Do you ever go back and re-read reference books?

While I rarely re-read a leisure reading book (FYI: I am reading Catherine the Great right now by Massie), I do find myself going back and re-reading my reference books.  As I have now done a few client reports, I thought I would glance again at Professional Genealogy by ESM.  It was interesting how it resonated with me much stronger the second time around.  I suspect that it will resonate even stronger the 3rd and possibly the 4th time as well.

Some of my ah-ha moments as i went through the first two chapters were:

Observation no. 1: I did a little homage to Birdie Holsclaw when I saw her name in the Table of Contents. Birdie was a friend of mine when we lived in Colorado.

Observation no. 2: I have been thinking a lot about what is a “professional?” (Chapter 1: Defining Professionalism by Donn Devine)  There are the professions (usually considered law, medicine, architecture, teaching etc. as professions) of which I belong to one.  Since I did the pro bono work for my clients, I wondered…does that made me a “professional genealogist?” Or, did I have to have a paying client to do that?  Or, did I have to practice for a length of time before I could call myself a professional genealogist?  As an architect I had to have a certain level of degree, then go through an apprenticeship program for three years, and take a comprehensive exam.  Then and only if I passed the test, could I call myself an architect.  Was getting certified kind of like that?  Without a required internship?

Mr Devine defines professionalism by the perceptions of three groups:  public, peer, and self. The narrative about public and self perception are very short, less than 1 page each.  The one on Peer Perception is 6 pages long.  Obviously he considers the perceptions of peers to be the critical audience.  He then outlines some of the elements of peer perception, noting that preliminary applicants for BCG certification have, on average, 15 years of personal experience (check!) and 3 years of professional experience (nope).  At some point I might set up a score card and see how I have progressed on the 7 major categories (some have subcategories).

Observation no. 3: I read through Chapter 2: Educational Preparation by Claire Mire Bettag, CGRS.  It was very interesting.  I promise myself that next year I would either go to Samford or take the BU course.  Ms. Bettag gives a good overview of the courses, some of which I was not aware of.  One I hadn’t checked out as closely as I should is the NGS course or those given by NARA in DC.  I will check those out.

And that’s how far I am right now.

I would like to offer two ideas for comment:

  1. BCG should consider the addition of a mentorship program to their process of certification.  I find that I feel particularly isolated here from the serious researchers and would like to have someone I would talk to regularly to push me to a higher level and to comment on work product.  While each client report got better and better, I think they would have been much better quicker with some mentorship.  I do not think this has to violate their rule about it being 100% your work if the comments were received after the client report was delivered to the client but it allowed the individual to incorporate the comments into the next work product.  I am sure they have thought of this.  I just think it sounds like a good idea.
  2. Teleconferencing would make some of these classes/conferences more accessible instead of having to journey to a specific location and pay for housing and food etc.  I was glad to see RootsTech have some of their sessions on-line.  A friend of mine recently got her a business doctorate on-line.  She lives in Houston.  You can get your doctorate in Pharmacy on line.  All from reputable universities.  Seems like genealogy classes (complete with assignments and class participation) could work with a Skype feature.

So those are my thoughts today.

Happy Hunting!


Things I have done since the last post:  read the first two chapters of Professional Genealogy again; worked on incorporating the comments of my instructor into my paper, posted 3 postings on the class bulletin board on sources, information, evidence and about writing footnotes and bibliographies; worked on the brochure (I have the next draft done…I need to get a good picture of me), did some filing of work product.


How can working on a class project also help the BCG certification?

There are many ways to go about the process of doing the 7 components of the application for BCG certification.  As you know I am taking a history course oriented towards genealogy while also working on my certification.  Being basically a lazy person (I like to think of my self as “efficient”) I would like to not do double work while still advancing certification and the class.  Of course, I have to be careful that what I submit for the class I do not also submit to BCG, otherwise, I could have a review by someone of my work that I would then “correct” based on their input.  My understanding is that the review==>corrections process is not allowed.

With that in mind, I have been working on Jens T. Dahle’s Civil War record, which I received yesterday in the mail.  I have only one ancestor (a remote great great uncle) who served in the Civil War so it is particularly fun.  I am tracking his movements (he spent a considerable amount of time in the hospitals in Washington DC) and the battles he did fight in.

