Alphabet Soup: A Look at Professional Genealogical Qualifications

—William R. Ward

The professional genealogist traditionally displays his curriculum vitae in abbreviated form, by use of postnomial initials. This custom is widespread in Great Britain, where postnomials are used for more than just academic or professional qualifications. Indeed, the study of an individual's postnomials in England can tell the inquirer a great amount of detail concerning the Englishman's social standing, academic background, honors, and profession.

There is a certain amount of snobbishness in each of us. We would pay more attention to an article in a learned journal by John Smith, PhD, FSA, FSG, ad infinitum, than to one authored by John Smith, RG. There is some confusion among genealogists in this area, who are relatively cut off from the other major genealogical centers of the world, relating to the meaning, prestige, and relative value of those postnomials currently in vogue among professional genealogists (cf. Appendix). It is not the author's attempt to discuss each of these in this paper, and those which are primarily honorary in nature will be dealt with in a future paper. The main concern at this time will be with those which are, or purport to be, qualifying evidence of a genealogist's professional expertise: AG, CG, CALS, GRS, LBG, and RG.

Accredited Genealogist (AG).  

The Genealogical Department of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints maintains a program for accreditation of genealogists in a given geographically defined region or country. Unlike the rest of those qualifications to be considered, accreditation is not restricted to professionals. Amateurs may successfully complete the requirements for accreditation. Those requirements are, basically, completion of the following: 1) an application relating to training and background in genealogy, 2) a three-generation pedigree in the geographic area applied for, 3) an eight-hour written examination, and 4) a variable length oral examination.

The oral examination serves the purpose of weeding out those who, by som unexplainable reason, managed to stumble through the written examination achieving the required minimum score of ninety percent. The examinations are generally very thorough, and are limited to one geographic region or country.

However, the written test is so heavily weighted toward LDS records as to render it utterly unsuited for testing a non-LDS genealogist. The test questions often bear little relevance to genealogical research, and the personality of the grader, who is often the author of the test, is a critical factor. A few professionals of good ability are barred from ever becoming accredited for reasons unknown to the author. There is little uniformity between the various tests, some have recently been re-written and have a great deal of emphasis on an actual research problem, where others have needed this revision for many years, and are still question and answer oriented. The author's experiences with the oral examination committee have led him to believe that the report on the submitted pedigree is either ignored completely or given only a superficial reading by the chairman of the committee.

Certification (CG, CALS, GRS).  

The three degrees of certification offered by the Board for Certification of Genealogists in Washington, D.C., have been lumped together because of the similarities between them. Indeed, the difference between certification as a genealogist (CG) and an American Lineage Specialist (CALS) is the difference between the fees involved, as the examinations are identical.

Upon payment of a fee and filing of a preliminary application for one of the degrees, the candidate receives the final application, which, when submitted, requires a further fee. The curren rqaqtes may change, but they range from $35 for GRS to $60 for CG.

The papers received are reviewed by three judges, whose identities are unknown to the applicant. Each of the examinations has a heavy emphasis on the written report, and questions are asked which are open-ended enough to show up the less-than-perfect aspirant. The main disadvantage seen by the author with the certification programs is the casualness of the procedure. Much time is given (months, even) to answer the questions and the work submitted my not necessarily be that of the applicant. Specifics are somewhat wanting, in that the test (if it can be called such) is not limited by region, and the questions are general in nature because of it. Certification is only for US and Canada.

Registered Genealogist and Licentiate (RG, LHG).  

Upon payment of a fee of #20 and nomination of an invigilator, the candidate begins his quest for the professional qualifications offered by the Institute of Heraldic and Genealogical Studies. The author has been waiting patiently for six months for the examination to arrive, and is unable to comment on the contents of the examination. Registration as a genealogist is open to all professionals engaged in research in the British Isles, while a Licentiateship in Heraldry and Genealogy is reserved for members of the Institute, but they are essentially the same. The Institute also offers a third qualification to which a professional genealogist may aspire -- provided he is already a licentiate — that of Fellow in Heraldry and Genealogy (FHG).


No one of the programs mentioned in this paper is perfect. Each has points which commend it. It is the author’s contention that an American researcher would do well to consider both certification and accreditation. A British researcher would not only rightfully attempt for accreditation and registration, but also certification as a genealogical record searcher (GRS).

Another alternative could be the development of a new program which would take the strong points of each program and mold them into a universal program, tailored to the particular requirements of the region or country. As it now stands, a genealogist specializing in any area other than the US or Great Britain, has only accreditation to turn to for professional qualification.

The author feels that the ideal program would be administered by a body independent of any existing at this time, whose sole purpose would be to administer such axaminations. The examinations would be prepared by a group of specialists in the region being considered. The examination would be relevant to and under the direction of an invigilator, while other portions could be prepared at the leisure of the applicant. There would be an emphasis on writing ability, and analytical perceptiveness. Above all, there would be no 'trick' questions. Should the candidate be found wanting in some area, he would have the right to appear before a panel to redeem himself, but this should not be obligatory.

The current programs each attempt to fill the need for qualifying the professional genealogist, but as any attempt to unify them would be unacceptable to the others, a better system will have to be established independently.


A Glossary of Postnomials Used By Professional Genealogists
AGAccredited Genealogist
CALSCertified American Lineage Specialist
CGCertified Genealogist
FAASFellow of the American Antiquarian Society
FASFellow of the Augustan Society
FASGFellow of the American Society of Genealogists
FGSPFellow of the Genealogical Society of Pennsylvania
FHGFellow of the Heraldry Society
FHSFellow of the Heraldry Society
FIGRSFellow of the Irish Genealogical Research Society
FNGSFellow of the National Genealogical Society
FRHistSFellow of the Royal Historical Society
FRSAIFellow of the Royal Society of Antiquaries of Ireland
FSAFellow of the Society of Antiquaries
FSAAFellow of the Society of American Archivists
FSA (Scot)Fellow of the Society of Antiquaries of Scotland
FSGFellow of the Society of Genealogists
GRSCertified Genealogical Record Searcher
LHGLicentiate in Heraldry and Genealogy
RGRegistered Genealogist