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.]

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2 responses to this post.

  1. [...] Professional genealogists and genealogy professionals (I’m a genealogy professional, btw) [...]

    Reply

  2. Posted by Frank on July 28, 2012 at 8:07 am

    True, Genealogy is being forced to adapt due to economic forces just like so many other professions. However, I think that it is also being transformed by the marketplace. The profession is finally starting to realize that the hallowed days of pure research for the serious client are coming to a close. The market is being driven by a younger generation who is more interested in what their ancestors life was like then their lineage. Along those lines, one aspect I have yet to seen touched on is that of historian. How can one tell the story of a clients ancestor if they do not understand and grasp the time period and events which impacted that ancestors life? Add to that a cultural context and then one starts to have a ‘feel’ for their ancestors life. One of the huge hurdles for all genealogists, at any level, is learning to NOT view our ancestors through our current or ‘normal’ cultural lens, but rather through the lens of that era. We must try to think like they thought. And that only begins to happen when we have as our foundation, our starting point, the historical perspective of our ancestors. And that consists mostly of local historical perspective, much more than a national perspective, although the latter does play a role as well.

    Reply

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