Archive for July, 2012

Charging for genealogy: what is it worth?

This post has been inspired by Thomas Macentee’s 2012 update to the 2011 “Genea-Opportunities” series of blog posts.[1] Longtime readers may recognize that it was this discussion that originally led to the birth of this blog in its current incarnation. The third topic Thomas has proposed for this week is “What Do You Mean It Isn’t Free?”

Despite the subtitle of this blog (“Genealogy as a Profession”), I have never discussed the central question that most aspiring genealogists struggle with: what do we charge for my services?

One resource that is often recommended is Chapter 10, “Setting Realistic Fees” by Sandra Hargreaves Luebking in the book Professional Genealogy. In this chapter Ms. Luebking puts forth a relatively simple two-part formula to calculate your rates: (1) Salary + Expenses + Profit = Targeted Income; and (2) Targeted Income / Billable Hours = Hourly Fee.[2]

Using this method, if your “targeted income” is $80,000, and you can work 20 billable hours per week (x 50 weeks = 1000 hours), then your hourly fee would be calculated as $80 per hour. Simple enough.

Unfortunately I disagree that this formula can produce a realistic figure. To me, one should set their fees based on external factors rather than internal factors. Think about every job you have ever had. You did not walk into the interview and say, “This is how much you have to pay me.” Being self-employed, of course, you have the option to set whatever rate you decide. You can base this on anything that you want.

My own rates are based primarily on a broad survey of other professional genealogists. What do others with similar skills, experience, and education charge? This, in my opinion, is the fair way to set my fees. It has less to do with what I think I need, and more to do with what the market allows.

I believe that the market should control our rates for two reasons: the dangers of overpricing and the dangers of underpricing.

The danger of overpricing

Suppose you are an aspiring professional genealogist. You have decided to quit your job and start taking clients full-time. You have never conducted any research other than on your own family. You have never completed a genealogy course of study, other than a few local society meetings and regional conferences. You use the equation above and decide to come out of the gate charging $80 per hour, in order to maintain your lifestyle.

With your first few clients, you realize that you are in over your head a little bit. You have a few unhappy clients–not because their expectations were too high, but because you could not deliver value equal to your rate. Suddenly these unhappy clients have told their friends who told their friends, and to a small but growing group of people “professional genealogy” is now considered a scam.

This hurts all of us–not just you or your clients.

The danger of underpricing

Some prospective clients will try to get anything they can for free. They will write to you for advice, asking specific questions about their family, and eventually start asking you for “favors” to pick up records, etc. Part of the problem is that many genealogy consumers are on fixed incomes and quite frankly can’t afford to hire a professional. Another part of the problem is that genealogical research skills are often undervalued even among professionals, and this attitude spreads to consumers.

Underpricing is quite often a result of undervaluing what your skill is worth. Again this is why we must conduct market research. Find out what other genealogists with similar skill, education, and experience are charging. And, equally important, be honest with yourself as to what your level of skill, education, and experience really is. If you have been researching the same family for 25 years, this is different from a professional genealogist with 25 years of experience researching hundreds (or thousands) of different, unrelated families.

Doing market research

The greatest resource for conducting market research into what other genealogists charge is the Members Directory of the Association of Professional Genealogists. Here you can read the profiles of all 2000-plus members of the APG–not all of whom take clients.

The members’ profiles provide general qualifications: education, experience, qualifications, specialties. You can search for specific locations or specialties or even keywords using the Search function of the Directory. But don’t stop there. Most profiles do not provide specific information on rates. However, many professional genealogists have their own websites. Follow the links to their sites for more information. Don’t stop at one, either–look at a few dozen. Find those most similar to yourself, and average their rates. You can make small adjustments as needed based on your local average cost of living. (Living in Manhattan is a different scale than living in Kansas.)

In general–in my opinion–your rates should reflect the value that you are able to provide based on your skills, education, and experience. Have I repeated those three factors enough yet? These three factors are among the most important when it comes to many other aspects of professional genealogy as well–not just setting your rates.

What do my fellow professional genealogists think?