Right now I am doing preliminary research identifying sources of information.  Obviously the file I received from NARA is filled with original records, but other information I am gathering from the Internet is derivative.  His Civil War Military file provides me with information, some of it is primary (muster in/out records) and some secondary (Prisoner of War summary document).  After evaluation and an exclusion process, the information leads to conclusions based on evidence, most of which is direct and very relevant for the Client Report.  This is all part of the evaluation process providing proof of his Civil War experience.  If all this sounds like ESM NGS Quarterly article, “Working with Historical Evidence,” you are right.

So, how does this help my class?  BCG requires that the final report be turned in but it does not require any of the intermediate tools you use to get there.  One of our class assignments is a chronology of historical events paired with your ancestor’s action.  I have used chronologies in the past for genealogical purposes and find that they simplify certain kinds of information so it can be better analyzed.  The use of this tool was imperative to understanding the movements of Jens and his regiment over the 3 year period of the time of 1862 to 1865.   I generated a table composed of four columns:  what was happening nationally, what was the regiment doing, what was Jens doing and the date.  This time line, for the purposes of the assignment will have to be condensed (he’s asked for 1 page and I am at four!).

I struggled with the identifying of the focus for the chronology for a while and almost decided on Grietje Wientjes and her immigration.  I would really like to understand her immigration motivation (she left a twin sister behind), but I decided to flow with the information I had rather than having to work for information that might be difficult to get. And, so, I am doing Jens instead.

And, I now know much more about the Civil War than I did two days ago and I am getting familiar with Civil War original sources.

I would be interested in knowing how you have used chronologies in your genealogy work.  Why not leave a comment to this article and let us know.

Happy hunting!


What I have been doing today:  reading through carefully the Civil War record and developing a table to understand the historical context.  I have a couple of people to find in Anna Oline Seim’s lineage and I suspect in a very quick time I will have what I am looking for.

Can I accept help from others?

Based on my reading and the content of several videos by the experts, even the hiring of a professional genealogist is allowed as long as you are doing the interpretation of the information.  (remember the ESM graphic where she describes how our SOURCES supply us with INFORMATION which we interpret (or not) as EVIDENCE.)  So our genealogical “angels” may access sources that we can not and provide us with information, but we have to interpret that information to determine if it is credible evidence.  Does it support or disprove our argument (using this term as an academic would)?

A case in point:  Working on “my” Jens T. Dahle family, I was trying to push the family back another generation to his wife’s grandparents.  I find the Norwegian search engine challenging, mainly because I do not know Norwegian!  The rootsweb listserve experts helped me understand the “sogn” or parish and what “fylke” it was in so I could find the information.  They were kind enough to even test some of the features and came up with what they thought (and they were careful to say that) was “my” guy I was looking for.  A reasonably exhaustive search was conducted to find other Oles that might fulfill the criteria.  Only two survived that test….two Ole Nielson/Nilsons christened on the same day.  So which of the two  was it?  It was a case of whether the indirect evidence was enough to draw a reasonable conclusion.  The “seal the deal” fact was that the mother of Ole #1 was named Randi Oldsdotter Sem.  Sem being a farm name which carried forward for two generations in this lineage with just a slight variation in spelling.

When I started working on my first major paper, the case study, I struggled with what was indirect evidence and what to write about.  I see now that almost all of our conclusions are based on indirect evidence, because we weren’t there when the event occurred.  I could write the case study on the above example, but I picked a more difficult example that used the historical naming patterns to narrow the choices.  This example would have been more straightforward.

So it’s been a good day (and the Huskies won big over Colorado!).

Happy hunting!


What I worked on since the last post:  improving my skills with the Norwegian records (this will also help me with my own family as I have a brick wall on my Norwegian line.) and completing the four generation pedigree chart for the Client Report (just a few blanks to fill in and I will have Esther’s great grandparents.  Woo hoo!  Note:  the quilt fabric arrived and my client says it is even prettier than she had thought.  She won’t get to it until after the holidays.)

What constitutes “proof”?

