Richard Hendrickson, 1930 – 2018

RichardHendricksonIt’s been just about a month and a half since we lost my dad. And today my parents’ church observed All Saints Sunday, honoring those who have passed on in the last year. It seemed like an appropriate time to write a few words here. As my father takes up his place in the communion of saints … and in the family history … his life and presence are still too palpable and the grief is still too fresh for me to have much that is profound to say.  And yet, I need to honor him here, as a vital part of our family history, not to mention our family present, before I can move on. So I have decided to simply share a revised version of the words I shared during the remembrance portion of his memorial service in September:

“My father was a complicated man. I loved him with all my heart, but he was a bundle of paradoxes.

dad_baby“He was a man of great fortitude and fighting spirit, from his war service in Korea to his valiant fight against cancer, during which he suffered considerably but never gave up, never gave in, and at each step, took the next bit of hopeful treatment offered.

“But he was also a man of real sensitivities, who amazed me with the way he remembered the appearance and songs of most of the birds he grew up seeing in Sioux City, Iowa. I once gave my parents a book about birds that included a button you could push to hear their songs. We made it a habit when I visited on Sundays to listen to a few of those, and he almost always had some new bird he remembered and wanted to hear … at least until his failing hearing made it more difficult.

“Many of my childhood memories of my dad involve him puttering outside in the hot desert sun of New Mexico … digging up rocks, trying to get things to grow, something he was successful with surprisingly often. But he was equally content to sit in the comfort of his home and read. Even during his last week in the hospital, he started conversations with me about books … listing the ones he thought I should read. Crime and Punishment came up a couple of times, and I was a little embarrassed to tell him that I had not read that one yet.

“One of my earliest memories of my father involves him helping me learn to tie my shoe while I was sitting on a stool in a kitchen in Iowa City. He had just arrived home. I have this image of him year after year, leaving for and returning from work with a brief case and a thermos of coffee. It took a long time before I really understood what he did and finally realized that, day after day, as a social worker, he probably did not always see the most beautiful side of life. Much like his war service, he did not talk about it much in specific terms when we were growing up, but later in life he would occasionally reflect out loud about it. I now know that for most of his life he was routinely immersed in some of the most difficult aspects of human nature.

Dad8“Like the rest of us, my father was an imperfect person who was haunted by his own unique set of demons and occasionally suffered from what I thought of as a kind of Scandinavian melancholy, and yet he also had a subtle and wry sense of humor that was not designed to impress but was simply a part of his outlook on life. I discussed with my sister last night how impossible it would be to convey it with an example because I did not inherit his sense of delivery. Even in his final weeks of radiation, when he had resolved incorrectly, based on a casual conversation with someone at the cancer center, that he was finished with his treatments, I told him the doctor said he had one more treatment and had to come back Monday. My father simply said of the doctor, ‘Well, he doesn’t have the sources I do.’

“My father loved his family unconditionally, never complained about or blamed his circumstances for anything, and genuinely sought to do good in the world. These were among the most important things about him. He was a huge and important presence in our lives, and while he was unpredictably capable of holding a grudge, he was also one of the most forgiving people I knew when it mattered.

“There was no pretension in my father. He was curious and liked to talk about ideas, and while he had some strong opinions, he really didn’t have much to prove and seemed just as content to lose a debate as to win one … at least with me. Because this is such a rare quality, it always caught me off guard, even in his final years. For several years in New Mexico, he had an old beige pickup truck he drove around on the desert property … and I kind of think he took pleasure in how beat-up and lowly it was.

DadDom“You can tell a lot about people by the earthly things they choose to love. My father loved his family. He loved America. He loved wide, open spaces. He loved the desert. He loved reading and history. He loved Shakespeare. He loved pepper or hot sauce or salsa on everything he ate, which was pretty good for an Iowa boy. He loved living, even when it was hard, because he loved what mattered.

