International Commission for the Accreditation of Professional Genealogists, ICAPGen (National Institute)

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The original content for this article was contributed by The National Institute for Genealogical Studies in June 2012. It is an excerpt from their course Methodology - Part 1: Getting Started, Methodology - Part 2: Organizing and Skillbuilding, Methodology - Part 3: More Strategies, Methodology - Part 4: Effective Searching and Recording, Methodology - Part 5: How To Prove It, and Methodology - Part 6: Professional Preparation and Practice  by Louise St Denis, Brenda Dougall Merriman and Dr. Penelope Christensen. The Institute offers over 200 comprehensive genealogy courses for a fee ($).

International Commission for the Accreditation of Professional Genealogists (ICAPGen)

International Commission for the Accreditation of Professional Genealogists
(Internationally Recognized as ICAPGenSM)
P.O. Box 4464
Salt Lake City, Utah, USA 84110-4460

by Carolyn Varney Nell, AG, FUGA (President, 2004) (updated January 2012)

You are invited to become an Accredited GenealogistCM professional through affiliation with the Accreditation Program administered by the International Commission for the Accreditation of Professional Genealogists, internationally recognized as ICAPGen. While ICAPGen is a United States based credentialing organization, it is international with Accredited Genealogist professionals residing in numerous countries.

ICAPGen is governed by thirteen commissioners who are national and international archivists, librarians, genealogists, business professionals, teachers, and testing authorities. They represent a wide spectrum of knowledge and talent in the genealogical community.

Genealogists interested in becoming Accredited Genealogist professionals are given competency-based tests before they are credentialed. The newly Accredited Genealogist professionals enjoy the benefits of an organization that has forty years experience and good will associated with it. The genealogists may use the postnomials Accredited GenealogistCM or AG® following their names.

The accreditation tests are currently being given at the Family History Library in Salt Lake City, Utah, the DAR Library in Washington D.C. and the Allen County Public Library in Fort Wayne, Indiana. Any genealogist wanting to test should begin the application process by visiting the official ICAPGen website. The application will serve as a guide in the preparation for testing.

As this introduction explores the intricacies of applying and testing, please note that ICAPGen refers to all genealogists entering the Accreditation Program as professionals. While the word implies someone accepting money for hire, ICAPGen takes the meaning to another level denoting professionalism and competency; therefore, all genealogists credentialed by the organization have met its competency testing standards.

Competency Testing

One of the major objectives of the Commission is to help the genealogist to prepare and to test. The good news is that competency testing is designed for success and not failure. Genealogical research is a discovery process, full of surprises, that requires knowledge and skills before reaching conclusions based on the data found.

If the applicant will follow the guidelines established by ICAPGen at its website (Accreditation Process), success is a reality. Please consider that competency testing shows the knowledge one has acquired and the ability to process and analyze information in a timely manner.


There are three major sections of the test:

  1. the application,
  2. the six sections of the written test, and
  3. the oral examination. The applicant is expected to pass each section with a score of ninety percent or higher before progressing to the next section of the test.

ICAPGen now offers three testing levels which allows applicants more time as they prepare for the written test and the oral review. The three levels are:

Level 1: the four-generation application project.

Level 2: four sections of the written exam that test knowledge of record content and usage.

Level 3: two sections of the written exam that test skills in data analysis, research planning, methodology, report writing, with the oral exam following.

The Application

THE APPLICATION is the most important part of the test and contains its prerequisites and requirements. If you, the genealogist, are diligent in following these recommendations and completing the prerequisites, you should do very well on the written and oral exams.

The application has five stated requirements that must be submitted with it:

  • A pedigree chart showing at least a four-generation lineage, prior to 1900, in the area to be tested, which the applicant has personally researched.
  • A list of sources searched (such as a research log or calendar) showing both positive and negative searches.
  • A well-documented family group record form for each of the four families considered in the report.
  • A well-written report, stating each step taken to find and document the ancestry, and why it was taken. The report should also include recommended searches for future research and discuss the probability of success of such searches.
  • The appropriate fee for the application and testing. For the current fee schedule see our ICAPgen website. (Later another fee will be required to test onsite at the Family History Library in Salt Lake City, Utah. Please note that offsite testing might be available when you are ready to test. Currently testing is also conducted at the DAR Library in Washington D.C. and the Allen County Public Library in Fort Wayne, Indiana.)


