Archive for November, 2011

Writing an effective report of your research, to a client or yourself

When you research your family (or a client’s family, if you are a professional) how do you write up your research? Or do you write it up at all?

There are a many different formats that one can use in this process. But, regardless of format, your report should have the same parts to be most effective.

The first part is to define the scope of the report. Why are you researching? What are you looking for? If you have not defined a specific goal or a specific research question, how can you expect to find the answer–or know it when you do?

The next part is to identify and detail the relevant information you have already located. This is your starting point. You will want to note every piece of information or potential clue that you will follow in the course of this research.

The third part of your report should be the actual results of your research. This should be fully documented with full source citations of every record consulted. Including all negative searches. If you looked in Book A, Record Group B, and Microfilm X, then you need to note all of these sources with the information, if any, they contained. Be careful to also document exactly what you searched for. If you looked for specific names in an index, for example, record these names. You may have to go back to the same sources in the future to look for other names.

In this section you should also fully analyze and evaluate each source, correlating the information with the information found in other sources, noting and reconciling any conflicting evidence, etc. If you are able to reach any conclusions, you should write out a source-cited proof summary or proof argument.

It is also useful, at the end of your report, to create a list of Sources Used. I will admit, I do not always include a separate source list in every report, because all sources are cited independently in footnotes within the body of the research results. But it can be helpful to include a separate list that collects all of these sources into a single list that can be more quickly consulted.

The final part of a research report should be to make Suggestions for Further Research. If you have constructed a conclusion that meets the Genealogical Proof Standard, you may skip this part. However, if there are sources still left unsearched, or clues left unfollowed, or conflicts left unreconciled, this would be the section where you will note the research that still needs to be done to conclusively prove your case.

By following this practice, even genealogists by hobby rather than by trade can research more efficiently and more effectively. You will no longer search the same sources for the same names time after time (with the same results). You will no longer bounce around with no true purpose and no true conclusions. And best of all, in many cases, simple organization in this manner may be enough to allow you to identify the information you already have, and break through brick walls that didn’t really exist after all!

APG announces Board of Directors election results

The following announcement appeared on GeneaPress on 9 November 2011:

Association of Professional Genealogists Announces Election Results for Executive Committee, Regional Directors and Nominating Committee

Kenyatta D. Berry Elected APG President

WESTMINSTER, Colo., November 9, 2011−The Association of Professional Genealogists (APG®) today announced election results for its 2012–2014 executive committee, as well as for nine regional directors and two new nominating committee members. Kenyatta D. Berry of Santa Monica, Calif. was elected president. Berry, a genealogist, entrepreneur and lawyer with more than 15 years of experience in genealogy research and writing, served as APG vice president during the last term. She will succeed Laura G. Prescott of Brookline, New Hampshire.

“I am honored to be elected and excited at the depth and breadth of experience represented by our incoming officers, board and committee members,” said Berry. “APG made great strides during the last administration, growing to more than 2,400 members, adding new Chapters and expanding internationally. I look forward to continuing the important work of this organization.”

Kimberly D. Powell of Pennsylvania was elected APG vice president. Powell has been writing and blogging on genealogy for About.com since 2000. She is the author of several genealogy books and currently serves as a member on the APG board.

Janice S. Prater of Denver, Colo. will serve as secretary. Prater is the editor of the International Society of British Genealogy and Family History’s quarterly publication and is treasurer for the Colorado Chapter of APG. APG treasurer will be Joan Peake of West Virginia, a certified public accountant and the president of the Great Lakes Chapter of APG and the Fayette Ohio Genealogical Society.

APG members elected the following regional directors:

West region: Jean Wilcox Hibben, CG, is president of the Southern California Chapter of APG and the Corona (Calif.) Genealogical Society, secretary of the Genealogical Speakers Guild. Joan A. Hunter, MLS, CG, serves as Librarian General for the National Society, Daughters of the American Revolution, and is a past president of the Oregon Chapter of APG.

Midwest region: Billie Stone Fogarty, M.Ed., fulltime genealogist and lecturer and president of the Genealogical Speakers Guild. Jay H. Fonkert, CG, is a fulltime genealogist, lecturer and writer and a founder of the Northland APG Chapter.

