genealogical Lecturer are service marks of the Board for Certification of Genealogists®, used under license by board certificants after periodic evaluation.

Ten-Minute Methodology: Documentation and the Research Report

Some genealogists have been confused about whether to include source citations in research report introductions and summaries. SpringBoard is pleased to offer clarification of this question by the expert on genealogical source citations, Elizabeth Shown Mills, CG, CGL, FASG, FNGS, FUGA.

Documentation and the Research Report
Elizabeth Shown Mills, Certified Genealogist®, CGL

It’s a fact of life. In a world governed by laws and standards, rules for one aspect of life often collide with rules for another. So it seems with the research report by which we genealogists chronicle each block of research we do.

A research report has one basic goal: to provide written documentation of the research process we executed, the findings we developed, and the conclusions we reached. As a work product, a research report is expected to achieve an appropriate balance of both writing skills and documentation skills. Each of these two skills is governed by one fundamental concept.

For documentation, the basic rule is this:

Each “fact” or assertion we make, if it is not “common knowledge,” should be supported by credible evidence. That evidence will be presented in one of two ways:

  • For simple, direct evidence, that “fact” or assertion can be supported by a simple source citation.
  • For more-complicated evidence, our conclusion must be supported by a proof argument or a proof summary.[1]

For expository writing, the basic rule drilled in us since middle school is this:

Introduce your subject, then

  • say what you’re going to say,
  • say it,
  • then say what you’ve said.

A good research report will embody both concepts. However, report writers sometimes perceive a conflict.  As a step toward understanding the issue, let’s outline the two types of work products.

An essay based on a research topic has three main parts:

  1. INTRODUCTION, where we
    1. Give readers the most-basic information needed to understand the subject.
    2. Tell the reader what our research will prove.
  2. BODY OF PAPER, where we
    1. Present our findings and analyses that, all together, make the case for what we said we would prove.
    2. Support each “fact” or assertion with a citation to a credible source.
  3. CONCLUSION, where we
    1. Reiterate our main points.
    2. Issue a call-to-action if appropriate.

A report based on a segment of research also has three main parts:

  1. INTRODUCTION, which consists of
    1. Background: the who, what, when, and where that we will be researching—i.e., the essentials about the problem that readers need to know.
    2. Executive Summary: an easy-to-find and quick-to-grasp overview of the results of the research—positive and negative; often presented as a bulleted list of conclusions.
    1. Present an item-by-item account of what we have searched, what we did or did not find, whatever significant problem or anomalies we encountered, and the conclusions we have drawn from this body of evidence.
    2. Support each abstract or transcript with a citation to the record; document each contextual “fact” we add from general study; and provide a proof argument for all conclusions we reached from indirect, complex, or conflicting evidence. We may or may not attach image copies of records, with citations on each image and a cross-reference in the report.
  3. CONCLUSION, where we
    1. Reiterate our main points.
    2. Make suggestions for future research based upon our latest findings and conclusions.

Both types of writing have the same essential needs. Both follow the same pattern. It’s a pattern we see in a variety of educational venues, from journal articles that often begin with extracts or abstracts, to textbook chapters and conference syllabi that often begin with bulleted lists of key points.

The perception of conflict arises when we overthink the documentation rule and assume it must override the basic rule for expository writing. The result is a new assumption with a logistical impossibility:

If every statement of fact must have a citation of source, then every fact asserted in the introductory background and executive summary must also carry documentation.

Logistical Impossibility:
Given that the purpose of the background and the summation is to provide an easily digestible recap of main points—and given that research conclusions are based on the whole body of evidence—then providing citations for any assertion in the introduction is possible only when a point is based on simple direct evidence.[2] Even then, in the background or the summation, the totality of the citations could easily overwhelm what is supposed to be a simple recap at the start of the report.

When our summary points are based on extensive and complex evidence, “documentation” of each point would often require a lengthy discussion of how that conclusion was reached. That discourse and all the citations necessary to support it would strip the introduction of its core function: a quick summation of the main points the paper will develop.

As genealogists who strive to meet all standards, do we violate the documentation rule when we summarize background facts or briefly recap conclusions in our introduction?

No.  Standard 2, the one most relevant, instructs us to attach citations for

  • each statement … that is someone else’s observation, deduction, or opinion;
  • each fact that is not common knowledge;
  • each image the genealogist shows of someone else’s creation; and
  • each conclusion the genealogist establishes.[3]

Standard 2 does not state that each fact or conclusion must repeat its citation or its supporting proof argument each time the point is mentioned.

