BCG: Selecting Your Focus for the Case Study

I have been working on my Case Study (proof argument) for my ProGen assignment. This is an assignment requiring a significant commitment of time if one wants to do it well.  In the first month we created a draft document for cohort review and in the second month we incorporate the comments and complete the paper.  We are in the second month; the paper is due to be posted no later than the 25th of this month.

One of the areas where I struggled was the selection of a topic or focus, both for ProGen and the BCG Case Study. Perhaps you also have that problem, and my struggle and how I overcame it, might help you.

For ProGen, I was very careful in the selection of the individual of focus. It had to be an individual that I would never consider for use in my BCG application.  It could be based on client work but it could not be the client report I was going to use for BCG!  I sifted through all my client reports and picked my best client report at this time.  This one I reserved for BCG. I then looked at all the others and picked a different one for the ProGen assignment.  The problem was to pick one where the research question was a “meaty” enough question that it qualified for a proof argument (complex) and was not a proof statement or summary. [1]

I elected to focus on the determination of the parents of a client’s grandmother, an Irish immigrant in the early 1900’s.

I knew that a problem based on work for a client with only a two month window to write the argument would never rise to the level of a “thorough search” (GPS Element #1) as I was unwilling to approach the client to pay for additional documents and I was uninterested in paying for them myself.  I included that clarification in the ProGen paper and cited the documents that would complete the study.  I obviously do not have that luxury with the BCG Case Study.

But, let’s go back a year or two….

I have been trying to understand what constitutes a good topic/focus for a genealogical proof argument for some time.  At first I thought I had no eligible foci!  They all seemed obvious to me–so what was the big deal?  I kept looking for brick walls that hadn’t been yet solved that I could use for the proof argument.  This was the wrong approach.  I was focusing on filling in a blank on a pedigree chart, rather than writing about the thoughtful analysis of a problem.  I needed to think logically like a mathematician where “if a=b and b=c then c=a.”  So, my writing of a proof argument was the culmination of folloiwng the GPS and presenting the conclusion in a manner that was convincing to other genealogists.  My quality of research would determine the veracity of my work as it would be vetted by other genealogists.

When I made that shift, I realized that every decision we as genealogists record is a proof candidate–whether it is a proof statement (short), proof summary (longer) or proof argument (complex). When I realized the definition of “direct evidence” and “in conflict” could pertain to any individual in my database that had multiple birth years (and I have a lot of those), I realized that I was thinking too small.  And, when I realized that it would pertain to any decision we make as genealogists, I went from having no potential cnaidates for a proof argument to having an overwhelming number of options.

I also realized that when I made that shift, I had completed my shift from a “pedigree blank filler” to a genealogist.  It was a heady moment.

The BCG Application Guide describes the types of proof arguments they will accept:  direct evidence in conflict, uses indirect or negative evidence only or a conflict between direct and indirect/negative evidence.[2]  Here are some thought-provokers as you consider the focus for your BCG Case Study:

  1. Do you have an individual with multiple and different birth/marriage/death dates?  This might qualify for direct evidence in conflict.  (This is the one I am using for my Case Study)
  2. Have you solved a problem about where an individual was born/married or died?  This might quality for direct/indirect/negative evidence in conflict
  3. Do you have an immigrant or someone who moved from one place to another with a relatively common name?  Then you might have the opportunity to use indirect evidence to prove that your guy in location A is the same as the individual in location B.
  4. Do you have a family tradition (event) that you proved true or false? This, too, might qualify.

One of the documents that started opening my mind was the September 1999 NGSQ.  the lead article, “Working with Historical Evidence: Genealogical Principles and Standards” by Elizabeth Shown Mills precedes Evidence Explained by two years but, using a genetic analogy, shares DNA.  The issue follows with an article using each of the BCG options for proof:  conflicting direct evidence, using indirect and negative evidence, and conflicting direct, indirect and negative evidence. [3]

Good luck selecting your focus and…

Happy Hunting!


What I have done since the last posting: presented the GPS Element #2 to SGS, rewritten the presentation to prepare it for a lecture capture to submit to NGS for consideration of it and others for the 2015 conference, did a literature search in preparation for my major article for APG on gender balance in genealogical peer reviewed journals, and prepped for the SGS Board meeting which I will not attend due to a conference (work related) that I am attending in CA.  I am also gathering background for a paper on my great grand uncle who was “housed” in the Elgin (IL) Asylum for the Insane from c. 1878 to 1906, when he died.  I want to find out what some of his experiences might have been.  In the 1880 DDD census he is listed as a chronic maniac and locked up 24/7.

[1] Part of the reason why I am avoiding using my own family for the ProGen assignment is that I am not completely happy with my selection for my BCG Case Study and may change it.  I want to reserve as many options as I can.

[2] Board for Certification of Genealogists, The BCG Application Guide  ( : accessed 14 March 2014), 6.

[3] National Genealogical Society Quarterly, 87:3 (September 1999) 163-217.


4 comments on “BCG: Selecting Your Focus for the Case Study

  1. Terri says:

    Ah-ha moment here, Jill. This helps a lot. Thanks

  2. Pat says:

    I can’t remember who linked me to your blog but I’ve seen your sweet face on the ProGen 19 board (I’m ProGen 19 Mon pm). I related so much to your comments on selecting the case study. I so wish I had not used my “best” one for BU…since it was already reviewed by them, I used it for ProGen also. Now I am in search of a good case study from my files or clients!

    • jkmorelli says:

      Yes, I am in the ProGen 19 Tuesday group–an awesome group. It was a good idea to revisit you proof you used for BU or ProGen. About two years ago I spend significant amount of time with a proof of the the birth village of my great grandmother. I thought I was proving her birth and when I found the birth, i decided that I didn’t really have a proof I had a proof summary and so I sent it off to the Illinois State Genealogical Society for publication in their quarterly. I was thrilled it was published. About 6 months later, I realized that there were any number of questions I could have asked and used with a good one being using indirect evidence to determine location of birth. Sigh. So, I, too, have a “chunk” of my family tree that I cannot use for BCG. That same line would have made a good KDP–but I took that section out of contention for that as well. I tell this story so you can see that I, too, have wrestled with this.

      Have a great day…mine is already great–can’t think the last time someone said I had a “sweet face”…probably my mom when I was 10!


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