30 Sep 2020
This September, an entity registered with the Oklahoma Secretary of State as the Board of African American Genealogy (BOAAG) announced its formation via the world wide web. This entity has accumulated roughly 11,000 followers on Facebook, published a website, and run advertising campaigns on social media all in order to raise public awareness about their existence.
While BOAAG styles itself as a certifying body, there are a number of questionable facts and activities regarding this entity that have caused serious concern within the genealogical community and industry. It is for this reason that this statement of fact has been compiled and published for the better education of the public, the genealogical community (both enthusiasts and professionals) and others. This statement of fact is compiled as a means of documenting for the public record several questionable practices and policies and the lack of the BOAAG’s observation of normative genealogy industry practices and standards.
Within its very name, BOAAG styles itself as a board endowed with powers and authority to certify African American family heritage and historical research. While its stated purpose may appear to be well-meaning at first glance, we charge that this entity has been deceptive in its claimed mission. Several people, including many noted genealogical professionals, have made written inquiries to them regarding its credentials and that of the individuals who comprise its board. These inquirers did so without any conflict of interest (financial or otherwise) and only wished to educate themselves since BOAAG was presenting itself to the genealogical public as a new potential partner in raising the prominence of African American genealogy.
Unfortunately, the response to these direct inquiries has been cumulatively described as evasive, deceptive, and even antagonistic — at times making claims that parties who raise questions about the entity are “posting factually incorrect information” and that messages, comments, and reviews are “being saved as evidence of slander.”
There exist several documented incidents wherein BOAAG has falsely claimed formal association between itself and several noted genealogical professionals and speakers without their knowledge or consent. Claims include insinuations that these professionals and speakers are either on their board or have endorsed their entity, perhaps in order to convince the public of the self-proclaimed legitimacy of BOAAG as a genealogical and business entity. Several of the individuals who have been falsely represented are signatories to this document. They wish to register their sincere outrage at being falsely represented and inform the public that they, along with other individuals who have endorsed this document in no way, shape, manner or form are associated with, nor do they endorse the entity known as the Board of African American Genealogy, nor any of its affiliated bodies or activities.
Furthermore, additional ethical issues have been noted as causes of concern regarding this body and are as follows:
- The Board of African American Genealogy (BOAAG) is registered in the state of Oklahoma as a FOR PROFIT business entity but has been deceptively representing itself to the public in a manner that could lead the casual observer to believe that it is a registered non-profit. Although there have been claims of a non-profit foundation affiliated with BOAAG, these claims are questionable. To put it simply, this is NOT a non-profit organization, it is for profit and registered as such with the state of Oklahoma.
- While they solicit applications from the public, there is no publicly available information regarding the identities of the individuals that comprise their board, with the exception of Mr. Jason C. King, an Oklahoma resident and alleged member in good standing with the Oklahoma Bar Association.
- The Board of African American Genealogy (BOAAG) has been openly soliciting applications from the public which, when completed according to their requirements, would contain sensitive, personally identifiable information, without informing the public or potential applicants of how said information would be stored and used with its for profit business status.
- There is no information regarding the identities of all the individuals on their review board, nor is there any genealogical accreditation and/or experience they claim to hold. At the time of this writing, BOAAG has failed to publicly identify exactly who will review these documents once submitted. Basically, there is no transparency.
It is for these reasons that the genealogical professionals named below wish to register our professional concerns with the public so that they can be better informed of the nature and activities of the Board of African American Genealogy (BOAAG). We are calling for BOAAG to do the following:
- cease its deceptive practices and to cease in falsely claiming endorsement and affiliation with any of the aggrieved parties whom they have knowingly misled the public to believe have endorsed their organizational activities.
- make public a true and accurate list of its certification board.
Currently, the genealogy industry has several well known and respected professional bodies and while there is space for more, it is unfortunate that due to BOAAG’s questionable practices, we must state our opposition to this entity in its current form, due to said current questionable practices.
Kenyatta D. Berry
James Morgan, III
Bernice Alexander Bennett
Muriel D. Roberts
Additional Signatories Since the Initial Publishing of This Statement
Yvette Porter Moore
Regina Waters Calloway
Tanisha L. Watson
Robin L. Hughey
Renee Ruffin Merrill
Tammy Hagens Howell
W. Samuel Williams
Frances Owens Haywood
Cynthia Henderson Frierson
Edna Delores Perry
Appendix — Chronology of Events and Communications
August 10, 2020
Jason C. King ends a message to Brian Sheffey, signatory, via Facebook Messenger regarding Sheffey becoming a consultant for BOAAG and to develop the certification exam.
August 15, 2020
Brian Sheffey responds to Jason C. King via Facebook Messenger noting his interest and also mentions signatories Donya Williams, Melvin Collier, Bernice Bennett, Angela Walton-Raji and others who may be interested.
King responds to Sheffey via Facebook Messenger with thanks and notes that BOAAG was “founded by two attorney-genealogists and that they “ definitely want to work with you and others.”
To date, no other people have been positively identified as working for the BOAAG other than Jason C. King.
August 19, 2020
Members of the genealogy community take notice of a troubling post on the BOAAG Facebook page that has since been deleted. Brian Sheffey writes to Jason C. King regarding his concerns about it via Facebook Messenger.
