Archive for the ‘Amateur Genealogy’ Category

When you find a document that may be about one of your ancestors …

On 13 January 2013 Nancy of the My Ancestors and Me blog, posted a question:

When you find a document that may be about one of your ancestors (or may just as well not be about one of them), what do you do with it?

She continues:

I have several documents (a will, a census record, etc.) about people who are probably my ancestors but I don’t have enough information (yet) to make a good case for a relationship. I haven’t been adding the names or documents to my genealogy program or to the notes section of my genealogy program, either. But then when I find some other information that might support this person, I have to go searching for the previous information/document I found.[1]

I will respond to this question from the perspective of a professional researcher.

It is important not to actively seek records that do not relate to the problem you are trying to solve. This will cut down on these “other” documents.

There is a very big difference between focused research, that is, searching with a purpose, and “random” searching.

Focused research begins by defining a specific research goal, like a question that you want to answer, and seeking records relevant to that goal, records that will answer your question. These records may provide information relevant to other goals or questions, but you should follow up on these clues by identifying them and pursuing them individually.

If you are researching in an organized, focused manner, you will never have records that “may or may not” be related to your research problem.

Sometimes, when appropriate, you may have to conduct a broad survey of specific records. For example, you may wish to find any person with a certain surname in a certain location at a certain time. This broad survey still fits within the process of focused research, as long as you:

  • Have identified a specific question that you are hoping to answer by conducting the survey;
  • Keep good records of what indexes or record groups you have searched and what specifically you have searched for;
  • Keep good records of all results;
  • Analyze each of the results, identifying what information may be relevant to your goal and defining any follow-up research that you may need to conduct in order to meet your goal;
  • Conduct all follow-up research in order to bring meaning to the results of the survey.

Searching broadly is not the same thing as searching randomly. Searching randomly produces far more “false positives” than relevant information.

Another aspect of focused research is that genealogy database software is most effectively used differently than many people currently use it. Many users use their software as a “shoebox” to store records that they come across that “might” be related to their ancestors.

I have found it far more effective to use a word processor to gather information and analyze evidence in a file related to a specific research goal. Once I have enough evidence to prove a fact or relationship, I can add that information into my database, either linking it to the separate file or copying the proof narrative into the Notes field. In other words, I use the database to record conclusions, not research-in-progress.

I hope that this explanation helps to answer your question. Please let me know if anyone else has any additional suggestions.

SOURCES:

[1] Nancy, “You Genealogists with More Experience than Me, …,” My Ancestors and Me blog, posted 13 January 2013 (http://nancysfamilyhistoryblog.blogspot.com : accessed 25 January 2013).

If you would like to cite this post:

Michael Hait, CG, “When you find a document that may be about one of your ancestors …,”Planting the Seeds: Genealogy as a Profession blog, posted 25 January 2013 (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.]

The “literature search” in the Internet age

Many genealogy guides advise that we should first conduct a literature search when researching a new family. Traditionally, this has meant examining published work. The Internet has changed both the nature of “the literature” and how (or if) we conduct these searches.

Before the Internet,  compiled genealogical work products appeared in self-published books and society journal articles. To a certain extent one might even consider the examination of published queries in society journals as part of the literature search. In this way, researchers could “gather clues” from and build upon the previous research of others.

Another part of the process—especially if researching a family that had not been previously researched and published—was looking for ancestors in published indexes, abstracts, and transcriptions. Some of these were printed in books, others in society journals.

The early days of Internet genealogy (the mid- to late-1990s) reproduced the traditional literature search online. There were a few sites that allowed uploading of GEDCOM files, where researchers could connect through the online publication of their research. The USGenWeb system of sites published genealogy indexes, abstracts, and transcriptions of records. Conducting a literature search then consisted of looking at both print and online sources.

It is now 2012. The nature of what we find online has changed. I recently had a discussion with a fellow genealogist about whether the literature search is still necessary.