“He loved my mother. In his final weeks, I was spending many nights at my parents’ house. It was mostly for the reason I told my mother — in case there was an emergency in the middle of the night — but it was also because I sensed our time was short and wanted to spend as much time as possible with Dad. He was still fascinating company even in his last weeks. One evening, as he wrestled with recovering from radiation treatment, he told me some days he thought he would be okay and some days he thought he was going to die. As his hearing failed, he began to speak more loudly, even in routine speaking. Later that evening, when I was in an adjacent room, I heard him say to my mother, rather out of the blue, “I love you, Shirl.” I’m pretty sure her response was, “I love you more.” He responded, “Not possible.”

DadRead_B&W“So to my dear Dad, thank you for loving us unconditionally, for your authenticity, and for modeling gratitude for everything that came your way. I promise to honor your memory, to take care of Mom, to do justice to the things you taught me, and yes, to drive carefully … and even to read Crime and Punishment.

“Dad’s life was not always easy, but he fought for it. Even when his ears and his eyes and his lungs and his legs were failing him, he kept choosing to fight for life, which is only one of the things that makes it so hard to let him go. And yet … I also know that he had been growing weary of the fight.

“So I take comfort in thinking of him in a place where there is no more death or mourning or crying or pain because the old order of things has passed away. Rejoice in your true home, Dad.”


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School’s out.

genresearchIn the last couple of days I have wrapped up a 15-week, summer class through the Boston University online genealogical research program. It’s been a great deal of work, but I’ve learned a lot. My research will probably never be quite the same.  The class has been a significant part of my day every day since it began in mid-May. I was in Iowa enjoying the beautiful springtime tulips for a few days during the first module of the class, and now, after several challenging assignments and a long, hot Texas summer, that feels like quite a while ago. I still l have a lot to learn, and eventually I’ll be looking into the new learning opportunities I’ve become aware of since taking the class. However, right now I am ready to reclaim the time for more important things and to put what I’ve learned into practice at my own pace.

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Learning genealogy …

genresearchWhile some other folks may be enjoying lazy days or summer travel this season, I’ll be hunkered down with my books and computer studying genealogy. I enrolled in the summer session of the 15-week genealogical research course offered online through Boston University’s Center for Professional Education. It lasts through August.

I am four weeks in, and this is the first moment I’ve managed to set aside to dash off this post. I’d heard the course was somewhat intense, and this turns out to be true. I’m learning a lot and finding it rewarding. I just don’t have excessive time for summer relaxation or frolicking … or for blogging. For now. Homework calls.

It’s okay, though. Where I live, there comes a point in the summer where I’d just as soon be inside most of the time with the air conditioning and a cold beverage (okay, sometimes coffee). I’m just, for a moment, exchanging the novels, biographies, and current affairs books for titles like Evidence Explained, Genealogy Standards, and Professional Genealogy.

I’m hoping to discipline and expand the methods I use for my own family history research and prepare myself to better perform research for others. I’d best run. I have an assignment due this weekend, and I want to spend time with Dad tomorrow. Happy Father’s Day to everyone.

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Dutch genealogy at the NGS conference

NGS_lobbyThe weather was lovely and the tulips downtown were in full bloom for the couple of days I recently spent in Grand Rapids, Mich., at the annual conference of the National Genealogical Society. This was my first time attending this conference, and I was drawn, in part, by its location and the related and relatively rare chance to attend some sessions on Dutch genealogy.

I’d long wanted to attend the NGS conference, but the timing had never worked out. This year I managed to carve out a small window of time to go to a portion of this year’s event. Fortunately, in most cases NGS makes it possible to buy audio recordings of the sessions you are unable to attend.

I arrived at the hotel shortly before the Dutch genealogy meet-and-greet on Thursday evening and met some very interesting people pursuing fascinating Dutch ancestors. It was a good way to set the theme for the next day.

orangetulips2The next morning I attended a session on the Christian Reformed Church, a denomination with Dutch roots that is headquartered in Grand Rapids. The session included info about the local CRC archives at Calvin College, which I’ve visited a couple of times in previous years but could not get to on this trip, as they were closed during my time there. Later in the day I heard sessions on the 19th-century Dutch colonies established in Iowa, Michigan, and Wisconsin, and on Dutch immigrant women and their occupations. Each taught me something I hadn’t known before.  After running out of Dutch sessions for the day, I squeezed in some skills sessions on analyzing old photographs and on applying the genealogical proof standard to DNA testing.

