Client Report Comments

Clock 6I have been working on a client report for a while.  And, as I usually do, I learn something along the way that might be of help to you.

I am also working on my portfolio for submission for certification for review by the Board for Certification of Genealogists (BCG.) I hope to submit the portfolio during the Fall of 2016 after my Midwest driving/research trip.

You probably noticed, if you are a regular reader, the countdown clock  now has enough months to get me to 2017. BCG allows  you to be “on the clock” for 1 year, then you have to extend (pay $75). I have extended twice. I now have until 12 May 2017 to submit. Some things changed when I submitted because  the “rules” changed.  I must now keep the portfolio to less than 150 pages (shouldn’t be a problem) and instead of a resume, I have to report my learning activities with a short statement of what I learned. This will now be graded; whereas, the resume was not.

One of the requirments is to submit a real client report. I don’t take a lot of clients, but I had the opportunity to do so right before Christmas. We mutually agreed to wait until I returned from my driving vacation #1 to begin. Here are some observations after I have almost finished the report:

  • I thought I had a couple of good reports in the bag that I could submit. I was wrong.
  • BCG has a monthly webinar about the segments of the portfolio. Any one can listen in; they are outstanding. I was lucky. Right before I started writing this client report, Tom Jones gave a BCG webinar on writing a good client report! Lucky?  You bet! Here are a few things I learned.
    • Have a header on every page that identifies you so no page can “get away from you” without your authorship being attached to it
    • A good client report starts with a good contract, which does not have to be long or formal. (look to ProGen for some more formal ones; they can be simpler.)
    • Write your research plan with citations of where you are going to start.
    • Write as you research
  • Do a minimum of two client reports and then pick which one you think is the better. (I will do a second one in May.)
  • Read the standards carefully–I think you almost have to “read between the lines,” but a  genealogist who had done multiple reports, would probably call me to task and say that to him/her, the requirement was obvious! You can find the standards by which all portfolios are graded, on the BCG website, or you can click here.
  • look at what the standards use as examples which are usually within parentheses.  For example, standard 67, bullet no. 8, says you should include sources you researched that did not result in any findings….OK, got that. But it goes on to say “along with findings of direct, indirect and negative evidence…” [1] Hmmm. I will have to review what I have done to see if I am being consistent, not only in my vocabulary but also with where I apply the analysis of the source.

I hope these hints are helpful.

Happy Hunting!


What I have done since the last posting: gave my first (and not my last) Legacy Software webinar on Fire Insurance Maps. The reviews were terrific and I was on “cloud 9” for two days–but, what are “clouds 1-8 about?” I worked on my client report and worked on the client report and worked on…you get the idea. I am now prepping for my NGS presentations. My next blog will probably describe how I do that.

[1] Board for Certification of Genealogists, Genealogy Standards (Nashville:, 2014), 39.

[2] Elgin watch, photo taken by Jill Morelli at the Elgin Historical Society, Elgin, Illinois, 2012.


NGS 2014: some personal highlights

First off– i have no proof that any of my direct line ancestors, including my parents, ever set foot in Virginia. Nada. So, what was I doing at a conference in Virginia?

The Virginia “track” is only one of eleven that one can experience and I could easily avoid them if I wanted to and concentrate on other learning experiences. But, I found I didn’t want to. You can see below that several of my favorite sessions were VA related.

Belle IsleTuesday: I had bought my plane ticket early hoping that I would get into the BCG workshop. No such luck. So I walked from VCU to Belle Isle (see photo) and then back up the hill to the convention center to register. (Belle Isle was where Mary’s Union soldier/great grandfather was kept for a few months before being moved to Salisbury after being imprisoned by the Confederates.)  I met up with my friend and mentor (and professional “get on the clock” nag) for drinks before Mary, my gracious host, picked me up to drive to her place where I stayed for the week.


“Hell on the Homefront” by ESM (see pic to the left). A new record set to me about claims made, mostly by Southerners,  to the federal government  for war damages
“New Standards or Old” by Tom Jones. Compared the old standards for evaluation of our genealogy work with the new “genealogical Standards.”   He made the strong statement that these standards are not for just portfolio writers but rather ALL genealogy work.


