How to Hire a Professional Genealogist: Part 2

In July, I began my series How to Hire a Professional Genealogist by talking about specialties. In Part 1, we discussed that you’re more likely to have a positive experience if you seek out a genealogist who specializes in topics related to your ancestor or research problem. Specialties may be related to geography, culture, or the kind of problem you’re trying to solve (such as using DNA to solve unknown parentage cases).

Today, we’re going to be looking at genealogical credentials, learning certificates, and other clues to a genealogist’s experience level. In other words, how do you make an educated guess about a genealogist’s qualifications?

Professional Credentials

Worldwide, there are professional organizations that offer credentials to genealogists. In the United States, the two most popular are:

  • Certified Genealogist(SM) credential, awarded by the Board for Certification of Genealogists. Like JDs, Ph.Ds, and MDs, genealogists who have obtained certification have “CG” after their names: Pat Doe, CG.

  • Accredited Genealogist credential, awarded by ICAPGen. Accredited genealogists have “AG” postnomials: Pat Doe, AG.

To obtain certification, genealogists must complete an extensive portfolio of work samples, document analysis, and narrative writing. For accreditation, genealogists must submit work samples and pass a test on a geographic area of specialty. Both are judged by top genealogists in the field. The CG and AG markers indicate that a genealogist’s work has met certain standards.

Now, let’s be clear: a genealogist who holds a CG and AG credential may not specialize in the thing you need. Also, many CGs and AGs do not take clients. But perhaps this is the biggest takeaway:

Many of the best genealogists in the industry are not certified or accredited.

In other words, a genealogist who lacks a CG or AG postnomial is not necessarily unqualified. (Ahem: I am a professional genealogist and I do not currently hold either credential.) So how do you identify a great genealogist if they don’t have a CG or AG after their name? That brings us to our next section:

Published Articles in Peer-Reviewed Journals

I should probably have put this section first because it’s a big one. Genealogists may publish their work in a handful of peer-reviewed journals. A history of publication or an editorial position at a journal signifies a high level of work. Publication shows that a genealogist’s work has been vetted by other highly skilled genealogists in the field.

How do you know which articles were published in journals? Look for these titles in a genealogist’s list of past publications (in no particular order):

Institutes, Certificates, and Study Groups, with a Caveat

Both professional and hobby genealogists may sign up for courses on a range of topics, from Scandinavian ancestry to chromosome mapping. (It’s really fun!) Some are called institutes, which are weeklong courses on a single topic. Others take weeks or months to complete.

If you’re looking to hire a professional genealogist for, say, New England research, it can be a good sign if they completed or taught a course on the subject.

That said, there are caveats:

  1. Institutes and study groups do not offer grades, generally. As such, completion of a course does not necessarily equal mastery of the material.

  2. Each program and course teaches different skills, which may or may not apply to your particular project.

Of Course, There are Exceptions!

There are lots of incredible genealogists who have not done one (or more) of these things. However when you’re reading through lists of possible professionals to hire, it can be confusing distinguishing IGHR from NGSQ. By learning about a few key aspects of genealogy as an industry, you can empower yourself as a consumer. Be sure to check out the other posts in this series for additional tips.

Disclosures: In the past, I was affiliated with, studied with, published with, or received scholarships or awards from several of the organizations mentioned in this post. I did not receive compensation in any form for mentioning any of the credentials, organizations, publications, or programs mentioned herein. For a complete list of disclosures, visit About Me and Talks & Text.