The next morning, after a session on continuing education, I stopped to buy audio recordings of Dutch genealogist Yvette Hoitink’s presentations that I’d been unable to attend, including Dutch Genealogy 101 and another one on emigration from the Netherlands in the 1800s. I also picked up one on Scandinavian research, making the conference useful to ancestor research on both sides of my family. Since returning home, I’ve already listened to both of Yvette’s presentations and benefited from the slides she generously placed online.

Between sessions, I made a couple of trips to the expo hall, stopping to talk with another genealogist from the Netherlands and with the folks from Boston University’s online genealogical research program, with whom I’m registered to begin a class on May 15. Both were productive visits.

DeVosPlaceThe conference hotel was the Amway Grand Plaza and sessions were held at DeVos Place conference center next door. While I stayed in this very same hotel for a different conference in 2016, this was the first time I’d had a chance for brief but relaxed meandering along the walkway that runs adjacent to the hotel and conference center on one side and the Grand River on the other. I included a stroll over the bridge that spans the river and along other streets around downtown. A few trees were blossoming, while others had yet to regain their leaves, but the early spring weather made strolling inviting. Having visited most of the major Grand Rapids landmarks on previous visits, I used this trip to focus on the conference and the downtown area.

bridge_hotelWhat I enjoyed about the NGS conference was the interested engagement and orderly, comfortable atmosphere. The sessions I attended each drew significant audiences, but the rooms were not uncomfortably packed to overflowing. The attendees were knowledgeable and genuinely interested in the sessions they attended, resulting in good questions most of the time. I crossed paths with several of my fellow attendees on more than one occasion, and I felt I came away having learned a significant amount. While I’ll probably be kept away by work demands next year, I hope they have a great conference in Missouri in 2019. Maybe I’ll make it to Salt Lake City in 2020.

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Digging up that Irish root …

rainyshamrocks_jeonsango2Having recently discovered an unexpected dash o’ Irish in my heritage, I thought St. Patrick’s Day weekend was a good time for a closer look. My journey toward “becoming Irish” started with a smallish but noticeable bit of Ancestry DNA results pointing to “Ireland/Scotland/Wales.” I’d never in my life heard I had Irish ancestry, only English, so at first I dismissed it … but then my curiosity was piqued.

Through DNA matching and records, I came to focus on Catherine Riley, an ancestor from colonial Virginia who was married to Adam Darnell, a Revolutionary War soldier. Adam’s line traces back to England, as expected, but some quick, online research shows Catherine’s heritage likely tracing back to County Cavan, Ireland, and a 17th-century immigrant to America. So now I had two surprises. The first was that I had an Irish root. The second was the discovery of Irish immigration to colonial America. I resolved that by St. Patrick’s Day I would try to learn more. These few weeks have not allowed me to resolve with certainty much beyond the names in the lineage, I’m afraid, but I’m gradually piecing it together. A great deal remains short of final verification.


County Cavan, Ireland

Our ancestor Catherine Riley Darnell, with whom a DNA connection is fairly well established, was the daughter of John Riley, who was born and died in Virginia and was the son of either Thomas (more likely) or Eliphaz. Both Thomas and Eliphaz were sons of Hugh (Aodh), who was the son of Miles (Maelmordha) O’Reilly.

Maelmordha O’Reilly immigrated to America at age 20 with his brother Garrett in the 1600s.  Sailing from London on the St. Bonaventure, he arrived with an Anglicized name, Miles Riley, near the Potomac in 1634. Miles’ brother Garrett would eventually return to Ireland, but another brother Thomas, and possibly a sister, are said to have later migrated to America as well. The word is that when Miles came to America, he received a king’s land grant for 200 acres in northern Virginia, which was increased to 1,100 when he paid the passage of more immigrants. Some of his descendants also eventually wandered up into Maryland. Miles died in 1669 and is said, by some accounts, to be buried in St. Paul’s Episcopal Churchyard in Old Rapphannock County, Virginia.