To answer this question, we must review the two main reasons for conducting a literature search.

First, we would look at previously-published research. There is a lot of this online now.

As I discussed in an earlier post, we can’t ignore it. On the other hand, a lot of it—especially the Ancestry.com public trees—would not qualify as genealogy. I recently discovered that one of my ancestors, born in the mid-nineteenth century in New York, had been attached as the mother of a woman born in North Carolina in the eighteenth century. At least in the days of printed research, the mistakes were at least generally geographically centered. No “shaking-leaf” mistakes.

So how much of the online trees should we bother to look at?

There are a few wiki-based family tree sites. In theory, the collaborative nature of these sites will make them more likely to be accurate. Many families, however, have only one member-contributor, so there simply is no collaboration. The accuracy is only as good as the researcher.

Nearly every Ancestry.com search will bring at least a few public trees. As already noted, many of these are simply examples of bad—some might say nonexistent—research. One way to find the better research is to look for “Public Stories.” These often contain user-transcribed records or personal memories. The trees that contain them are usually the work of genealogists who are trying to put together a good family tree.

Online trees of course suffer from the same weaknesses and shortcomings as their offline equivalents. Not all researchers have the same level of skill. This is as true now as it ever has been. The only way to know how reliable a published tree is, is to evaluate the evidence. Unfortunately, very few online trees have source citations. Even fewer have proof arguments that explain the reasoning behind the conclusions that have been made.

You can of course contact the creators of most online trees. They may or may not respond. If they do respond, you might be able to ask for source citations (if they have them) or ask them for their reasoning for certain conclusions. This will help in the assessment of the research.

Second, we would find our ancestors in published indexes, etc. The most important aspect of this is to understand what records exactly have been indexed, and obtaining the original source record for the reference. The reason this is important should be self-evident.

Given the focus of this blog on professional research skills, I would also like to address the question from the perspective of a genealogist researching a client project. How much of a literature search is it necessary to conduct?

The Internet has changed every aspect of how we research. Because of Ancestry, FamilySearch, and the hundreds of other websites that have brought them online, we now have direct access to digital image copies of original records. In my opinion, the ease of access to these records makes much of the literature search unnecessary during the beginning stages of our research.

When we have direct access to the original records, why would we waste our clients’ research time looking at online family trees compiled by researchers of questionable skill? As skillful researchers ourselves, we should (presumably) reach the same conclusions based on the same records.

In my opinion, it is also too tempting to accept the conclusions made by previous researchers. For this reason, I generally skip the previous research aspect of the literature search. I prefer to look at the records themselves and form my conclusions based on these records alone. This removes the potential to be biased toward a previous conclusion.

This is not to say that I do not still conduct a literature search. The difference is that I generally do not look at previous research until closer to the end of the project. After I have found the records and reached at least tentative conclusions, I may go back to see how they match up with previous research, to see if I may have missed some crucial element of the subject’s life. If I get stuck on a line, an online family tree might provide me with the clue that gets me past it.

What do you think about the literature search in this age of the Internet? Is it still necessary?

Please leave your comments below.

Those Genealogy Police are at it again!

Yesterday I received a horrible email from the Genealogy Police(tm).

Can you believe that they told me that I should use death certificates in my research? I don’t want to use death certificates! They are so gloomy. Genealogy is supposed to be fun!

And they said that court records would be a good source of information about my ancestors. If my ancestor was a criminal or was sued, well, I just don’t want to know about that.

The way that I do genealogy is perfectly fine. It makes for a great hobby! I can trace my family tree all the way back to Moses through Charlemagne, King Henry VIII, and I’m third cousins with Brad Pitt. (That explains my good looks.)

I don’t cite my sources for any of this because the “genealogy police” actually think that a citation should provide detail about my sources to an extent that would allow me or someone else to actually know what we had looked at. If I can’t do it their way, then I just won’t do it at all!

