New Year’s is a time for resolutions, those annual promises we make to improve our lives that we all too often forget before January is over; but when kept, they change us and our world. Some resolutions such as giving up sugar and soda pop, or exercising on a regular basis to lose that pesky extra 20 pounds or so, are familiar examples of goals for good health that are all too easily forgotten resolutions. Only if we can tie our resolutions to our deepest desires, workable goals and remind ourselves on a regular basis, can resolutions succeed.

I am one of those who changed habits and achieved my last year’s resolution; and I have “kept it off!” I know this same success is possible in searching for and presenting the truth in genealogy. My old New Year’s genealogy resolution: the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth is ever-present for me – I renew it every year along with making new ones in my quest for accurate genealogical findings. And so can every genealogist in this coming year.

Keeping the old resolutions while making new ones

The New Year is a great opportunity for keeping old resolutions and setting new goals in our genealogy research. Such genealogical accomplishment requires prayerful thought, careful planning, dutiful commitment and utilizing the best available in resources, skills, methodologies and technologies. What kind of resolutions might be considered? What tools can help us achieve our genealogy goals?

First – Make and keep the genealogy resolution this New Year: the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth. A record worthy of all acceptation requires such devotion to accuracy. Second, because advances are being made every day in discovering and identifying genealogical and historical records and making such resources available to the public, a good resolution would be to document the known genealogy knowledge of your family and heritage. Go beyond just telling the tale of your family history; gather the evidence to prove it. A third resolution is to pursue DNA testing and access genetic genealogy data for your lineage. This is an ever-expanding field of information that can help open up brick wall and dead-end genealogy problems.

Another area where you can resolve to become more familiar and conversant in genealogy is new online resources. Tens of thousands of informational digital databases are currently being added to the reservoir of public knowledge, and millions of pages of original documents are being digitized through It’s an exciting time for a genealogy enthusiast to be researching and discovering as we keep old resolutions and make new ones!

Getting the truth in spite of the flood of inaccuracy

However, with this influx of useful and valuable original document material, there is an ever-increasing flood of inaccurate and even false body of genealogical information growing on the World Wide Web through public and private website postings of family trees and “genealogical finds”. Such poor information usually develops as the result of bad research and inaccurate interpretation and recording of sources.

A minimal cause of this misinformation is when people actually falsify their genealogy to claim position and history for family pride, money, or legal benefits. Such accounts in genealogy serve only to create false or misinterpreted data that like the “game of telephone” can lead to the loss of historical facts and family tree accuracy. How does a good genealogist combat this and get the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth?

The Example of a Career Professional Genealogist: James W Petty, AG, CG

As a Career Professional Genealogist, I actively pursue professional activities to ensure that my work is truthful and is at the highest level of genealogical accuracy. I have been earning competency-testing and ethics credentials since 1971 to help me keep my knowledge and skills up-to-date with state-of-the-art best practices and abreast of what is new and useful in the field. I currently hold both an Accredited Genealogist (AG), in four areas as tested by the International Commission for the Accreditation of Professional Genealogists – Salt Lake City, Utah and a Certified Genealogist (CG) from the Board for the Certification of Genealogists – Washington, DC.

In order to maintain my competency credentials, every five years I am required to submit to peer-reviewed testing by creating a portfolio demonstrating my growth in the field of Genealogy during this period of time. Such a portfolio consists of examples of my work, continuing education and signing a copy of the “Genealogist’s Code,” a declaration of ethical standards regarding my interaction with clients and other genealogists.

A letter is prepared reviewing my research, writing, teaching, and educational activities as a genealogist over the past five years. As part of this summary I have to include how my skills have developed, and what new resources I am using to enhance my work since my last competency-test. Then I have to provide examples of research I have done during these five years, including a detailed and document-cited narrative report of findings, with copies of appropriate family group records and pedigree charts, illustrating the research along with copies of the sourced evidence documentation that would have been submitted to each client.

Lastly, a board of judges evaluates each portfolio, looking for adherence to competency standards and areas of weaknesses in the research and writing, to recommend additional training if needed by the submitter to prove competency in genealogy. This rigorous and challenging exercise is one that very few genealogists pursue; and not many pass the grade. But such peer-reviewed competency testing is the premier recognition of qualified family history work and genealogical practitioners focusing on the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth.

While this is what I have to do every five years to regularly maintain my five genealogy research competency credentials, such testing and review isn’t restricted to professional genealogists alone; it is open to every genealogist. Because of the developing field of Professional Genealogy AG and CG credential testing is available to all who are interested in achieving this level of excellence in genealogy. How do you do it?

Competency-testing and peer review is open to all genealogists

In order to accomplish such recognized competency in genealogy research, there are some very useful things you can do to successfully pass peer review. You can get educated, competency-tested and participate regularly in genealogy research and continuing education. While education is not required to do or become competent, or to even be qualified or authorized in genealogy as a professional genealogist, education is critical for learning the core knowledge, best practices, skills, and ethics of doing competent and truthful genealogical research.