In sum:
Each part of our research report has a specific function. The presentation of documented evidence is the function of the body of the report—the section typically labeled “Research & Findings.” The function of the introduction is to provide a directory or a road map of what’s to come, so our readers will not be lost in the maze of evidence that the body of the report presents.[4]


[1] Summarized from Board for Certification of Genealogists, Genealogy Standards, 50th Anniversary Edition (Nashville and New York: Ancestry Imprint, Turner Publishing, 2014), Standards 1–3, 53.

[2] For example, in the introduction, the set of “facts” we assert for a problem person might be simply cited to the client’s file or letter or to a prior report.

[3] Genealogy Standards, p. 6, Standard 2: Specificity.

[4] For additional guidance on the creation of research reports, see Elizabeth Shown Mills, “QuickLesson 20: Research Reports for Research Success,” Evidence Explained: Historical Analysis, Citation & Source Usage (https://www.evidenceexplained.com/content/quicklesson-20-research-reports-research-success : posted 23 May 2015).

The words Certified Genealogist are a registered certification mark, and the designations CG, CGL and Certified Genealogical Lecturer are service marks of the Board for Certification of Genealogists®, used under license by board certificants after periodic evaluation.

Researching African American Families that Came out of Slavery

SpringBoard is pleased to present the first in an occasional series of posts about diverse communities. Aimed at intermediate to advanced researchers, the posts will offer tips to those who are new to researching various racial, ethnic, and religious groups. Here LaBrenda Garrett-Nelson, CG, offers guidelines on African American research.

Diverse Communities: Researching African American Families that Came out of Slavery

Researchers of African American families with slave ancestry face a significant challenge because antebellum records reflect the status of those ancestors as human chattel. Records rarely identified slaves by surnames and in some cases failed to record given names. The force of law also guaranteed that few slaves had the ability to record their own histories. Nevertheless, before and after slavery, sources were created that document the lives of the enslaved. What follows are descriptions of these sources, brief discussions of their value to researchers, and tips on how to access them.

First Steps

Family lore is always a good starting point and often provides the most important clues about the origins of slave ancestors. Most slave states did not fully implement statewide registration of births and deaths until the first two decades of the twentieth century. The 1870 U.S. census, the first to enumerate all former slaves by name, is a principal resource for locating a formerly enslaved ancestor in the postbellum era.

A Name for the Research Subject

The surname used by an ancestor in the 1870 census may point to the identity of former slave owners. Documents created by or about them often provide genealogical information about enslaved African American families. For example, names and relationships among slaves might appear in deeds of gift or sale, mortgages, or probate files.

Not all slaves used the name of the last slave owner. A small child who was separated from his extended slave family might use the last owner’s surname after slavery, but if he was old enough to remember his origins, he might reclaim the surname of an earlier owner. Other freedmen took the surnames of slave owners who held their remote ancestors. The surname used by a family in the 1870 U.S. census may differ from the name used by the same family in the 1880 U.S. census. Comparing first names may identify the same family in a household a decade later.

Free Persons of Color: Local and State Records

The majority of African Americans who lived during the antebellum period were enslaved, but some of these ancestors became free persons of color (FPCs) who obtained their freedom during slavery. Records relating to an ancestor’s status as a FPC might be located at the local or state level, depending on how emancipation was effected. A former owner’s “deed of manumission” might have been recorded in county record books with real property deeds. Where a slave was freed by the terms of a testator’s will, such evidence would be included in a probate file. The legal requirements for emancipating slaves differed from state to state and in different eras. In South Carolina, for example, legislative action was required to free a slave after 1820 and so would have been noted in legislative papers.[1]

After emancipation, FPCs may have generated the same types of records as everyone else, such as tax lists and city directories. In addition, certain states and counties maintained registers of free Negros, some of which are online.[2] A FPC should also appear in pre-1870 census records, as FPCs were enumerated in the U.S. census beginning in 1790.[3]

Federal Records

Many Federal records relating to formerly enslaved African Americans not only predate the 1870 census but also include more biographical information.

The War Department’s General Order 143 established the U.S. Bureau of Colored Troops in 1863, pursuant to which African Americans were recruited without regard to their status as free men or former slaves. Compiled military service records, pension applications, and Civil War service payments also provide information about the lives of former slaves.[4]  Widows’ pension records are being digitized slowly, and a small percentage can be accessed online.[5] Most are textual records, so the file must be ordered from or viewed at the NARA in Washington, D.C.