County Cavan in dark green

Thus far, I may have more information about the O’Reilly clan in County Cavan than about their descendants in America. County Cavan, apparently an old Gaelic territory, is just on the other side of the southern border with Northern Ireland, but it is in the province of Ulster, with the rest of Northern Ireland. Its current population is a bit less than 80,000. County Cavan historically has been heavily, although not exclusively, Catholic, which was the third surprise, I guess. The O’Reillys apparently traded power with the O’Rourkes there throughout the centuries. One online tree traces this family in Ireland back to 1380. I think I’m going to need some verification before I just go with that.

While on this journey with the Irish Riley surname in America, I’ve made a point to also look at the Rileys’ spouses. Women often were less visible in history, so to fully understand the family tree, it helps to veer from the surname and see who’s there. After all, it is only through Catherine that we connect to the Riley family at all. While it’s still unconfirmed, in my American Riley line the wives seem to include the names Plummer (England),  O’Neill (unknown origin, but presumptively Ireland), ?? (England), and Catherine’s husband, a Darnell (England). Catherine Riley Darnell’s descendants eventually made their way from Virginia, through Kentucky, to Iowa, where later descendants are better known to me (through the surnames Darnell, Royalty, Case,  Clausen, and Hendrickson). However, it is with Catherine in the 18th century that the Riley surname disappears from our family tree, which is why I likely had not attuned to it much before now.

I look forward to learning more about Miles Riley’s descendants — my American ancestors — Hugh, Thomas, John, and Catherine. However, there are enough collateral John Rileys in the family that, thus far, I have had some difficulty sorting one from another. It’s best to hold off concluding anything until I can sort it out. Riley descendants are said to be quite numerous across America. Had I known that the book, Colonial Riley Families of the Tidewater Frontier, was available in the Family History Library when I was in Salt Lake City earlier this month, I may have had a look. Oh well. I’ll keep trying.

As so often happens, this journey with the Rileys and the Ireland/Scotland/Wales DNA is likely to lead to new paths of research and new family lines to explore. As for the Riley clan, stay tuned for a future post, “They came from County Cavan …”

Happy St. Patrick’s Day.


(PhotosTop, by jeonsango. Bottom, by Erin Lanigan)


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RootsTech Reflections for 2018

rootstechsignI manage to get to RootsTech only every other year, and this was just my second time to attend. While this was a briefer visit than the first, I continue to be impressed by the goals of the conference … and in sync with them for the most part. It’s a huge undertaking and remarkably well carried out.

My biggest challenge is staying organized and deciding which among many attractive options I should be engaging at any given moment. The sessions ranged from mildly helpful to just what I wanted.

This year the FamilySearch app allowed us to see if we were related to anyone at the conference. I had 298 matches, ranging from 5th – 10th cousins, none of whom were known to me personally. All were from just two or three lines in my family history. With newly acquired email addresses, though, I hope we can exchange information. Because I blogged every day, I’ll just let these slide shows be my final reflections.



The keynotes were excellent, and I regret that I missed Henry Louis Gates, Jr. live, but I needed to return home. I look forward to catching him on video. Brandon Stanton and Scott Hamilton did not disappoint. Both were authentic and warm and touching and wise. I will remember their stories. I also enjoyed and was inspired by Steve Rockwood’s reflections and the panel on the future of genealogy.


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I think I learned more this year than I did in 2016. Maybe in family history, the more you know, the better prepared you are to learn from the sessions. Attendees are diverse in experience, but it’s often helpful to hear things you think you know told in a different way. In two days, I was able to attend sessions both on DNA and traditional research methods. In 2016, I focused on the storytelling sessions, but I satisfied that interest this year through the keynotes and visits to the Expo Hall. As I said, deciding among appealing options is one of the challenges of RootsTech.


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I was more strategic in my visits to the Expo Hall this year, knowing from experience that it is somewhat overwhelming. I did a general walkthrough, then returned the next day with specific questions for RootsMagic and Family Tree DNA, both of which were helpful in solving my problems. I later went through again, looking for less obvious booths and innovative products and services. One example is Four Bears Books, which creates custom children’s books about specific ancestors. How great an idea is that?