Indexing NGS 2014Thursday:
“Finding Family History in Published Legal Records” by Sharon Tate Moody, a Virginia based researcher. She gave me confidence to explore the published laws of the state and the nation.  I also enjoyed her presentation on the Live Streaming option on land records.
Exhibit Hall: I spent an hour and a half in the exhibit Hall. I reviewed portfolios at the BCG booth, stopped at the FGS booth (met Rorey there, a ProGen cohort member), entered some names at Find my Past, took a picture of genealogists doing a good deed by indexing records. (see left)

Friday: “Bittner Day!”
Attended three terrific sessions by Warren Bittner– German History ( he should have called it “1000 years of German history in 1″), Using German Gazetteers” and finally “Writing to Engage your reader”. All absolutely terrific.

Saturday: The high level buzz is gone! Everyone is starting to drag.
“Using Case Studies to learn Research Methods” by Tom Jones. This was the Birdie Monk Holsclaw Memorial lecture and Tom presented a presentation that had been given by Birdie  and him in 2000 shortly before her death. This was special to me as Birdie and I started an early computer interest group together in Denver, Colorado. She and I were first time mothers together. Russ, her husband, Pat, Birdie and I had dinners together occasionally to commiserate about the lack of computer software programs which focus on sourcing to the extent both of us desired.

Remember the post about how I make decisions about which sessions to attend? Looking back I believe that I pre-identified about 50% of the sessions in advance which I then went on to attend. I consulted and took the advice of others as to sessions to attend and changed my mind on some. I also attended more on Virginia and German sessions than I had anticipated.

Hope to see you in St. Charles.


What I have done since the last posting: I had trouble getting my draft of this posting (and the next) to upload to the cloud and into my primary WordPress box….hence the delay.  I have been working on my Dirk Bode article.  I now feel I have a draft ready to submit to my ProGen class.  I attended the SGS Spring Seminar.  Jeanne Larzalere Bloom did a great job.  I am now also getting ready for the SGS Board meeting tomorrow.

GPS Element #5: Writing your conclusions

typewriterThis is the third of a series of articles about the Genealogical Proof Standard. [1]  The elements are not being published in numerical order, primarily because I had presentations to make on some of the elements, and I completed those first.  You can read about GPS #1 (thorough search), GPS #2 (source citations)  and  GPS #3 (analysis and correlation), by clicking on the links.  I haven’t yet published GPS #4 (resolving conflicting evidence).

My ProGen class is in its second month of writing their proof arguments. Proof arguments are the basis of the BCG case study and components of the Kinship Determination Project, both requirements for certification.  Proof arguments are a type of genealogical writing that describes, in a scholarly way, our findings to a question.

I won’t dwell on the definition of a proof argument, you can find explanations and examples in a variety of places, including the BCG website ( Almost every article in the National Genealogical Society Quarterly is a proof argument.

As our class discussed their first drafts, I started to see some trends in my writing as well as that of my cohort. These observations may reflect a single paper or sometimes the issue is systemic.  One thing remains clear–these are my personal comments.  Each of the items below is composed of 1.) what I see/experience, 2.) any documentation or analysis which clarifies the issue and finally 3.) a statement of how I plan to approach the issue in my own writing.  What you select to incorporate into your proof arguments is a personal decision; your choice may be different than mine.

I pause here for a minute to thank Karen Stanbury, my facilitator for Mastering Genealogical Proof (MGP) by Tom Jones.[2] She made the course, taken in late 2013, rigorous and demanding. I utilize daily the information contained in that book and emphasized by Karen. I know that some facilitators were not as rigorous as Karen and that is their loss.