The Field Office records of the Bureau of Refugees, Freedmen, and Abandoned Lands (“Freedmen’s Bureau”) cover the period 1865–1872 and contain extensive documentation of African American lives immediately after the Civil War era. This collection includes labor contracts—overseen by the Freedmen’s Bureau—between former owners and freedmen and women and other records containing names and personal information about former slaves. The original records, part of NARA Record Group (RG) 105, are not indexed, but an ongoing project is making them searchable online.[6] At present, eighteen of twenty-two record sets can be accessed online free of charge.[7]

The Freedman’s Bank, which operated from 1865–1874, was separate from the Freedmen’s Bureau and created records that are rich in biographical detail. The questions asked when accounts were opened include the names of former owners, parents, and siblings and the last known whereabouts of family members. Thirty-seven branch offices were opened in seventeen states and the District of Columbia. Records of twenty-nine branches of the Freedman’s Bank are available through NARA and online.[8]

An interactive website assists researchers in locating the sites of Freedmen Bureau offices and other institutions such as Freedman’s Bank branches. The website includes sample documents and links to the NARA descriptive pamphlets for the states where the Freedmen’s Bureau operated.[9]


It is difficult but not impossible to prove “marital” relationships in slave populations. Slaves could not enter into the legal contract implied by “marriage”;[10] however there may be evidence that a slave couple entered into a committed relationship that predated emancipation. On 30 May 1865, the commissioner of the Freedmen’s Bureau issued orders regarding the conditions for solemnizing marriages of former slaves and the maintenance of records.[11] State legislatures enacted legislation to validate pre-existing unions.[12] Files of the Freedmen’s Bureau contain hundreds of marriages recorded by field offices in southern states, accessible at NARA and online.[13]

Even during the antebellum period slave owners sometimes recognized relationships by describing a couple as man and wife in a will or other legal document. Evidence of antebellum relationships might appear in Freedmen’s Bureau labor contracts that recorded freedmen and women in family groups.

Fleshing out the Stories

Another source worth consulting is the online collection of “Slave Narratives” compiled by the Works Progress Administration Federal Writers’ Project during the Depression and accessible on the website of the Library of Congress.[14] This collection includes 2,300 typewritten narratives with searchable text and links to 500 photographs of former slaves. The narratives are first-person accounts of life as a slave and often include locations, names of former owners, and information about a former slave’s ancestors and other relatives.


Researching slave ancestors requires both the use of unique record collections and a slightly different focus when using common sources such as probate records and county deed books. The reference books listed below provide additional background and detailed information about these resources.

Recommended Reading

Abrams, Alan. Black and Free, The Free Negro in America, 1830: A Commentary on Carter Woodson’s “Free Negro Heads of Families in the United States in 1830.” Sylvania, Ohio: Doubting Thomas Publishing, 2001.

Burroughs, Tony. “Finding African Americans on the 1870 Census.” Heritage Quest (January/February 2001): 50–56. Online edition. http://www.tonyburroughs.com/uploads/1/3/2/8/13281200/finding_african_americans_on_the_1870_census.pdf : 2015. Guidelines for making an effective search, including ways to tackle the issue of different surnames on different census records for the same family.

Gutman, Herbert G. The Black Family in Slavery and Freedom, 1750-1925. New York: Vintage Books, 1976. A seminal study of African American families touching on slave kin networks, domestic arrangements, surnames, and other social and cultural practices.

Higginbotham, A. Leon, Jr. In the Matter of Color, Race, and the American Legal Process: The Colonial Period. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1978. An overview of the legal development of the use of race as a badge of servitude.

Morris, Thomas D. Southern Slavery and the Law: 1619-1860. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1996. A useful summary of laws that governed various aspects of slavery, such as inheritance of slaves, the status of children born to slave mothers, and emancipations.

Rose, James M., and Alice Eichholz. Black Genesis: A Resource Book for African American Genealogy. Baltimore: Genealogical Publishing Company, 2003. In addition to important dates in African American History, this is a state-by-state guide to resources relevant to slaves and free persons in the antebellum period.

Smith, Franklin Carter, and Emily Anne Croom. A Genealogist’s Guide to Discovering Your African-American Ancestors. Baltimore: Genealogical Publishing Company, 2008.
Washington, Reginald. “The Freedman’s Savings and Trust Company and African American Genealogical Research.” Prologue Magazine (Summer 1997). Online edition. http://www.archives.gov/publications/prologue/1997/summer/freedmans-savings-and-trust.html : 2015.

Woodtor, Dee Palmer. Finding a Place Called Home: A Guide to African-American Genealogy and Historical Identity. New York: Random House, 1999. For guidance focusing on the Reconstruction Era.

