What is Genealogy Certification (and How to Get Certified)?

There are plenty of professional genealogists who have become accredited by professional genealogist organizations. The certification of genealogists means that the individual in question has some of the best research skills and knowledge available.

There are a number of bodies that deliver these credentials, with the two largest US bodies being The International Commission for the Accreditation of Professional Genealogists (ICAPGen) and the Board for Certification of Genealogists (BCG).

There's also a newer organization added to the mix - the Council for the Advancement of Forensic Genealogy (CAFG). The CAFG offers an FGC credential that many professionals are looking to acquire.

If genealogy certification is something you're looking to get, then it's worthwhile to attain. Becoming a professional genealogist takes a lot of time and money investment, so why not get accredited for your efforts?

The Importance Of Genealogical Research

Genealogical research will always be required, especially with data being so important to businesses nowadays. Being able to simply know where we came from and how we got to where we are today is something that most people are interested in finding out. However, some people choose to do the research themselves, whereas others request that service.

So why is this important?

You're part of the future of genealogy

Without your knowledge or getting information from older generations, information becomes hard to attain once people have passed. There might be crucial information that is worth recording before a family member is no longer on the earth anymore.

Those that do amateur genealogy, such as researching their own lineage, are contributing to the future generations who'll want to know where they come from and their history.

Reconnects family members that may have been lost

It's no surprise that ancestry sites have enabled the average person to find long-lost family members. Those that might have been adopted from birth or those who didn't know one of their parents or family members may wish to reconnect with those who've been estranged previously.

Helps answer questions that have remained unanswered

A lot of genealogy research can help to find out answers to questions that have to this day, remained unanswered. It may also help to unearth revelations that have been covered up or lied about in the past to protect others.

Why Should You Get Genealogy Credentials?

Genealogy credentials can help budding genealogists validate their skills and become better researchers in general. Even if you're not looking to get paid for your services, it's a good way of helping attract more work and to gain new genealogical skills.

Being an accredited genealogist can provide the confidence you need to handle new projects and take a step up in certain areas of the field for those looking to get paid for their work.

Clients will be more trustworthy of you if you're accredited, and as such, you'll position yourself above those who don't have credentials currently. Within courts, as an accredited genealogist, you'll be considered as a qualified expert witness rather than one that could easily be dismissed.

When you're able to get a credential from the Association of Professional Genealogists, it also proves as an effective marketing tool. This is particularly important when you're selling your services as you are more likely to secure work without having to spend too much money on getting your work and name out there.

What Credentials Do Professional Genealogists Need?

So what credentials should you be going after? Within professional genealogy, there are two main bodies and one recently added on. We'll go through all three of these below, so you know how to go about applying for each one.

The International Commission for the Accreditation of Professional Genealogists (ICAPGen)

The first is the ICAPGen which is responsible for the AG credential. To begin your accreditation with this nonprofit organization, you'll need to choose from one of the 25+ testing regions. In this case, you'll pick the United States.

This allows you to be seen as a specialist within that country, and as an expert, you're able to request bigger pay packets as a result.

There are three levels to ICAPGen's testing program. Each level must achieve a pass rating of 90%, and you can retake any portion that you don't reach the benchmark of. However, it's important to be aware that each level will cost you a fee of $100, and you have three years after passing one level to pass the next.

This can become costly if you're taking your time with each level, running the risk of having to repeat levels because you've exceeded the time limit.

ICAPGen's credential has a required renewal every five years in order to ensure you're keeping up to date with any developments or new findings within the industry.

The Board of Certification of Genealogists (BCG)

The BCG, or BCG, reward the second credential option for short. Another non-for-profit organization, they require any BCG credential holders to renew it every five years.

For the BCG, obtaining a credential is actually a lot simpler than the ICAPGen. with the BCG, you'll just need to pass one portfolio evaluation level. There's another credential level available, though: the Certified Genealogy Lecturer (CGL).

Applicants will need to submit an initial application that incurs a $75 fee, and then they have one year to submit their final application along with their portfolio and a fee of $300.

The Council for the Advancement of Forensic Genealogy (CAFG)

A recently introduced credential is the Council for the Advancement of Forensic Genealogy, or for short, CAFG. This credential body is an advanced member opportunity and is only available to those that have comprehensive knowledge and experience to match within the genealogy field.

The process for this one helps ensure that the genealogist in question is a well-rounded forensic genealogist. The applicant will need to answer short questions, document analysis, provide essays and reports, as well as affidavit writing.

How To Become A Professional Genealogist

If you're currently exploring the professional field within genealogy, then it's certainly good to do your research and understand how you can work your way up to be eligible for the credentials mentioned.

Here are a few tips for helping advance your skills as a professional researcher and to hopefully become a certified genealogist in time.

1. Continue researching your own family history

If you're looking to build upon your experience in a professional capacity, then it's important to continue with your own family history research. There are many reasons why people go into genealogy as a career, but for most, they all share the same passion for discovering family lineage.

