So many of us are lamenting the inability to obtain records in this time of closure. Many institutions we frequently use, such as archives, libraries, courthouses etc are closed. On May 2020, the Board for Certification of Genealogists published their OnBoard newsletter with the lead article “Portfolios in a Time of Limited Access.” I know many of you receive this newsletter, but I also know that if you are not “on the clock” now (having submitted your pre-application for certification), are not an Associate, or do not have a subscription (you can do that on the BCG website) that you missed this important article.
(Spoiler alert! I give a great tip at the end of this post to overcome closures!)
Mr. Wilds begins by posing the question– can one submit a successful portfolio when the closure of many of the repositories we use prevent us from doing on site research?
Mr. Wilds then reviews all the elements of a portfolio and points out that only two require “reasonably exhaustive research, a requirement of the Genealogical Proof Standard (GPS).” Only the Case Study and the Kinship-Determination Project (KDP) require reasonably exhaustive research or RER. You can find the requirements for the KDP and the Case Study in the Application Guide. You can find what standards the judges use to evaluate your portfolio using BCG’s published rubrics. You can find the quality of the work ALL genealogists should aspire to by reading and applying the guidelines in Genealogy Standards.
The article does a good job of taking the definition of reasonably exhaustive research and pointing out the qualifiers in each bullet of the definition–“at least”, “where possible” etc. Alerting us to what RER is and, more importantly, what it is not.
I want to focus on recommendations for achieving RER in this time of closure.
- Mr. Wilds states early in the article: “Depending on the research question, the GPS may or may not be able to be met using online research.” The implication is to craft your research question so it doesn’t rely on information you cannot gather, i.e. perhaps using an identifier instead of a relationship question….conflicting BMD dates or participation in an event. For example, where was Michael Wood born? Combining information from pension packets I had gathered three years ago a location of birth in Canada was identified, but wrong. Recently, using only online resources I found the correct parish.
- Present a problem you have already solved. This is a good recommendation no matter if the repository is open or not.
- Perhaps you are making it more complicated than it needs to be. The Case Study doesn’t have to be 40 pages long–what if it were only 9 or 10? Remember the definition of a proof argument is “A documented narrative that explains why a genealogist’s answer to a complex genealogical problem should be considered acceptable.” There is no page number goal. Short portfolios have been successful.
- Don’t let “source snobbery” get in your way. Relying on the on-site work you have done on the past and supplementing it with the terrific items that are online is a great strategy.
- You can over prove your work; a good genealogist knows when to stop. I was advised that I had “over-proved” my Case Study.
- Don’t let the closures of repositories keep you from writing up what you have. OK, you may find that you have to wait, but you will be well along with the writing, have identified exactly what you need and have put in a request. You may have the evidence in a closed repository but don’t use that as an excuse not to write up what you have.
My portfolio case study was of a 18th c. Swede, with conflicting direct evidence (birth date off by 6 years). The Swedes have marvelous records; the ones I would reasonably use were on line. I did check to see if others records would reveal corroborating evidence. I found that there were no records that would clarify the question better than the ones I already had access to online. I never conducted any onsite research for my Case Study, nor have I ever visited Sweden. Again, I picked carefully. I consulted frequently with experts at the Family History Library on technical aspects, but you can do that now online with their “Communities” feature under “Help.”
My Kinship-Determination Project was set in the Midwest, where I had researched for decades. I thought I should do one more trip through the Midwest to “wring water out of the washcloth.” While I got great info on that trip and there are no regrets, only ONE citation shows up in the KDP that was gathered on that journey. Could I have submitted without it?–yes.
I predict that the number of complex problems we solve using only online information is going to radically increase in the coming years, due to the great records being placed online by FamilySearch (http://familysearch.org) and others.
Scott’s article does a great job of laying out the requirements and where the flexibility lies. I highly recommend reading it.
Here is the tip: Ask for the document NOW electronically. Anecdotally, I am hearing that many people are asking for and receiving their requested items from courthouses and governmental authorities. It appears that the staff are working, but not taking walk-ins. So a request placed now may even get expedited. If nothing else, your request will be at the head of the line when they do open.
Stay safe; stay healthy!
What I have done since the last posting: taught the latest Certification Discussion Group (if you are interested in what it is all about, sign up at http://theCDGseries.wordpress.com; wrote an article about emigration from Sweden based on the patterns of three small parishes; hosted a series of talks by certified genealogists about their portfolio journey on FB, baked bread and didn’t exercise. how about you?
 Scott Wilds, CG, “Portfolios in a Time of Limited Access,” OnBoard: newsletter of the Board for Certification of Genealogists, May 2020, p. 9-11.
 Board for Certification of Genealogists, Genealogy Standards (Nashville: Ancestry.com: 2019) p. 1-2.
 Board for Certification of Genealogists, The BCG Application Guide 2019 (https://bcgcertification.org/process/app-guide/), sections 5 and 6. The Guide is a free download.
 Board for Certification of Genealogists, “Rubrics for Evaluating New Applications for BCG Certification, revised 15 May 2019,” website https://bcgcertification.org/wp-content/uploads/2019/05/BCG-New-Application-Rubrics-2019.pdf. This document is a free download.
 Board for Certification of Genealogists, Genealogy Standards.
 Wilds, “Portfolios in a time of Limited Access,” OnBoard, p. 10-11
 Wilds, “Portfolios in a Time of Limited Access,” OnBoard, p. 9.
 These are bad research questions and I know it. I need to add additional information about Michael to make him unique in the world.
 Board for Certification of Genealogists, Genealogy Standards, Appendix D: Glossary, “proof argument,” p. 83.
 Thomas W. Jones, CG, “Skill Building: Perils of Source Snobbery,” Board for Certification of Genealogists, website (https://bcgcertification.org/skillbuilding-perils-of-source-snobbery/), originally published OnBoard, May 2012.