[1] John Belton O’Neall, The Negro Law of South Carolina, (Columbia: John G. Bowman, 1848), 11: “Sec. 37. The Act of 1820, [declared] that no slave should hereafter be emancipated, but by Act of the Legislature.” (https://books.google.com/books?id=r9lBAAAAIAAJ&printsec=frontcover).

[2] See, for example, Virginia and Louisiana registers. Library of Virginia (http://www.lva.virginia.gov), search for “Free Negro register.” Also, a digitization project announced in “Free People of Color in Louisiana: Revealing an Unknown Past,” LSU Libraries (http://www.louisianadigitallibrary.org/cdm/landingpage/collection/p16313coll51).

[4] See, for the compiled military service records, “Soldiers and Sailors Database,” National Park Service (http://www.nps.gov/civilwar/soldiers-and-sailors-database.htm). Also, for pensions, U.S. National Archives, “General Index to Pension Files, 1861-1934,” Microfilm Publication T288, online edition (http://www.archives.gov). The pension index is also online at FamilySearch, Ancestry, and Fold3.

[5] “Civil War ‘Widows’ Pension’ Applications,” Fold3.com (https://www.fold3.com/page/3496_civil_war_widows_pension_applications/#story_2684).

[6] The Freedmen’s Bureau Project (http://www.discoverfreedmen.org).

[7] “Historical Record Collections,” FamilySearch (http://www.familysearch.org/search/collection/list); from NARA microfilm publications M1900–1913. A search for “Freedmen’s Bureau” will generate an alphabetical list by state.

[8] “United States, Freedman’s Bank Records, 1865-1874,” index and images, FamilySearch (https://familysearch.org/search/collection/1417695); from NARA microfilm M816.

[9] Toni Carrier and Angela Walton-Raji, Mapping the Freedmen’s Bureau (http://mappingthefreedmensbureau.com).

[10] O’Neall, The Negro Law of South Carolina, 23: “Sec. 37. A slave cannot even legally contract marriage.” The SC statute is typical of the law that applied in the historical slave states.

[11] Reginald Washington, “Sealing the Sacred Bonds of Holy Matrimony: Freedmen’s Bureau Marriage Records,” Prologue Magazine (Spring 2005), (http://www.archives.gov/publications/prologue/2005/spring/freedman-marriage-recs.html): 37, para. 13.

[12]  For example, see “North Carolina General Statutes,” database, North Carolina General Assembly, NCGA (http://www.ncga.state.nc.us/gascripts/Statutes/StatutesTOC.pl?Chapter=0051), Article 1, § 51–5, “Marriages between slaves validated.” Couples were required to register their marriages.

[13] These are in NARA microfilm publication 1865, part of RG 105. See “The Freedmen’s Bureau, 1865–1872,” National Archives (www.archives.gov/research/african-americans/freedmens-bureau/#marriages). Also, “United States, Freedmen’s Bureau Marriages, 1815-1869,” database and images, FamilySearch (http://familysearch.org).

[14] “Born in Slavery: Slave Narratives from the Federal Writer’s Project, 1936–1938,” digital images, Library of Congress, American Memory (http://lcweb2.loc.gov/ammem/snhtml/snhome.html).

Coming from OnBoard in January 2016

OnBoard: Newsletter of the Board for Certification of Genealogists is scheduled to publish in January 2016. We’re pleased to offer a preview of some of its content.

“Welcome the Neighbors: Solve Genealogical Problems through Neighborhood Research”

Melinda Daffin Henningfield, CG, understands tough research problems arising from common names and migrating ancestors. She shows us how welcoming the neighbors can save time and money in the long run. Expanding her investigation into the “genealogical neighbors” proved the key to identifying her ancestor as the same individual found over time in four different counties.

“A Case Study in Source and Information Analysis: Electa Ward”

Source and information analysis underpins the work we genealogists do to arrive at reliable conclusions. Facing seven sources of varying reliability containing conflicting information, Judy Kellar Fox, CG, shows us how she resolved the problem of a New England female ancestor’s birth, death, and spouse’s name.

OnBoard publishes three issues per year. A subscription is included in annual associate fees and is provided to applicants “on the clock.” Subscriptions are also available to the general public for $15.00 per year (currently) through the BCG website, here. Issues back to 1995 can also be ordered online, here.

by Nancy A. Peters, CG, Editor, OnBoard

CG, Certified Genealogist, CGL, and Certified Genealogical Lecturer, are service marks of the Board for Certification of Genealogists, used under license by Board-certified genealogists after periodic competency evaluation, and the board name is registered in the US Patent & Trademark Office.