There are two prerequisites that must be considered before applying:

  1. the selection of the geographic or subject area in which to become accredited, and
  2. the accumulation of 1,000 research hours in the geographic or subject area of your choice. These two prerequisites work in a tandem arrangement and cannot be separated. It is difficult to know which prerequisite should be presented first or second because one is not complete without the other.

Selecting a Geographic Area or Subject:
There are currently thirty-two geographic areas and three subjects from which to select the area of accreditation in which to specialize:

Currently Testing: (as of October 2004)

British Isles- England
British Isles- Isle of Man
British Isles- Ireland
British Isles- Scotland
British Isles- Wales

Scandinavia- Denmark
Scandinavia- Finland
Scandinavia- Sweden
Scandinavia- Norway

Pacific Area-Australia

Latin America- Mexico

Continental Europe
Czech Republic

Canada – French Canada
Canada - General

US - Gulf South
US – Mid-Atlantic
US – Mid-South
US - Pacific States
US - Great Plains
US - New England
US - Midwestern
US - Mountain West

Subject Areas:
US regions also have the option to focus on a particular specialization. Specializations include Librarian, African American and National American exams.

The Gulf South geographic area includes Georgia, Florida, Alabama, Mississippi, Louisiana, Arkansas, and Texas. (Texas is in both the Great Plains and Gulf South regions).

The Mid Atlantic geographic area includes Delaware, New Jersey, New York, Pennsylvania, and Maryland.

The Mid South geographic area includes Virginia, West Virginia, North Carolina, South Carolina, Kentucky, Tennessee, and Missouri. (Missouri is in both the Mid-South and Midwestern geographic areas.)

The Midwestern geographic area includes Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Michigan, Minnesota, Missouri, Ohio, and Wisconsin. (Missouri is included in both the Midwestern and Mid-South geographic areas.)

The New England geographic area includes Connecticut, Maine, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, Rhode Island, and Vermont.

The Pacific States geographic area includes Alaska, California, Hawaii, Oregon, and Washington.

The Mountain West geographic area includes Arizona, Colorado, Idaho, Montana, Nevada, New Mexico, Utah and Wyoming.

The Great Plains Region includes Kansas, Nebraska, Oklahoma, North Dakota, South Dakota and Texas. (Texas is in both the Great Plains and Gulf South regions).

The applicant might think it is an easy decision to select one of these geographic areas or subjects in which to become accredited, but that might not necessarily be the case because the pedigree requirement states:

Submit a pedigree chart showing at least a four-generation lineage, prior to 1900, in the area to be tested, which the applicant has personally researched.

The families of the four generations need to have lived in the geographic area where the genealogist wants to be tested and become accredited. The Commission does understand that sometimes there might be three generations who lived in an area with the fourth somewhere else. For such circumstances where it is increasingly difficult to identify four generations living in the same geographic area, please send a request to the attention of the Testing Administrator and explain. You will receive guidance on the best way to proceed.

A frequently asked question concerns what constitutes a four generation pedigree lineage. The answer is to simply select a maternal or paternal family and research its lineage for four generations. This requirement equates to four family units for four generations.

1,000 Hours:
Through the forty years in which in the Accreditation Program has been in existence, starting with 1964, the administrators realized that it took approximately 1,000 hours to learn and prepare to become knowledgeable in a geographic area. Some genealogists may require more time while others may not. How many hours one may need is dependent upon the genealogist.

Another frequently asked question is, “How do I complete the 1,000 hours research experience?” While there isn’t a simple answer to this question because of the wide variety of research and educational opportunities, the following suggestions are offered:

  • The first place to begin is with yourself—take a self-assessment of the time that you have spent learning and researching. Where are you in your research? Are you a beginner and just getting started? Are you someone who has been doing genealogical research for a number of years?
  • Create and maintain a personal research log showing the dates, time spent researching, comments, and research activities.
  • Please consider that how you gain knowledge and experience is a personal responsibility, but considering that we live in a time referred to as the “Information Age,” there is an abundance of ways to gain knowledge and research experience.
  • There are adult education classes.
  • There are college courses, online and at universities.
  • There are printed methodology books.
  • Research repositories welcome genealogists.
  • The Internet has an abundance of information.
  • There are local and national genealogical societies offering instructions. These organizations offer opportunities to volunteer and participate with other genealogists. Networking is an important part of the learning process.
  • There are genealogy computer programs to learn for data entry.

