Writing: Genealogy Standards

Let’s get the boring (but important) stuff out of the way first. Standards. Many genealogists I talk to either don’t know that they exist or think they don’t apply to them. I hope that you’ll at least consider them when working on your genealogy projects.

Genealogy Standards is a book published by the Board for Certification of Genealogists (BCG). It puts into writing what many genealogists have been doing for decades, especially those who try to work at a high level of accuracy. I don’t intend that to soundBCG Standards judgy or elitist, but if you want your work to stand the test of time, to be accurate, unable to be overturned when new evidence surfaces, the standards are there to help guide you. There are standards for many aspects relating to genealogy. Those regarding writing can be found in chapter 4.

“A soundly reasoned, coherently written conclusion eliminates the possibility that the conclusion is based on bias, preconception, or inadequate appreciation of the evidence. It also shows or explains how the evidence leads to the conclusion.”1 

Some of those standards specifically (but not entirely) are:

  • Standard 59 – Proved Conclusions
  • Standard 60 – Selection of Appropriate Options
  • Standard 61 – Logical Organization
  • Standard 69 – Clear Writing
  • Standard 70 – Technically Correct Writing

When you begin writing your conclusion regarding a particularly difficult aspect of your research, you need to know what you are writing about. Sounds silly, doesn’t it? I’d like to suggest that if you aren’t clear about your research question then you will not know when you reach a sound conclusion. Be clear what you are writing about:

Who was Angeline Mitchell?

vs.

Who were the parents of Angeline, married to Thomas C. Mitchell and living in Barren County, Kentucky in 1850?

Which is the better research question? Which one will you know you’ve answered (proved conclusion) by the time you’re done writing?

Standard 60 talks about choosing the appropriate option for writing up your findings. Does your evidence warrant the use of a proof statement, proof summary, or proof argument? Do you know the difference? Think of them as being on a continuum from simple to complex.

Proofs Continuum
Proof Continuum, created by author ©2020

A proof statement can be stated in a sentence or two with appropriate citations. A proof summary might consist of a series of bullet points and/or paragraphs, with citations. A proof argument is the most complex, building a case usually through the use of indirect or conflicting evidence, much like you see in scholarly journals such as the National Genealogical Society Quarterly.

Standards 69 and 70 discuss technically correct and clear writing. Typos, colloquialisms, spelling, grammar, jargon, and so on can make your writing difficult to read and your case unclear. Likewise, standard 61 addresses the logical sequencing of your evidence. There is some “wiggle room” with how you present your evidence, but you have to present it in a way that is clear and makes sense to the reader.

I could write a lot about the standards for genealogy. I will leave it with an encouragement for you to pick up the book if you don’t already own it and give it some study. I find the standards help guide me, especially when I am feeling stuck.


1. While this book is published by BCG, it is not just for BCG certified associates. It applies to all genealogical work. See The Board for Certification of Genealogists, Genealogy Standards, (Ancestry: Nashville, 2019), 3.

My CG has been renewed!!!

I received word today––after what felt like an eternity––that my CG has been renewed for another five years! YAY!

What does that mean? All CGs (Certified Genealogist®) have to submit a renewal portfolio to the Board for Certification of Genealogists to prove that they are keeping up if not improving their skills after having passed the first time. The renewal requirements FiveMoreYearsare less intense than the initial portfolio, but I am here to tell you that the worry and stress and fear while waiting the second time is much more intense! Why? I was chatting with colleague and pal Judy Russell, The Legal Genealogist, [thank you, Judy, for your constant encouragement!] and discussing the stress I was feeling while waiting to hear if I’d passed. She put it into words: The first time you have nothing to lose. The second (and subsequent times) they can take away your credentials! And then what would I do? I suspect I’d hide under a rock for a while.