Miriam Weiner, CG Emeritus

BCG offers Emeritus status to a certified person who has had a long and distinguished career with BCG and who is retired or semi-retired. In 2015 the Board of Trustees voted to offer this designation to Miriam Weiner.

Miriam Weiner, CG Emeritus

In 1985 Miriam Weiner was the first Jewish genealogist certified by BCG (no. 293). Since then she has earned the high esteem of the genealogical community. Noted rabbi, historian, and genealogist Malcolm H. Stern, FASG, considered her “the most valuable person in the field of genealogy” and “a standard bearer of all that BCG upholds.”[1] Her work centered on locating documents that had been hidden by the Iron Curtain in Eastern Europe and whose access was complicated by changing political boundaries. At a time when such a task seemed impossible, she successfully traveled to Eastern Europe, met with regional and local archivists in the Soviet Union, and brought information about their holdings to the world’s genealogical community.

On becoming a Board-certified genealogist Miriam comments:

In the early 1980s, when I began thinking seriously about my own family history and perhaps a career in Jewish genealogy, there were very few books on the subject, no Jewish genealogy conferences and really very little to guide me at all. I became aware of the BCG very early in this process and was very impressed by the professionalism, the experience required for certification, and the continuing education.[2]

It became clear to me that I wanted to be a part of this, and I began the certification process, resulting in the 1985 BCG certification. My thirty-year relationship with BCG included the five-year renewals where I had to submit extensive material about my work and continuing education in this growing field. The comments from the BCG renewal judges resulted in my focusing on aspects that needed attention and encouraged me to “push the envelope” in my work. With prospective research clients, the BCG certification provided a credibility and affiliation that frequently resulted in clients asking about BCG.

Working with Jewish and Eastern European records was not easy for Miriam. “At that time, there were no computers, no e-mail, and the archives were closed in the former Soviet Union.” For someone to fly to these Eastern European countries in the 1980s and create relationships with archivists for the benefit of all future Jewish-researching genealogists is a trailblazing miracle the genealogical community may never see again. Not only was the work difficult due to the politics of the time, but Miriam also faced three major hurdles of Jewish research. First, in Eastern Europe at least, Jewish families did not have last names until the late 1700s, and instead were known by their family relationships such as “Abraham the son of Jacob.” Second, family names were often changed during the immigration process. Third, and possibly the most tragic, a significant amount of vital records and archival documents were destroyed during the Holocaust. Researchers of Jewish families often have to use other documents to trace their families and be creative with their research process.

Miriam’s work in Eastern European records opened genealogical doors to many families impacted by political turmoil in the countries of Belarus, Lithuania, Moldova, Poland, Ukraine, and Romania. This research led to the publication of her books, Jewish Roots in Poland and Jewish Roots in Ukraine and Moldova.[3] She also established the Routes to Roots Foundation, Inc. a not-for-profit corporation that publishes her books and owns the Routes to Roots Foundation website with its gem, the Eastern European Archival Database. The database includes Jewish and civil records from archives in Belarus, Lithuania, Poland, Moldova, and Ukraine.

Miriam continues:

In 1989 I began an official collaboration with the state archives in Poland to produce a town-by-town inventory of archive documents (subsequently published in Jewish Roots in Poland). Shortly thereafter, I signed similar agreements with the archive director of the National Archives in Ukraine, Moldova, Belarus and Lithuania. The result of this historic collaboration resulted in my second book, Jewish Roots in Ukraine and Moldova and the Routes to Roots Foundation website. On this website, you can search the archive database by town name to see what Jewish and civil records have survived the Holocaust, the years available, and which archive has them. The website includes more than 500 pages, consisting of maps, articles by archivists and Jewish community leaders in Ukraine, Poland, Belarus, Moldova and Lithuania, and related links. There is no cost for using this website, which is sponsored by a not-for-profit foundation. I continue to update the website and databases. The above work for more than twenty-five years was not compensated, and I served as a volunteer for the Routes to Roots Foundation.

I had a commercial business wherein I offered customized individual and family tours to the “old country” and also conducted archive research in Eastern European countries on behalf of clients. I found all of the foregoing to be among the most satisfying work I had ever done—because of the archive discoveries, reuniting of clients with previously unknown family members, and the experience of “walking in the footsteps of their ancestors” as they visited their ancestral towns. I treasure my experience of helping numerous families create and pass on their own unique family histories to their descendants.

