26 May 2014

Updated: Accreditation vs. Certification for Genealogists, an opinion piece

Accreditation vs. Certification for Genealogists
Michael W. McCormick, BS
Disclaimer: This article may contain some inaccuracies, and definitely contains unofficial opinion of the author; Even that opinion is subject to change and additional information. Corrections from ICAPGen or BCG board members are both appreciated and welcome. For official information about ICAPGen or BCG please visit their respective websites. (http://www.icapgen.org/ and http://www.bcgcertification.org/)

Updated: 5/26/2014 12:40 MT Corrections are inserted in brackets [example] and will be marked with the author's initials, as well as coloring for emphasis.
ICAPGen board member Kelly Summers' (KS) comments are blue.
The author's additions are MM and marked purple.

            The credentialing process for the International Commission for the Accreditation of Professional Genealogists (ICAPGen) is a three-part approach. First, you submit a four-generation research report. Second, you take a two-part written exam. Third, you have an oral review with two or three current AG professionals. Upon completion, you will be called an Accredited Genealogist (AG). The Board for Certification of Genealogist (BCG) requires only a seven-part portfolio. Upon completion, you will be called a Certified Genealogist (CG). BCG’s credentialing process will be selectively discussed below within the context of the ICAPGen process, and my own opinions will be given.
The Four-Generation Report
            The four-generation report is in cookie-cutter style. By that, I mean that you must fit into ICAPGen testing requirements, which seem somewhat restrictive to me as a professional genealogist. The project must be hand selected for all four generations of your family to live in your area of interest. The youngest of the four generations must focus on a person who was born before 1900. In addition, you are not allowed to do a compiled narrative report, but must present a pedigree, family group records, and a traditional research report as separate parts. The ICAPGen project also requires that you use both original and compiled sources, while the BCG process emphasizes the preference for original records. [This is not a requirement. We prefer original sources and in some countries it is only original sources. However, you will need to know any compiled resources that will lead you to original sources.-KS] [I apologize for exaggerating and I appreciate the clarification. It is the lack of explanation for this phrase that tripped me up. I would like to see methodology explained along with the list of requirements more like BCG's Genealogy Standards manual provides. The statement on the ICAPGen website is as follows: "The project should encompass both compiled and original records." Italics added for emphasis. (ICAPGen, "The Application and Four-Generation Project," online accessed 26 May 2014.) Although the website does not say must, it says should, and I believe that word "should" should be further clarified by including Kelly's statement on the official website: "We prefer original sources." Perhaps a link should be inserted to a webpage where the importance of original vs. compiled is explained, and where ICAPGen should explicitly state that compiled sources are not mandatory. In addition, might I suggest that instead of saying that the applicant should use compiled and original, you might say that the applicant "may" use compiled sources along with original sources.-MM] I side with BCG here, although I see ICAPGen’s desire is most likely to ensure that the researcher is familiar with both types. Some of these points will be discussed further.
            The project must be hand selected for all four generations to live in your area of interest. This is required because when you test with ICAPGen you test for a specific geographical area. For example, I chose to test for the Mid-Atlantic United States because I have significant experience in that region, and I have ancestral lines that fit the requirements for the credential. This forces you to learn records for a certain area and use those in your project. At the same time, this makes the project less real-world because you must handpick a line that has probably already been researched in order to ensure that all four generations do live in your area of interest. It is okay for the purposes of this credential that this line may have already been researched, but for the BCG credential, you will be required to do a fresh client report for a line, which you are not related to. There is a big difference between proving an already established line, as required in the ICAPGen project, vs. researching a fresh line according to a client objective. [Agreed, if an applicant chooses to research an established line, the experts will closely examine anything that this person has contributed to the original research. Using an established line does not demonstrate the applicant’s depth and breadth of knowledge in any area. I would suggest that this is not a good choice for a project. The idea is to show your abilities. However, these items will be tested in depth in the exam, regardless of the project submitted.-KS] [Fair enough. It is just the nature of the project requiring something that you could not possibly know until research is undertaken by someone--where four generations lived. You can't know that unless they have already been researched. Of course, the applicant can research as many names as needed until they find one that fits.-MM] The BCG version allows that you may not meet the objective, but that you must show sound research methodology, show that you looked in the right places, and that you created a professional final product. The BCG portfolio does not need to be focused on any region that you choose, and you do not earn the CG credential for any particular region.
            For the ICAPGen project, the youngest of the four generations must focus on a person born before 1900. This requirement is different from the BCG process as well. In the BCG process, for the kinship-determination portion of your portfolio, you are allowed to begin with anyone except yourself or your siblings. You may include living persons only if their permission is expressly granted and included in the portfolio. As a forensic genealogist and professional heir searcher, I do much work after 1900. This part of the BCG process feels more real-world to me.  
