The Contract, The Basketball Player and the Genealogist or Why Get Certified?

The Contract, The Basketball Player and the Genealogist or Why Get Certified?

While promoting the recent UGA conference at the local TV station, I had the chance to meet NBA basketball star, Jimmer Fredette… well, I use the word ‘meet’ loosely here, let’s say I was in his close proximity while he was being interviewed about his new book, The Contract.

Basketball hoop and sunset
Jimmer’s brother wrote up a “contract” that Jimmer signed and posted to his wall where he daily was reminded of his commitment to work toward his goal of becoming an NBA player.
I was so impressed with this contract that I totally cannibalized it and made a similar contract of my own…no worries, the NBA is safe from me. Here is my version of the contract.

I, Valerie S. Elkins, agree on this day, October 30, 2012, to do the work and make the necessary sacrifices to be able to reach my ultimate goal of achieving the designations of AG (Accredited Genealogist) AND a CG (Certified Genealogist).

I even created mock certificates to hang on my wall to remind me of my goal… its official when you create unofficial certificates…just so you know.


Here is how this decision came about before I “met” Jimmer.

Is Becoming a Certified or Accredited Genealogist for You? 

This was a question, I have long debated with myself. I already have clients and work that keeps me pretty busy, I attend institutes, national, regional and local conferences; I read, study, teach and am up to my eyeballs reading books, articles, webinars, etc. Was it necessary?

The pinnacle of achievement for any genealogist is to become either a CG (Certified Genealogist) that is awarded through the Board for Certification of Genealogists (BCG) or an AG, (Accredited Genealogist) that is offered through ICAPGEN (The International Commission for the Accreditation of Professional Genealogists), both worthy and noble institutions.

I have attended many BCG courses about becoming a CG at numerous conferences over the years, and I recently attended the ICAPGEN conference to learn more about the accreditation process with them.

This is my own personal breakdown of the 2 boards and the credential process and their respective requirements. It can be very confusing about the requirements and so I tried to match them up side by side to show what each requires.

AG – Accredited Genealogist CG – Certified Genealogist
Geographic Area: You must choose a geographic area that you have a 1000+ hours of research and experience. These hours must be documented in your application. 10 different repositories and 80 hours research in each state of US regions, or province/shire for countries. Geographic Area: No particular area is required, though you must choose a geographic area, subject and/or time period that you generally work in for the board to select a document from this area.
Resume: Besides the log of 1000+ hours you will need to:

  • · Write a statement of goals, specifying why you are requesting accreditation.
  • · Description of Education and training and experience.
Background Resume:

  • · Describe your gen and non-gen educational background.
  • · Identify non-English languages you read and/or write proficiently
  • · Discuss your reasons for certifying
  • · Discuss your experience with genealogical records
  • · Discuss the research facilities you frequent.
  • · List articles, books, or other writings you have published.
  • · List genealogical, historical or hereditary societies you belong to.
Level One – Application: Methodology, Select a family from your region that is traced back 4 generations prior to 1900. This can be straight paternal, straight maternal, or alternate between the 2. Step One: Document Work supplied by BCG
· Transcribe document
· Provided an abstract of document
· Identify research focus for document
· Submit an analysis
Submit a research plan

Level Two – 4 Sections in a Written Exam:

  • · Encompass both complied and original records from variety of archives and databases.
  • · Results of search on Research Log or Calendar with accompanying documents.
  • · Pedigree chart containing just the 4 generation lineage you are searching.
  • · A polished client report with source citations and analyses, footnotes, discussion of conflicting evidence; suggestions for further research.
  • · Key documents that support the report.
  • · 90% + correct to pass written
Step Two: Document Work supplied by you
Select a document from an area you typically research and provide the same 5 treatments listed above
Level Three -Written Exam: When application with its 4 generation project is accepted, you will be notified and you set up a date to take the 8-h our written exam (open book and can be divided into 2, 4 hour sessions.
Written Exam will cover the following:

  • · Handwriting – read a document from your region and time period. Must have at least 150 hours of experience of transcription of documents from your area.
  • · Document Recognition – Identify important documents from your region.
  • · Electronic Databases- your familiarity with your region databases
  • · Brief Pedigree Evaluations – Asked to list sources you search to extend each pedigree and what you expect to find in those sources.
  • · Pedigree Problem – Given an actual pedigree problem to search in FHL and write a client report with further research recommendations.
  • · General Q&A- Tested on knowledge and facts of your region, its history and records, time period, content and availability will be tested.

