Archive for September, 2012

Building a professional genealogy career

Earlier today, a poster inquired on the Transitional Genealogists Forum mailing list about educational opportunities for building a full-time genealogy career. I posted a fairly lengthy response, and afterwards felt that it might be well-received here as well, slightly edited:

Writing a business plan is essential. I know this is one of the assignments in ProGen, but you have to keep up with it. A business plan should be a “living document.” As you learn things that do and do not work in a practical sense, you should change your business plan to reflect your experience.

Before taking the plunge into full-time genealogy, you should start by taking a few clients on a part-time basis. One of the keys to my success in transitioning genealogy into my full-time career was having an established client base grown over a few years of part-time work. Return/repeat clients and referred clients are a major part of my business.

Consider the resources you have easy access to when advertising your specialties. When I first started, my specialties included upstate (Albany) New York and Connecticut, because that is where my family is from and therefore where the majority of my non-professional experience lay. However, I was only one or two clients in when I realized that I could not remotely research these areas from Maryland in an effective and timely manner. There are certainly a lot more online resources available now than there were in 2005-2006 when I was getting started, but that still would not allow me to examine the original records in New York. So I spent months building a knowledge base in Maryland resources and records–the area where I lived, though I had never done any research there. Even today, though I now live in Delaware, the majority of my research cases are based in Maryland–I’m still only an hour from the Maryland State Archives and go there on a regular basis.

Marketing is not just advertising. Marketing is establishing your business as a brand–that brand being your own professional reputation. The genealogical community is a relatively small world, and the professional genealogy community is far smaller. Every time you write or publish, every time you lecture, and indeed every client report that you send to a client constitutes marketing to a much higher extent than some might believe. Every time you post online, on the TGF list, on the APG members list, on a local genealogy list, on your blog, on a genealogy Facebook page… you get the idea. Building a reputation for research skill and knowledge of records and analysis is not something that you can intentionally set out to do. It is something that grows organically as you work.

You can’t be afraid to take advantage of the networking opportunities available to learn more–that is, don’t be afraid to ask questions, for fear of appearing ignorant or inexperienced. Everyone understands that no one knows everything. Intelligent and thoughtful questions are as respected as intelligent and thoughtful answers.

On genealogy institutes: My first “national” genealogy event was the Institute of Genealogical & Historical Research at Samford University, in 2010. I could never afford to travel for education before then (and actually lost my job a month after registering, so I couldn’t really afford it even at the time I went). My experience that week–not just educational, but also the opportunities for networking that existed and the relationships that were formed over that week–made me vow that no matter what, if I had to move the heavens and earth, I would never again miss IGHR. In 2011, I barely made it by the skin of my teeth, but I moved said heavens and earth, and bought the plane tickets to Birmingham less than a month before the Institute. But I made it, and took Elizabeth Shown Mills’s Advanced Methodology course. Well worth every struggle.

Second, I want to reiterate the importance of meeting people face-to-face. A lot of conversations simply cannot be held effectively by email. There is something to be said for being able to look people in the eye. Relationships formed in person tend to be stronger than those formed online. A lot of professional opportunities arise because of relationships built with other professionals. These opportunities may be as important as or even more important than those built with your own independent ideas and marketing.

And they may be the difference between being successful in your career and being unsuccessful.

 

If you would like to cite this post:

Michael Hait, CG, “Building a professional genealogy career,”Planting the Seeds: Genealogy as a Profession blog, posted 29 September 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.]

Help keep the Georgia Archives open

I previously reported on the closure of the Georgia Archives, effective 1 November 2012. Since then quite a bit has happened, including the termination of seven of the ten remaining employees, leaving only three employees to service all of the Archives’ functions.

At noon on October 3, the Coalition to Preserve the Georgia Archives and the Friends of the Georgia Archives & History will be leading a rally at the Georgia Capitol Rotunda. It is very important that this rally has a large turnout, in order to truly influence the decision-makers. If you are anywhere near Atlanta, please try to make it to this rally. See the flyer below for more information.

For those of you who cannot make it to Atlanta on October 3, you can still help by signing the petition to keep the Archives open. At the time of this writing, the petition has just under 16,000 supporters. It has been promoted by archivists, historians, genealogists, and librarians in states around the nation. More help is still needed. The petition has a goal of 20,000 signatures. To be sure that our voices are heard, we should try to surpass that goal.

Governor Deal has vowed to keep the Archives open. That was before 70% of the employees lost their jobs. Ironically, he also declared October as “Archives Month.” Hopefully, we are making the Secretary of State reconsider his decision, but so far nothing has changed. We obviously need to do more.

Visit the Friends of the Georgia Archives & History’s website at http://www.fogah.org/ for more actions you can take to help.

Capitol Rally 10-3-12

Georgia State Archives closed to the public

In a move that will devastate genealogists, the Georgia State Archives is now officially closed to the public. The following statement was released today by the Georgia Secretary of State:

The Governor’s Office of Planning and Budget has instructed the Office of the Secretary of State to further reduce its budget for AFY13 and FY14 by 3% ($732,626). As it has been for the past two years, these cuts do not eliminate excess in the agency, but require the agency to further reduce services to the citizens of Georgia. As an agency that returns over three times what is appropriated back to the general fund, budget cuts present very challenging decisions. We have tried to protect the services that the agency provides in support of putting people to work, starting small businesses, and providing public safety.