To be fair, if one is participating in continuing education and focusing on strengthening weak areas in their skills, there really should be no worry. And I did that. I read the first set of judges’ comments many times, determining where my weak spots were, and worked to improve those areas. Apparently, it worked! (Though it did not stop the little voice in my head that likes to present me with worst-case scenarios all of the time!)

Now that the stress of waiting is over, I can breathe again. Next up: to plan my next renewal project!

Writing: It’s part of the GPS

For those of you who don’t know what the GPS is, in this context, it refers to the genealogical proof standard. The GPS has five components that help genealogists break through brick walls and make strong conclusions regarding tough research questions:

  1. Reasonably exhaustive research
  2. Complete source citations
  3. Analysis and correlation of the evidence
  4. Resolution of any conflicts
  5. Written conclusion of your findings

The fifth element of the GPS is often a hang-up for genealogists. I’ve talked to many colleagues who really struggle with putting their thoughts down into words. We love the chase, we love finding those documents, we often do the analysis and correlation without even thinking about it… bullet-2428875_1920

Writing about our research seems to be a sticking point.

In this new series, I will be discussing ways I have overcome some of the issues with writing about my research. Some of the topics I will touch on will include (in no particular order):

  • time management
  • consistency with writing
  • overcoming writer’s block
  • blogging
  • being organized with writing
  • finding motivation
  • genealogy standards related to writing
  • writing about conflicting evidence
  • writing styles
  • and any other writing topic that comes to mind while writing this series.

I’ve written about citations before and so may not touch on that topic in this series. But you never know.

I’ve been enjoying writing and so I hope that my tips can help you work through your writing blocks.

Five Goals You Should Set for 2020: Part 5, Writing Goals

In the last post, I talked about setting personal research goals, primarily in the form of giving yourself permission to work on your own research. Set aside whatever amount of time your schedule can afford and work on some of your own projects! Along with that research, you should also tack on some writing goals. That research doesn’t do a whole lot of good if it isn’t in a form that can be shared whether with your family or through publication. I challenge you to submit your work to be published. This can be at a national level, but if that intimidates you, try a local or state publication instead.

books-690219_1920I can hear many of you saying “I’m not a good writer.” And to that, I say “pish posh!” That is what editors are for. Editors (whether they are a trusted friend, someone you hire, or that from a journal) make your writing better! Don’t let that “I’m not a good writer” thought stop you from doing it. I sit in my office every day and look at my binders and worry that someday I’m going to come to a point in my life when I don’t get that work published somewhere, anywhere, where it can be used by future researchers. (I used to say “what if I’m hit by a bus” until a friend was literally hit by a bus, don’t worry, she’s ok. Another friend told me to think “what if I win the lottery and move to a private island” instead. She’s right. That’s a lot more fun to imagine. But even then, I’d probably figure out how to get the internet and do genealogical research even on my island.)

Just get it down on paper (or computer screen)!

There are ways to do this. I have plans for a future blog series as well as a possible online group for writers (stay tuned!). There are local writer’s groups at many genealogical societies. Consider starting one if there isn’t one near you. At the very least find a genealogical friend or two who you get along with and who is also interested in getting editing/writing help. You can do this with friends you meet at institutes or conferences and use online means such as through email, Facebook, Google Hangouts, Zoom, or some other online communication system.

My writing goals for this year fall into two categories:

  • Write one article per month, of any style: how-to, biographical sketch, case study, etc. (12 articles by the end of the year) for publication somewhere.
  • Write one article for consideration for NGSQ.

I find I am working or writing a lot. I need to try to translate that into smaller articles that can be published in my local or state society quarterlies, or in larger national magazines. I also want to put the work I do into one of those personal research projects into an NGSQ-level article. They may not accept it but the goal is not in the accepting at this point. It’s in the submitting.

If you are interested in getting better at the act of writing (not necessarily the nuts and bolts of it), the biggest obstacle is the blank page. Just get started! Easier said than done sometimes, I know and understand. But sometimes it just takes some brute force to get going. Once you’ve got words on the screen, the magic of cut and paste, deleting and rewriting will help you make it “pretty.” Don’t worry about “pretty” when you’re getting started. Just get it out of your head. Worry about pretty later.