The whole focus of my life changed with this career change. I have experienced a renewed commitment to my Jewish heritage and a strengthening of my Jewish identity. I feel very strongly about the importance of documenting family history and hope others will also explore their roots.

Miriam’s thirty-year career included lecturing at a wide array of Jewish genealogical and Holocaust survivor organizations. She is the former executive director of the American Gathering of Jewish Holocaust Survivors, and she served on the advisory board of The American Red Cross Holocaust and War Victims Tracing and Information Center.

In 1991 Miriam received the Federation of Genealogical Societies award for Distinguished Work in Genealogy and History. Also in 1991 she received the National Genealogical Society Award of Merit for publishing The Encyclopedia of Jewish Genealogy.[4] In 2003 she received the Lifetime Achievement Award from the International Association of Jewish Genealogical Societies.

Lest you think Miriam Weiner is all about Jewish genealogy, you may also like to know that she loves mystery novels and especially the series by Janet Evanovich featuring a bounty hunter in New Jersey. The female lead is interested in two main male characters, Ranger (a dark, tough, almost stereotypical “bad boy”) and Joe Morelli (a clean-cut police detective). Through the entire series she can’t decide between the two, and readers lean one way or another. (Miriam, by the way, is pro-Ranger.) Recently she and a girlfriend took a road trip from New Jersey to Orlando, Florida, to attend a one-day conference with Evanovich.

Becoming a policewoman was Miriam’s youthful dream, but by adulthood she had reached the lofty height of five feet one inch. At the time there were strict height requirements to be a cop, and Miriam was not tall enough. Instead she became a licensed private detective learning skills that would later prove beneficial to her genealogical work.

There is no doubt that the genealogical community at large and the Jewish community specifically have benefited from Miriam’s work. She has been a trailblazer when that could have been impossible or dangerous. Her love of challenge, mystery, and heritage has served her career well, and her level of commitment will be difficult to match. Miriam is “still in denial” about retiring from this field but is now looking forward to researching her own family again.

[1] Rabbi Malcolm H. Stern, American Jewish Archives, New York, New York, to Board for Certification of Genealogists, letter, 13 September 1990; privately held by BCG.

[2] Quotes in this article come from either an email or a phone interview. Miriam Weiner, New Jersey (email address for private use), to Cari A. Taplin, email, 19 November 2015, “Re: BCG Emeritus Status—Short Interview Request.”  Also, Miriam Weiner, New Jersey, phone interview by Cari A. Taplin, 3 December 2015.

[3] Miriam Weiner, Jewish Roots in Poland: Pages from the Past and Archival Inventories (New York: Yivo Institute for Jewish Research, 1997). Also Miriam Weiner, Jewish Roots in Ukraine and Moldova: Pages from the Past and Archival Inventories (New York: Yivo Institute for Jewish Research, 1999).

[4] Arthur Kurzweil and Miriam Weiner, eds., The Encyclopedia of Jewish Genealogy, Vol. 1 (Northvale, N.J.: Jason Aronson, 1991).

CG, Certified Genealogist, CGL, and Certified Genealogical Lecturer, are service marks of the Board for Certification of Genealogists, used under license by Board-certified genealogists after periodic competency evaluation, and the board name is registered in the US Patent & Trademark Office.

Ten-Minute Methodology: Beyond the Index—or Not

Our goal, supported by genealogy standards, is to use whenever possible original records and primary information.[1] That’s the gold standard. When we find an index or other derivative source, we set about finding the original from which it was created. That was the gist of our last post on indexes.

When we know what we want, and we can’t get at it because of access restrictions or record loss or destruction, we are challenged to use our creativity and knowledge of sources to provide substitutes. When no substitutes surface after reasonably exhaustive research, we use the index as our best source. This is, however, a last resort.

Access limitations

The Social Security Death Index (SSDI) is the go-to resource for U.S. deaths after 1936.[2] However, it does not point us to original death records. We have to find these ourselves. Sometimes original death records are protected by access restrictions, and we have to seek other sources that provide the same or nearly the same type of information.