Southeast region: Alvie L. Davidson, CG, is a Florida-based private investigator and circuit court qualified expert, specializing in missing persons and genealogical applications of investigations. Michael Hait, CG, is a professional genealogy researcher, writer and lecturer who currently serves as vice president of the National Capital Area Chapter of APG.

Northeast region: Debra Braverman is a professional genealogist in New York City, specializing in due diligence for trust and estates matters, and 19th–21st century New York research. Michael Leclerc of Massachusetts is a genealogist who most recently served as director of special projects at the New England Historic Genealogical Society.

International regions: Michael Goldstein of Israel, traces roots worldwide, specializing in family reunification, heir searches and Holocaust research.

Elected to one-year terms on the nominations committee are: Jana Sloan Broglin, CG, a director for the Federation of Genealogical Societies, and Debby Horton, professional genealogist and web designer.

About APG

The Association of Professional Genealogists (www.apgen.org), established in 1979, represents more than 2,400 genealogists, librarians, writers, editors, historians, instructors, booksellers, publishers and others involved in genealogy-related businesses. APG encourages genealogical excellence, ethical practice, mentoring and education. The organization also supports the preservation and accessibility of records useful to the fields of genealogy and history. Its members represent all fifty states, Canada and thirty other countries. APG is active on LinkedIn, Twitter (www.twitter.com/apggenealogy) and FaceBook (www.facebook.com/AssociationofProfessionalGenealogists).

Make your presentation less annoying

Since 2003 Dave Paradi, author of The Visual Slide Revolution and 102 Tips to Communicate More Effectively Using PowerPoint, has conducted several surveys about what annoys people the most about PowerPoint presentations. On 27 September 2011 he posted “Full Results of the Annoying PowerPoint survey” in his blog, the aptly-titled Dave Paradi’s PowerPoint Blog. You can read his analysis of the full results in his post.

The top five annoyances, with the percentages of the 603 respondents who selected these in their top three, are

The speaker read the slides to us – 73.8%
Full sentences instead of bullet points – 51.6%
The text was so small I couldn’t read it – 48.1%
Slides hard to see because of color choice – 34.0%
Overly complex diagrams or charts – 26.0%[1]

How many of these are you doing in your presentations?

As an audio-visual technician for ten years I can attest to points 1, 3, 4, and 5 personally. So many business presentations had these issues it was embarassing. It was actually while still working in this field that I was inspired to write the article that became the post, “10 Lessons Learned from the ‘Other Side of the Microphone.’

To improve your presentation, try doing the opposite of the above top five most annoying things:

1. Don’t read your slides.

2. Don’t put too much text on your slides.

3. Use large fonts. People in the back still have to be able to see the slides.

4. Use simple, contrasting colors.

5. Simplify any charts or diagrams you use. In most cases, the audience does not need statistics precise to two decimal places on the screen. Put the exact numbers, if necessary, in the handout. Or just round up (or down).

Make your presentations less “annoying,” and people will learn more.

SOURCES:

[1] Dave Paradi, “Full Results of the Annoying PowerPoint survey,” Dave Paradi’s PowerPoint Blog, posted 27 Sep 2011 (http://pptideas.blogspot.com/ : accessed 7 Nov 2011).

Does a “reasonably exhaustive search” include online family trees?

There is a lot of junk on the Internet.

More experienced genealogists, both professionals and hobbyists, know this. We repeat it in our blogs, in our research plans, in our conversations with other genealogists. We stay away from the Public Family Trees on Ancestry.com and FamilySearch‘s International Genealogical Index. After all, these all just have junk put online by those “shaky leaf” clickers, right?

One should by no means trust an online family tree.

But neither should one trust a death certificate or a 19th-century county history or a federal census record or an obituary.

Just because it’s online does not make it more or less garbage than any other source. You still should evaluate the information the same way you would in any other record. Identify the informant. Determine their involvement in the reported event or the source of their information (if secondary).

Two cases are perfect examples of this philosophy:

Almost fifteen years ago, when “Internet genealogy” barely had an existence, I came across a family tree that contained my then-earliest known ancestor in my male line: Myron Grant Hait, my great-great-grandfather. I contacted the owner, who turned out to be my grandfather’s first cousin. My great-grandfather, who lived in New York, was one of six brothers, all of whom lived in different and distant states: California, Montana, North Carolina, Louisiana, etc. In those pre-Facebook days, distant relatives did not always maintain close contact. When my grandfather moved to Washington, D. C., to work for the federal government, he had even less contact with the extended family. He knew his uncles, but did not know any of his cousins.

