Thomas MacEntee posted a new topic for this week, and this is one about which I decided to throw in my 2 cents:
Do you wonder if the terminology currently in use to describe someone who pursues genealogy passionately yet for personal reasons and not as a profession is inadequate?
Are you an amateur genealogist? A hobby genealogist? A family historian? A non-professional genealogist?
In response to Thomas’ first question, I do think the terminology matters in terms of expectations.
This past May, I graduated from college with my Associate’s Degree in Paralegal Studies. I can now call myself a paralegal (I never would have called myself that before my schooling; and I get a little irritated with folks who don’t have the degree, but insist on using that title anyway – but that’s another story). I have not sought my paralegal certification yet, and I’m not sure that I will. I have 5 years of experience as a paralegal already, and I don’t see the certification making a difference in the work I am able to perform, or the salary I receive, at any point in the foreseeable future. At this point, the only difference is that I cannot put a “CP” after my name. (And, quite honestly, I’d rather have a genealogy certification anyway!)
My point is this: even though I am not a Certified Paralegal, I still have to abide by the same rules as those who are. I still am not allowed to give legal advice, sign contracts, negotiate fees with clients, or any of the other stuff that is strictly for attorneys. Any of the work I do has to be done under the direct supervision of an attorney. If I fail to follow these rules, I get in trouble with the Bar Association.
If someone calls themselves a professional, I would expect them to adhere to the same rules as someone who is certified/accredited. I wouldn’t necessarily expect the same from someone who calls themselves an “amateur” or a “hobbyist” (although I would hope that person would strive to meet those expectations anyway). Sometimes, people call themselves “professionals” simply because they earn money doing what they do. Using that definition, technically, I guess I could be called a professional change hoarder or a professional mock trial coach. (I personally wouldn’t hire me to do either task, but maybe I have higher standards than others).
While there is no “governing body” for the genealogical community, I would like to believe that professional genealogists would adhere to the same rules, regardless of whether they are certified. Unfortunately – thanks to the Elizabeth Shown Mills article recently discussed in the Genealogy in SecondLife Group – I know this is not the case.
An identity would seem to be arrived at by the way in which the person faces and uses his experience.
– James Baldwin
Who Am I?
Now, to answer Thomas’ second question: I don’t differentiate between the terms “family historian” and “genealogist” because I think the two are interchangeable – at least in my world. But call yourself a professional family historian? I feel pretty confident that the expectations will be higher.
I’ve been researching off and on since 1990, so I don’t consider myself a newbie … and with all I still have to learn, I certainly wouldn’t call myself an expert either. I don’t know that calling yourself a “newbie” or “amateur” necessarily carries any sort of stigma, but I think it does help others in the genealogy community – newbies and professionals alike – understand a little more easily when you make a mistake.
I am eager to learn everything I can, and develop sound research skills – in line with those of a professional certified genealogist. Someday I may actually learn how to cite a source without having to look it up. Heck, one day I may even get my certification. Until then (and at the risk of stirring up the mix with yet another term) I’ll call myself a
Do we share ancestors? Email me: lostancestors AT gmail DOT com
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