When shopping for a service of any kind, credentials give consumers a level of comfort that they are choosing a quality professional. Credentials take forms such as licensure, certification, accreditation, and academic degrees and certificates.
Genealogists in the United States are not licensed, but two bodies certify and accredit genealogists. One is the Board for Certification of Genealogists (BCG). The other is the International Commission for the Accreditation of Professional Genealogists (ICAPGen). Each has a stringent process that must be completed to meet their requirements. You can view the details of those requirements on their websites.
Few colleges and universities in this country offer degrees in genealogy or family history research. (Brigham Young University is one that does). Several institutions, however, offer certificate programs in genealogical research. A good certificate program ensures a solid foundation in research techniques, evidence evaluation, analysis, and ethics. If you are considering a genealogist who holds such a certificate, check the description of the certificate program on the institution’s website. What areas does the course cover? Is it taught by people well recognized in the field of genealogy? Is the course good for graduate level credit?
Don’t confuse a certificate program with certification. While a prestigious institution such as Boston University may offer a rigorous certificate program taught by leading genealogists, certification by the BCG is an additional step generally requiring a greater level of skill and experience to complete.
Remember that “Professional Genealogist” is not a credential. Any person can put up a sign or print business cards with that title. While a genealogist without any of the credentials discussed above may well have years of experience and produce admirable work, certification, accreditation, or the completion of a quality degree or certificate program can increase your confidence that you are hiring a capable professional.
Also find out whether your prospective genealogist belongs to an organization that holds its members to a stated code of ethics, such as the Association of Professional Genealogists. APG also provides a mechanism for consumers to file complaints if they believe they have not been treated in an ethical manner.
Your safest bet is to hire a certified genealogist who holds impressive positions in genealogical circles and has authored a long list of articles in illustrious publications. Of course. And you should also vacation in the four bedroom condo right on the beach and drive the Lexus with the heated seats. Except for a little thing called… cost.
Everyone wants the best, but if you’re on a budget you may have to work price into the decision making process. A certificate holder or even an experienced hobbyist-turned-pro without any formal education may offer the value you need to do the research you want – as long as they do quality work.
Look for a genealogist with a level of credentialing that makes you comfortable at a price you can afford. Then ask to see an example of a completed research report to make sure it meets your expectations.