Becoming an Accredited Genealogist: Level 1 Study Group
Have you considered becoming an Accredited Genealogist (AG)? Ever wondered about the process or what you can do to start preparing? In January 2016 I wrote about setting a goal to become an AG and it’s time for an update on my progress.
Accreditation is through The International Commission for the Accreditation of Professional Genealogists (ICAPGen). Their website details information about the accreditation process. Here are some highlights:
-Credentials are awarded on a regional basis which allows the applicant to demonstrate their depth of knowledge of the key records, history, geography, and language of the region of interest in measurable ways.
-Each applicant is required to sign an agreement with ICAPGen(SM) indicating that he or she is willing to adhere to high ethical and research standards and to abide by the ICAPGen(SM) code of ethics.
-The accreditation process involves three levels of testing of the applicant’s skills and knowledge. Attainment of any level results in public recognition.
I am working on Level 1 which includes submission of a four-generation research project and completion of a questionnaire that assesses an applicant’s genealogical knowledge and experience. Once I had settled on the Gulf South region as my area of expertise and the Royston family as the subject of my four-generation project, I applied to be part of an ICAPGen study group.
Two study groups help candidates in the accreditation process. The first deals with Level 1: primarily focusing on the four-generation project, and the second with preparation for the Level 2 & 3 testing. I just completed the first study group which ran for twelve weeks with a total of six sessions, held every other Thursday evening.
Each of the six sessions had specific topics to discuss and an assignment to complete by the next session. We held the study group via Google Hangouts which enabled the nine of us to meet from the comfort of our homes. Our group leader set up a Dropbox folder for study group minutes, work samples, and a personal folder for each of us to submit our work.
First session: Introductions, Application Questionnaire, Overview of Four-generation Project
Our first internet meeting began with introductions. Our group of six applicants hailed from Utah, California, Arkansas, Alabama, and Virginia. Four of us were accrediting in the Gulf South so we could share some of the challenges of researching that locality. We had a study group leader and two AG’s guiding us. The ability to ask them questions was very helpful, especially as we progressed and knew what questions to ask. We went over the requirements needed for the application: 1000 hours of combined research experience and education, 500 of those hours in our region, 80 hours in each of the states in our region. We clarified the requirements for the four-generation project: the beginning individual had to be born before 1900 and each of the four generations must have lived for a time in the region. Our assignment for the next two weeks was to make a plan to finish our state hours by the date we wanted to submit our application and to evaluate our four-generation project to make sure it met the requirements.
I had already chosen Dora Algie Royston, born 1882 in Texas, as my starting individual. My first generation would be Dora, her husband, William Huston Shults, and their children. Although she lived in Indian Territory / Oklahoma a majority of her life, her birth and death occurred in Texas, fulfilling the locality requirement for the four-generation project.
I already had 80 hours in Texas, Alabama, Georgia, and Arkansas, but I needed research hours in Florida, Louisiana, and Mississippi. To help track my hours I created a Google sheet and set up a plan to get the remainder of my hours in each of those states. Our group leaders suggested that the majority of our hours should be spent in the records of each state. They recommended that we pick someone from a census, then research him. I chose Arthur Dillard for my Florida project and with that, I’d completed my assignment for the first study group.
2nd Session: Overview of Four-generation Report, Research Calendars, and Objectives
We began with a followup from our last group. Did we make a plan to get our state research hours? Does our four generation project meet the requirements? This session was an overview of the research report: what was expected and what we needed to consider as we wrote our first generation. Important points included:
-The report should be between 25-40 pages long, not including the documents (census, vital records, etc.)
-The documents we included needed to show connections within a nuclear family.
-The research calendar (log) should show research in more than one record type.
-Strive to obtain copies of actual records. Don’t use indexed information in the report if possible, it should be included in the research calendar and should lead to the actual record.
-Transcriptions of documents should be correct; if lengthy, like a will or land record, abstract the important information.
-Only need to report on siblings if they show linkage, can refer reader to family group sheets for their life details.
-Don’t hyperlink documents, use labeling document numbers at the end of the citation instead.
-Use the record types best for that era and explain why we’re using them to the reader, assume they are not familiar with genealogy, we need to demonstrate that we know why we’re using that record.
-Conclusions should be included at the end of each section.
-Transitions should lead from one generation to the next.
-Footnotes should be embedded within the document and source citations need to be consistently formatted.
-Tables for census and other data can be used to make the report easier to read and understand.
-Future research suggestions with a new specific goal for future research, including specifics of call numbers or dates or years to be searched, need to be included at the end of each generation, or at the end of the report.
We ended the second session with an assignment to craft an objective for our Four Generation report, upload it to our personal folder on Dropbox and review each other’s objectives. After each study group, one of the leaders uploaded minutes from the session as well as work samples and handouts to help us fulfill our assignment. I studied the work samples and carefully crafted my objective. I had never formally written an objective for my research, so this was a helpful experience and I even wrote a post about how an objective can help you in your research.