Besides, I’m just doing this for my kids anyway. I’m not a professional, and all I care about are the stories.

Now that I got all of that out of the way…

Obviously all of the above was written with tongue firmly in cheek. And I am sure that I have ticked a few people off. I apologize to all who are offended. But I felt that this was the only way to make my point.

Over the past two or three years I have read several blog posts that–believe it or not–are very similar to what I wrote above. These posts of course do not complain about someone telling them to use death certificates or court records (or any other record group). They complain that someone emailed them about a lack of documentation or faulty analysis or some other “standards” issue. Why is it that what I wrote above seems so over-the-top ridiculous, but these other posts get dozens of “likes” on Facebook and “attaboy” and “attagirl” comments? There is no difference.

When genealogists write about the need for standards in genealogy—yes, even for non-professionals—they are usually doing so to try to help.

Meeting standards does not suck the fun out of genealogy.

Meeting standards in your research—even if no one other than yourself ever knows it—increases your own personal confidence in the accuracy of your research. Whether you are in it as a professional or in it just for yourself (or your kids), you should care about the accuracy of your research. Do you want to research your family tree or someone else’s? Do you want to honor your ancestors or someone else’s?

Meeting standards in your research makes you a better researcher. The standards were written by professionals with decades of experience—those whose research skills have been repeatedly demonstrated and found to excel. Becoming a better researcher, in my opinion, makes genealogy even more fun. It opens doors. It breaks down brick walls. Becoming a better researcher allows you to identify with confidence far more ancestors than otherwise. These “new” ancestors all have their own lives and stories. If you love the stories (and who doesn’t), then more ancestors = more fun!

So who are the Genealogy Police anyway?

I’ve never seen them. I have been “doing genealogy” online since I was twenty years old. You can still find some of those old posts I wrote in 1997 or 1998 online. They don’t meet standards. I didn’t know there were standards. They don’t cite sources (though I sure wish they did so I could find some of that information now).

Despite all this, I have never been visited by the Genealogy Police. Never once have I been shot down by some genealogist with a pompous attitude telling me I was doing it wrong.

I have, on the other hand, received messages over the years from genealogists who helped me become the researcher I am today. They taught me about examining sources. They taught me about indirect evidence. They even taught me about citing sources.

But this may come down to perception. I wanted to learn. So I did not take criticism as negative, I took it constructively. I recognized my weaknesses and my mistakes, and I made the attempt to correct them.

I won’t say that there may not be some overzealous genealogists out there who attack people (always privately) about a comma or a semicolon or a faulty record or a disproven connection. They may exist. Luckily they have never emailed me.

So the next time the Genealogy Police visit you, please ask yourself: is this genealogist really attacking me, or are they trying to help?

Another word on “Evidence-based” and “Conclusion-based” genealogy software use

Recently I was researching a client’s ancestor and I found myself thinking about the recent discussions on “evidence-based” and “conclusion-based” genealogy software use. This case perfectly illustrates my difficulties in using genealogy database software. The case has not yet been concluded, so I am unable to publish the specifics here.

In this particular case my client’s ancestor (“S. B.”) was born ca. 1764-1765, based on analysis of several sources, including pre-1850 federal census records, the 1850 federal census, a Revolutionary War pension deposition, and an obituary.

A man with the same name was identified as a son in the 1762 will of the presumed father (“M. B.”). Obviously this immediately presents a problem, but the census records are vague enough, and the other sources late enough in life, that the possibility of the date of birth being pushed forward a few years remained, so it was possible that S. B. could have been an infant when his father wrote his will.

The most important evidence came when examining the other probate records related to M. B.’s estate. S. B. served as the administrator of the estate, in 1762-1763. By checking a 1759 compilation of laws in effect in the state, I confirmed that a person appointed executor or administrator of an estate had to be at least 17 years of age to serve as such. This would mean that S. B., son of M. B., had to have been born no later than 1745. In other words, there was simply no possibility that my client’s S. B. was the son of M. B.