This cousin, Linda, just so happened to have quite a number of family records in her possession, including letters to and from my great-grandparents from back in the 1970s when she started researching, and a family history written by my great-great-grandmother in the 1930s. She also put me in touch with another cousin who had in her possession a copy of a family bible, several old family photos, and a collection of Civil War letters!

Of course not all of her research was completely accurate, but much of it was, and of course the original records in the possession of these long-lost (to me) branches of the family were indispensible. Had I ignored this online family tree, I would have never obtained many of these records.

The second case involves a family that I was working on for a client. While searching for records on Ancestry, I discovered a public family tree. Though not a single offline source was cited, the information was extremely specific. I jotted down a few notes from the tree for confirmation, but then went on along my merry research way.

The next day at the Maryland State Archives I happened to run into a friend of mine: also a professional genealogist, member of my APG chapter, and a fellow Certified Genealogist. I knew that she did a lot of research in this particular county, so I asked her if she was familiar with the families I was researching. To make a long story short, the owner of the Ancestry public family tree was her client, who had uploaded the results of her research to the site without any source citations. In other words, though it looked like “junk” because it did not have any sources cited for any of the information, the tree actually reflected the work of a Certified professional genealogist. As I continued to research the family, I was able to confirm all of the information that was in the public tree.

As the first example shows, online family trees are often a great way to identify other descendants of the families you are researching. Some of these distant cousins may have family records passed down in their lines that you do not have access to: items like family bibles, old family photos, etc.

The first condition of the Genealogical Proof Standard is that we conduct a reasonably exhaustive search for all records relevant to our research problem. If you have ignored the search for family records in other lines, have you met this requirement?

What is a professional genealogist?

I recently read two blog posts that inspired this post.

The first was “Why I Want to Remain an Amateur” at Greta’s Genealogy Blog. This is an absolutely wonderful post. Greta loves genealogy research, and desires to develop her research skills and abilities as much as possible, but has no desire to be paid for her genealogical activities. This post explains why not.

The second post was not new, but came through yesterday on Twitter. “APG at a Crossroads,” written by Mary E. Petty at the Heirlines blog. Ms. Petty, with her husband James W. Petty, AG, CG, run the “HEIRLINES Family History & Genealogy” professional genealogical research firm, based in Salt Lake City, Utah. This post was originally written in 2006, but continues to be promoted, as its appearance on Twitter yesterday attests.

This post begins,

I think the Association of Professional Genealogisis (APG) is at a crossroads – they have to decide what master they serve. Either the hobbyist: the self designated part -timer, and / or full timer; or the career practitioner: the professionally designated genealogist, qualified by the “professional’s only” track (professional genealogy education, training, experience, credentials, membership, continuing education, standardized business best practices with licensing and ethics) to serve the public as a professional genealogist?

Right now all of these groups are trying to have a piece of the consumer pie and this does not meet the number one objective of a professional business membership organization – to support the qualified practitioners and set standardized best practices, ethics, methodology, business standards etc, and behaviors to protect the qualified practitioner and the consumer.[1]

I strongly object to two points Ms. Petty raises:

(1) She asserts that only those genealogists who follow what she deems a “‘professional’s only’ track,” including “professional genealogy education, training, experience, credentials, membership, continuing education, standardized business best practices with licensing and ethics” are qualified to be considered professional genealogists. She specifically notes throughout the post that she defines a professional genealogist quite narrowly as one who conducts genealogy research for clients as their full-time career. Implicitly this excludes those whose main source of income is writing, lecturing, or some other aspect of genealogy, or those who conduct research for clients on a much more limited basis. It also explicitly excludes “the self designated part-timer, and/or full-timer.”

(2) She asserts that the Association of Professional Genealogists exists only to serve these “qualified” (by her definition) practitioners.

Currently, only a single accredited university in the United States offers a Bachelor’s degree program in Family History: Brigham Young University, in Provo, Utah. Perhaps not coincidentally the Family History Library is in Salt Lake City, Utah. With access to the microfilmed records at the Family History Library and the degree program at Brigham Young, it seems quite natural for genealogists in Utah to qualify as “professional genealogists” under Ms. Petty’s definition. On the other hand, for genealogists elsewhere in the country, is is not quite that easy. If a researcher has limited access to records, he or she has limited potential for earning income solely on client research.