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I didn’t do much sightseeing this year, but I did make it to the Capitol grounds and the Family History Library. The time allotted for the library is never enough. I am still mildly awed by all that is available there.  In just part of an afternoon, I barely scratched the surface. While I generally chastise myself for not going in with specific questions to answer, I’d like to make a case for the value of just browsing in the library. I simply took the elevator to the third floor, walked to the Iowa shelves, and found more than I could possibly view in the time I’d allotted. While the discipline of specific questions is a great foundation, browsing allows you to find information you might not have thought to look for otherwise. It’s incredible what they’ve collected there.


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There’s much to love about RootsTech, and I would encourage anyone interested in family history who has a chance to go to give it a try. While I noticed a bit more glitchiness this year, it’s still less than you’d ordinarily expect for an undertaking of this magnitude. I missed the charging stations of 2016 but should have remembered my mobile charger. More abundant seating in the common areas would be a nice touch, but no doubt that would interfere with moving thousands of people about. The crowds were overwhelming at times, but you can’t have everything, and I’ll give the organizers some benefit of the doubt for choosing the best of the options.

Mostly, I love the multi-generational character of RootsTech. It’s great to see the younger people involved, along with the insight of older generations. I appreciate that RootsTech values the storytelling aspect of family history … not to the detriment of quality research, but as an ultimate goal of it. And there is learning provided for every level of experience. If you get a chance to go, then go … it’s worth the time.  (Day 1, Day 2, Day 3, and 2016‘s reflections.)


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Rootstech 2018: Day 3

rootstechsignThe third day of RootsTech (my second full day) was excellent from top to bottom. The morning session with Scott Hamilton was inspiring, and the breakout sessions were uniformly excellent.

Hamilton was interesting and authentic. I wasn’t bored for a single minute listening to his story … from his family to his skating to the insights he has gained through it all.

I also learned a lot from the morning and afternoon breakout sessions, including  one on cluster genealogy and one on Ancestry’s genetic circles and migrations. I came away with some new approaches to try with my own research and DNA results. A session on RootsMagic was helpful enough that I ended up buying the discounted program at the Expo Hall before the day was over. And trust me, I’m no impulse buyer. I had already downloaded the free version, having trouble deciding among the various program options. I wonder what took me so long to dive into genealogy software.

FHL2I devoted the late afternoon and evening hours to the Family History Library and the Expo Hall. As happened with my previous visit to the library, I found I had too little time to explore all that was there. One of these times I need to plan a trip that will allow me to devote a full day to library work. It would help to come with specific questions to answer. Each time I’ve visited, I’ve been wowed by all that is available. I found some ancestors in the index to the “Volksvriend” Dutch newspaper in Orange City, Iowa, which I will have to pursue. And in another interesting moment, I sat down with a heavy, 730-page history of Hamilton County, Iowa, pulling it open to a completely random page, right to an article on descendants of my great-great-great Uncle Lars. Coincidence? I don’t think so.

As this is an abbreviated RootsTech visit for me, I head home tomorrow. I am sorry to be missing the Saturday events but look forward to catching them online before long. I’m hoping the approaching snow tonight does not create travel disruptions tomorrow. General reflections … with photos … to follow.

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RootsTech 2018: Day 2

rootstech_column_croppedOne thing’s for sure about RootsTech … there’s never a lack of things to do. One of the hardest parts is choosing … and staying organized.

Today I started with the opening session, listening to Brandon Stanton of Humans of New York. I was not surprised by the story of how he began his blog but enjoyed hearing it. Creating the moments he does with his subjects, and doing it routinely, is not the kind of life’s work one can really plan in advance. He shows that a story can be present in just a photo and a few words and that sometimes when you want to know about someone, you just need to ask. He is an effective presenter and it’s not hard to see how he gains the trust of his subjects.

I also found time for the Expo Hall today … which is bustling, lively, and frankly, a little overwhelming. So much to see. However, this year I had a little more direction because I had a couple of specific tasks and targeted questions for the folks at RootsMagic and FTDNA. Success in both cases. I otherwise wandered from booth to booth, surveying what was there for further exploration tomorrow.

Norway_ArchivesThe morning and afternoon sessions I attended on Ancestry DNA, Living DNA, and finding relatives in the Norwegian Digital Archives, were all informative and gave me ideas for questions or projects to pursue going forward. I downloaded info on Dutch records and indexes for later reading. And I discovered that the FamilySearch matches I have at the conference are mostly from a few lines on my paternal grandmother’s side. I didn’t get to all the sessions I had scheduled because I found myself needing a break at a certain point in the day … which is how I made my way to the Expo Hall … and then to the cool air outside, exploring a small bit of downtown in the late afternoon.