Writing the report in MS Word, it is very easy to quote the relevant portion of the probate law, and cite the law book. This law provides the crucial evidence to prove that M. B.’s son S. B. was born before 1745. No other record provides this information, either directly or indirectly.

In a genealogy software program, how would one:

(1) enter a “fact” or “event” for S. B. or M. B. to reflect the existence of the probate law?

(2) cite the probate law?

I am sure that there is a way, and if I relied on genealogical software in my research, I would have to figure it out. But I have a feeling that it would be a bit convoluted, whereas it is much easier to accomplish simply using a word processor with footnotes.

The next question is then–how would this be handled differently by an “evidence-based” software user and a “conclusion-based” software user?

I am open to all comments.

If you would like to cite this post: Michael Hait, “Another word on ‘Evidence-based’ and ‘Conclusion-based’ genealogy software use,” Planting the Seeds: Genealogy as a Profession blog, posted 23 March 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.]

“Evidence-based” and “Conclusion-based” software use

My discussions of genealogy research conclusions have taken an interesting turn. (See “What is a conclusion?” and “Simple and complex genealogical conclusions.”)

While my posts deal with the use of proof in forming conclusions, Randy Seaver, prolific author of the Genea-Musings blog; Tim Forsythe, author of Ancestors Now; Russ Worthington, author of A Worthington Weblog; and others have taken it a step further in discussing how they use their genealogy database software. This new turn is particularly interesting, considering that I rarely use any genealogy software in my research, especially my research for clients.

Read the following posts to witness the development of the terms “Evidence-based Genealogists” and “Conclusion-based Genealogists”:

I would like to applaud all of the bloggers mentioned above for giving so much thought to how to apply research standards to how they use their tools. Every day more genealogists start using one of the genealogy database programs. I hope that they all come across these posts, so that they will also give this discussion some thought.

I would quibble about one word being used, though. Rather than calling oneself an Evidence-based  or Conclusion-based Genealogist, it would be more accurate to call oneself an Evidence-based or Conclusion-based Software User. Using the word “genealogist” as opposed to “software user” implies that there are two separate approaches to genealogy, rather than simply two separate ways to use the software.

I also want to address a related topic, that of “evidence-based” and “conclusion-based” genealogy research. So as not to confuse the issues, this will be discussed in a separate post.

Again, to all of the bloggers who have taken part in the discussion, thank you!

The Genealogical Proof Standard – it’s not just for professionals!

Though I started researching my genealogy (in the loosest sense of the word research) when I was about eight or nine years old, I have been involved with genealogy off and on throughout my entire life. I started researching at the National Archives (Archives I in Washington, D. C.) at age sixteen, when I was still in high school. By the time I was nineteen I was spending every Saturday cranking through microfilmed federal census records, passenger lists, and military indexes, looking for my family.

I learned everything I could about the records available where my ancestors lived: Stamford, Connecticut; Harrisonburg, Virginia; Schoharie, Suffolk, and Saratoga counties, New York; and other places. Doing this I was able to find out quite a bit about my ancestors, but there were plenty of brickwalls. Inch by inch I would creep forward, relying often on derivative sources and a network of other researchers found through word of mouth and (eventually) surname email lists and message boards.

Learning methodology–”how to research”–never entered my mind.

Fast forward a few years. After a couple of years without active research, I learned that my wife was pregnant with our daughter. The pending addition to my family inspired me to jump back in with renewed excitement.

Internet genealogy had changed significantly within just two or three years! Those old surname- and location-specific mailing lists and message boards barely scratched the surface of what was available online.

But more importantly, I started to read about research methodology. Elizabeth Shown Mills’s Evidence! Citation & Analysis for the Family Historian and Christine Rose’s Genealogical Proof Standard: Building a Solid Case taught me that research does not end when you find a record. These books taught me the importance of evidence analysis and other skills that I learned to apply to my research.

