My “Moments of Change”

As you think about your genealogical journey, what are the “Moments of Change”–those opportunities that you took and which made a significant difference in the quality of your genealogical work? I had four. These are my “Moments of Change.”

Moment of Change #1:
In 2002, I decided it was time to place my bits and pieces of information that I had gathered on my family for a couple of decades into a genealogical computer program. I did a “do-over.” I took all my evidence I had gathered on 144 ancestors, and source by source entered it into my brand-spanking new genealogical program. Looking at my information with fresh (and more educated) eyes was very revealing.

I made some “rules” about the database:

  • I would never import a GEDCOM into my database. If it was important enough that I wanted to include that information, I would manually enter it. (I adhere strictly to this rule)
  • I would always cite my sources.
  • Every source that supported, or conflicted, with a decision would be included. Some have 12-15 source citations. For example a birth might have all the censuses, BMD certificates and multiple obituaries. (Today I have 88K citations for 13K people.)
  • I devised a system of filing so I could find any source within 5 min…..actually, I can find anything in about 2 minutes or less.
  • I would treat my research no differently than an academic who is doing original research–because I am!
  • I got more serious.

Moment of Change #2:
I decided to take ProGen Study Group. I don’t know where I heard about it, but it seemed like a good idea. I really hadn’t thought about taking clients, but isn’t that what you did? I was included in a stellar cohort, PG 19 Tuesday, that has opened their own businesses and/or gone on to leadership positions in various local and national genealogical organizations.

I threw myself into the assignments, offered and received critiques from the others, and completed the course in April 2014. Some takeaways from that course:

  • While I thought I wanted to take clients, what I really wanted to do was lecture and teach. I shifted my focus midway in the program.
  • The later assignments revealed my love of writing research reports, initially identified in Grad School. I took my genealogy skills of researching primary materials to Grad School and Grad School taught me to read (not skim) for content and write with an academic tone.
  • I started thinking about receiving the credential of Certified Genealogist from the Board for Certification of Genealogists (BCG). This process was one of “no, I don’t need it;” to “why would I want to do that?”; to “well, why not?” It never was a blinding passion.
  • I started going to conferences, and institutes.
  • I got more serious.

Moment of Change #3:
I took Tom Jones’s class “Advanced Methodologies” at Salt Lake Institute of Genealogy. I walked in thinking I was an advanced researcher and walked out a beginner–really. Dr. Jones showed me what I didn’t know. It was a humbling experience.

  • The homework exposed me to regions of the country and eras I had never worked in.
  • He laid out principles for the best genealogical work; ones I try to emulate every day.
  • He was available to answer questions. There were times he couldn’t contain himself and a touch of derision would enter his voice because of the naiveté of my question–but I was tough.
  • I got more serious

Moment of Change #4:
I decided to pursue certification, but this decision was not an easy path! There was little information and no support, except with friends were were operating in the same (perceived or real) “vacuum.” When I looked at portfolios at the BCG desk, I decided not to pursue certification because I could never be that perfect.

I decided to journal my certification journey and created this blog ‘Genealogy Certification: A Personal Journey.” I thought maybe some people would find my musings helpful, and probably funny, as I stumbled along. I also thought I was taking a risk–why was no one else doing this? Did I miss something in the BCG Application Guide that said I couldn’t talk about what I was learning or how I learned it?

I thought it would be helpful to others to know the quandaries I had; I didn’t realize it would be helpful for me to know others were feeling the same way. Some observations on writing of my blog:

  • It was a risk.
  • I became a better writer, the more I wrote (duh!).
  • I explored issues I never would have otherwise.
  • I began to hear from others, CGs and not, about what a good service I was doing.
  • It gave me an outlet for describing some of my “discoveries,” which usually were just good practice.
  • It led to the founding of the Certification Discussion Group, of which I am most proud. It, too, was a risk.
  • I got more serious.

I received the credential of Certified Genealogist in January 2017. I was thrilled. At that moment, I realized I now needed to show others that I was worthy of the honor. I got serious.

So many of my “moments of change” were ones of education, either formal or informal. You, too, will find a path that works for you. There are some basic takeaways, however:

  • Your education as a genealogist will be continuous, whether you receive the credential or not.
  • Assessment of strengths and weaknesses is important. While you want to make sure your strengths are current, strengthening your weaknesses is imperative. don’t pick the “safe” topics; pick ones that will stretch your genealogical skills.
  • Don’t use “I need more education,” as an excuse not to submit a portfolio. You will always need more.
  • Writing the portfolio is an education in itself.

Assessing your own strengths and weaknesses is a first step. Are you just “getting the idea” that perhaps your casual approach to genealogy can be “ramped up” to a different level, or perhaps you already think you are pretty careful with your work and you want to strengthen a weakness? Or, are you somewhere in-between? All are OK–we have all been there. But, the assessment is key to determining your next steps.

Let me know your “Moments of Change.” Happy hunting!


What I have done since the last post: I wrote and distributed a survey to the Certification Discussion Group alumni (n=422), to identify where they were in their personal journey. Report of that survey is almost complete. I only go out of the house for doctor’s visits (last visit was very positive on all counts) so I am writing a lot. I just started a DIY context study on Orphan Train riders in Hamilton County, Iowa and I am working on a presentation on the three riders that show up in my database. I had 2 articles accepted by the Swedish American Genealogist, one just published in June issue (yes, they are late) and the next scheduled for the September issue. Launched our latest CDG classes for 2021.1 (winter)–60 eager students. Rebuilt the website for the CDG attendees. (It needed it–even the attendees were complaining!)

6 comments on “My “Moments of Change”

  1. canyongen says:

    I believe I’ve just started on my moments of change!

  2. dave says:

    Love this post Jill! I recently completed the BU Certificate course and had many humbling moments, I’m looking forward to more of them. I really like the thought of never importing a gedcom, a long time ago I had a cousin that provided me her research via gedcom and instead of keeping it in it’s own file I made the mistake of importing it into my main tree. I think I’m going to start over and do things the right way. You’ve inspired me! Thank you

  3. a gray says:

    It is an honor to know you.

  4. Patricia Naumann says:

    Great post. I had never thought to document my journey which is sort of a winding road. I agree about not importing ANY other tree into yours before going through each and every person, document and source. FamilySearch has so many of my lines wrong I don’t even use them for research….how discouraging. I am really looking forward to this course!

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