Let me know about your writing goals. Stay tuned for writing classes and groups in the future!

Five Goals You Should Set for 2020: Part 4, Research Goals

If you are like me, a busy schedule usually pushes personal research aside. And if you’re like me, you get tired of not getting a chance to work on your own genealogy! It is the reason I got into all of this in the first place! Well, this year, let’s set a goal to give ourselves permission to take a little time for ourselves and do some of our own research again!

A few times last year, I gave myself permission to work on my own research on a IMG_3939particular day of the week. Now, I was not able to be super consistent with it, but it was so nice when I was able to just put work aside and do some research for myself. It was refreshing, revitalizing, and fun. Those times have convinced me to make this a more consistent part of my routine. My schedule is just hectic enough that I’ll have to make this plan on a week by week basis, but I use the Full Focus Planner (mentioned in previous posts, but any planner will work) and plan my week on Sunday night or Monday morning. So, I will figure out where I can do 2 or 3 hours of my own research each week.

I recently found a post by Janine Adams who is doing a 30×30 challenge this month. I will be in Salt Lake City at SLIG for two weeks, so I’m considering doing this in February. The idea is to do 30 minutes of genealogy research for 30 days. I think the timing doesn’t matter. If you want to do it in October, go for it. But I really like the idea of giving yourself permission to do your own research for a particular amount of time.

A few months ago I turned in my Board for Certification of Genealogists (BCG) renewal portfolio (yes it has been five years! and I’m still waiting to hear the results, keep your fingers and toes crossed!) and since that project is complete, I want to move on to some family lines that I have neglected. As I’ve mentioned in previous posts, I want to work on identifying some of my German ancestors. So, my plan is to pick up a couple of those lines and get to work!

You might take an inventory of the research you’ve completed, where you’ve gotten stuck, where your interests lie (some of those ancestors really call to us to work on them), or where you just haven’t worked on your tree much. Decide on a line or two to work on. Pick something meaningful.

Are you one of those people who have gotten so busy with genealogy work (volunteer or paid) that you don’t often have time to work on your own research? Have you figured out any tips for getting through this? Let’s work on this together this year! Let’s feel the joy again!

Five Goals You Should Set for 2020: Part 3, Business or Professional Goals

If you are a professional genealogist or want to be, then you may want to set some professional or business goals. This starts with an assessment of where you’ve been and where you’d like to be. I shared some of my business accomplishments for 2019 in a previous post. From those numbers, I can make some goals for 2020.

Typically, I assess areas where I am weak in business (marketing usually) and try to find some educational material to help me improve on that. I also assess my numbers from previous years and make some goals for the new year. For example, last year I presented two all-day seminars. For 2020, I’d like to double that. Or I might extend that goal to say in 2021 I’d like to have six all-day seminars scheduled.

I also look at the number of clients and/or client hours worked for each year. Some client projects are longer/larger than others, so the number of clients may be misleading. But I try to pay attention to both. Last year I had sixteen total NEW clients. Every year projects will overlap a bit so I try to focus on new clients, those that signed new contracts in the calendar year. However, several of those new clients renewed their contracts two, three, or four times. So I also pay attention to the number of client hours.

Now, you can’t just say “I’d like to double the number of clients I sign up this year” and expect that to work in your schedule. I still have a kid at home, one who just moved out, and a husband, so I need to plan for family time. I also, speak, write articles, and take consultation clients. I have to leave time for those activities, not to mention my own personal research and continuing education time. Having said that, there is a threshold bullet-2428875_1920that once met, you could hire a virtual assistant and/or subcontractors and take on even more clients. I haven’t met that threshold yet and so will cross that bridge when I get there!