Not client research as a professional genealogist. My professional career came later. I learned to apply proper research techniques to my own family research first. (And one of these days I will go back to some of my older research and bring it up to par.)

As I learned about the Genealogical Proof Standard, and started to apply it to my research, the brick walls amazingly started to crumble before me. I was able to “form logically-reasoned, clearly-written conclusions” based on a “reasonably exhaustive search for records that contain pertinent information,” and by “analyzing” and “correlating” the information and “reconciling conflicting information.” These conclusions carry so much more confidence because they meet the standards.

One comment I have heard from time to time is that the Genealogical Proof Standard or the more detailed BCG standards are “just for professionals.” In my experience, and I would venture to say the experiences of all other researchers who apply them to their own personal research, the Standards are definitely not “just for professionals.”

The Standards are for anyone who wants to accurately research their family history.

No “genealogical community”?

My recent article “The Genealogy Paradigm Shift: Are bloggers the new ‘experts’?” was apparently not the only response to Thomas Macentee’s Geneabloggers post entitled, “Open Thread Thursday: Do We Eat Our Own In The Genealogy Industry?

James Tanner posted the article, “Well Said Tom, Here’s My Response,” on his Genealogy’s Star blog. In this article, James writes,

I don’t think that historically there has been a “genealogical community.” I believe that the bloggers are in the process of creating such a community. Before there was the “professional, journal writing” genealogical group but I don’t think you could view them as a “community.”[1]

I hope that James will further explain this statement. No genealogical community?

How about the National Genealogical Society? It has been around since 1903! Or any of these societies:

  • The New England Historic Genealogical Society (est. 1845)
  • The New York Genealogical & Biographical Society (est. 1869)
  • The American Society of Genealogists (est. 1940)
  • The Board for the Certification of Genealogists (est. 1964)
  • The Afro-American Historical and Genealogical Society (est. 1977)
  • The Association of Professional Genealogists (est. 1979)

Or any of the hundreds of local, county, state, or regional historical and genealogical societies throughout the world?

When I was corresponding with distant historical societies and genealogical societies or other researchers working on the same families, on paper with envelopes and stamps, I felt like part of a community.

Certainly, this was a small community, especially if compared with the thousands of GeneaBloggers and members of the “online genealogy community.”

But it was a community.

To me, a community is a group of people with common interests and common goals, working together, offering each other support. How can anyone look at the accomplishments of genealogists of the past, including the organizations that they formed and progress that they made together and claim that “historically there has [not] been a ‘genealogy community’”?

Without the genealogy community of the past, we would not have the online genealogy community.

SOURCES:

[1] James Tanner, “Well Said Tom, Here’s My Response,” Genealogy’s Star blog, posted 14 Dec 2011 (http://genealogysstar.blogspot.com : accessed 18 Dec 2011).

If you would like to cite this post:

Michael Hait, CG, “No ‘genealogical community’?,” Planting the Seeds: Genealogy as a Profession blog, posted 18 Dec 2011 (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.]

The Genealogy Paradigm Shift: Are bloggers the new “experts”?

AUTHOR’S NOTE: I started this blog post back in November, but put it on the shelf. Thomas MacEntee’s recent post (see below) has inspired me to post it, with some small changes.

This past spring the world discovered that, at some point in the past two or three years, there had been a significant change in the way news is delivered and spread. Osama bin Laden had been killed in Pakistan, and the United States learned of his death–not through television news or CNN or a Presidential press conference–but through Twitter. The microblogging “social” website had scooped all of the traditional news outlets.

This is not the only evidence that Web 2.0 (as it has traditionally been called), the “social web,” has caused an incredible paradigm shift in many areas of life. Even my grandmother is on Facebook!

A similar paradigm shift seems to have occurred within the past two years in the world of genealogy.