Good morning!

I have been working this question for a couple of days as I try to obtain information about Jens T. Dahle (b. 1839, d. 1919) in Norway.  Jens, according to the 1900 census was born March 1839 in Norway and emigrated in 1858, ending up in MN.  But where in Norway?  I found his wife very quickly.  He remained elusive.  I could not find him in the Castle Gardens passenger manifests, so I am taking an enumerator’s “word” for the birth month and year and his year of immigration.  I did look at for others that might have posted information about Dahle and found that Jim Larson had posted information that placed him in Leikanger parish (on a deep fjord on the west coast of Norway).  Jim had given a source for the birth but there was no comment about how he knew it was “his” Jens.

Genealogy proof often relies on indirect evidence….the accumulation of consistent evidence from a wide range of sources which makes it difficult to believe that there would be someone else with that set of same facts.  Such was the case for Jens.

In Norway, people had a patronymic name but also had a farm name… “Jens” was a given name, “Dahle” is a farm name and probably the “T.” represented a patronymic name or that of his father.  Jim L. reported that the patronymic name was “Torkelson” for his father, Torkel.  So now I needed to if there was a Jens, born in March of 1839 with a father of Torkel in the Leikanger parish records.  Sure enough, a Jens was born 25 March 1839 in Leikanger parish, the same date that the Findagrave website recorded.  Now, the question was, “Did Jens Torkelson emigrate in 1858?”  Sure enough, Jens Torkelson emigrated from the parish to North America in April of 1858 with a small group of others.

Is that enough?

It would be great if I could state that I found Jens Torkelson in the passenger manifests but to date I haven’t been able to find him.  Perhaps I will if I keep looking, especially since I suspect he traveled with the others.  I might be able to find the others and find that the record/search engine transcription is grossly misspelled, not an uncommon event.

So, do I think that this is enough “proof” even if I cannot find the immigration record?  What we have:

  • an consistency on birth date, day, month and year
  • an consistency on emigration year, which is early for emigration from this area
  • a consistency of name with traditional naming practices
  • what we do not have: Jens did not name his children using the traditional Norwegian naming pattern for given names (i.e. first male child named after father’s father, etc.)

My conclusion is that Jim Larson got it right because the number of Jens T.’s that would emigrate from Norway at 19 years of age in 1858 would be relatively small.

I suspect that more information will reveal itself over time and will either confirm or deny this conclusion.  It will be important that I outline this in the report to the client so she is aware that there is a chance, ever decreasing that I found the wrong one.

Happy hunting!


What I have done since the last post:  worked on the research of Jens T. Dahle in the US and finding him in the Norwegian Digitalarkivet, an on line data base of digital images of original parish records of Norway (and it’s free!).  It’s fun to do the research after writing papers about what I have found for the past couple of weeks.

What are some of the issues related to sources and citations?

Lately, as you know, I have been struggling with my lineage report.  By Tom Jones’s admission on the BCG videos, it is the most complex report of all that are written.  Should I cite as I go along?  Should I write some and then cite?  What if I do not have the source for the citation (doesn’t happen often)?  What if I want to include information about X but I have no source at all? What if the source is in Iowa and I cannot go there to get it?

Well, these are all issues I have faced this past few days.  Here is what I did to assist with some of these questions:

  • I decided to do a little writing and a little citing!  It seemed like the right balance.  I actually like the act of writing the citations.
  • I went to my public library and copied the Elizabeth Shown Mills September 1999 NGS special edition about Evidence.  I particularly liked the graphic way she defined the words sources, information and evidence.
  • I asked a friend of mine in Iowa to see if they had the birth certificates I was looking for.  They were supposed to be at the county level.  Unfortunately they didn’t have any of them, so I have to go to the state.  I might not get them for two months!  She, however, did find the land purchase document for my ggrandfather’s farm and I am excited to get that!

So, sometime we just have to incrementalize what we are doing, make a list and check things off.

This will be my last post until mid-next week.  Happy hunting!


What I have done since the last post: copied many of the recent NGS annual writing awards (usually lineage reports) to get ideas about my own.  Big takeaway:  have a theme for your lineage and do not be afraid to write narrative at the beginning to provide context.