So, take a look at your business or professional setting. Are there areas you’d like to expand? Are there areas you’d like to eliminate or phase out? (Sometimes letting go of one aspect of your business allows you to grow in another.) Would you like to take on more research clients? Speaking gigs? DNA consultations? Does public-speaking stress you out? If so, consider writing articles instead.

Find a way to track this information, whether it is in a spreadsheet, database, word processor, a notebook, something. Then you can have real data to work with. I personally use a combination of tools: Toggl (time tracking), 17Hats (client management), Quickbooks Online, and my Full Focus Planner (paper planner). It works for me. These systems are as individual as the people using them. Find something that will work for you.

Take an inventory of your business/professional life. Make some assessments. Set some goals. Be organized and methodical about those goals. But most of all, have fun doing it. Stretch yourself a little bit more every year.

Five Goals You Should Set for 2020: Part 2, Set an Education Plan

Continuing education is an important part of any vocation or hobby. Keeping up with the latest developments, learning about new topics, and strengthening areas you are weak in are vital for growth and development. So, let’s look at developing a genealogy education plan.

First, you’ll need to do some self-assessment. There are ways to go about this, usually, they are quite individual so take my process for what you can and adapt to what will work for you. Typically, I ask myself these three questions:

  • Where am I weakest in terms of record type, geographic area (that applies to my research or client work), ethnic group, or methodology?
  • What research (usually personal, not client-related) do I want to expand? And what kinds of education do I need to do that (usually geography related)?
  • Are there areas in my business where I need help, more information, a better system, or another area where I can find a class or webinar to help me improve?

Then, I examine the lecture, webinar, institutes, conferences, and other opportunities to IMG_3920_1024fill in those blanks. I will also seek out books, articles, blog posts, past webinars, and YouTube videos that might help start my education in that area.

Over the last several years, my education, in general, has focused on DNA and genetic genealogy methodology. When I moved from Colorado to Texas, I spent the first year learning about Texas history (fascinating!), ethnic groups, repositories, and research techniques specific to this area.

Looking ahead to 2020 and 2021, I know I want to dig deeper into my personal research overseas, specifically in Germany. I am planning on attending the Genealogical Research Institute of Pittsburgh (GRIP) in July and taking “Foundations of German Research” with Warren Bittner, for example. There are also a number of webinars on the topic at Legacy Family Tree Webinars1, and over the years I have purchased several books that I need to read (you don’t have a pile of books to read, do you?).

You can get very specific with your research plan. I know colleagues who employ entire spreadsheets to the topic. I try to set aside time each week (usually a couple of hours) devoted to something on that education plan (a webinar, article, book, etc.). Then I try to apply what I’ve learned to what I’m working on. It is a real shame when you attend an institute and then don’t have time to work with anything you just learned! So, that couple of hours per week is spent learning and applying to a research project.

There are a lot of new opportunities coming up all of the time, many of them online which cuts down the cost of travel. There are many webinars as well as several new online courses available through Salt Lake Institute of Genealogy (SLIG), National Genealogical Society (NGS), Virtual Genealogical Association (VGA), and others. I am working on some new online courses in addition to the NGSQ study groups I started so stay tuned for those.

Let me know what your 2020 education plans might hold. I’m always interested in what educational opportunities are available in the world!


1. This is an affiliate link.  

Five Goals You Should Set for 2020: Part 1, Get Organized

It’s 2020! Every new year I get a bit excited about the possibilities. It is like a blank page or a new canvas. The possibilities are endless and amazing. But if you are a disorganized mess, you might miss out on those opportunities simply because you are buried in your disorganization (whatever that looks like in your life). I’d hate for that to happen to you! It took me a while to get a hold of it and it is still an ongoing process. I get busy, things pile up, and before you know it, I need a day just to get back in control.

This blog series will touch on the five categories I generally set or review for myself each year: organization, education, business/professional, research, and writing. First, let’s talk about organization.