Signs of the New Paradigm

The first mention of this change was in a post by Joan Miller written this past spring, shortly after the first RootsTech conference. On 15 April 2011 Joan posted “Genea-Bodies: The New Somebodies” in her LuxeGen blog. In this post, Joan wrote:

We are the New Somebodies.  Yes, in our industry we Genea-Bodies are the New Somebodies. Why?  Because a Nobody could become Some Project’s biggest cheerleader. Just look at the royal treatment the Official Bloggers received at Rootstech. (I was one).  Jay Verkler, Anne Roach, Paul Nuata et al knew what they were doing when they engaged the Genea-Bodies. We Genea-Bodies have a voice.  A collective voice.  A passionate voice.  And we talk about our passion. We blogged and tweeted and Facebooked our little hearts out about Rootstech.  Because we wanted to; because we felt the cause was warranted. And in part, because we had been noticed.  We had a job to do.  We were reporting on Rootstech! And not just the official bloggers, but all of us Genea-Bodies. We became Rootstech’s biggest cheerleaders because we cared and we were engaged.[1]

At the time, this blog post, and a comment on it by professional genealogist Marian Pierre-Louis, inspired a long discussion about professional genealogy and its place within the larger genealogy community, among other topics. This discussion also directly inspired me to resurrect my long-neglected blog (formerly called “Tricks of the Tree”) as this current blog.

Yet it took several months for me to realize the full impact of what Joan was saying.

On 15 October 2011 the genealogy website 1000memories.com announced that it had commissioned a duplication of a seminal 2007 survey conducted by Ancestry.com. The site then invited five genealogists to comment on the survey results: David E. Rencher, of FamilySearch; Randy Whited, a member of the Board of Directors of the Federation of Genealogical Societies; Amy Johnson Crow, CG, a professional genealogist and genealogy blogger (formerly Amy’s Genealogy, etc.); Thomas MacEntee, of Geneabloggers; and Caroline Pointer, author of the For Your Family Story blog. In all of their announcements about the survey and the accompanying “Genealogy Roundtable” of blog posts, 1000memories.com described these five as “five of the genealogy community’s top thinkers.”[2]

I doubt it is coincidental that three of the five genealogists chosen write popular genealogy blogs. This is a perfect example of the paradigm shift in genealogy.

The Old Paradigm

If you are not familiar with the American Society of Genealogists, here is a little background:

The American Society of Genealogists (ASG) was founded in 1940 by three distinguished academicians—Arthur Adams, John Insley Coddington, and Meredith Colket …. An honorary society, ASG is limited to fifty life-time members designated as Fellows (identified by the initials fasg). At the time of its founding, nothing existed to certify competent genealogists nor was there a method to honor significant achievement in the genealogical field.

Election to the ASG is based on a candidate’s published genealogical scholarship. Emphasis is upon compiled genealogies and published works that demonstrate an ability to use primary source material; to evaluate and analyze data; to properly document evidence; and to reach sound, logical conclusions presented in a clear and proper manner.[3]

Among other accomplishments, the American Society of Genealogists founded the National Institute for Genealogical Research (NIGR) held annually at the National Archives in Washington, D. C., in 1950, and the Board for the Certification of Genealogists (BCG) in 1964. They also publish two prestigious genealogical journals, The American Genealogist and The Genealogist. Past Fellows of the Society include such legends of genealogy as Donald Lines Jacobus, Milton Rubincam, Harry Wright Newman, Dr. Gaius M. Brumbaugh, Walter Lee Sheppard, Jr., Noel C. Stevenson, Richard Stephen Lackey, and Marsha Hoffman Rising.

As noted above, there are always fifty Fellows of the American Society of Genealogists. Some of these names are instantly recognizable by most genealogists: Elizabeth Shown Mills, Christine Rose, Helen F. M. Leary, Melinde Lutz Sanborn, Thomas W. Jones. These and the other Fellows, both past and present, are the most influential genealogists in United States genealogy history.

