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 


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Open Thread Thursday – What’s in a Name? — 1 Comment

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