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Alphabet Soup: Understanding the Genealogical Community
by Kathleen W. Hinckley, CGRS
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Deciphering Genealogy's ABC's
The CG helping you out with your research, a FNGS, suggested that you look into classes at BYU or visit the FHL before beginning your application to the NSDAR. What's all this mean? Read on and find out…

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," and "descendants."

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 Archives.

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 publications.

National Organizations

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!

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How-To Article: Genealogical Eduction — Online and Home Study Courses
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