SOURCES:

[1] Thomas MacEntee, “GENEA-OPPORTUNITIES – 2012 UPDATE,” Geneabloggers blog, posted 9 July 2012 (http://www.geneabloggers.com : accessed 9 July 2012). Thomas MacEntee, “GENEA-OPPORTUNITIES (LET’S MAKE LOTS OF MONEY),”  Geneabloggers blog, posted 18 April 2011.

[2] Sandra Hargreaves Luebking, “Chapter 10: Setting Realistic Fees,” in Professional Genealogy (Baltimore: Genealogical Publishing Co., 2001), pages 193-202.

If you would like to cite this post:

Michael Hait, CG, “Charging for genealogy: what is it worth?,”Planting the Seeds: Genealogy as a Profession blog, posted 11 July 2012 (http://michaelhait.wordpress.com : accessed [access date]). [Please also feel free to include a hyperlink to the specific article if you are citing this post in an online forum.]

Professional genealogists and genealogy professionals

This post has been inspired by Thomas Macentee’s 2012 update to the 2011 “Genea-Opportunities” series of blog posts.[1] Longtime readers may recognize that it was this discussion that originally led to the birth of this blog in its current incarnation. The second topic Thomas has proposed for this week is “Careers in Genealogy.”

How does one define professional genealogist?

The answer to this question causes great controversy in the genealogy community. This is because there is no real answer. Some believe that only those who conduct research for paying clients can be considered professional genealogists. Others believe that anyone earning income in a genealogy-related field can be considered professional genealogists. Still others believe that anyone–whether they earn an income or not–who conducts research at a “professional level” is a professional genealogist. The Association of Professional Genealogists includes members belonging to all of these groups and more.

I previously addressed the inclusive definition of professional genealogist in my (once again aptly-titled) post, “What is a professional genealogist?” In the post I stated my opinion that the field of professional genealogy entails a large number of related careers focused on high-quality genealogy practice. Not just professional researchers, but also writers, lecturers, publishers, teachers, and others.

In the past few years, however, the field of genealogy-related careers has expanded even beyond this. One comprehensive list was published earlier today by Thomas MacEntee in his Geneabloggers post “Careers in Genealogy – A 2012 Update.”[2] Reading the list I noticed a few of these more recent career choices differ from other alternative (i.e. not research-focused) careers in genealogy, notably Analyst and Marketer.

How do these career options differ from Writer or Educator? It all comes down, in my mind, to the skill set/knowledge base at the center of these careers.

There is no question that a person who performs high-quality genealogy research for paying clients is a professional genealogist. Writers and lecturers use different skills, certainly, but at the core of their work is a research skill set and genealogical knowledge base. A successful writer or lecturer about genealogy subjects is necessarily a skilled researcher.

Look at Thomas’s definition of “Marketer”:

Marketer: Another growth area in the genealogy industry especially when it comes to social media. There are many genealogy companies and even professional genealogists who either want to have their social media presence set up for them to run. And there are some who actually want to hire a social media “agent” to administer their online presence for them. It helps to have an understanding of the genealogy and family history industry to do this effectively.[3]

The last sentence notes that “an understanding of the genealogy and family history industry” is necessary for this position, but genealogy research skill is not a part of the job. This is a marked difference from other “professional genealogy” career options.

Would it still be appropriate to call a marketer a “professional genealogist”? The answer to this is not quite so clear-cut.

I cannot take credit for creating the term, but I believe that genealogy professional better describes the nature of the Analyst and Marketer career options that Thomas describes. The person following these paths is clearly a professional analyst or marketer (or archivist, etc.), and the focus is certainly on the genealogy field. But this career option simply does not utilize a genealogical research skill set or knowledge base.

In examining career options and separating them, I am not judging one option as better or more legitimate than another. I myself have certain services that I offer that would more aptly fall into the “genealogy professional” category rather than the “professional genealogist” category.

For example, one service that I offer almost exclusively to other professional genealogists involves presentation design. Even though I help to design presentations that deal with genealogical subjects, my research skill does not come into play at all in conducting this work. Another example is that of website design and programming. I know at least three professional genealogists who offer website design and programming among their services (and I am working with one of them to help me with a major overhaul of my own website).

The difference is one of semantics only. I believe that both groups fill their own very important roles in the field of genealogy. Professional genealogists–who may be great researchers but horrible marketers or presentation designers–can benefit greatly from the different skill sets brought into the field by genealogy professionals.

