Tuesday, February 5, 2019

Tuesday's Tips-Lisa Gorrell, CG~Preparing for Certification

This time we hear from friend Lisa Gorrell who just received her Certified Genealogist credential.Lisa shares some of her tips for those thinking about starting the process and those already "on the clock". Lisa blogs at "My Trails to the Past" and  “Mam-ma’s Southern Family

I have been recently certified by the Board for Certification of Genealogists® 1  I took eighteen months to work on my portfolio. I had done no work previously before going “on the clock.”
Have you been thinking about becoming certified? Here are some tips.

Tip No. 1.  Get educated! 
It has been determined that many of the candidates that pass the certification process have something in common: They completed the ProGen Study Group  At the time I took the course, it was 18 months, but now it is 12 months long. The group meets once a month and study chapters from the book Professional Genealogy: Preparation, Practice & Standards, edited by Elizabeth Shown Mills. They do homework and members critique each other’s work. It was the best learning experience I had.

Other education where you can learn advanced methodology includes genealogy institutes.
These are a week-long course on a single subject. Some examples of institutes include:
Salt Lake Institute of Genealogy (SLIG)
Genealogical Research Institute of Pittsburgh (GRIPitt)
Institute of Genealogy & Historical Research (IGHR)
Genealogical Institute on Federal Records (Gen-Fed)

I have attended all of these institutes except Gen-Fed. I find that these 5-day courses delve deeper into the subjects and I learn a lot from both the instructors and the fellow students. Of course, I’m also an education junkie.

Tip No. 2.  Figure out whether you are ready for certification.
How do you know if you are ready to work on certification? Perhaps you have been researching your own family for years. Or you attend local genealogy society meetings. Or you have attended many online webinars. See if you can honestly answer some of these questions:
Do you regularly research in probate, deeds, tax, and court records?
Have you done off-line research in courthouses, archives, libraries, and historical societies?
Do you read (and study) the articles in the National Genealogical Society Quarterly?
Have you solved difficult research problems dealing with identity or parentage?
Do you write up your research?
Have you done research for others and written research reports?
Do you follow the Genealogy Proof Standard (GPS)?

Be honest with yourself. Figure out your weak areas and then focus on building the skills in those areas. Take on research for someone else whose ancestors come from a place you are unfamiliar with. That will challenge you beyond your comfort level. It might also reveal your weak areas. That’s good—it gives you something to work towards. Use the BCG website to focus on the key areas where to build your skills. See: https://bcgcertification.org/learning/skills/

Tip No. 3.  Follow the instructions and mind the rubrics.
When working on your portfolio, the most important thing to do is follow all of the instructions. The worst thing that can happen is to leave out steps or to submit the wrong kind of document than what was asked for. You have a rubrics explaining exactly what the judges will be using to review your documents. Use the rubrics to “judge” your own work before submitting.

The application process can be found on the BCG website and there are no secrets. Everything you need to know in order to create a portfolio can be found on their site.
See: https://bcgcertification.org/process/.
I printed out the rubrics and instructions and had them at my desk throughout the entire time I was writing. You must submit your work that has not been reviewed by another person. They want to see how you work as a genealogist.

Bonus Tip: You do not have to perfect.
For each rubric element, you are judged either “Meets Standards,” “Partially Meets Standards,” or “Does Not Meet Standards.” Many portfolios that passed have had some “Partially Meets Standards” marked. The judges look also to see if these elements are remedial. Can the candidate improve with more education and practice?  I have several areas where I will need to improve and will be able to show them when I submit my renewal in five years.

For more about how I became certified, see “Becoming a Certified Genealogist.”


Lisa S. Gorrell, a Certified Genealogist®, has been seriously researching her family for more than twenty-five years.  It was the birth of her daughters that began the journey connecting the past and the future generations.  One trip to Sutro Library to use microfilm of the 1920 census and finding her grandfather’s family got her hooked. 

She is currently on the board of directors with the Contra Costa Historical Society as recording secretary & volunteers at their archives at the History Center in Martinez. She is also a past-president of the Contra Costa County Genealogical Society and past-recording secretary of the California Genealogical Society.  She is the tour leader with CGS’s research trip to Salt Lake City.

She enjoys giving genealogy presentations and writing about her family on two blogs: “Mam-ma’s Southern Family” and “My Trails into the Past”. She has also written a three-generation family history about her husband’s Swedish ancestors.

Lisa, thank you so much for all your tips on becoming a certified genealogist!
Congratulations on your recent certification!

What about you? Are you thinking about certification? What are you doing to prepare?
We'd love to hear from you!

Thanks so much for stopping by!
Helping you climb your family tree,

1 The words Certified Genealogist and designation CG are registered certification marks with the United States Patent and Trademark Office, and the designations Certified Genealogical Lecturer and CGL are service marks of BCG, used under license by certificants after periodic competency evaluations (and only during the current five-year period for which they are certified).


  1. Cheri,
    Thank you, and Lisa, for posting these great tips for getting certified. I have been thinking about it, but know that I am not even close to ready. So, I will go through Lisa's steps one-by-one, until I feel comfortable in applying.


    1. Glad you have found them useful! I am thinking about it too!