Is becoming a genealogist right for me?

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What do genealogists do?

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How to become a Genealogist

There are no formal qualifications necessary to be a genealogist. It is not enough, however, to have researched one’s own family. To succeed in the field requires education in various areas, even if it is not of a formal nature.

While university degree programs in genealogy are extremely rare, most working genealogists have some postsecondary education in related fields such as history, anthropology, or genetics, as well as a sound knowledge of social and local history sources in both original and digital form. Many take genealogy courses and seminars offered by colleges or the National Genealogical Society (NGS), and eventually become members of the Association of Professional Genealogists (APG).

Genealogists may also choose to become certified through the Board for Certification of Genealogists (BCG), which offers these two credentials:

  • Certified Genealogist (CG) – a core research credential
  • Certified Genealogical Lecturer (CGL) – a teaching credential

In addition, the International Commission for the Accreditation of Professional Genealogists (ICAPGen) confers Accredited Genealogist credentials to members who comply with its requirements.

Here is a snapshot of courses offered by the National Genealogical Society. These courses reflect the kind of training that is essential to become a professional genealogist.

Foundations in Family History
This is an in-depth course in American genealogy designed to be progressive, building a solid foundation in genealogy research skills and records to develop a family tree generation by generation.

The sections include:

  • Drawing up the Family Blueprint – basic genealogical principles such as using home sources, organizing dates into genealogical charts, and developing a research plan
  • Laying the Foundation – using various genealogical records and research techniques, developing skills in gathering, interpreting, analyzing, and evaluating genealogical information
  • Framing in Your Family – expanding your experience working with a variety of genealogical records, researching in repositories, DNA basics, writing up research and techniques to share your research

Understanding and Using DNA Test Results
Participants are provided with an overview of DNA testing and how DNA test results are used to answer genealogical questions. Understanding how each type of DNA is inherited and applying that knowledge to a family tree is key.

The lessons take an in-depth look at the types of DNA tests and the unique features of each DNA testing company’s website. The course features step-by-step guidance on working with your DNA test results and cousin matches. Other modules demonstrate third-party tools and how they resolve questions of unknown parentage.

Transcribing, Extracting, and Abstracting Genealogical Documents
A transcription is an exact word-for-word copy of the full document with all the spelling and grammar meticulously replicated. An extract is a word-for-word copy of selected portions of a document. An abstract is a summary that records all important information from a document but may leave out the nonessential legal language.

This course provides detailed instructions on how to transcribe, extract, and abstract documents, such as deeds and wills, along with when to use each process in your genealogical work. Transcription software is also introduced.

Genetic Genealogy / Autosomal DNA (located in one of the non-sex chromosomes)
Genetic genealogy creates family history profiles – biological relationships between or among individuals – by using DNA test results in combination with traditional genealogical methods. By using genealogical DNA testing, genetic genealogy can determine the levels and types of biological relationships between or among individuals.

This course covers how to analyze data to identify genetic cousins and find unknown ancestors. You will learn the tools most commonly provided by the DNA testing companies, how admixture predictions (a method of inferring someone’s geographical origins based on an analysis of their genetic ancestry) are created from autosomal DNA (atDNA) test results, and why the predictions vary from company to company.

Reading Old Handwriting
Reading old handwriting is a critical skill for genealogists, but sometimes it can be challenging. Genealogists practise reading old handwriting to be able to read and interpret the documents essential to researching family history. These documents include probate files, wills, land records, deeds, and court files.

Many documents require the genealogist to read old handwriting to transcribe, abstract, or extract the pertinent data and use it in their family history. This illustrated course explains the writing systems and styles used in the United States during the last three centuries.

Federal Land Records
This course introduces you to the different types of land entries and discusses how land ownership was transferred from the federal government to an individual or group. More than three million people received patents from the government in the thirty public land states. The land application files may contain valuable information for genealogists, including details on family members, neighbors, citizenship status, and land improvements.

You will learn about the different types of land entries including cash entries, donation land, homesteads, and military bounty land. The course also covers details on the requirements for each type of transaction, which type of documents to expect in the land entry files, how to find out if an individual applied for federal land, and how to locate and order copies of the records.

Other sample courses include:

  • Guide to Documentation and Source Citation
  • Researching Your Revolutionary War Ancestors
  • War of 1812 Records
  • Introduction to Civil War Research
  • Researching Your World War I Ancestors
  • African-American Roots – A Historical Perspective
  • Researching 17th and 18th Century German Ancestors
  • Effective Use of Deeds