And of course, as aspiring professional genealogists will often hear, very few genealogists outside of Salt Lake City can support themselves by relying solely on research. Most of us must offer multiple services: not just research, writing, and lecturing. The current trend in the genealogy profession is that many new professionals are bringing their “outside” skill sets into their genealogical practice. As this trend continues, we will likely see many more career options created, and a growing percentage of “genealogy professionals” among the professional genealogists.

What do you think?

SOURCES:

[1] Thomas MacEntee, “GENEA-OPPORTUNITIES – 2012 UPDATE,” Geneabloggers blog, posted 9 July 2012 (http://www.geneabloggers.com : accessed 9 July 2012). Thomas MacEntee, “GENEA-OPPORTUNITIES (LET’S MAKE LOTS OF MONEY),”  Geneabloggers blog, posted 18 April 2011.

[2] Thomas MacEntee, “CAREERS IN GENEALOGY – A 2012 UPDATE,”  Geneabloggers blog, posted 10 July 2012.

[3] Thomas MacEntee, “CAREERS IN GENEALOGY – A 2012 UPDATE,”  Geneabloggers blog, posted 10 July 2012.

If you would like to cite this post:

Michael Hait, CG, “Professional genealogists and genealogy professionals,”Planting the Seeds: Genealogy as a Profession blog, posted 10 July 2012 (http://michaelhait.wordpress.com : accessed [access date]). [Please also feel free to include a hyperlink to the specific article if you are citing this post in an online forum.]

Genealogy blogging for fun and profit

This post has been inspired by Thomas Macentee’s 2012 update to the 2011 “Genea-Opportunities” series of blog posts.[1] Longtime readers may recognize that it was this discussion that originally led to the birth of this blog in its current incarnation. The first topic Thomas has proposed for this week is “Genealogy Blogging – For Fun or Profit?”

I previously discussed the reasons for my own blogging in a post entitled, aptly enough, “Why do I blog? Why do you blog?” The reasons I expressed in that post remain relevant for me, but now I would also like to discuss the general nature of blogging as a professional genealogist.

There are a number of professional genealogists who have been blogging for many years. These blogs have different focuses and their own unique strengths and weaknesses–as do most blogs of any kind. But these blogs are also among some of the most read and recognizable blogs in genealogy.

In the past year or so, I have seen quite a few professional genealogists begin blogging. Part of this, I believe, is due to the “social media” mantra that is prevalent throughout every part of our lives in the 21st century. Businesses–especially small businesses–are expected to have a social media presence.

Unfortunately quite a few of these blogs are not born out of passion. And so they do not develop a voice. The writing is sporadic and doesn’t really say anything special. In other words, it is content marketing–without the content.

This blog has developed to have two main purposes: (1) to discuss important subjects in professional genealogy; and (2) to help educate genealogists toward performing professional-level research, even if genealogy for them is “just a hobby.”

Notice that I did not include a purpose (3) to help “drum up business.” Simply stated, I do not expect to bring in research clients through this blog. It has occasionally happened, but that is not among my reasons for writing. I write because I am passionate about it–I am passionate about genealogy and passionate about writing.

For my fellow professional genealogists, I would offer this advice: If you would not otherwise have any interest in blogging, do not do so just because someone says you should. You do need a website to compete in the online world, but that website does not need to have a lackluster blog. Your blog should be how you communicate your thoughts to the world. It should mean something to you, first and foremost. Write because you feel you have to do so, not because someone else says you have to do so.

Blogs can certainly be a source of income–through affiliate marketing (i.e. advertising) or through promoting your lectures or publications. I have been known to do both of these on occasion. But the revenue generated through these means is not much.

What do my fellow professional genealogists think?

SOURCES:

[1] Thomas MacEntee, “GENEA-OPPORTUNITIES – 2012 UPDATE,” Geneabloggers blog, posted 9 July 2012 (http://www.geneabloggers.com : accessed 9 July 2012). Thomas MacEntee, “GENEA-OPPORTUNITIES (LET’S MAKE LOTS OF MONEY),”  Geneabloggers blog, posted 18 April 2011.