There are countless ways you can learn these competency essentials either by yourself or in more formalized settings. You can become self-taught by the school of hard knocks and trial and error, by studying genealogy library resources or online, or by attending genealogy conferences, workshops, podcasts, and institutes.

Mentoring with someone who already holds certifications as “accredited” or “certified” genealogist is also a tremendous advantage. And you can always take the formal educational route offered by BYU where I graduated in Genealogy Technology in 1973 or you can attend various other traditional and online colleges such as BYU-Idaho and Heritage Genealogical College to become knowledgeable and skilled in genealogy for a professional career as a genealogist. Honing your researcher knowledge, abilities and skills in family history research is all the more possible by the educational steps you take to develop your competency.  

Another key way to competency is to acquire and use a personal library of genealogical research books in your personal development and practice of genealogy. Most notable ones focusing on competency are the Board for the Certification of Genealogists: Genealogy Standards, 50th anniversary edition; the International Commission for the Accreditation of Professional Genealogists: Becoming an Excellent Genealogist: Essays on Professional Research Skills, edited by Kory L. Meyerink, MLS, AG, Tristan L. Tolman, AG, and Linda K. Gulbrandsen, AG; Evidence, and Evidence Explained, both by Elizabeth Shown Mills, CG ; and most recently, the National Genealogical Society’s Mastering Genealogical Proof, by Thomas W. Jones, CG. We highly recommend obtaining all four when you make and want to keep the resolution to become a better and more accurate genealogist.  

Competency-Resolved Genealogist’s Book Reviews

The BCG Genealogy Standards, 50th anniversary edition is the genealogist’s standards manual. Here the serious genealogist can learn how to become competent in genealogy and achieve accuracy in their research and presentations. The Genealogical Proof Standard for researching and producing sound genealogy is detailed through the 83 BCG established competency-testing standards. The book shares examples of competency in narrative and biographical report summaries from a variety of research projects that show reasonably exhaustive research in original records utilizing primary information as direct, indirect or negative evidence. It also provides instruction on citing documentation and preparing footnotes and bibliographies which are essential competencies in the reporting of genealogical findings and reliably producing both public and private family trees. This valuable book can be obtained at a 20% savings if you purchase it before January 27, 2014 through the BCG website.  

In Becoming an Excellent Genealogist, the great how-to-book offered by The International Commission for the Accreditation of Professional Genealogists, you can study professional genealogy research skills and methodologies needed to develop competency. This collection of essays helps the genealogist better identify and document accurate family history as well how to more effectively employ genealogical and historical sources and data in family tree research and reporting. With truth as your goal, excellence is achievable and competency is obtainable through incorporating the pro genealogy tips found in this publication that can be ordered on the ICAPGEN website.

Evidence, and Evidence Explained, both by Elizabeth Shown Mills, are the premier works in genealogy regarding the all-important evidence of genealogical findings, their sourcing, and document citations and for becoming competent in such vital aspects of genealogy. These exceptional and exhaustive genealogical masterpieces are noted for their in-depth descriptions of evidence and numerous examples for properly citing a wide variety of genealogically relevant documents and records. Every genealogist should have a copy of each volume. Single-handedly, these books have changed the face of establishing and recording truth in genealogy. They can be obtained through dozens of on-line book dealers in new or used form for a reasonable price and should be on every genealogist’s bookshelf.

Mastering Genealogical Proof, by Thomas W. Jones, which was just published this past year (2013), is highly recommended because it serves as an actual guide for teaching the reader how to use and establish accurate genealogical proof in research problems through the Genealogical Proof Standard. Because genealogy facts are not standardized, truth in genealogy must be established and proven by evidence, logic and rhetoric properly using and interpreting multiple sources. His book breaks down the basic information about Genealogy Proof research and reporting to help genealogists of all calibers to improve their skills and record searching, analysis and reporting and to develop competency in its use. It is a publication of the National Genealogical Society Special Topics Series (publication no. 107 that can be obtained through their website as a must for all genealogists that really want to master genealogy research.

Making and Keeping your Genealogy New Year’s Resolution

As you make out your New Year’s Resolutions this year, we hope genealogy is still on your list and your pursuit of truth in your family history will involve developing competency so you will produce the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth. If I can be of assistance in helping you make and keep your genealogy resolution, please let me know.

Contact information:

James W. Petty, AG, CG, is the Board-Certified and Accredited Professional Genealogist, “Climbing the Family Tree Professionally, since 1969”. He is President of HEIRLINES Family History & Genealogy, Inc. (, the “Salt Lake City, Utah BBB Accredited Business” trusted professional genealogy research services firm, providing US and International genealogical and historical research for a world-wide clientele.

For Heirlines-Quality professional genealogy services, resources, and products including expert family tree research, LDS family history assistance, and answers to genealogy questions, please see Heirlines website, and blog For more genealogy and family history help and advice, please follow James W Petty, AG, CG and Heirlines Family History & Genealogy on Social Media: Facebook, Pinterest, Twitter, LinkedIn, Google+.

Heirlines: We professionally identify and document ancestry and kinship relationships and verify and certify the family tree with Certified Family Trees and Certified Forensic Genealogy Solutions. We’re ready when you’re ready!