Archive for April, 2011

Genea-Bodies: A response to the comments

A few days ago, Joan Miller posted “Genea-Bodies: The New Somebodies” at her LuxeGen Genealogy and Family History blog. In this article, she discussed the influence of social media users and, in particular, bloggers. Her experience in promoting the RootsTech conference as an Official Blogger gave her a unique perspective on this issue.

More interesting than the rather short post, however, is a comment from Marian Pierre-Louis, who writes the Marian’s Roots and Rambles blog:

Just want to play devil’s advocate here. It’s all well and good to be recognized but until we can actually make a self-suporting living based on the tremendous amount of work we do, what’s the point? All of us work so hard. If we were in corporate america doing what we do we’d all make more than $75k salaries. Until this industry recognizes these individuals with monetary compensation of some sort then it is only self-gratification we gain. I can’t eat that. …

Marian makes a great point here that needs to be discussed. Should self-gratification be enough?

Another comment, this from Kerry Scott, author of the ClueWagon blog, agrees:

Marian brings up a good point. When there are so many people working for free, it’s hard to turn this into a business (as others have had in other niches).

The conversation continues, and I would recommend that everyone go take a look.

I have been researching my own family history for virtually my entire life. I starting taking clients part-time, really as a way to fund my own research, about five or six years ago. Last year, I was laid off from my job, and decided that I had put in enough ground work to finally make the leap into self-employment as a professional genealogist, full-time. My wife is a stay-at-home mother (our personal decision to do this), so my income fully supports my family. Some months are better than others, but so far we are able to eat.

In order to accomplish this feat, I literally work from the time I wake up in the morning until the time I go to bed at night. I average about six hours of sleep a night. My time is spent researching for clients, creating lectures, writing articles for two columns and several magazines, writing and self-publishing books, and administrative work such as answering emails, marketing, etc. I also find myself tending to think outside of the box in creating new ways to generate income. I have no savings left, and, with a five-year-old daughter, I will need to start thinking in that direction.

One major issue in play here is, I believe, the separation of hobbyists from professionals. Genealogy always starts as a hobby. In many cases, it stays there forever. In far too many cases, the hobbyist never takes the time to educate themselves about proper research techniques, record groups, or even general history of the area in which they are researching.

For professionals such as myself, the process takes much longer. I spend a few thousand dollars a year (now tax-deductible as business expenses) on subscriptions to magazines and journals, memberships to genealogical societies and professional organizations such as the Association of Professional Genealogists, International Society of Family History Writers and Editors, and Genealogical Speakers Guild, research trips, and other forms of genealogy education. I go out of my way to learn everything I can about the research process, new and newly discovered record sources, and even both general and specialized history of the areas in which I work. All of this education pays off for those who hire me, read the articles I have written, and attend my lectures and webinars.

In between these two groups are the “Genea-Bodies,” that is, the Geneabloggers. In my experience with most of the bloggers I have met and in reading the blogs I follow, most geneabloggers hold a higher level of education and knowledge of research standards than your average hobbyists. But they often fall just shy of the professional standard of education and research.

Of course, there are exceptions. And for those who disagree with my assessment, I apologize. I can only speak from my own experiences.

However, in general, bloggers are researching their own families, possibly the families of close friends, but rarely accept paid clients. They may attend one or even multiple national genealogy conferences, but not often the several genealogy institutes that offer more in-depth education.

And most importantly, as the comments on the “Genea-Bodies” blog post confirm, they write their blogs because they love it. They are a community–a warm community that I am proud to be on the outskirts of. But being paid was never their goal, and is never their expectation.

Many of the companies that are now tapping into the strength of the geneablogger community, however, do expect to turn a profit. And they do. And the geneablogger community is extremely eager to support these companies, even the fly-by-night companies who create a new website or a new software product that gets surpassed or simply falls behind in that competitive market.

Does the geneablogger community show its obvious strength in supporting its own members? In another comment on the “Genea-Bodies” post, Kerry Scott mentions that she has been met with disapproval by suggesting that other bloggers click on each other’s affiliate links when ordering books from Amazon, etc. Clicking on these links costs the buyer absolutely nothing, though the affiliate will make a few pennies.

I have two questions that I would like to propose to the geneablogger community:

(1) Are we willing, not only as a geneablogger community but as a larger community of genealogists, to support each other as fervently as we support the larger corporations?

(2) More importantly, why do some geneabloggers seem to be opposed to those who attempt to earn a living in genealogy-related fields?

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