So despite whether or not you've completed your family tree, there are still likely many aspects of your family that you've yet to uncover. As part of your development towards becoming a professional genealogist, it's worth continuing with your research that started it all in the first place!

There are likely plenty of techniques that you'll learn without having to pay for a course or webinar.

2. Join the Association of Professional Genealogists (APG)

Just like acquiring credentials, it's good to be a part of the right groups and organizations. On the journey to becoming a professional genealogist, you'll want to join the APG, which is an international membership bringing together genealogists across the world.

They have over 1,100 professional researchers, booksellers, computer specialists, and librarians, to name a few specialisms. As part of their membership, you get access to articles that help build your genealogical skills and to network with other genealogists who may be helpful in excelling in your career.

APG is one that welcomes anyone who is thinking of a career in genealogy.

3. Start generating a portfolio of work

From your own personal projects to those you've done unpaid or paid for clients, start putting together your portfolio of work. This is going to be good to do ahead of time so that when you come to applying for certification and accreditation, you'll be able to achieve it sooner.

As a researcher by nature, you should already be doing this and keeping a record of everything you do within your role as a genealogist. However, if that's not the case, it's never too late to start, and it'll save you a lot of time further down the line by making it a habit.

4. Prepare and apply for certification/accreditation

Once you feel you've met the standards of a professional genealogist or you think you might be getting close, it's always good to prepare your application. You could be more than ready to take the levels required to pass and attain the credential.

It's worth taking a look at each organization and understanding what criteria are needed for each. From there, you can start to prepare the required documents and evidence that you need so that when you're ready, you can submit them quickly and hopefully speed up the process.

It's one of the most important stages to pass when it comes to being a qualified professional genealogist, regardless of the career you go into.

5. Attend educational webinars and workshops

There are a lot of educational resources out there to help grow your knowledge within the world of genealogy. It's an industry that continues to grow, so it's important you keep up to date with everything new and fresh within the community.

Attend educational webinars and workshops, whether they're locally available in your area or you've discovered some online. The National Genealogical Society is a good place to start, and your local community buildings like the library or church may have genealogical projects to volunteer or work on.

6. Network with fellow genealogists and those with similar interests

When it comes to networking, it can be a great skill to have, especially as public speaking makes up useful genealogical skills. It's not possible for a genealogist to simply work alone on everything. They need to be able to collaborate and work with fellow genealogists, as well as those that share similar interests or knowledge within similar industries.

Everyone benefits from networking, so it's definitely something worth doing.

7. Volunteer when you've got some downtime

Volunteering on local genealogical projects is a great way to network and to develop your skills as a professional genealogist. It can be highly rewarding to work on things as a volunteer, too, as it's a selfless act that will likely bring you much joy.

Your local genealogical society is a good training area for your writing skills and any family history work you do. Don't underestimate its opportunities and potential!

8. Develop your business skills

Genealogical skills are just part of the world of genealogy. You also want to consider developing your business skills, particularly if you're considering a self-employed career in this industry. Skills like paying taxes, understanding marketing, advertising, and time management are also useful to build upon.

Career Roles You Can Explore As A Certified Genealogist

There are a variety of career roles that you can explore further when you become a certified genealogist. It can also help open doors to job titles that you might not have considered before or had the opportunity to do.

  • Researcher for family histories

If you want to be a professional genealogist, but you don't want payment, then becoming accredited can help make you more efficient when researching family history.

  • Heir Searcher

Some businesses and organizations require a professional genealogist to help locate lost heirs to estates. Attorneys and courts will often look for those within this career path.

  • Historic Preservation

Preserving the lineage of a building is just as important as that of family history. There are careers that allow a professional genealogist to keep track of a building's history.

  • Teacher/Lecturer

As a certified genealogical lecturer, you can pass on your valuable knowledge to others interested in history and genealogy in general. It's a full-circle moment when you can hand down information and knowledge you've received from experts in the past to future generations.

Final Thoughts

There are many career paths within genealogy to explore, and earning a genealogy certification could be the key you need to jump into an exciting new world of historical facts and clues. A certification in genealogy could be the ticket you need to secure more job opportunities and advancements in the field.

Neil Edwards

Neil Edwards

Genealogist and family-tree research specialist

Neil was born in Shropshire, England surrounded by centuries of living history. His interest in the past has been a lifelong passion leading to undergraduate degrees in both Economic History & Geography and History & Politics.

This interest in history quickly translated to family history when he moved to the U.S. in 2010. It was here that he began working on his own family tree as well as that of his American wife. That research allowed him to gain a wealth of experience working with both U.S. and European genealogical documents and studying their best uses in researching family history.

Following 9 years of honing his genealogical research skills, Neil was proud to have earned a certificate in Genealogical Research from Boston University in late 2019. Neil also took part in the research process for a Duke University study into the families of 19th Century UK Members of Parliament.

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