The rise of a genealogist’s career to become a Fellow often involved writing and publishing extensively, a long career in client research, frequent lecturing, and, in more than a few cases, revolutionizing some aspect of research methodology. Since 1964, this also usually entailed achieving the status of Certified Genealogist. Unlike most societies, ASG is not an organization that anyone can join. To become a Fellow, one must be nominated by a current member and then accepted by at least 80% of the voting members at the annual meeting. In other words, these are the genealogists that “the genealogy community’s top thinkers” consider “the genealogy community’s top thinkers.”

Do you cite the sources that you use? Thank members of the ASG.

Do you research the neighbors and associates of your ancestors, using cluster genealogy? Thank members of the ASG.

Aside from the five highly-visible Fellows named above, though, how many of the fifty current Fellows can you name? Do you recognize the work and accomplishments of John Frederick Dorman, Peter Wilson Coldham, George Ely Russell, or Henry Z. Jones, Jr.? [HINT: They are all currently-living FASGs.]

How about the names DearMYRTLE, Thomas MacEntee, Dick Eastman, or Randy Seaver? [HINT: They are not FASG, CG, or AG.]

The paradigm shift has occurred based on the exponential growth of the online genealogy community. Many new genealogists are learning to research by reading blogs.

Geneabloggers have become viewed as “experts,” without following the traditional path followed by earlier generations of genealogists: submitting a case study to a peer-reviewed journal like the National Genealogical Society Quarterly, The New England Historical and Genealogical Register, or The American Genealogist, or getting certified through BCG or accredited through ICAPGen. (In other words, prove your expertise by allowing your research to be judged by other experts.)

The new paradigm is that the most influential genealogists are those that are most skilled with social media, not necessarily those that are most skilled at research. This is not to say that any specific GeneaBloggers or Bloggers-in-general are not good researchers. From what I have read on their blogs, the skill level of bloggers runs the gamut. Among the geneablogging community are the greenest of newbies and the most experienced of professionals. Quite a few professional genealogists (myself included) and Certified Genealogists (myself included) also blog.

I am proud to call myself a “GeneaBlogger.” The geneablogging community is a perfect representation of the genealogy community as a whole.

But is this really what we as a community need?

Do we need experts that represent us, or experts that are more skilled than us? Experts that we can learn from?

Is the Genealogy Paradigm Shift a good thing or a bad thing?

On 14 December 2011 Thomas MacEntee of the Geneabloggers blog and online radio show wrote, “Open Thread Thursday: Do We Eat Our Own In The Genealogy Industry?” In this post Thomas writes,

When I first got started in the online genealogy community, I was too concerned with how bloggers and others appeared to vendors as well as other entities.  I’m sure they thought we were rambunctious, sometimes out of control, and sought to destroy rather than build alliances. I sometimes focused too much on how we looked to outsiders.[4]

Almost single-handedly Thomas has led the charge in gaining respectability for genealogy bloggers. To be sure, there were blogs and bloggers around before he got started in his quest–folks like DearMYRTLE, Dick Eastman, and others. But Thomas has been a true geneablogging evangelist, and not only raised the visibility of smaller bloggers but also brought bloggers together as a community.

From where I stand, the Genealogy Paradigm Shift has both positive and negative aspects.

As noted by Joan and Thomas, the online genealogy community–Geneabloggers, and the denizens of Facebook, Twitter, and Second Life, as well as other sites–have a voice that is being heard.

The community has been mobilized to promote genealogy conferences and websites and software programs. The community also works to inform each other about issues like records access, especially the recent changes to the Social Security Death Index.

Genealogy blogs can also be used to educate about research techniques, experiences, etc. This is the main goal of the blog you are currently reading, as well as many others.