I am a full-time professional genealogist. I conduct research for clients about half of my working time. The rest of the time I write, publish, lecture, teach, etc. One hundred percent of my household income stems from my genealogical activities. If I only conducted client research, I might not be able to feed my family. But my income is supplemented by other sources.

Many professional genealogists are not full-time. They may have a full-time career outside of the field of genealogy. They may be retired from another career, but choose to conduct client research on a limited basis simply because they enjoy it. They may choose to research their own families only, and not conduct client research at all. But they are skilled researchers who write and lecture prolifically in order to teach others.

All of these are professional genealogists.

According to Ms. Petty, the APG should only serve “qualified” full-time career researchers. She asks in this post, “Why are they [the APG] unwilling to set maintain and regulate the criteria for membership in their organization and set the standards for designation as a ‘Professional Genealogist’?” She compares professional genealogists to “beauticians, teachers, CPA, Lawyers, and other similarly licensed (government-regulated) or professions that are self regulated.”

Professional genealogists, as a career field, do not resemble any of these licensed or regulated career fields that Ms. Petty names. The field most like professional genealogy, in my opinion, is freelance writing.

One does not have to have a degree in English or journalism to be a freelance writer. One does not have to be credentialed to be a freelance writer. One does not have to write 40 hours a week, and nothing else, to be a freelance writer. One’s sole qualification to be a freelance writer is that one can do the job that they are hired or paid to do. You must be able to write at a high level. Some people may be able to do this with no training whatsoever. Others may need formal education. But your value as a professional is judged by the quality of the product of your work, not by any other factors.

Likewise, one does not have to have a degree in family history or even history to be a professional genealogist. Formal or informal genealogical education (be it BYU’s program, one of the Institutes, attendance at a national conference, or participation in a Continuing Education program) definitely helps one learn the best advanced research techniques, but there are other ways that one can do the same independently. A professional genealogist does not have to conduct client research full-time. A professional genealogist does not have to be credentialed.

Like a freelance writer, the sole qualification to be a professional genealogist should be that one is able to perform the job that one is hired or paid to do. One must be able to perform the research. A professional genealogist’s value as a professional should be judged by the quality of the product of your work.

The Association of Professional Genealogists may be at a crossroads. But not because it should be limiting who can join. The APG should continue its policies of inclusivity rather than exclusivity.

However, the field of professional genealogy is changing. APG must be able to balance its focus. Its membership does not only consist of full-time career professional genealogists conducting research for clients. The organization now contains authors, lecturers, librarians, and many others whose income either in whole or in part comes from a field relating to genealogy. It cannot allow any one faction to control its policies, but instead recognize the diversity of its membership, and serve all of our needs.

I believe that the APG has done a fairly good job at accomplishing this goal. There is room for improvement, but I think it is moving in the right direction. It must continue to do so, and not allow narrow minds to limit its influence in the field of genealogy.

My experience at the Pennsylvania Family History Day

Yesterday in Exton, Pennsylvania, the Genealogical Society of Pennyslvania and Ancestry.com presented the Pennsylvania Family History Day. I mentioned this event last week in my post “Tips for a short genealogy road trip.” I was honored to be a part of this event, both as a lecturer and as a vendor. I presented the class “What is a ‘Reasonably Exhaustive Search’?,” one of my personal favorites.

My day started early, at 4:30am. I was out the door and on the road by 5:30am. It was still dark but there was no traffic until I reached Pennsylvania. I arrived at the conference hotel by 7:30am.

As I approached the hotel, the first person I saw, loading up her car in the parking lot, was Lisa Alzo, the popular genealogy author and lecturer. A fellow instructor at the now-defunct GenClass and at the National Institute of Genealogical Studies, I have known Lisa for years through online interaction. This was the first time that we have met in person.

At my vendor table, I set up several of my books for sale, including the Genealogy at a Glance: African American Research (Baltimore: Genealogical Publishing Co., 2011), and all three volumes of the Records of the Slave Claims Commissions, 1864-1867 (self-published, 2010-2011). I also printed out the Table of Contents and the Pennsylvania pages of the Online State Resources for Genealogy e-book (self-published, 2011). The final touch was a small sign that asked, “What’s Your Brickwall?” This sign actually brought the most visitors to my table, as attendees asked for advice with their research problems.