It’s hard to fit in everything I’d like to do. Time flies by at RootsTech.

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RootsTech 2018: Day 1

SLCI arrived late this afternoon in Salt Lake City for my second RootsTech conference. I attended my first back in 2016. It’s an abbreviated RootsTech for me this year, starting with arriving on the first day, rather than the day before. The first difference I noticed was that I had no wait to check in, unlike two years ago when I arrived with the first wave and a big crowd. This year, sessions were already well under way.

I decided to break myself in to the conference with the general session this evening. It was, as always, interesting, and I enjoyed hearing from Steve Rockwood and the panelists. It’s interesting to let your imagination run wild with the potential innovations in family history. Virtual reality? Maybe.

I was on the fence about whether I could attend this year, so I arrived not fully prepared. No picture-taking, instagramming, blogging, facebooking, or tweeting from me at the session this evening because none of the devices that make such things possible was fully charged. So rather than go to the opening of the Expo Hall, I took the rest of the evening off to charge my devices, organize a schedule for tomorrow, build out my FamilySearch tree to see if I have any matches at the conference, and just generally rest from a long day of travel. With air travel somewhat daunting at the height of the flu season, for the first time ever I wore a mask on the plane. I’ve been foregoing it for the conference itself, at least so far.

Remembering the amount of walking I did last time, I also left all heels of any kind at home this year. Comfortable walking shoes only.

I was impressed with the civility and smarts of the attendees at my first RootsTech and so far that impression still holds … with a few minor exceptions. Come on, people. Please be polite to the people at the Information Desk and when the presenters are speaking. Please be the civil, friendly, warm crowd I know and love. As I said, it was a long and wearying day of travel from Texas. Maybe others were feeling the same.

I am looking forward to hearing from Brandon Stanton (Humans of New York) in the morning. He seems to have a talent for asking questions in a way that gets people to say interesting things … and I would like to be better at interviewing people in that way for family histories. I have no idea what he’ll speak about, but it should be interesting. One of the things I love about RootsTech is that, in addition to offering plenty of sessions on DNA and record-searching, they also celebrate the storytelling part of family history.

It’s good to be back among the family history people, with cool, crisp air and snowy mountains for a backdrop. I’m hoping for a productive couple of days.

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More to learn? Genealogy courses and certification

genealogy_study_bwI love to learn. It’s a lifelong habit I seem to have picked up at some point. Learning about something I love as much as genealogy and family history made it easier to get through a course I recently completed.

About a week ago, I wrapped up the four-week Genealogy Essentials course online through Boston University’s Center for Professional Education. I was dipping a toe in the water to decide if I want to commit to the 15-week certificate program later this year. From what I hear, the certificate program is more intensive, although honestly … the four-week course kept me busy enough between a full-time job and other important responsibilities. Of course, I tried my best to do all of the readings, required and optional, and to participate in all of the online group discussions.

You know you’re on the right track when part of what you’re learning is how much you still have left to learn. Sometimes I feel like I’ve hit a point where there’s not much more to discover about either genealogy or my own family history, and then … wow, it turns out there’s plenty more. This brief course had that effect on me.

The BU course appealed not only to my desire for more discipline in my genealogy, but also to a newly sparked interest in colonial America, the westward migration, Midwest settlement, and history generally. I was relieved to have the time back when the course ended, but I did not feel finished with the learning. I’m still pondering the next move.

I’ve considered pursuing certification … long term … through the Board for Certification of Genealogists. While attaining the BU certificate is not the same as being certified, the BU program is supposed to be good preparation for certification from the BCG. The time and financial commitment are not insignificant, though, so I’m still deciding.

In the meantime, I’m considering the more modest NGS home study as a way to prepare for the BU program. The best part about both programs is that they are online and can be pursued almost completely from home, which might work well for me just now.

I’d welcome any advice from those who have been through the NGS home study, the BU certificate program, or the BCG certification process. Worth it?

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