I am currently a member of APG, the Association of Professional Genealogists. To become a member of that organization you merely have to pay a fee. Then you get to be part of this glorious listserv which constantly fills up your email with all kinds of interesting, tangential, useless bits of information, usually when somebody is asking something along the lines of, “Where can I find New York x records for x county between the years of 1793-1799?” “Oh, don’t you know that those records are stored in x random place, and to access them you have to go to x website or jump through x random hoops?”. Sometimes I follow it closely, sometimes I don’t.
It has never been useful for me in my quest to learn about Czech genealogy, that’s for sure.
My first genealogy mentor was Alan Peterson. He was a member of both. The TLDR summary he gave me was this: BCG certification is good if you want to publish in genealogical journals. IPCAPGEN certification is good if you want to work in the Family History Library in Salt Lake City. Granted, his opinion may have already been out of date 7 years ago, but with his urging, confidence, and general help, I decided to apply to submit a portfolio to BCG. I started applying in around 2013 but kept extending and extending my deadline until I sprinted to the end (a bad choice) and submitted my portfolio in February 2016.
One or two days before we left for the Czech Republic for the first time, which for me was a completely mind blowing and life changing experience, I received my portfolio in the mail.
It had failed.
It was a really crushing blow, which only served to further the pain I felt during and for months and months after our trip there. I hadn’t realized how securely my feet had been planted upon Mount Stupid. How little I really knew about Czech genealogy. How much left there was to know.
Small nation, deep, complicated, vastly rich history.
Back to the listserv of last week. Somebody asked a question which was essentially, “It seems to me that the BCG certification process could be improved to reduce percentages of applicant failure. What do you think?”
The failure rate is currently very high – something like 60-70% I guess?
After a few days of hearing all kinds of opinions from CG’s which really boiled down to, “We’ve already thought through this and this is the best possible solution, and if you’re competent, you’ll surely pass,” I decided to chime in.
It was a big deal. I have not been able to talk about this openly for, well…years.
It was just so painfully demoralizing.
Actually, I totally spilled my soul out about this horrible failure to my blogger friend Lukáš after we had visited him in Prague. I figured, there was very little pride left to lose, why not just expose my entire failure, since he was pretty much the only person on earth who I knew who was capable of answering my questions about Czech genealogy, history, etc. That turned out to be a pivotal choice, since it lead to a now years-long close collaboration on transcriptions, client projects, and now we are in the process of editing a fantastic book about how English speakers can use the Czech Land records for genealogical research. It is thrilling to me to be at this point. Also, he became a really good friend, which is invaluable. A friend who likes to play in the same super-niche sandbox? Priceless.
But aside from Lukáš and a few other select people who I can list on one single hand, I have not really talked about it.
Until I responded to the listserv. This is what I wrote:
I just want to make two comments.
1. First, I’m not concocting a wild story. My first portfolio was rejected. My transcription section passed with flying colors and lots of compliments, was the most fun section for me to complete, and was also the one which I personally knew was *actually* suffering from a severe lack of linguistic understanding.
Because it was in Czech, and I didn’t really speak it.
Since then I’ve traveled to the Czech republic twice, immersed myself in studying the Czech language intensively (if you’re curious, I blog about it here: mujoceanslov.blogspot.com – I test at about a B1/B2 level currently), and am co-authoring a book about how English speakers can use Czech land records for genealogical research with my Czech lawyer blogger friend from Prague.
I am not exactly sure what I got out of my first application besides really expensive feedback on stuff the other researchers mostly didn’t know much about; yes, they gave excellent feedback on the non-Czech stuff in my portfolio. And yes, there are lots of general principles that are universal. However, what I was looking for was a credential to tell me that I’m good enough at Czech genealogy research. I know that at the time there wasn’t a CG around who specialized in Czech research; maybe things have changed now, but I doubt it. BCG couldn’t really tell me what I wanted to know because nobody was actually qualified to judge my portfolio.
The thing to really ask yourself is, “why are you applying?” I am totally going to reapply, probably partially to assuage my hubristic pride, but also because I really like what BCG stands for and I think there should be a CG who specializes in Czech genealogy somewhere in the world! 🙂
2. I had a long conversation about credentialing with a fellow blogger at RootsTech last week. She was very open, honest, and analytical about what she feels are some of the real flaws with both ICAPGEN and BCG credentialing – without it being a complain-fest, and I’m sure all this has been discussed at great length before. But it really is interesting to me that there is a gap between what clients want and what these two credentialing orgs are asking us to do. There’s also the fact that we don’t (and shouldn’t) research in a bubble. I get why portfolios have to be evaluated this way, but it’s still not a great representation of what a *client* usually wants, which is accurate, speedy, relevant research. If the point of credentialing is about setting standards for professionals, then, well… Maybe Dave’s point about removing trauma for the applicants really is highly relevant. Anybody can hang up their shingle and become a professional genealogist. It’s inexpensive and easy to join APG – and not even necessary at all. Most clients outside this little niche world do not know about AG or CG credentials, and in my case (when I was taking clients, which I’m not at the moment; other goals), they really don’t care anyway – they’re looking for someone who can read Czech and translate it into readable English. BCG can’t measure that, at least now.