Third Session: Organizing the report, Report Writing Tips, Terminology, Incorporating Evidence Analysis in the Report
The third session began with reporting on our previous assignment, writing our objectives. I received good feedback on my objective and changed the wording a bit to improve readability. Our group leaders gave us suggestions for organizing our reports, then discussed tips for writing our reports such as:
-Keep our audience in mind
-Be consistent and logical in thought
-Have someone else read it for understandability
-Be consistent with first or second person
We discussed using genealogical terminology: original and derivative sources, primary and secondary information, direct and indirect evidence. We learned how to incorporate evidence analysis into our report that would lead our reader to the same conclusion that we’ve come to. Our assignment: start writing our first generation of the report.
This was the most challenging assignment for me. I had never written a formal genealogy report incorporating evidence and using footnotes with citations. I had written numerous research papers in college, but that was thirty years ago! I had written informal notes in my genealogical program, but nothing quite like this. I studied Mastering Genealogical Proof by Thomas Jones to get an idea of how to proceed and watched Warren Bitner’s webinar on Proof Arguments. I learned by doing! I wrote and rewrote, then had several people read it. They gave invaluable feedback, each very different depending on their perspectives.
Fourth Session: Writing Conclusions and Suggestions for Future Research
At the beginning of the fourth session, we had lots of questions about our reports. Actually writing a report is very different than learning about writing a report. I appreciated being able to discuss specifics that had come to my mind as I had worked on my first generation. I wasn’t sure how formal the report needed to be. Were we supposed to use the terminology such as “direct evidence” throughout the report? The AG’s counseled us to remember that our audience was a potential client and our report needed to be understandable. We had to understand the principles of evidence analysis, but needed to write for a client.
Our group leaders presented ideas about how to write our conclusions that should come at the end of each generation, summarizing the findings. They also explained the importance of writing specific future research suggestions. Our assignment: write a conclusion and future research suggestions for our first generation. Review the work of other study group members.
After writing and rewriting the body of my first generation, writing the conclusion and research suggestions was easy. Reviewing the reports of other group members gave me ideas of ways I could add to my report, like charts and tables. My fellow group members also read my report and their comments helped me make plenty of improvements.
Fifth Session: Source Citations and the Four-generation Self-evaluation form
By the fifth session, we were all starting to feel more comfortable with our reports and the whole accreditation process. This session focused on source citations. ICAPGen is not particular about the style of source citations, but does want them to be consistent.
For more in depth study, we were directed to Amy Harris’ article, “Documentation and Source Citation” in the ICAPGen publication Becoming an Excellent Genealogist:Essays on Professional Research Skills. I purchased this book at the BYU Conference on Family History & Genealogy last year and read it cover to cover. If you’re considering accreditation or just want to improve your skills, this book is a great investment. I’ve returned to it over and over.
Here is the eBook/Kindle version: Becoming an Excellent Genealogist. (This is an affiliate link. If you click the link and make a purchase, we receive a small commission but it doesn’t change the price of the item. Thanks!)
Our assignment: submit the first generation of our report, with all of the documents referred to in the report and use the self evaluation form to see how well we were following the guidelines.
Sixth Session: Pedigree Charts, Family Group Sheets, and Research Calendars
Our final session for this study group focused on the rest of the requirements for the four-generation project. The pedigree chart we submit needs to show only the four generations dealt with in the report. All births, marriages, and death should be included, even if they are approximated. We need to submit a family group sheet for each of the four generations showing births, marriages, and deaths for the parents and children in that family. Each bit of information should have a quality source and citation attached.
Our group leaders showed us examples of several styles of research calendars. Ours can be in any format of our choice, whatever works best for us. The research calendar we submit should show negative searches, demonstrating thorough research.
One final thought at the conclusion of this session was that we need to show our technology skills in preparing the four-generation project. Throughout the six sessions, we had ample opportunity to ask questions about using technology for writing our report, creating our pedigree charts and family group sheets, adding a citation to an image, and keeping a research calendar. For me, the ability to ask questions made the study group sessions invaluable. Our group leaders showed us examples and gave many suggestions of how to use technology.
What’s next? I have my first generation of my report written, pretty much to my satisfaction. I have a little editing to do on the citations, but I am now confident I can go forward with the next three generations. So it’s on to the next study group which will prepare me for the Level 2 & 3 testing. How am I feeling in the midst of all of this? Honestly, a little overwhelmed at all that lies ahead, but feeling good about the progress I’ve made and ecstatic at all that I’ve learned. My research, analysis, and technology skills have jumped up considerably. I would recommend this experience to anyone interested in becoming an excellent genealogist!
Interested in accrediting? Here are three tips:
Start today to keep track of your research hours in the region of your choice.
Build your genealogy education: take classes, read books, watch webinars.
Choose a family for your four-generation project and start researching. Keep a great research calendar as you go!