Thomas Macentee and many of the other bloggers are also active in the offline genealogy community, in organizations like the Federation of Genealogical Societies, the National Genealogical Society, and the Association of Professional Genealogists, as well as hundreds of smaller historical and genealogical societies worldwide. Many of us started as genealogists, before we were “online genealogists” or, as Thomas phrases it “hi-def genealogists.”

A new generation of genealogists has already started to be born. They are not genealogists first and online genealogists second. They will be raised under the new paradigm, and may start by thinking that “everything is online.” Even once we dispel this notion, we will have to deal with another issue that is far more frightening.

The “online genealogy community” that everyone is so fond of is replacing the traditional local genealogy community. While the GeneaBloggers website lists a few thousand genealogy blogs, with about a dozen or so new ones every few weeks, genealogical societies across the country are literally dying from a lack of new members.

You might ask, so what if those old local societies disappear? We have the GeneaBlogger community or that Facebook group to support us.

Moral support, yes–definitely. Research support, far less:

  • GeneaBloggers do not generally scour every cemetery in a specific county and publish full listings of the gravestones. Genealogical societies do.
  • GeneaBloggers do not abstract all of the obituaries of some small county newspaper from the mid-19th century and publish them. Genealogical societies do.
  • GeneaBloggers do not maintain genealogical libraries containing decades of work on local families. Genealogical societies do.
  • GeneaBloggers cannot go back to 1965 and reproduce the resources that were transcribed by the local genealogical society before that big hurricane or tornado hit and destroyed everything.

These resources can only remain available as long as we continue to support the societies that provide them.

Every single one of us, as genealogists, lives somewhere. Are you a member of your local genealogical society and/or your ancestral genealogical society?

I would like to ask–even plead–with other geneabloggers to devote at least one post to a local genealogical society. Not the big ones like the National Genealogical Society or the New England Historic Genealogical Society, but a county genealogical society. Describe the society–its meetings, its accomplishments, its publications. If you are a member of more than one local society, write a separate post about each one.

And if you are not a member of a local genealogical or historical society, please join one. It can be the one where you live, or one on the other side of the country, where your ancestors lived 200 years ago. But pay your dues, write for the newsletter, and help these societies stay alive.

The future?

Many bloggers might think to themselves, “I’m no expert. I never claimed to be one.” But to a new genealogist who stumbles onto your blog because it came up in their Google search, you may be viewed as one. Though writing a blog feels like writing in a private journal, this is not the case. Blogs are public. Geneabloggers are quickly becoming the public face of genealogy.

The online genealogy community needs to recognize this. We need to join the genealogy community as a whole. This must necessarily move beyond simply joining your local society. Treat your blog the way you would treat anything else done publicly. Put your best face forward. You don’t have to change your voice to sound professional, or anything like that. But at least cite the sources that you discuss in your blog post. Try to learn new techniques and apply them to your research, then write about what you learned. Not only will your ancestors thank you for that, but so will those new genealogists who look to your blog for guidance.

SOURCES:

[1] Joan Miller, “Genea-Bodies: The New Somebodies,” Luxegen Genealogy and Family History blog, posted 15 April 2011 (http://www.luxegen.ca/ : accessed 1 November 2011).

[2] Michael Katchen, “Survey shows family history knowledge declining despite growing interest,” 1000memories.com blog, posted 15 October 2011 (http://1000memories.com/blog : accessed 1 November 2011).

[3] “The Society,” American Society of Genealogists (http://www.fasg.org/ : accessed 1 November 2011).

[4] Thomas Macentee, “Open Thread Thursday: Do We Eat Our Own In The Genealogy Industry?,” Geneabloggers blog, posted 15 December 2011 (http://www.geneabloggers.com/eat-our-own-genealogy-industry/ : accessed 16 December 2011).

If you would like to cite this post:

Michael Hait, CG, “The Genealogy Paradigm Shift: Are bloggers the new ‘experts’?,” Planting the Seeds: Genealogy as a Profession blog, posted 16 Dec 2011 (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.]

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!

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.

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