Step Three: Prepare a Research Report for Client
Level Three: Oral Review – If you pass the Written Exam, you will have a 1-3 hour oral evaluation where the raters attempt to determine if you actually know the answers to the questions you have missed on the written exam.
· Review of written exam
· Evaluation of your defense of the pedigree case study

Step Four: Case Study- Conflicting or Indirect Evidence supplied by you.
Step Five: Kinship-Determination Project for at least 3 ancestral generations – ascending or descending.
Time: You can take and retake a section of test you missed until passing, once each quarter. Time: 1 year from application date. Extension is possible for an additional fee.
Testing Format: Application, Written Exam and Oral Review. Each proctored and administered by ICAPGEN. Testing Format: Portfolio not to weigh more than 2 lbs. that is reviewed by 3 judges, 4 if all 3 judges are not in agreement.
Time: Testing is scheduled quarterly. Must pass each step before proceeding to next level of testing. Time: Results of judging take up to 6 months.
  • Fees: Level One Fee – $100
  • Level Two Fee – $80
  • Level Three Fee – $80
  • Annual Maintenance Fee – $60
  • Retake Test Fee $50
  • Total Cost: $320
  • Must travel to designated testing sites: FHL in SLC, DAR Library in Wash. D.C. and Allen County Public Library in IN.
  • Fees: Preliminary Application $50
  • Final Application Fee $220
  • Annual Maintenance Fee $75
  • Retake $50 + $220
  • Total Cost: $345
Renewal: Every 5 years. Fee: $0 Renewal: Every 5 years. Fee: $220
Signed copy of Professional Ethics Agreement Signed copy of Genealogist Code
First time success rate is in 40-47% range First time success rate 47%

Both ICAPGEN and BCG are outstanding organizations and are very rigorous in setting the bar and establishing standards. I know many fine genealogists that have either their AG or their CG and I could not say one group was superior to another.

It appears that geography plays some role in people’s choice. AG tends to be out west and CG tends to be more eastern half of US, though that is not an absolute. There are some people with very strong opinions on which is superior and there are some politics involved I’m sure, but I don’t pay attention to either.

Why become certified or accredited? Karen Clifford, AG, FUGA, wrote in her book, Becoming an Accredited Genealogist a list of benefits for becoming accredited, which I think applies to becoming a certified genealogist as well, they are as follows:

  • Advertising – you are listed with others who have achieved AG/CG
  • Advancement – provides possible career advancement.
  • Certificate – Nothing looks better on a wall as well as having a wallet-size card that can get you access to record collections not available to the general public.
  • Confidence – Knowing you met the professional standards can bring self-assurance in your abilities and knowledge.
  • Contributions – Sharing and adding to the field.
  • Credentials – You are allowed to have the AG/CG designation behind your name, which immediately lets others know of your professionalism.
  • Earnings – Rates are generally higher for those who have obtained their AG/CG.

So, after studying for years the merits of both, why did I choose both? Crazy right? For me it is not about what is necessary. I like the challenge of both, two different approaches, both rigorous and require meticulous study, preparation and execution. This is more a personal pursuit rather than a necessary career step.

Both organizations appear committed to improving the success rates of their applicants by providing better resources, mentoring and skill building information on their websites.

I have decided 3 things to help me achieve my goal of becoming a AG/CG.

  1. Sign a contract. I am publicly announcing my goal of achieving the designations by the end of 2013, (or at least have completed all the requirements and have them submitted by then).
  2. Share my process here on my blog. So you can either see me succeed gloriously or go up in flames…I will be happy if I am somewhere in-between!
  3. Seek excellent mentors and resources. Learning from others who have succeeded will keep me on track.

Thanks Jimmer for giving me a push in the right direction!

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© copyright Valerie Elkins 2012


  1. Valerie,
    This is fantastic! I’ve been looking at my goals lately, and I have been trying to decide between the AG and the CG. I’ve actually been thinking about both! Now, I’m far from ready to put together a goal date, but just knowing that it is a goal is a very good thing. It is helping me keep my eye on the prize. I can’t wait to read about your journey… and totally poach this idea when it’s time to set my own calendar. 🙂


  2. Good luck on these goals! And, keep us up-to-date!

  3. After I scrolled down this comparison of one rigorous program with another just as rigorous, I learned that you chose both?!?!? I am blown away. This seems as hard as a graduate school program, at least! And an 8-hour exam? I wish you the best luck ever, lots of nourishment and sleep, and I hope you can power through! I’m looking forward to following your trials and victories!

  4. Thanks everyone. I will need more than luck, I will need a miracle – but, try I must! I will be posting my step-by-step breakdown of my process, because frankly when I look at the whole picture, I freak out! We will see how this goes. Thanks again for the encouragement!

  5. I have looked over both of these before, but never side-by-side. Quite effective! And it showed me that I wish I had been logging my time conducting research at repositories way back when I first got really serious about the family history! Living in Western NC, there are few repositories for my research, and most of what I researched was via ILL microfilm. However even that has become limited for several reasons.

    Anyone who attempts one of these must be so dedicated, they certainly have my deepest respect!

  6. I have looked over both of these before, but never side-by-side. Quite effective! And it showed me that I wish I had been logging my time conducting research at repositories way back when I first got really serious about the family history! Living in Western NC, there are few repositories for my research, and most of what I researched was via ILL microfilm. However even that has become limited for several reasons.

    Anyone who attempts one of these must be so dedicated, they certainly have my deepest respect!

  7. Debra, I wish I had been keeping a log all along too. You can use online repositories too, in fact they expect you to know them thoroughly. Best of luck in your genealogy education!

  8. Thanks for the comparison. Best wishes to you in your endeavor!

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