King offers to delete it “if you find it offensive.”
Sheffey replies “This has caused anger with respected genealogists. There are a load of factual errors. It’s already dented the credibility of the project with the very people needed to make it a [success.].”
King deletes the post.
Sheffey responds “My honest opinion is this isn’t salvageable. It’s been screen grabbed and shared by established [black] genealogists. The comments are not good.”
King replies that he doesn’t think it’s a lost cause.
August 20, 2020
Sarah Cato, signatory, contacts BOAAG via their Facebook page and requests more information regarding who is on their staff.
“Thank you for contacting us about our genealogical verification service for the censuses of 1870, 1880, and 1900 and our certification program for African American genealogists. Our organization is founded by African American Attorney-Genealogists. Our website is currently under construction. The applications, the application instructions, and an FAQ page will be published on the Board’s website at www.boaag.org on September 1st. Please go to our website on that date or subscribe now on our webpage below you will see a form to submit your email to receive updates from the Board.
The professional biographies of the Jurists-Genealogists will be published on our website on September 1st.”
As of October 7, 2020, no biographies have been published on the website outside of one for Jason C. King.
Cato replies that she will wait for additional information, as requested.
BOAAG responds: “You’re welcome. Thank you for contacting us. Ms. Cato I see that you are a lawyer. Right now we have two Jurists-Genealogists. We will be hiring more Jurists-Genealogists. You might be qualified if you are interested. Our Jurist-Genealogists are Attorneys, law professors, or judges who are also genealogists. A job description will also be posted online next month. We welcome you to check into that as well.
Practical Genealogy: 50 Simple Steps to Research Your Diverse Family History. [Link to book written by Brian Sheffey, signatory, on Amazon]
The author of this book is our Chief Research Genealogist. He will be creating our certification exam.”
Sheffey has never been affiliated with BOAAG.
At this time, King stated that Cato was affiliated with BOAGG in phone conversations between him, Sheffey, and Donya Williams. Cato has never been affiliated with the entity.
August 21, 2020
Jason C. King emails Donya Williams stating that Nicka Sewell-Smith, signatory, Sheffey, others have a “conflict of interest” and cannot affiliate themselves with BOAAG due to such. Sewell-Smith has never spoken or corresponded with King and is not affiliated with BOAAG. Williams formally declines affiliating with BOAAG on this date.
August 22, 2020
Genealogy Adventures, the show hosted by Brian Sheffey and Donya Williams, issues this statement on their Facebook page:
“This is a quick message for the Black Genealogical community.
Earlier this week, I was invited to be an adviser/genealogy consultant for a group by the name of Board of African American Genealogy. I considered that invitation and declined it.
I do not, nor have I ever, worked for this organization. Nor do I plan to.
On the same day, Sarah Cato (SC) contacts the Board of African American Genealogy (BOAAG) via their Facebook page to communicate her continued interest in the concept and also requests the entity to cease and desist using her name for any reason. The conversation is as follows:
BOAAG: “No one has been told that. We were in negotiation with someone else. We didn’t reach an agreement at this time. You are not one of those persons. Your name has never been associated with this company.
SC: “I have been informed otherwise. The genealogy community is a small circle among African Americans. I know someone you told this.”
BOAAG: “That is not true at all. No one knows you who works here. I saw a comment that you made on a post which I thought was correct. I sent you a message about that apologizing for it because it should not have been placed there. Other than that post that you made I do not know who you are ma’am, respectfully. That was sent only as a private apology to you for that post. I personally can say I do not know anyone who told anyone anything about you being associated with this company. Sincerely.”
September 29, 2020
A community member left a review on the BOAAG Facebook page stating:
“Does not appear to be [a] legitimate organization with named [and] identified board members,”
The BOAAG official account responded to the review via Facebook Messenger:
“The BOAAG is a legally established organization registered with the Oklahoma Secretary of State. Please do not violate our community rules by posting factually incorrect information. This message is being saved as evidence of slander. You have committed slander. Refrain immediately.”
Ja’el Gordon (JG), signatory, left a review on the BOAAG Facebook page stating:
JG: “This screams scam. Professional genealogists and family historians have looked into this. I have myself asked specific and direct questions to this ‘entity’ without ever receiving forthcoming and direct answers. Including questions about the ‘board,” ‘reviewers,’ and ‘credentials.” As a genealogists and historian, this is highly offensive in its ‘functionality.” Do not be duped people, please be smart.
Do NOT send your personal family info to this ‘entity/individual.’ There is absolutely no reason to. Even the 1870 reference is comical! There is a serious matter of ethical integrity that we must adhere to in this business. And far too many of ‘us’ are looking for a sense of ‘[belonging]’ and get excited when ‘appears’ legit. Be blessed.”
Jason C. King, responded directly to the review stating:
JK: “The Board of African American Genealogy Inc. and the Board of African American Genealogy Foundation are legally established entities in good standing with the Oklahoma Secretary of State. The BOAAG is staffed by Jurist-Genealogists and Staff Genealogists. Service to the community is our first and only priority. Slander violates our community rules. Please refrain from slander or legal action will be taken against you.”