1. Research Question:  The crafting of the research question seems easy at first and then reveals itself to be surprisingly difficult. At times I was struggling with defining exactly what I was trying to “prove.”  Did I want to answer when Mary was born, or her location of birth or who were her parents?  In the end, for this assignment, I decided to focus on the parents because I had the evidence to support that question.
Analysis:  The research question is composed of two parts: a clearly defined and unique individual and a measurable interrogatory. To identify an individual who is “unique in the world,” you must supply enough known descriptors that there is only one person who could satisfy those requirements.  The interrogatory may be relationship (e.g. who are the parents of…), or an identity (e.g. Which Alonzo Fedpussle paying taxes in Whichamacallit County in 1879, was the son of Alphonso Fedpussle?) or an activity (e.g. What military service, if any, did Alonzo Fedpussle, born in 1847 in Whichamacallit County, provide in the Civil War?)  The interrogatory also needs to be measurable.  A question such as “who is John Smith?” fails on two counts.  John Smith is not unique in the world but, in addition, the interrogatory “Who was…” is not measurable; said a different way, how would you know if or when the question of “who was John Smith” had been answered?
How I plan to approach it:  I believe that I understand the concept of the unique individual but I will continue to work on the crafting of the good question.  I am hopeful that writing more PAs will result in more efficient writing.  Reading more articles will help as well.  I struggle most with research questions that are implied in the writing but not specifically stated.

2. Organization: The organization of the writing is very challenging. It’s not that I cannot organize the writing, but rather I have trouble picking the best organization for the question, the evidence and the reader.
Analysis:  I am not sure I see too much written about this.  In MGP Dr. Jones describes how the work must have a beginning, a middle and the end (I work with several people who always start conversations “in the middle.” Irritating, isn’t it?)  I think this is harder for some people than others.  Dr. Jones discusses various constructs for the argument, including single hypothesis, alternative hypotheses, building blocks and syllogisms [3]
How I plan to approach it:  My articles usually use one of these techniques as the prime organizing methodology and then within that structure some or all of the others will be utilized.  It sounds like I know what I am doing but it is still hard to pick the right structure for the evidence you have.  I’ll probably blog about this more later.

3. Inclusion/Exclusion: We want to include all we know. We worked so hard to get all that information and just because it doesn’t support the research question doesn’t mean we should eliminate it, does it? Well, yes, it does. The focus of the writing should be on the research question and all other material which does not support the thesis should be deleted. On the flip side and equally as “wrong” as too much information, is making the paper so “bare bones” that the author forces the reader to make assumptions and “leaps of faith.”  A third type of problem with writing of proof arguments is where the author writes something which “begs the question.”  In the latter, the reader is busy wondering why something wasn’t covered; just the inclusion of a brief discussion would have eliminated the alternative focus by the reader.
Analysis:  Inclusion of other information which does not directly support the question, leads the reader away from the prime focus; the author appears to have wandered off topic. The reader should also not be making assumptions because the writer has failed to include necessary evidence.  This type of writing leaves the reader with questions which interrupt the flow of the reading.
How I plan to approach it:  I actually have the problem of putting in too little information and making leaps of faith, under the guise of “isn’t it self-evident?” My writing improves if I have the opportunity to let it sit for a while before rereading.  I also write the paper and then outline it after the first draft.  I find outlining helps identify errant bits of evidence which do not support the question, but notice — I outline after I have written the draft.  If I have difficulty outlining the paper, the area of writing which needs improvement is immediately identified.

4. Proof Argument/Research Plan?: Some in the class wrote the argument as if it were a research plan. This sometimes looked more like a listing of sources which supported the query.  The author would include all the evidence in a source list/discussion but never pull it together and correlate by contrasting and comparing.  They told the story but seemed more interested in the sources than the proof.
Analysis:  The eleven points of MGP continue to guide us in the writing but everyone needs to improve on this. [4]
How I plan to approach it:  I will continue to read NGSQ and study other articles.  I admit I was amazed how much I had learned in the past two years by reading and rereading these articles.  I am a much better consumer of peer reviewed articles than I was before–it’s a bit scarey!