I’ve written extensively on getting organized recently, so I won’t go into detail here. But books-948411_1280getting your genealogy organized can be a big time-saver in the long run. I encourage you to look at any system for organization and just take the leap and get it done. This is not something you sit down and do one day, usually. There’s a process: pick a system (this involves a little trial and error) then DO the system (get everything “synced” to the new system).

Beyond what I’ve written about, there are a lot of resources for getting organized when it comes to your genealogy. Thomas MacEntee hosted a Genealogy Do-Over a few years back (there’s still an active Facebook Group). Dear Myrtle did a “Finally Get Organized” series on her blog. Most recently, the Genealogy Guys have been posting on their blog 31 days to getting organized, starting with Day 1.

Here are some more resources:

There are plenty more out there. This is just a short list of resources. The main point is, do some research, think about your personal genealogy, and decide on a system that will work for you. Then get started. I’m a big fan of just working on a large task in small bites. Set a timer and do 15, 30, or 60 minutes per day, whatever your schedule or patience will allow. But get started!

Goal Setting: Looking Ahead to 2020

I don’t know about you but I have some big plans for 2020! I always feel a bit of excitement as the new year gets closer. I am not sure if I feel exhausted at the end of a year from all of the hub-bub of the holidays, or if it’s the Winter doldrums (short days and the yearning to hibernate), but I start to feel a bit “draggy” and thinking about the new year gives me excitement.

For 2020, I already have a considerable number of conference speaking contracts as well as three all-day seminars scheduled so far! I list my upcoming lectures and seminars on my Speaking Calendar on my website (can be found in the menu bar at the top). I have also just received a contract for a large project to be done at the beginning of 2020.

One of the biggest plans I have for 2020 is the development of my new National Genealogical Society Quarterly with Mastering Genealogical Proof (NGSQ/MGP) discussion groups. There are still a couple of seats available in the Monday afternoon session. I am excited to work with old and new friends in these groups, studying these scholarly journals through the lens of MGP and the Genealogical Proof Standard (GPS).

Some of my 2020 travel plans include:

I will be presenting three lectures for the Houston Genealogical Forum in February. The Tulsa, Oklahoma Library has hired me to present an all-day seminar in March. And I have a few other things that will be announced as the details are settled. I have a busy speaking year ahead of me!

Other goals I have are to write several articles (ideas still forming) and continue building my client base through speaking, writing, and blogging.HappyNewYear

I hope you can find some time to assess what you’ve accomplished in the previous year and make some plans on how to grow or change in the new year.

Happy New Year!

Goal Setting: 2019 Accomplishments

Every year at the end of the year I assess what happened during the year, what I accomplished, what goals I achieved, what continuing education I participated for myself, how many new clients hired me this year, articles I wrote, and so on.

I have examined my records and can report the following accomplishments.

Speaking

  • Workshops: 3
  • Online Discussion Groups: 3check-1769866_1920
  • National Conference Presentations: 6
  • Webinars: 6
  • All-Day Seminars: 2
  • One-hour lectures (for hire): 4
  • Local Classes (volunteer): 10

Client Work

  • New clients: 16 total
    • 8 projects finished
    • 8 in progress

Writing

  • Articles Written: 9
  • Blog posts: consistently, once per week, usually on Wednesday, since June 2019
  • New Lectures: 6
  • NGSQ article submitted for consideration: 1

Continuing Education

  • Institutes attended: 3
  • Seminars attended: 3
  • Discussion Groups: 2

Other Accomplishments:

  • BCG Renewal Portfolio turned in! (Yes, it’s been five years and I’m still waiting for the results.)

I tend to delve a little deeper into each of these categories and really assess what worked and what didn’t (in my eyes), paying particular attention to what I enjoyed, what stressed me out more than I like, and what I really feel is worth continuing. Then I focus on those items and make goals for next year.

My next post will examine my goals for 2020 and discuss some of the plans I already have implemented!