Research director, Nancy S. Peterson, CG

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Members of the Association of Professional Genealogists (APG) have been debating the definition of “genealogist” this month on their mail list and Randy Seaver of the Genea-Musings Blog weighed in with “Why does it matter? The fact is that those in the profession of genealogy research need to act like and be treated like professionals in other disciplines – they need to be educated, be unbiased, be thorough, be honest and truthful, and be respected.” Randy didn’t know it but he was describing CGS Research Director, Nancy Simons Peterson.

Nancy was a researcher long before she became a genealogist. After earning her baccalaureate and master’s degrees in physiology at Stanford University, she was employed as a research physiologist at the university medical school for many years. Peterson later obtained a second master’s in teaching before her interest turned to family history. While living in Washington state, Nancy taught beginning and intermediate genealogy classes. For six years she was the editor of the Tacoma-Pierce County Genealogical Society quarterly publication, The Researcher.

A fifth generation Californian, Nancy is a relative newcomer to CGS. She joined the society in 2004 when she moved back to the Bay Area and has been an active member ever since. Nancy’s search for her maternal San Francisco ancestors led ultimately to the publication of Raking the Ashes: Genealogical Strategies for Pre-1906 San Francisco Research, published by CGS in 2006 to coincide with the centennial of the 1906 San Francisco Earthquake and Fire. Nancy explains: “I personally looked at and then included all useful FHL film numbers and tried to nail down exactly the years and record types of the surviving early SF church records. Since all records archived outside the city survived, I went quite deeply into military records — doesn’t matter that they aren’t SF records, for they hold information on SF residents. I also went into a great deal of detail on exactly which land records survived and which did not. All of part 3 is devoted to what strategies work best and what pitfalls to avoid. “

About a year ago, Nancy inherited the CGS research position from past-president, Rick Sherman, who acted as primary researcher for many years and who continues to serve a couple of long-standing clients. Tuesday (when the library is closed) is Peterson’s regular day at the CGS Library. But her day usually starts in San Francisco, where she travels to one of the following records repositories: Department of Health (for birth and death certificates), Hall of Records in City Hall (for marriage records and land indexes), Public Main Library (obituaries) or Superior Court (probate). Of course, she also spends time in the East Bay at the Oakland Public Library or at the nearby Recorder’s Office and Courthouse. I’m exhausted just listing them all.

Nancy is a certified genealogist and author of numerous articles. She won the Society of Genealogists Scholar Award in 2003. Her narrative genealogy Guarded Pasts: The Lives and Offspring of Colonel George and Clara (Baldwin) Bomford was the winning entry in the 1998 National Genealogical Society Family History Writing Contest and is used as an example of quality work in the NGS Quarterly style on the Board for Certification of Genealogists Web site.

As Research Director, Nancy provides expert assistance for members and non-members alike. The charge is $20 per hour ($15 for members) which covers research time, analysis, documentation and a report. Rarely can one obtain the services of a certified genealogist at such bargain prices, and, as with the proceeds from her book, all monies collected benefit the society. No matter how you define it, CGS is fortunate to have such a talented and generous genealogist.