Genealogy has its own language, just as other disciplines such as medicine,
law, real estate, or insurance. A conversation between two genealogists
would probably include terms such as "pedigree chart," "family
group sheet," "collateral ancestor," "ahnentafel report,"
We also have our own set of acronyms and initials that can be confusing
or overwhelming to someone entering the field. Understanding the history
or meaning of the genealogist's "alphabet soup" will bring more relevance
to your research and involvement within the genealogical community.
The acronyms below are categorized by subject, with links to Web pages
(whenever possible) that will give more information.
In 1964 the Board for Certification
of Genealogists (BCG) and the Family History Library (FHL) established
two separate screening processes to test genealogists. BCG grants certification
to qualified applicants in six categories (named below), and the FHL offers
accreditation in specific geographical areas to those who meet its criteria.
- AG Accredited Genealogist
- CG Certified Genealogist
- CGRS Certified Genealogical Record Specialist
- CALS Certified American Lineage Specialist
- CAILS Certified American Indian Lineage Specialist
- CGL Certified Genealogical Lecturer
- CGI Certified Genealogical Instructor
Honorary credentials are given to genealogists in recognition of exceptional
expertise or service to an organization. They are awarded without application
for the honor and without assessment of fees. Below is a partial list
of honorary postnomials issued in the genealogical community.
- FASG Fellow of the American Society of Genealogists
- FGSP Fellow of the Genealogical Society of Pennsylvania
- FNGS Fellow of the National Genealogical Society
- FUGA Fellow of the Utah Genealogical Association
Inappropriate use of postnomials can be misleading to consumers because
it implies credentials have been tested by an organization, and they have
not. Examples would be "PG" for Professional Genealogist or
"RG" for Registered Genealogist. The Association
of Professional Genealogists (APG) therefore published Guidelines
for the Use of Credentials & Postnominals in Professional Genealogy,
which can be found on their Web site.
Almost fifty years ago, the first institute for genealogical education
was organized in Washington, D.C. as the National Institute on Genealogical
Research (NIGR). The NIGR offers an intensive week-long course for experienced
and serious researchers, utilizing the facilities and records of the National
In 1964 the Institute of Genealogical and Historical Research (IGHR)
was created at Samford University in Birmingham, Alabama. Today they offer
a selection of six courses and their program is endorsed by BCG. The British
Institute of Genealogy and Historical Research (BIGHR) is held in conjunction
with the IGHR with a research trip and lecture-tour abroad.
Educational opportunities increased dramatically in the 1990's with the
addition of several institutes included in the list below.
Libraries and Archives
There are, of course, hundreds of libraries and archives with genealogical
collections. The libraries listed below are most often referenced in genealogical
The oldest genealogical society, the New England Historic Genealogical
Society (NEHGS, or sometimes called HISTGEN), was formed over 150 years
ago in Boston, Massachusetts. The NEHGS continues to influence the genealogical
field through their publications and educational programs.
In 1912 the National Genealogical Society (NGS) was created, but used
the term "national" to refer to the Washington, D.C. area. It wasn't until
the late 1970s that NGS began to focus on developing a national membership.
Genealogy began to boom after the American Bicentennial and the televised
ROOTS series; consequently more and more genealogical organizations were
formed to address the different aspects of the field. For example, in
1976 the Federation of Genealogical Societies (FGS) was created as an
umbrella organization for the hundreds of local genealogical societies
springing up around the country, and in 1979 the Association of Professional
Genealogists was founded to support and encourage professionalism in all
aspects of genealogy.
The Council of Genealogical Columnists (CGC) organized in 1986, and the
Genealogical Speakers Guild in 1992. Both organizations encourage fellowship
and networking among its members.
National Hereditary or Lineage Societies
A lineage society is an organization whose members are directly descended
from a particular category of ancestor, such as a patriot of the Revolutionary
War or a Mayflower passenger. Prospective members must complete an application
form showing their descent from the qualifying ancestor for that society.
According to The Hereditary Society Blue Book, there are 147 lineage
societies in America. For a thorough discussion of this topic, see "Tracking
Through Hereditary and Lineage Organizations" by Grahame Thomas Smallwood,
Jr. in The Source: A Guidebook of American Genealogy, revised edition.
Below are a few societies.
There are literally hundreds of genealogical periodicals throughout the
world, most of them published by genealogical societies. Below is a list
of the more widely-known journals that publish general and specialized
topics of interest.
The genealogical alphabet soup includes several hundred more acronyms;
some of them duplicates of one another. For example, CGS signifies the
Colorado Genealogical Society and the Chicago Genealogical Society;
and MGS signifies the Minnesota Genealogical Society and the Manitoba
(Canada) Genealogical Society.
How do we then keep all these initials straight? The only way is to ask
questions when we are uncertain. Genealogists are known for their spirit
of sharing, and will be glad to answer any questions about an acronym
they are using. Who knows? You might ask someone what UDC means and discover
you both have confederate ancestors in Mississippi and can share research
ideas. That's what genealogy is all about!