How do I pick a family for the kinship report?

This has been a question for me for the past two days.  Did I pick the right family?  Did I pick the right focus person?  Now that I know, what I know, is there someone better that I should have picked?  And, finally, am I too far along with this family to not continue and what would that mean?

I really thought it would be fairly simple to pick the right family and the right focus person but now I am not so sure.

Let me give you a little background on the choices and then you might get an idea of the dilemma….

I have 3 ethnic groups represented in my immediate family, Ostfriesen (tiny area of Germany next to the Dutch border), Swedish and Danish.  All three came to the US between 1854 and 1906, relatively (pun!) recently.  A kinship report documents kinships for at least 3 generations and should reflect a wide range of sources (subject of a future post).  I have all families traced to the other side of the ocean with home villages, but once I get there my variety of sources drops off dramatically (parish records and some censuses or census-like documents).  Then the next question is whether I wish to do an ascendency or a descendency report.  I find ascendency reports more understandable once written (i.e. I can tell who is related to whom more easily) so I decided on that.  Another recommendation is that your portfolio should illustrate knowledge in a variety of ethnic areas and since my proof argument and my Document work was going to be the Ostfriesen side of the family, I felt narrowed down to the Danish or Swedish side of the family.  The Danish side immigrated late (1906) so it seemed logical that the more interesting documents were going to be found on the Swedish side.  (There is also a series of illegitimate births on the Danish side making the father/child relationships particularly challenging, although interesting.)

In retrospect, I should have given this more thought but I am not sure I would have come to a different decision.

I decided on the Swedish side, somewhat by elimination rather than selection, and I decided to focus on the immigrants, Bengt Peter Anderson and Johanna Jönsdotter.  But which one?  I looked at the types of documents I had for them, newspaper obituaries, land records, traditions, parish records, probate records etc. and they had a good amount of types of documents.  I thought Johanna’s side of the family was a little richer on documentation in Sweden because I had a probate record (only 25% do) on that side of the family plus the usual parish vital records and household examinations.

What I should have checked a little more closely was the documentation on their children (you have to come forward one generation to the focus person).  I totally lack information on all of the great aunts and uncles.  I will have to spend a lot of time (and $$) in getting this information from the Iowa Health Department.  I could have had the focus person be one generation back and avoided this, BUT…..I wouldn’t have had the variety of sources requested.  Therefore, I am biting the bullet, and going to stick with this family and this focus group, but i wish I would have been a little more analytical about the selection process. (probably the topic of a future post as well.)  However, this is also part of the learning curve-understanding the quality of the proof document you are using.

I hope this helps you make good decisions about what to write your kinship report about.

Happy hunting!


What I have worked on since the last post:  I relistened to the BCG videos, including the one on kinship report twice!  I looked through the archives of NGS Quarterly and their Magazine and found two articles of particular interest on two enumerations of the same family in the same census and one on proving family traditions, both important elements of my Case Study.

How good do you have to be to become certified?

This was an interesting question for me as I wavered between:

1.  I religiously source all information; I am always helping others; I know my sources; I use computers regularly and I am thought of as an “expert”

2.  I am not good enough; I do not attend the conferences; I am not interested in English research and I am doing too many other things to put this on my plate as well.

What is odd is that both 1 & 2 are true.

So, like most things, it depends on the approach you want to take and what you want to get out of the process.

A friend of mine is going to the week long seminars in Alabama, attending national conferences and building her business before she applies.  She says that I am “ahead of her.”  I am not so sure.   I decided that I would use the process to educate me in my weak areas and attend some educational events sponsored locally. Since I have no intention of starting my own business, I will use the application (and response) process to learn more about my skill level.  The critique will be beneficial.  If I get the certification, so much the better!  This sounds pretty laissez faire but if you know me, I am just a little competitive!  🙂  I will try my darndest to get certified.

So my advice to others getting started, decide why YOU want to become certified, figure out a game plan and then go for it with a vengeance.

Check out the newly added feature on the sidebar….”Tip of the Day”.  This will just be a quick tip based on what I have learned in the past few days.

Happy Hunting!