5. Analysis of sources: Am I the only one who doesn’t want to read about whether that will was original or derivative or the information was primary, secondary or undetermined?  The inclusion of source analysis after source analysis which is not additive to the argument makes for difficult reading.  The author has the responsibility to provide informative citations which tell the reader the viability of the source that was used; it is not necessary to do the analysis in such a visible way.  For all the analysis, the evidence could still be wrong.
Analysis: These citations should make obvious whether the author was looking at an original, derivative or authored work; using primary, secondary or undetermined information and providing direct, indirect or negative evidence.  Only when two sources conflict is it reasonable–it seems to me– to expect the author to discuss the quality of the source and then draw a conclusion.   The inclusion of that analysis can happen in one of three places– in the body of the proof, in the footnote of the proof and outside of the paper altogether. Authors who analyze every source and include their analysis in the narrative, make for difficult reading. Note the fifth bullet of the 11 in MGP, “We discuss sources to a lesser extent, because most information about sources belongs in the citations and footnotes.” [5]
How I plan on approach it:  I leave out most and sometime all references to the categories of my source, information and evidence.  I have a tendency to write about the analysis of the source only when it is in conflict, i.e. does the source analysis make one answer more appropriate than another?

6. Style of writing: Some authors wrote a portion of their article in a very familiar style- first person, present tense.
Analysis: The third bullet of the 11 points in MGP states “present-tense verbs refer to extant sources and living people….(consequently, much genealogical writing is in the past tense.) and the tenth bullet “the tone of a proof argument or summary is that of a “defense” in the academic sense.” [6]
How I plan to to approach it:  I have little difficulty using past tense fairly consistently in my writing but occasionally, a present tense verb sneaks in.  I just have to be aware of the issue and address it at the time of writing.  Generally, my writing is rather academic (read: dry) so the use of the first person does not often enter my writing.

So this was, and continues to be, a great exercise. I have written a few proof arguments now and although I cannot say I am comfortable, the efficiency of writing is better and my initial output is stronger.

Happy hunting!


What I have done since the last posting: commented on my classmates proof arguments; got the SGS newsletter out to our membership; campaigned to have our society join FGS; purchased, received and deeply skimmed Applied Genealogy by Eugene A. Stratton and Genealogical Evidence by Noel Stevenson. Both are older books but are still the go-to reference for genealogy fundamentals. Also read the ProGen assignment for next month and 4 NGSQ articles (one is related to my BCG case study, one was written by a friend, one is the Q study article for March and one is about a special schedule of the 1880 census where a great grand uncle was enumerated as he was labeled insane. More about this later—I am doing some deep research on the topic of incarceration in an insane asylum in the late 1800’s.)

[1] Board for Certification of Genealogists, Genealogy Standards (Nashville: Turner Publishing Company, 2014) p. 1-2.

[2] Thomas W. Jones, Mastering Genealogical Proof (Arlington, VA: National Genealogical Society, 2013).

[3] Ibid, p. 88-89.

[4] Ibid, p. 90.

[5] Ibid.

[6] Ibid.

The maturing of the citation writer–which one are you?

What I observe:

  • Genealogy newbies: Do no citations because they will remember.
  • Genealogy beginners: Know they won’t remember and cite only so they can find the source again–a dashed off note is good enough.  If they refer to a style guide, they look for the exact citation  and copy what they see.  If there is no example that addresses the exact situation, there is a frustration directed towards the failings of the author of the style guide.
  • Genealogy intermediates: Look to the style manual to see what citation form might be closest. If they don’t find it, they try to incorporate the information of the source in the best location. Some frustration with the style manual but figures that it’s “good enough.”
  • Genealogy experts: Identify the focus of what is being cited; design the citation while empathizing with the reader and how they may perceive the citation.  Think about the research question and what is the emphasis of the item being cited and how that impacts the citation. Refer to the style manual for overall form and as a checklist for order and content. Also understand that they are telling the reader a story in the subtext–the story of the quality of the sources and the extent of the search through the variety of sources studied. When reading quality journals will often read the citations first to understand the subtext story.

Which are you?

Happy Hunting!


What I have done since the last posting:  finished reading Genealogical Evidence by Noel Stevenson and ordered the book, got my flight information for Richmond, reading my newly arrived Genealogy Standards; posted the blog about gender and genealogy, worked on my ProGen assignment (Proof Argument, draft #1) and the SGS newsletter a bit (it’s my weekend project), pet the cat and watched the Olympics (dare I say it–I am finding them a bit boring). Am investigating a Udacity course called “Build your Start-up,” a MOOC about starting your business.  It’s free and self paced.  ProGen will be done in the summer and I might start it in the Fall.  It would be fun to do it as a small group.