For example, New York state death certificates are closed for at least fifty years after the death.[3] A recent article by BCG associate Laura DeGrazia demonstrates use of alternate sources for an inaccessible death certificate for Theresa (Sabbatino) Rebaschio, who died 9 November 2009. Laura substituted correlated information from three sources, an obituary, a gravestone, and interviews with Theresa’s daughter. She also checked two other sources without success. Laura’s source citation details them all.[4]

152 Theresa C. Rebaschio obituary, Tributes.com (www.tributes.com/show/Theresa-C.-Rebaschio-877155151), which includes her dates of birth and death as well as a condolence message that mentions her late husband, Joe. Theresa C. Rebaschio marker, Block 5, Section 50, Range 32, Plot M, Grave 194, Pinelawn Memorial Park (Farmingdale, N.Y.), read by the author 20 Oct. 2013, which indicates her birth and death dates. Telephone interviews with Theresa’s daughter (name withheld for privacy) by the author, 2011–2013. Neither Theresa’s birth nor death record is in the public domain. No death notice or obituary was found in Newsday (Melville, N.Y.). No record of her estate was found in Nassau Co.

Pursuing leads in five sources was certainly time consuming. It gave Laura the confidence in this identity and date and place of death to publish her findings without the death certificate.

Sometimes it’s OK to cite the SSDI or another index. Sometimes it’s about all we have after reasonably exhaustive research. In research for the same article, Laura used information from the SSDI as a starting point to corroborate or disprove a date and place of death. She came up with an obituary that confirmed both but was unsuccessful in locating an estate record in two target counties. Her source citation includes the obituary, the SSDI, and her negative searches.[5] It’s important to stress that using the SSDI was a starting point, not the end of the research.

101 Anthony De Grazia obituary, Poughkeepsie Journal (Poughkeepsie, N.Y.), 24 Apr. 1985, p. 14, cols. 1–2. Anthony De Grazia entry, Social Security Administration, “Social Security Death Index,” database, Ancestry.com (www.ancestry.com). No estate record was found in Dutchess or Orange County.

Lost or destroyed originals 

Index to an unidentified account book, first page.

Sometimes indexes and extracts are all that remain after original sources have been lost or destroyed. Then we’re happy to have them at all! In these cases we must use them, cite record loss or destruction, and explain that what we used is as close as it is possible to get to originals.

For example, the New England Historic Genealogical Society (NEHGS) has several original indexes to account books, but not the account books themselves, and the names of the merchants are unknown. Still, much valuable family information can be gleaned from just the indexes. This image of an account book index page shows in just one section of A’s many Attwoods distinguished by first name, “Senr” and “Junr,” and “Capt.” Other people are designated by residence (“of plimton”), race (“Indian”), or occupation (“Sailor”). Index entries identify customers from towns in a cluster south of Boston (Kingston, Plymouth, Plympton, Middleborough) and a time period around 1758–1764.[6]

When this and other similar indexes are catalogued and digitized (hopefully early 2016), they will provide researchers with invaluable original source material.[7] Even though they are “only” indexes, they offer primary information (the merchant’s identification of his clients) that may be otherwise unavailable and that might solve someone’s genealogical mystery. They will figure legitimately in genealogical source citations.

As another example, the Vermont Vital Records Index resulted from a Vermont law that “required all town clerks to transcribe, in full, records of births, marriages, and deaths in the possession of the town and churches.”[8] The transcriptions were made on index cards now available online at FamilySearch and Ancestry. Researcher Catherine Desmarais, CG, found an index entry for a birth recorded at St. Paul’s Cathedral in Burlington, Vermont. Pursuing the original source, she found that a 1971 fire had destroyed St. Paul’s and 140 years of its records.[9] A copy of the church records had been made for the diocese, but it does not include the event in question. In this case, Catherine used the index entry, but she did not stop there. She corroborated the index information with census and death records, citing all three sources in her work product.[10]

Indexes sometimes point us to missing or unavailable records, challenging us to pursue reasonably exhaustive research in our quest for original records and primary information. Going beyond the index strengthens the foundation supporting our genealogical conclusions. It demonstrates our commitment to working to genealogy standards by providing evidence from the best sources we can possibly find. 

Quiz (optional): Do you know of an index that survives after originals have been lost or destroyed? What is its source citation?

Extra credit (also optional): What other source(s) could substitute for the missing records?

Photo courtesy of NEHGS, R. Stanton Avery Special Collections. The author gratefully acknowledges input from Timothy Salls and the following BCG associates: Jeanne L. Bloom, Ruy Cardoso, Laura Murphy DeGrazia, Catherine Desmarais, Joan Hunter, and Michael Leclerc.

[1] Genealogy Standards (Nashville, Tenn.: Turner Publishing, 2014), Standard 13, Source-Based Content, 12–13; and Standard 38, Source Preference, 23.

[2] “United States Social Security Death Index (FamilySearch Historical Records),” FamilySearch (https://familysearch.org/learn/wiki/en/United_States_Social_Security_Death_Index_ (FamilySearch_Historical_Records)) : accessed 17 November 2015), “Record Description.”

