While I was traveling over the last two weeks, I kept my opinions to myself about the recent hubbub over amateur v. professional genealogy. Oh, I was keeping an eye on what was being said, but I bit my tongue and practiced patience. It was hard. Very hard.
Now that the dust has settled and everyone is back to (relatively) normal, Thomas MacEntee has posted some discussion topics over at Geneabloggers in hopes that we might have a civilized conversation and try to figure out how we can all play in the sandbox together.
Disclaimer: My point of view is that of an amateur genealogist working toward certification and possibly becoming a professional. The jury is still out on that last part. I just want to make sure I’m the best researcher I can be.
1. Do you think the genealogy community periodically needs to have these discussions related to professional vs. amateur genealogy? Or are they unproductive and if so, why?
In my opinion, any discussions related to this topic have been unproductive to this point for several reasons: (1) they were initiated by what was felt to be an emotional response or personal attack; (2) all “discussion” has been aimed at pointing out the faults of one group or another instead of trying to find solutions to problems by utilizing the strengths of each; and (3) No one has stepped up to the plate seeking a way to mend this “rift” between the two until now (thank you, Thomas).
2. Has the DIY (“do it yourself”) approach in genealogy and the influx of many new to genealogy ruined it for the rest of us?
First, aren’t we all DIY-ers? I mean, aside from the occasional request for someone to procure an out-of-state record for me, I’ve done every bit of research myself. Now, if we are referring to the new folks who head over to Ancestry after watching an episode or two of WDYTYA? … I really don’t think it has “ruined” anything. We WANT people to be interested in genealogy, and the more people who are interested, the more research gets done. That helps us all in the long run. What we need to focus on is making sure that the more experienced researchers help the new researchers learn how to research properly. If we get rid of those shaky leaves, I think that would be a step in the right direction.
3. Does the use of the terms “professional” and “amateur” in genealogy help or hinder the community?
In my opinion, the only purpose these terms serve are to distinguish those who are marketing themselves for hire and those who aren’t. The same terms are used in other areas … sports, for example. Professional athletes are those who receive payment for their talent. Amateurs don’t. Some amateurs can be just as talented (or more) as the professionals though … we call them Olympians.
4. What is your definition of a professional genealogist? A hobby or amateur genealogist?
My definition of a professional genealogist is one who is contracted to perform genealogical research for another with an expectation of payment. A hobby or amateur genealogist is everyone else. Note: for me, the terms “genealogy professional” and “professional-grade genealogist” have quite different definitions.
5. Is there one true path to being a professional genealogist? Is a credential or degree necessary?
Unless and until there are legal licensing requirements, I don’t think a credential or degree is necessary. However, if I were looking to hire someone to perform research for me, I would want some way to know that they were competent to do the work. And honestly, I would trust client references and results before I would hang my hat on a credential or a degree.
6. Is professional training in genealogy geared more towards those with a higher socio-economic status or those who already have a higher educational background?
I’m not quite sure how to respond to this one. I don’t know about any particular professional training – unless you mean the courses through NGS or Boston University. In any case, I don’t think socio-economic status has anything to do with it (other than being able to afford the courses). However, genealogy research does require some book smarts. It also requires a lot of common sense. If you lack the common sense part, chances are you won’t get very far. But that pretty much holds true for any area of life.
7. If you could tell someone new to genealogy that there are “standards” to follow, what would they be?
The first and most important “standard” to me is that you write down where you got every piece of information. It doesn’t even have to be a perfect source citation … maybe just the name of a book and a page number, or a website … but SOMETHING. Spending the last 2+ years re-sourcing all of my information has taught me this. It was a hard lesson to learn. Otherwise, the next important piece would be that before you add someone new to your tree, make sure they are the right person. If names/dates/events/etc. don’t match up – you should be able to explain why.
8. If the gamut of genealogical experience spans from Professional to Amateur, are there descriptive terms that can be used for those “in between” those end points? Hobbyist? Talented Amateur? Professional Amateur?
I really don’t think any of these terms are needed at all. You either research for money or you don’t.
9. If someone uses their credential or experience in a way that is meant to demean, discount or dissuade the work of another genealogist (professional or amateur), what is an acceptable response to such a comment? Should it be ignored or is a response required? Would the response be different if the comment were made in-person or electronically (email, blog post, comment, etc.)?
When individuals throw their credentials or experience around in negative ways, it hurts the entire genealogical community – professionals and amateurs alike. There is a difference between demeaning someone and offering constructive criticism. APG, ICAPGen, and BCG all have their Codes of Ethics … and each one addresses this issue:
- APG: “Promote the welfare of the genealogical community.”
- BCG: “To act honorably toward other genealogists and toward the field as a whole”
- ICAPGen: “To conduct himself in a professional and respectful manner at all times.”
Every genealogist would do well to adhere to these codes regardless of whether they are members of these groups. Alternatively, we can always fall back on the “if you can’t say anything nice, don’t say anything at all” rule.
10. Is there elitism in genealogy? If so, will it ever be eliminated? If it can’t be eliminated, what are some suggested tips on dealing with it?
Yes there is. I’m not sure why there is, but it’s there. Sure, there are people who have been researching forEVER, and they may have more knowledge about certain things than others. But those people (and I don’t care WHO they are) do NOT know everything about everything. Unfortunately, there are those in the genealogy community – and every other community – who feel like they are better than others for one reason or another, so I doubt it will ever go away. The only recourse at that point is to ignore them, particularly if they aren’t providing anything constructive. Eventually they (or their attitude) will go away.
11. Has genealogy always been rooted in elitism or is there simply an active push by some practitioners to set standards which will ultimately benefit all in the genealogy community as well as those that consign genealogical research services?
Well, first, I don’t think that wanting standards for genealogy research (such as citing your sources) should be considered “elitist.” We should have standards. Standards lead to better research. Whether people want to follow those standards is their choice. Will I look at a family tree that is fully sourced differently than I would look at one that isn’t? You bet. Does it make that person an inferior researcher? Not necessarily. It just means that I don’t trust the information I’m being given as much as I would if I knew where it came from. It’s the same way I would look at a death certificate (with a named informant) versus an obituary (usually unnamed informant).
12. Is there really room for “everyone” at the genealogy table?
There better be. I don’t think anyone’s going anywhere.
13. Are Professional Amateurs a threat to professional genealogy or simply a new breed of genealogist who happen to have a strong command of technology and a different perspective on genealogy?
I can’t get past the term “Professional Amateur.” The term contradicts itself, and I’m not even sure how to answer this. That being said, I don’t think any genealogist is a threat to professional genealogy. Sure, there may be a lot of folks out there trying to do it all themselves – and maybe some of them can. But there will always be people who can’t. Now, whether they decide to hire this person or that person will ultimately depend on experience, cost, marketing, etc. – just like any other profession. Give people quality research and you won’t be threatened.
14. Is there a generation gap in genealogy? Are there any other “divides” in the genealogy community or are these divisive tactics which act as roadblocks to enjoying genealogy as a hobby or profession?
I honestly think that the only reason there are any “divides” at all in the genealogy community is because we (as humans) create them. We live in an “us versus them” world. Why does everyone need to fit into one category or another? As genealogists, aren’t we smart enough to get past all this and tear down all those roadblocks (because that’s what we do)?
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