If you would like to cite this post:

Michael Hait, CG, “Genealogy blogging for fun and profit,”Planting the Seeds: Genealogy as a Profession blog, posted 9 July 2012 (http://michaelhait.wordpress.com : accessed [access date]). [Please also feel free to include a hyperlink to the specific article if you are citing this post in an online forum.]

Registration link for Online State Resources fixed

For a few hours earlier today–shortly after posting “Important notice for purchasers of Online State Resources for Genealogy“–I was experiencing some (more) technical difficulties.

I have since resolved the issues, so please take a few minutes now to send a registration email to the address provided in the Introduction to the ebook.

Thanks for your patience, and I hope that you are enjoying the book!

Important notice for purchasers of Online State Resources for Genealogy

Online State Resources for Genealogy contains links to thousands of indexes and images of original records that genealogists can use in the course of their research. Of course, the mutable nature of the Internet means that sites will come and go, pages will change, and resources will be added. Keeping up with all of these changes, and continuing to add newly-discovered resources, is a daunting task. But it is a task that I have committed myself to–continuously updating the listings over time.

Understanding this from the beginnings of the e-book, I promised all registered purchasers a complimentary update. To register, all you have to do is send a message to an email provided in the Introduction.

Unfortunately, I made a mistake.

Because I have not yet completed the next edition, I did not see the need to periodically check the email account over the past few months. Apparently the email account was marked inactive and all of the registration emails were deleted. I have remedied the situation for this edition, and will be finding a better method of registration for the next edition.

If you have purchased Online State Resources for Genealogy, please take a minute to send a new message to the registration email address provided in the Introduction. All registered purchasers will receive a complimentary copy of the next edition.

I have been working on the next edition and should have it completed soon. Many new resources and updated resources have already been added.

If you have not yet purchased the ebook, you can find reviews at the following sites:

Harold Henderson, CG, “More on line records from Michael Hait,” Midwestern Microhistory blog, posted 10 February 2011 (http://midwesternmicrohistory.blogspot.com : accessed 9 July 2012).

Thomas Macentee, “Review – Online State Resources for Genealogy,” Geneabloggers blog, posted 22 February 2011 (http://www.geneabloggers.com : accessed 9 July 2012).

Craig Manson, “Book Review: Online State Resources,” Geneablogie blog, posted 5 February 2011 (http://blog.geneablogie.net : accessed 9 July 2012).

George G. Morgan & Drew Smith, “The Genealogy Guys Podcast #219 – 2011 April 9,” The Genealogy Guys Podcast, posted 10 April 2011 (http://genealogyguys.com : accessed 9 July 2012).

Marian Pierre-Louis, “Book Review: Online State Resources for Genealogy by Michael Hait,” Marian’s Roots and Rambles blog, posted 30 January 2011 (http://rootsandrambles.blogspot.com : accessed 9 July 2012).

Randy Seaver, “Book Review: Online State Resources for Genealogy,” Genea-Musings blog, posted 3 February 2011 (http://www.geneamusings.com : accessed 9 July 2012).

Notable Genealogy Blog Posts, 8 July 2012

The following recent blog posts are those that I consider important or notable. Unlike other similar blog lists, I cannot guarantee that they will all be from the past week. (Some weeks I simply do not have time to read any blogs.) But I will try to write this on a fairly regular basis.

Duncan Watts, “The Importance of Studying the Obvious,” Harvard Business Review Blog Network, posted 25 June 2012 (http://blogs.hbr.org/ : accessed 2 July 2012). Duncan Watts is one of my favorite authors for the work that he has done on the science of networks. Here he discusses the importance of researching the liberal arts in addition to the “hard sciences.”

Taneya Koonce, “Death Has a Preference for Birthdays,” Taneya’s Genealogy Blog, posted 12 June 2012 (http://www.taneya-kalonji.com/genblog : accessed 2 July 2012). Ms. Koonce discusses a very interesting study about the prevalence of people dying near their birthdays. I have noticed this phenomenon as well—I wonder why.

Judy G. Russell, CG, “Intro: primary law resources,” The Legal Genealogist blog, posted 25 June 2012 (http://www.legalgenealogist.com/blog : accessed 2 July 2012). Ms. Russell proposes the compilation of online resources for state laws, and …

Diane L. Richard, “Genealogy Community Encouraged to Create a Primary Law Resources Library,” UpFront with NGS blog, posted 25 July 2012 (http://upfront.ngsgenealogy.org/ : accessed 2 July 2012). Ms. Richard responds to Judy’s post, offering several sources for North Carolina law.