            For ICAPGen, you are not allowed to do a compiled narrative report, but must present a pedigree, family group records, and a traditional research report as separate parts. I feel that this is restrictive and more LDS-centric. As the founder of the accreditation process, the Family History Department of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints influenced the ICAPGen process. [You are correct that a pedigree, FGRs and a traditional report is expected by ICAPGen. These are the real world expectations of paying clients throughout the world, not just Utah. The experience of our Accredited Genealogists® who research for both US and International clients have confirmed these expectations. ICAPGen is focused on professional genealogists doing client work, for a restricted about of time and defined amount of money. Organizing research findings in a manner that can be quickly reviewed and added to, is crucial. Very rarely does a professional get the chance to complete a whole research project in one research segment. Thus, most of our work is “work in progress”. Sometimes a client will ask for a biography, a narrative or a compiled lineage. However, these are not produced until after the research for that information has been completed and the client will receive both the traditional client reports and the requested narrative, etc.-KS] [I have both completed small projects for clients, and received research from other genealogists that did not include Pedigree or FGR forms. Obviously we are not talking about individual look-ups here, but even when a family group or two is researched, I have often seen reports that have a bullet point list naming the children directly in the report. One of the best genealogists I have hired personally actually provides his reports in compiled pedigree format. My own opinion was that I liked that better than a report and FGRs/Pedigree seperately. I am not an AG yet and I cannot speak for the experience of most AGs as a whole, but I have personally been on both the professional and client end of other forms of reports, and it has brought great satisfaction.-MM] ICAPGen became independent in in 2000. I see pedigree charts and family group records as forms created for the LDS or for genealogy software purposes. I also prefer to be able to choose my report format because I appreciate the convenience of the BCG process in being able to merge a report and the genealogy content together. This creates a compiled narrative format such as a genealogy, lineage, or pedigree. There are about three reports required for the BCG portfolio, and the client report is most applicable to the forgoing discussion.
The Written Exam
            The written exam is somewhat restrictive too. At this time, the only testing locations available are the Family History Library in Salt Lake City, the DAR Library in Washington, D.C., and the Allen County Public Library in Fort Wayne, Indiana. [This is not true. Just this quarter we had exams administered in Canada, Idaho and Cedar City. As a person passes Level 1, we address accommodations for administering the Level 2 exam. We have administered the exam in multiple countries so far and look to administering these exams in more countries and in multiple languages. Our next language is Spanish. Other information you may be interested in knowing. ICAPGen recognizes that a person with a genealogy credential has demonstrated a high level of genealogical research ability. ICAPGen offers to genealogists with either credential the opportunity to apply for a second credential with reduced (half the required hours) experience hours.-KS] [I misinterpreted the following statement from the official ICAPGen website: "If you cannot travel to Salt Lake City, Utah to take the exam, you may indicate on your application that you wish to take the exam in another facility. Alternate facilities at this time include the DAR Museum in Washington, D.C. and the Allen County Public Library in Fort Wayne, Indiana." (ICAPGen, "The Written Exam & Oral Review," online accessed 26 May 2014.) It says "include," but it does not say, "these are the only places." I just thought that was implied by the word "include." I think this is just one of several examples where the ICAPGen website needs updating. Some of the mentoring courses and the website are out of date, and throw off potential applicants like myself.] This is required because tests are written according to what research resources are available at each particular repository. You cannot expect someone to find X record during a timed test, unless you know that they are in a repository where that record is readily available. This is another reason why I have begun to lean more toward to BCG’s credential as being a more “real-world” process for credentialing. A potential down-side of BCG’s credential is that there is no timed test, and a timed test is a controlled environment where one of a professional genealogist’s most important skills can be tested: the ability to turn out professional work in the time agreed upon with the client. Even the knowledge recall portion of the ICAPGen exam is an important consideration when evaluating the difference between the two credentials. The BCG credential is entirely without a test. You simply submit a seven part
My Decision
            After studying the two processes more in-depth, I feel that the BCG process’ flexibility is more real-world, ad that causes me to lean toward them as the more reputable credential. I personally prefer their flexibility, and emphasis on methodology. At the same time, I see real value in the regional focus, timed exam, and oral review that ICAGen offers. Therefore, my personal choice may be to complete both processes. I am working on the AG credential first because that is a goal I set two years ago. I am LDS myself, and I am now living in Salt Lake City, Utah. Therefore, an LDS-centric or Utah-centric feeling credential is not a down-side for me. While I live here, I would like to take the test at the Family History Library. In addition, I am aware from peers that both credentials are highly sought in the workplace, and among a high-tier of clients. My short-term goals include submitting my ICAPGen report by the end of June, and completing Salt Lake Community College’s Preparing for Your United States Credential course this summer. My long-term goals include testing with ICAPGen in August or November at the latest, and completing my AG credential by the end of 2014.


  1. It was good to hear your thoughts on this. I know what you are saying may come across as critical, but I think that an open dialogue is important in order to establish a strong community of practice.

  2. Thank you for making the two so clear. I am working on my AG and didn't even know about ICAPGen. Now I do.


Thanks for your kind and thoughtful comments.