To meet the required cuts, it is with great remorse that I have to announce, effective November 1, 2012, the Georgia State Archives located in Morrow, GA will be closed to the public. The decision to reduce public access to the historical records of this state was not arrived at without great consternation. To my knowledge, Georgia will be the only state in the country that will not have a central location in which the public can visit to research and review the historical records of their government and state. The staff that currently works to catalog, restore, and provide reference to the state of Georgia’s permanent historical records will be reduced. The employees that will be let go through this process are assets to the state of Georgia and will be missed. After November 1st, the public will only be allowed to access the building by appointment; however, the number of appointments could be limited based on the schedule of the remaining employees.

Since FY08, the Office of the Secretary of State has been required to absorb many budget reductions, often above the minimum, while being responsible for more work. I believe that transparency and open access to records are necessary for the public to educate themselves on the issues of our government. I will fight during this legislative session to have this cut restored so the people will have a place to meet, research, and review the historical records of Georgia.

Is primary information truly reliable for genealogists?

“Just how accurate are the memories that we know are true?” “All our memories are reconstructed memories.”

– Scott Fraser, in TEDtalksDirector, “Scott Fraser: The problem with eyewitness testimony,” online video, uploaded 10 September 2012, Youtube (http://www.youtube.com : accessed 12 September 2012).

As genealogists we often look for ways to categorize the records we are using. We call sources original or derivative, based on the generation of the format we are using. We call information primary or secondary, based on the involvement of the informant in the events being reported. These designations are arguably an important aspect of our analysis of facts and details that appear in the records we find about our ancestors.

But how important are these designations, really? How much do they affect a record’s accuracy?

Is primary information necessarily more reliable that secondary information?

Our first sense would be “of course.” Someone who was an eyewitness to an event would be a more reliable source that someone who did not witness the event. This may be true, but just how much confidence can we have in primary information? Can we consider the testimony of an eyewitness inherently reliable?

This is where we must be more careful in our analysis of records. As Scott Fraser explores in the video below, the memories of even eyewitnesses can be flawed in surprising ways. This is no less true in our family history research than in a murder trial. “The brain abhors a vacuum,” Fraser remarks. “The brain fills in information that was not there, not originally stored—from inference, from speculation, from sources of information that came to you as the observer after the observation. … It’s called reconstructive memory.”

Making the designation between primary information and secondary information is a useful exercise in our process of records analysis. It is important to consider the involvement of the informant in the event being reported. However, it is equally important to consider other factors, for example:

  • how much time had passed between the event and the creation of the record;
  • what was the mental condition of the informant at the time of the event;
  • what was the mental condition of the informant at the time of the creation of the record;
  • what potential biases may have affected the reporting of the event, either intentional or unintentional.

As genealogists, finding records may seem like the bulk of what we do. Yet I consider the skilled and knowledgeable analysis of these records to be just as important, if not more so. Finding a record is a small part of the process; understanding the record–what it says and what it doesn’t say, its reliability, its significance–is vital for us to achieve reliable and accurate results.

In other words, determining the reliability of even an eyewitness’s testimony is the only way to determine the accuracy of our conclusions. Part of this process is understanding and considering the nature of human memory.

Take a look at this video for a more detailed exploration of the subject:

If you would like to cite this post:

Michael Hait, CG, “Is primary information truly reliable for genealogists?,”Planting the Seeds: Genealogy as a Profession blog, posted 13 September 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.]

Free webinar tomorrow – “What is a ‘Reasonably Exhaustive Search’?”

There is still time to register for my webinar “What is a ‘Reasonably Exhaustive Search’?” Legacy Family Tree will be hosting this webinar, tomorrow (12 September 2012) at 2pm EDT.

The first requirement of the Genealogical Proof Standard is that we “complete a reasonably exhaustive search for all relevant records” related to our research objective. This presentation discusses what a “reasonably exhaustive search” entals, why this is necessary, and how to conduct a search. A case study explores how failing to identify all relevant records can lead to missing information and forming inaccurate conclusions about your ancestors’ lives.

To register visit http://www.legacyfamilytree.com/webinars.asp. You will receive a confirmation email after you complete the registration process.

Attendance at the webinar will be restricted to the first 1000 to sign in. There are already many more than this number registered, so it is important to sign in at least thirty (30) minutes early. If you are unable to attend the live webinar, the recording will be available to watch free on the Legacy Family Tree website for ten (10) days.

A more permanent copy of the lecture will be available for purchase on DVD directly from Legacy Family Tree here. Feel free to also pre-order the DVD  whether or not you can attend.

I look forward to seeing you there!

For more articles about conducting a “reasonably exhaustive search,” read:

You can also read any of the articles included in the category “Genealogical Proof Standard” on the right, for details about other very important research and analysis skills.

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