[3] “Genealogy Records & Resources,” New York State, Department of Health (http://www.health.ny.gov/vital_records/genealogy.htm : accessed 16 November 2015).

[4] Laura Murphy DeGrazia, CG, FGBS, “Con Spirito: Violinist Giuseppe De Grazia, 1855–1937, of Marsicovetere, Italy, and New York City,” The New York Genealogical and Biographical Record 146 (January 2015): 68. This is a good example of a proof in a footnote.

[5] Laura Murphy DeGrazia, CG, FGBS, “Con Spirito: Violinist Giuseppe De Grazia, 1855–1937, of Marsicovetere, Italy, and New York City,” The New York Genealogical and Biographical Record 146 (January 2015): 64.

[6] Index to an unidentified account book, New England Historic Genealogical Society, R. Stanton Avery Special Collections, Mss A A33, uncatalogued, first page; digital image courtesy of Timothy Salls, Manager of Manuscript Collections, NEHGS. The index survives, but the remainder of the book does not.

[7] Timothy Salls (Boston, Mass.; tsalls@nehgs.org) to Judy Kellar Fox, email, 20 November 2015, “RE: unidentified account book index.”

[8] “State Registry History,” Vermont, Secretary of State (https://www.sec.state.vt.us/archives-records/vital-records/state-registry-history.aspx : accessed 1 December 2015).

[9] “Cathedral Church of St. Paul (Burlington, Vermont),” Wikipedia (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cathedral_Church_of_St._Paul_(Burlington,_Vermont)) : accessed 1 December 2015).

[10] Catherine Desmarais (Essex Jct., Vt.; stonehouseresearch@gmail.com) to Judy Kellar Fox, emails, 27 November and 2 December 2015, “Re: St. Paul’s question.”

CG, Certified Genealogist, CGL, and Certified Genealogical Lecturer, are service marks of the Board for Certification of Genealogists, used under license by Board-certified genealogists after periodic competency evaluation, and the board name is registered in the US Patent & Trademark Office.

Free BCG Webinar on Reliability and Reasoning

Michael Ramage, JD, CG, “Reliability: The Keystone of Genealogical Reasoning, with Judicial Comparisons” was presented 15 December 2015. A recording is now available from Vimeo, here.

Reliable evidence is essential to sound genealogical conclusions. Illustrating the importance of this quality, the term reliable and its synonyms appear in no less than seven standards in Genealogy Standards.[1] The Genealogical Proof Standard (GPS) does not mention the word reliable, yet it “requires genealogists to base conclusions on reliable evidence.”[2] What does reliable mean? How is it assessed?

Michael Ramage, JD, CG

Come explore the nebulous but important principles surrounding reliability from the perspective of genealogy and the law. The laws pertaining to the admission or exclusion of expert witness testimony provide relevant insights into what is and is not reliable. This is of crucial importance to those attempting to draw a conclusion based upon the GPS.

Michael Ramage, JD, CG, is a Board-certified genealogist and licensed attorney with over thirty years of professional research and writing experience. He specializes in the field of missing and unknown heirs in estate, trust, and real estate title matters.

To register for Michael Ramage, JD, CG, “Reliability: The Keystone of Genealogical Reasoning, with Judicial Comparisons” on 15 December 2015, 8:00 p.m. EST (7:00 CST, 6:00 MST, 5:00 PST), go to  https://attendee.gotowebinar.com/register/4736616197104408066.

After registering, you will receive a confirmation email containing information about joining the webinar. Attendance is limited for this free webinar. Once registered, please sign in early to avoid disappointment.

President Jeanne Larzalere Bloom, CG, says, “The Board for Certification of Genealogists is proud to offer this new webinar as part of an ongoing series that supports our mission to provide education for family historians. This webinar will address questions regarding the genealogy standards for research. By promoting a uniform standard of competence and ethics the BCG endeavors to foster public confidence in genealogy.”

The BCG is an independent certifying body and author of the 2014 Genealogy Standards.

Please visit SpringBoard‘s webinar page to learn about BCG’s previous webinars.

[1] Genealogy Standards (Nashville, Tenn.: Turner Publishing Co., 2014), passim.

[2] Ibid., 23.

CG, Certified Genealogist, CGL, and Certified Genealogical Lecturer, are service marks of the Board for Certification of Genealogists, used under license by Board-certified genealogists after periodic competency evaluation, and the board name is registered in the US Patent & Trademark Office.