Elizabeth Shown Mills, CG, FASG, “QuickLesson 8: What Constitutes Proof?,” Evidence Explained: Historical Analysis, Citation & Source Usage (http://www.evidenceexplained.com/content/quicklesson-8-what-constitutes-proof : accessed 2 July 2012). Ms. Mills offers a concise description of what proof actually means and how one achieves it.

James Tanner, “What is an original?,” Genealogy’s Star blog, posted 21 June 2012 (http://genealogysstar.blogspot.com/ :  accessed 2 July 2012).

James Tanner, “Comments on the Original Document Dilemma,” Genealogy’s Star blog, posted 23 June 2012 (http://genealogysstar.blogspot.com/ :  accessed 2 July 2012).

In the two above articles, Mr. Tanner discusses the use of original records (as opposed to copies) in court and in genealogy.

Kathleen Nitsch, “The Sailors Index to the Civil War Soldiers and Sailors Database,” in Randy Seaver, “Civil War Soldiers and Sailors Database – Part 1,” Genea-Mustings blog, posted 25 June 2012 (http://www.geneamusings.com : accessed 2 July 2012).

Kathleen Nitsch, “The Soldiers Index to the Civil War Soldiers and Sailors Database,” in Randy Seaver, “Civil War Soldiers and Sailors Database – Part 2,” Genea-Mustings blog, posted 26 June 2012 (http://www.geneamusings.com : accessed 2 July 2012).

Kathleen Nitsch, “Confederate Soldiers in the Civil War Soldiers and Sailors Database: Special Considerations,” in Randy Seaver, “Civil War Soldiers and Sailors Database – Part 3,” Genea-Mustings blog, posted 27 June 2012 (http://www.geneamusings.com : accessed 2 July 2012).

The three above articles, hosted on Randy Seaver’s blog, dive into the National Park Services’s Civil War Soldiers and Sailors System database. If you are using this database for information on Civil War veterans, it is important to know who is included and who is not included.

Harold Henderson, CG, “Professionals and amateurs, together forever,” Midwestern Microhistory: A Genealogy Blog, posted 29 June 2012 (http://midwesternmicrohistory.blogspot.com : accessed2 July 2012). Genealogy shares certain qualities with driving and writing: many “do it,” but only a few do it professionally. Standards exist to separate the two groups. Harold offers a great comparison of the fields.

The WikiTree Honor Code

My thanks to Dr. Bill Smith for bringing this to my attention by writing about the Code.[1]

I will admit that I rarely use collaborative genealogy sites. Nothing against the sites themselves–it just does  not often fit into my research plan. First, I have little time to research my own family and do not use online family trees for clients unless I am completely out of other options. Second, the online trees just don’t generally meet the standards of proof that I try to meet.

One of the leading collaborative sites in the market today–WikiTree–has recently instituted an “Honor Code.” This Honor Code is the first attempt of which I am aware that tries to bring research standards to online family trees. This nine-point Code addresses ethical concerns such as courtesy and privacy, and legal concerns such as copyright. In terms of research standards, it includes the following important point:

VIII. We cite sources. Without sources we can’t objectively resolve conflicting information.[2]

This one point in the WikiTree Honor Code actually addresses two of the five points of the Genealogical Proof Standard: that we cite our sources (obviously) and that we reconcile conflicting evidence caused by conflicting information.

I would like to commend the WikiTree team for making this first step in supporting genealogy research standards. I would also like to invite other collaborative genealogy sites to follow their lead to help make online genealogies more reliable in the future. This will do much to raise the overall quality of online genealogies.

SOURCES:

[1] Dr. Bill (William L.) Smith, “I support the WikiTree Wiki Genealogist Honor Code,” Springfield Genealogy Examiner, posted 29 June 2012 (http://www.examiner.com/article/i-support-the-wikitree-wiki-genealogist-honor-code : accessed 1 July 2012).

[2] “Wiki Genealogist Honor Code,” WikiTree (http://www.wikitree.com/wiki/Special:Honor_Code : accessed 1 July 2012).

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