If these credentialing orgs are about publishing in genealogical journals, on the other hand…well, that’s a whole different story 🙂 I guess the letters become kinda like a union card.
Good luck on your journey, and see you on the other side!
And please don’t take these comments as sour grapes or something. I am actually extremely happy about my journey, I value and respect the credentialing orgs and their goals, and none of this is personal to anyone on this thread in any way.
The response? A big fat silence. 70+ pageviews on my Czech language learning blog. There are usually between 4 and 10.
So, 60+ people read my post and none of them responded. What the heck were they thinking?
Some days passed and I got a response from somebody who really did have sour grapes about the BCG process.
And then I got a response from a woman who was a CG who politely stated that she disagreed with most of my points, except that it would be valuable for there to be a CG with a Czech specialization.
Here are the reasons my portfolio failed: I had a lot of typos, including one super egregious one in the BCG-supplied document I was transcribing. I guess I was feeling extra lysdexic that day, since I wrote 19 instead of 16, though in my head it was definitely a 16. Sigh.
I had some minor citation errors and grammar errors.
Although I had high quality sources for my kinship determination project, the analysis was a bit rushed.
My client project (one of my firsts, which was a mistake) was not that great. But it also was in an area of research that I didn’t really know that much about – German immigrants to Iowa. I was not able to answer the question definitively.
But my transcription of a Czech document from the 18th century? That was fantastic.
Or…well…that is what they said. But I stand by my original assessment: they don’t speak Czech, so how can they judge me on my ability to transcribe it successfully? They can’t.
I knew exactly where my failures were. I didn’t know what the currency abbreviations meant (and now I do, having helped to author a book about them!). I intentionally picked a fairly easy (but impressive looking) record – now I have and can transcribe many others which are far more difficult with far greater accuracy and ease. Czech genealogy is predominantly a linguistic puzzle, not a detective puzzle. I mean, it’s both, but the paper trail is thick and predictable in this part of the world, since it was run by such a well-oiled bureaucracy for centuries.
I think I was looking for BCG to give me something that they really just could not, and I really think that I am mostly to blame for that. The road to gaining knowledge about how to be a great Czech researcher was really unclear and difficult for me to find, but I feel confident that my efforts to learn Czech have been the right choice.
When I apply again in the future, which I fully intend to do if only to assuage my hubristic pride, I will do the following things differently:
- require them to provide me with a document that is far more in line with my speciality.
- I will blow them out of the water again with my transcription. I want the reviewers to really feel like, “Oh my gosh. How can she possibly read that?”
- I need to find a family for my KDP which only had a few children in each of the three generations I document, a family with no (or only a few) NPE’s, and a family with few second, third, fourth marriages. Hahaha. Good luck finding something that meets that criterion amongst my Catholic Czechs.
- I need to try to incorporate genetic gen into my portfolio. When I applied, there were not even standards for this. But now there are, and they are important and interesting.
- I can’t have somebody else review my writing. But perhaps I can create like, a side portfolio which is almost exactly the same which I can have help with? That should be allowed.
And that is the reason why I am not working towards that goal right now, at least not actively. I fully intend to pursue it, but there are other priorities in my life.
More and more, I agree with Randy Schoenberg, a fellow Czech American, about this topic. The title of his blog post says it all, “Is your genealogist certified or certifiable?”
Lukáš has often told me he thinks it’s just a whole bunch of snobby idiotic Americans bowing at the altar of Academia in some kind of ethnocentric prideful arrogance. Who cares if your citations are dotted exactly “correctly” as long as somebody can use them to replicate your search? What matters most – being able to understand and explain what a record means, or transcribing a document with exactly perfect WYSIWYG? This is a huuuuge issue with Czech genealogy, where spelling was not really standardized until the mid 19th century. Is it a rž or a rz or a řz or what? Who really cares, it represents a ř, and you morons can’t even pronounce it.
As for me, well, I am kind of an optimization lover. That is the fun part for me, to see a system and continually try to improve it. It makes me a great mother. It makes me highly critical of institutions like Wikipedia and Academia itself, but not enough to like, not participate.
In fact, this entire journey has led me to realize this: more even than becoming a professional genealogist published in snobby genealogical journals, what I really want is to be a linguist published in snobby linguistic journals. Hahaha.
I guess I felt that I had to share my thoughts and feelings about this with the world, finally. I am fully aware that they are subject to change. I could, after all, be really wrong. It’s just that the feedback I received was mostly pretty nasty and not actually instructive.
Whatever. I am literally writing the book(s) on Czech Genealogy.
Though my criticisms seem to have fallen mostly on deaf ears (or at least silent ones), there’s more than just sour grapes and hurt pride to them; of course BCG could improve its certification process.
We can all find ways to improve.