Everything that you do to increase your knowledge in genealogy should be recorded and included in your 1,000 hours. The time will accumulate quickly, but the bottom line is learning all that you possibly can about your subject or geographic area.

Written Test

The Written Test is comprised of six timed sections. The applicant will be tested on the following subjects, but not necessarily in the following sequence:

  • Document recognition
  • Handwriting (paleography)
  • Electronic Databases Research problem
  • Pedigree evaluations
  • General questions and answers

Oral Test

The Oral Test: When you pass the written exam an oral review will be scheduled. A time will be scheduled that is convenient for both the applicant and the proctors. Some areas that might be discussed during the oral exam:

  • The genealogist’s application which includes the family group records, pedigree chart, research calendar, documents, and report would be considered.
  • The genealogist’s competency skills would be considered after the tests are graded and evaluated. If the proctors see weaknesses in the research and reporting methods, the genealogist will have an opportunity to discuss them. If they think that there is a need to be strengthened in a particular area, but don’t think those weaknesses are enough to be declined, the researcher might expect some supplemental work to be assigned. This is to be viewed as a learning experience.

After the genealogist has passed the written and oral exams, congratulations are in order. The genealogist is an Accredited Genealogist professional with all the rights and entitlements that the credential has to offer.


Ethics and Honor: Accredited Genealogist professionals are expected to maintain the high standards established by the Accreditation Program. They do this by demonstrating their research experience competence and conducting ethical business practices. That is the core or trust that has been created between the Accredited Genealogist professionals and the public. It is this “good will” that must be protected by all who become Accredited Genealogist professionals.

Please visit ICAPGen for additional information. We welcome all inquiries and want to assist you in any possible way.

Suggested Reading

Clifford, Karen A. Becoming an Accredited Genealogist. Orem, Utah: Ancestry Inc., 1998.

Greenwood, Val D. The Researcher’s Guide to American Genealogy. Baltimore, Maryland: Genealogical Publishing Co., Inc., 1978.

______. The Researcher’s Guide to American Genealogy. 2nd ed. Baltimore: Genealogical Publishing Co., Inc., 1990.

Kirkham, E. Kay. The Handwriting of American Records for a Period of 300 Years. Logan, Utah: Everton Publishers, 1973.

Mills, Elizabeth Shown. Evidence! Citation and Analysis for the Family Historian. Baltimore, Maryland: Genealogical Publishing Co., Inc., 1997.

______. Professional Genealogy. Baltimore, Maryland: Genealogical Publishing Co., Inc., 2001.

Sperry, Kip. Reading Early American Handwriting. Baltimore, Maryland: Genealogical Publishing Co., 1998.

Szucs, Loretto Dennis and Sandra Hargreaves Leubking. The Source: A Guidebook of American Genealogy. Rev. ed. Salt Lake City, Utah: Ancestry, 1997.

Wright, Raymond S., III. The Genealogist’s Handbook: Modern Methods for Researching Family History. Chicago, Illinois: American Library Association, 1995.

The ICAPGenSM service mark and the Accredited GenealogistCM and AG® certification marks are the sole property of the International Commission for the Accreditation of Professional Genealogists. All Rights Reserved.


Information in this Wiki page is excerpted from the online courses Methodology - Part 1: Getting Started, Methodology - Part 2: Organizing and Skillbuilding, Methodology - Part 3: More Strategies, Methodology - Part 4: Effective Searching and Recording, Methodology - Part 5: How To Prove It, and Methodology - Part 6: Professional Preparation and Practice offered by The National Institute for Genealogical Studies. To learn more about these courses or other courses available from the Institute, see our website. We can be contacted at

We welcome updates and additions to this Wiki page.