Lunch was great. I sat with Lisa Alzo and my friend Shamele Jordon as we listened to DearMYRTLE’s speech about “Genealogy Jam.” At several points throughout her talk, Ol’ Myrt was driven to tears while reminiscing about older family members, including her parents and grandparents. The entire audience was moved.

Unfortunately, because of my vendor table, I was unable to attend any of the other lectures. I would have loved to hear, for example, Lisa Alzo’s presentation on “Immigrant Cluster Communities,” or Shamele Jordon’s presentation on “Visualizing the Past: Maps and Genealogy,” or Curt Witcher’s presentation “Mining the Mother Lode: Using Periodical Literature for Genealogical Research.” Lou Szucs and Juliana Smith presented a track of four lectures focused on locating information on Ancestry.com, while John T. Humphrey and others presented a track of four lectures on researching in Pennsylvania. But from everything I heard from attendees, all of these presentations were fantastic.

After the conference ended, I had dinner in the hotel restaurant with Donn Devine, CG, CGL, and Curt Witcher, MLA, FUGA.

Curt Witcher, Michael Hait, Donn Devine

Mr. Devine is the Archivist for the Roman Catholic Diocese of Wilmington, a long-standing member of the Association of Professional Genealogists, a Trustee of the Board for the Certification of Genealogists from 1992 through 2006, a member of the Board of the National Genealogical Society from 1994 through 2002 and current chairman of the NGS Standards Committee. He wrote the chapter on evidence analysis in the Elizabeth Shown Mills-edited Professional Genealogy (the object of the ProGen Study Groups). He also currently serves as the General Counsel for the BCG.

Mr. Witcher is the manager of the Allen County Public Library’s renowned Genealogy Center, in Fort Wayne, Indiana. He is on the Board of the Federation of Genealogical Societies and is a member of the Genealogy Committee of the American Library Association. He was coeditor of the Periodical Source Index (PERSI) from 1987 through 2000.

Needless to say, it was an absolutely wonderful meal. We didn’t of course limit our conversation to genealogy, but discussed a number of other topics as well.

Once dinner was finished, I started the long drive home. It was dark again. I arrived home a little after 10pm. It was a long day, but one that I will long treasure.

Follow Friday: Professional genealogists websites

It is Follow Friday! This is a blogging meme in which authors recommend other blogs, websites, repositories, or anything else. In keeping with the theme of this blog, I will spotlight different resources for professional and aspiring professional genealogists each week: not only genealogy-related, but also others of interest.

Today I will not recommend one site, but many.

If you are a professional genealogist or an aspiring/transitional professional genealogist, you need to have a website. Above and beyond anything else, your website will be your #1 marketing tool. I can honestly say that no less than 90% of the research clients that I have had in my career have spent at least some time on my website. How do I know this? Because their initial email to me comes through the “Contact Me” form on my website.

When you are developing a website, look at the websites of other professional genealogists, especially those with long standing careers. What do you like and what don’t you like? How much information do you want to include on your website?

One of the best ways to see other researchers’ websites is to go look to the membership directory of the Association of Professional Genealogists. The APG website allows you to search for a researcher by name, location, research specialty, or geographic specialty, and many of the entries include links to the members’ professional websites.

Take a look at researchers similar to yourself, that is, those researching in a similar location, research specialty, or geographic specialty. After all, these researchers are your direct competition–though in the genealogical community, there is rarely animosity (and often cooperation) among competitors. All the same, a potential client looking for a researcher is as likely to find their website as yours. How can you make yourself stand out? It all starts with your website.

Below are a few examples of websites belonging to professional genealogists. There are both positive and negative aspects of all of them. Some are better than others. Some have great content, but lack in design. Some have great design, but little content. I am not espousing any of these researchers over any others, and cannot vouch for any of their research skills. Not all of these professionals accept research projects. Not all of them are members of the APG.

Still, take a look:

I had to slip that last one in. ;)

If you are a professional genealogist, please feel free to add your site in the comments (but please no advertising). What do you like most about these or other websites?

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 2,882 other followers

%d bloggers like this: