Archive for the ‘Amateur Genealogy’ Category

Turning your genealogy hobby into a career

Every professional genealogist I have ever met started out by researching their own family. I did. The most difficult part of becoming a professional is the transition – making the decision to turn your beloved hobby into a career.

Last week, I read an absolutely enlightening article about this very subject on the American Express Open Forum website. This website is highly recommended for all those considering entering the world of small business. In “4 Questions To Ask Before Turning A Hobby Into Your Career,” Rebecca Thebault considers some of the factors that should affect your decision. Ms. Thebault describes her transition from investment banking into a career as the owner of a bakery–something she loved to do!

Ms. Thebault recommends the following four questions:

“1. Are you realistic about what you’ll gain?”

Ms. Thebault recounts the story of returning to work days–not weeks or months–after delivering a child. I often joke about never sleeping. (Well, it’s kind of a joke.) Being “your own boss” is not easy. It is often not very fun. And you have to make all of the hard decisions yourself. As a small business owner, you will be 100% responsible for the success or failure of your business.

Another recommendation Ms. Thebault makes under this heading is to “Be realistic about how much time it will take to achieve your goals.” When I made the transition into the career as a full-time professional genealogist, I had enough money saved to pay my bills for several months. I barely made it. It is vital that you keep in mind just how long it may be before your business can support your goals.

I would also add that you have to think about what you’ll lose. I live 20 minutes from the beach, and though my wife and daughter go swimming at least once or twice a week in the summer months, I have not been swimming in over five years. I miss birthday parties, barbecues, and other social events on a regular basis. My top priority is keeping the business afloat, not having fun.

“2. Are you ready to start at the bottom?”

“You may be extremely good at your hobby, but when people start paying you for it, you’re subject to a new set of standards,” Ms. Thebault writes. This is an important distinction.

You may be great at researching your own family, but can you do the same thing when you no longer have access to the same “family knowledge” of recurring given names, oral history, photo albums, and “stuff Grandma told you”?

Do you know about the Genealogical Proof Standard and other accepted genealogical research standards?

Do you already know how to write a professional research report of your findings?

Create an educational plan. It is important that you continue to raise your own standards up to that of other professionals. This is done through continuous education.

You will want to join the Association of Professional Genealogists. You may also want to consider accreditation through ICAPGen or certification through the Board for Certification of Genealogists.

When you first begin to take clients, no one will know who you are. You will not have a reputation. It is your responsibility to change these facts.

“3. Do you really want your hobby to become your job?”

Ms. Thebault notes, “Hobbies are typically things you enjoy as a distraction from work, so what happens when your hobby is work? Will it make you enjoy your work more or your hobby less? Chances are it will lead to a little bit of both.” I couldn’t say it any better.

I must also add that I no longer have the time for a hobby. All of my time is spent researching other people’s families, not my own. So if you are passionate about researching your own family, you may want to reconsider whether or not becoming a professional is right for you. I love the hunt, the problem-solving aspect of genealogy, even if that family is not my own. I would love to be able to apply my education and experience to my own family. And hopefully I will later be able to do so – I just don’t have the time now.

“4. Are you prepared for an emotional roller coaster?”

Running any small business will have its highs and lows — and the more you love what you are doing, the more emotional these highs and lows will be.

I would recommend that anyone thinking of turning your hobby into a career read this article, and then consider long and hard whether this is really what you want.

SOURCE: Rebecca Thebault, “4 Questions To Ask Before Turning A Hobby Into Your Career,” in American Express Open Forum blog, posted 18 August 2011 ( : accessed 2011).

Call to Action: Pennsylvania Historical Record Access

Today, 5 June 2011, Elissa Scalise Powell, CG, CGL, a professional genealogist in the Pittsburgh area of Pennsylvania, posted the following message on several forums, including several genealogy mailing lists and social media sites:

I just received the following this morning:

“Vital Records Bill SB-361 is scheduled for an important vote in State Senate Public Health & Welfare Committee on Wednesday June 8th, 2011 at 10am in Room 461 of the State Capitol Building in Harrisburg (I only just found out about it). More can be found on this at the June 1, 2011 entry on our website under The Latest News:

This bill just makes birth certificates over 100 years old and death certificates over 50 years old open records. It doesn’t force them to be online, but making them open records is required before anything at all can be done. It is basically the same bill that passed this committee unanimously last year in the previous session. However, we cannot assume it will do so again. Your help is needed to make sure it passes again. Please visit, call, or at the very least email any or all of the committee members and ask them to vote in favor of this bill. If your state senator is on the committee so much the better. Be sure to let him or her know you are a constituent.

Please let your membership know about this. Thank you for your help.

Tim Gruber


If anyone can lend their support, please feel free to do so. The website Tim mentions is of the organization whose sole purpose is to get the PA Vital records opened up for easier access. It has information on why we need to do this, and who to contact.

Pennsylvania is one of only a few (less than ten) states that have refused to open their vital records to researchers, regardless of the age of the record. The state began their current vital registration program, for births and deaths, in 1906. All of these records, including those for people who died in 1906, are not considered public records by the state. This means that (1) there is no publicly available index to births or deaths within the state, from 1906 to the present; (2) researchers have absolutely no access to search any birth or death records, from 1906 to the present; and (3) researchers must provide detailed information on the deceased, including a specific familial relationship, in order to obtain a death certificate. And of course there are other implications for genealogists, as well.

Compare this policy with some of Pennsylvania’s neighbors. In the state of Maryland, birth certificates become publicly available after 100 years, and death certificates become publicly available after 10 years. Birth indexes are available for viewing on microfilm at the Maryland State Archives even for the period during which the certificate is restricted (for births less than 100 years old). Death indexes are available online from 1875 through 1972 for Baltimore City, and from 1898 through 1968 for the rest of the state. In the District of Columbia, the seat of our federal government, birth certificates are restricted for 100 years, and death certificates are restricted for 50 years.

The open-access advocacy group quoted above only requests open access to death certificates older than 50 years as a start, the same as has been available in the District of Columbia (not to mention most other states) for many years.

For more information please visit the website for the People for Better Pennsylvania Historical Records Access (PaHR-Access). This website discusses the issues in great depth, and includes a list of “Ways You Can Help,” sample letters, and other useful information.

If you live or have research interests in Pennsylvania, please get involved. As mentioned, there is a hearing scheduled for this Wednesday, 8 June 2011, in Harrisburg. Please contact the members of the State Senate Public Health & Welfare Committee immediately. We must make our voices heard, so that this bill will pass.

Recent Family History survey results, part four

I started reviewing the recent family history survey conducted by Myles Proudfoot in two earlier posts. This post continues the comparison of results among respondents identifying themselves as amateur genealogists vs. those identifying themselves as professional genealogists.

The next group of questions that I will focus on involve genealogical education. Question 22 of the family history survey asks,”How likely would you be to use any of the following ways to improve your family history research skills?” The response allowed a sliding scale from “Very Unlikely” to “Very Likely,” but the published results only show the percentage of respondents answering either of the two extremes. This will obviously introduce a significant margin of error into this discussion.

The first option was “Online video courses.” Of the Amateur genealogists, 22.5% responded “Very Likely,” and 11.7% responded “Very Unlikely.” Of the Professional genealogists, 49.5% responded “Very Likely,” and 4.7% responded “Very Unlikely.”

The second option was “Podcasts.” Amateur genealogists responded “Very Likely” and “Very Unlikely” in equal numbers: 18.8% chose each of these two extremes. Of Professional genealogists, 40.6% selected “Very Likely,” and just 6.6% responded “Very Unlikely.”

The third option was “Wikis.” Of the Amateur genealogists, 15.4% answered “Very Unlikely” while only 13.9% responded “Very Likely.” Of Professional genealogists, 33.6% selected “Very Likely,” the lowest percentage yet, while 5.6% responded “Very Unlikely.”

The fourth option was “Family History conferences.” Nearly a quarter of the Amateur genealogists (23.1%) responded “Very Likely,” and 8.6% answered “Very Unlikely.” The highest percentage of Professional genealogists selected “Very Likely” on this option (67.1%), and only 3.7% responded “Very Unlikely.”

The fifth option was “One-on-one instruction.” Both Amateurs and Professionals responded relatively unfavorably to this option, as only 9.8% of Amateurs and only 21.4% of Professionals reponded “Very Likely.” This option also found 18.0% of Amateurs and 10.7% of Professionals choosing “Very Unlikely,” the highest percentage of Professionals responding in this way of all available options.

“Books,” which I presumed would be the most popular, was the sixth option. Of the Amateur genealogists responding, 46.9% selected “Very Likely,” and only 3.1% chose “Very Unlikely.” Of the Professional genealogists, 63.6% selected “Very Likely,” and less than one percent (0.9%) selected “Very Unlikely.”

The seventh option was “Classroom Course.” Sixteen percent (16.0%) of the Amateur genealogists selected “Very Likely,” and 11.7% selected “Very Unlikely.” Thirty-nine percent (39.0%) of the Professional genealogists chose “Very Likely,” and only 4.8% responded “Very Unlikely.”

“Blogs,” the eighth option, was another popular choice. Just over one-third (33.9%) of all Amateur genealogists selected “Very Likely,” but 9.4% responded “Very Unlikely.” Of the Professional genealogists, 56.2% responded “Very Likely,” and less than two percent (1.9%) answered “Very Unlikely.”

The ninth and final option was “Television Programs.” Of the Amateur genealogists, 8.5% chose “Very Unlikely” and 26.5% responded “Very Likely.” Of the Professional genealogists, 3.8% chose “Very Unlikely,” and 38.5%–ten times as many–chose “Very Likely.”

Looking at this question as a whole, I noticed a somewhat disturbing trend.

Incorporating all nine options, the average percentage of Amateur genealogists choosing “Very Likely” was only 23.46%, while the average percentage responding “Very Unlikely” was 11.69%. The option that the highest percentage of Amateur genealogists considered “Very Likely” was “Books,” with just under half of all respondents (49.5%). The lowest percentage of Amateur genealogists responded that they would be “Very Likely” to learn through “One on one instruction.” The least popular option–that with the highest percentage of Amateur genealogists selecting “Very Unlikely”–was “Podcasts.” “Books” also had the lowest percentage of Amateurs selecting “Very Unlikely,” with just 3.1%.

There was a much wider margin between “Very Likely” and “Very Unlikely” for the Professional genealogists. Across all of the options, the average percentage responding “Very Likely” was 45.49%, while the average responding “Very Unlikely” was 4.74%. The most popular option–the one with the highest percentage responding “Very Likely”–was “Family history conferences” with 67.0%, while “Books” came in a close second with 63.6%. The option with the lowest percentage responding “Very Likely” was “One-on-one instruction” with only 21.4%. The least popular option–the highest response of “Very Unlikely”–was also “One-on-one instruction” with 10.7%. The lowest response of “Very Unlikely,” was “Books,” with a mere 0.9%.

Overall, “One-on-one instruction” was the least popular option, with a relatively low percentage of both groups responding “Very Likely,” and a relatively high percentage of both groups responding “Very Unlikely.” Considering both groups, “Books” was one of the more popular choices, with a relatively high percentage responding “Very Likely” and a relatively low percentage responding “Very Unlikely.”

What bothered me the most, however, was that, in general, Amateur genealogists responded that they were far less likely to pursue educational opportunities beyond reading books. In each option, there was a much smaller percentage of “Very Likely” responses, and a far higher percentage of “Very Unlikely” responses, than within those of the Professional genealogists. Does this mean that Amateurs are less interested in learning about researching, or simply that Professionals are more interested? (Is there a difference?)

I will finish with a funny story. When I was working at the National Capital Area Chapter of the Association of Professional Genealogists’ booth at the National Archives’s Annual Genealogy Fair in April, a woman approached the booth. She asked, “How long does it take, and how much does it cost to become a professional genealogist?” I told her, “It takes the rest of your life, and all of your money,” with a smile on my face. Of course I explained further. I literally spend several thousand dollars each year on educational opportunities, and I could easily spend many thousands more if I attended all of the Institutes (I only attend one each year) and both of the national conferences (I have attended neither yet). This includes membership in several genealogical societies, subscriptions to genealogical magazines and journals, and the purchase of genealogy books. Even as my business grows and I become more and more experienced, I expect the amount of money I spend on education to grow as well, rather than slowing down as it does in some other professions.

Every penny spent on education is a penny invested in the success of my business, in my opinion.

But even if you are not in it for the money, so to speak, even if you only research your own family as a hobby, education is still a vital part of your success. While it may not affect your financial health, it will certainly help you learn about new resources and new methodologies that you may not be familiar with. And of course this will affect the health of your family tree.

Recent Family History survey results, part three

I started reviewing the recent family history survey conducted by Myles Proudfoot in two earlier posts. This post continues the comparison of results among respondents identifying themselves as amateur genealogists vs. those identifying themselves as professional genealogists.

Question 12 in the family history survey asks, “Where do you go to do your family history research?” The question allowed for multiple answers (“Check all that apply”), so the percentage of respondents selecting each option must be examined individually, rather than as a percentage of the whole.

The following options were selected by those identifying themselves as amateurs and professionals:

  • “I stay at home.”
    • Amateurs: 91.4%
    • Professionals: 79.6%
  • “In public libraries.”
    • Amateurs: 70.3%
    • Professionals: 80.5%
  • “At the facilities of genealogical societies.”
    • Amateurs: 45.8%
    • Professionals: 79.6%
  • “In an LDS/Mormon Family History Center.”
    • Amateurs: 48.1%
    • Professionals: 69.9%
  • “On site where original records are kept.”
    • Amateurs: 57.3%
    • Professionals: 92.9%

This survey shows significant difference in a few of the repositories being used.

There is a slightly higher percentage of amateur genealogists that conduct research “at home,” presumably online. But this is not surprising.

In similar manner, there is a slightly higher percentage of professional genealogists that research at public libraries. I am curious about this statistic, specifically because there are at least two independent reasons to research at a public library. The first is for Internet access. There are still quite a few people out there who do not have home Internet access, and use this service at the public library. Or alternatively, use Ancestry Library Edition rather than paying the annual subscription fee. The second reason to research at public libraries are for the local history collections that many public library systems hold. These collections often include microfilm (or originals) of local newspapers, and unpublished manuscripts or low-print-run local history books. I wonder if the percentages would have been different had these two independent reasons to use the public library been broken out into separate options.

The next three responses show far greater disparities between amateurs and professionals.

Almost 80% of professionals, while less than 50% of amateurs claimed to research “at the facilities of genealogical societies.” Genealogical (and historical) society libraries often hold original material unavailable elsewhere, including surname files, manuscript collections, and even original government records. In some states, the historical society functions as the official state archives.

But I think that this statistic is even more telling of a phenomenon about which I have heard quite a few genealogical societies complain. In the 21st century, online communities have blossomed while membership in many local genealogical societies has stagnated. While professional genealogists may be more knowledgeable about some of the resources that are available in genealogical societies, many amateur genealogists simply are not aware of either the record resources or the immaterial resources (such as the knowledge of older society members) that genealogical societies provide.

The survey also recorded a great difference in those who researched “in an LDS/Mormon Family History Center.” Once again, less than 50% of amateur genealogists selected this option, while just under 70% of professional genealogists selected it. This was quite surprising to me. Amateur genealogists, that is, those who research their own families have a much greater need to research at Family History Centers. Very few families stayed in one place for very long, so tracing a single family back will generally involve the need to access records from several different locales. Furthermore, amateur genealogists are not limited by the time constraints that often face professional genealogists. Waiting for microfilm to be delivered to a local Family History Center is far less of a problem for amateur genealogists.

Finally, the survey reports that 57.3% of the amateur genealogists, and 92.9% of the professional genealogists research “on site where original records are kept.”

Researching in original records is vital to genealogy research. As a professional genealogist, many of my clients hire me to help them move past persistent brick walls. In my estimate, close to 80% of all of these problems are solved using records that are only available in their original paper form. They have not been digitized, nor even microfilmed. In many cases, these records have never even been indexed, transcribed, or abstracted. Instead, the research involves hours of page-by-page searching through unindexed original records, a tedious process to be sure, but the reward is great!

Additional survey results will be reviewed in future posts.

Shouldn’t we all be “Primary Care Genealogists”?

Last week, DearMYRTLE wrote about a concept that was brought up in the chat for her ProGen Study Group: “Primary Care Genealogists.”  This is how she described it in her blog:

Professional genealogists are quite capable in specific areas of expertise. Certification from BCG and/or accreditation from ICapGen reflect one’s focus. But if you take that genealogy professional and put him in a new locality, he becomes a newbie all over again.

The same is true in other fields, and Cheryl was spot-on when considering highly competent, educated and well-trained medical professionals. I wouldn’t think of going to a gynecologist if my heart needed a triple bypass.

So, in the world of genealogy shouldn’t we recognize “primary care genealogists” who can oversee the general health of your compiled family history and point to weaknesses in supporting documents, providing suggestions for further research? Just as my “primary care physician” refers me to a specialist for my heart, so too, can “primary care genealogists” refer us to specialists in the field.

This is an interesting concept, but I would take this quite a bit further. Professional genealogists, like all genealogists, of course have their own geographic (or other) areas of greatest experience. But this should not be a limitation. In my opinion, all genealogists should study at least two subjects: their specialty, and genealogy research.

Let me explain in a little more depth.

Suppose you specialize in New York German genealogy. You have been researching the area for 20+ years. You know about all of the available records. You are familiar with the families, the laws, the local history, etc. You become an “expert” in this area.

But you have a project that takes you out of that comfort zone, let’s say to a Norwegian immigrant family in South Dakota, or an enslaved African-American family in Mississippi. Do you throw your hands in the air and stomp off frustrated? Not if you have been studying genealogy research as well. You will understand the importance of how to conduct research.

Whether you are researching New York Germans, South Dakota Norwegians, or Mississippi slaves, the research methodology is the same. The applicable records, laws, history, culture, etc., may be entirely different, but that is all that has changed. Researching the area enough to discover the differences is relatively easy compared to the process of really learning to research.

Consider, for example, the following:

  • Land records. Whether you are dealing with “state land” or “federal land,” colonial patents, military bounty land, or late 19th century homesteads, or even non-landowners, how you use land records (and other property records) to discover genealogical evidence remains a general principle applicable to all. Only the specifics change.
  • Tax records. Depending on what state and what era you are researching, tax laws may be quite different. What items were taxed, who was taxed, and how the tax lists appear may vary greatly. But again, the general principles are the same, and it is only the specifics that change.
  • Probate records. The probate process, and how each step was recorded, can be radically different from state to state and time period to time period. Whenever you are researching a new area, you will have to familiarize yourself with this information. But if you truly understand the general principles surrounding these records, and how to use them, you will not have to completely “start from scratch.”
  • Associates. Checking the close associates and neighbors of our ancestors is another general principle that carries over, across geographic and chronological boundaries. Precisely who these associates and neighbors were will change, but the idea that you will have to research in this direction stays the same.

Learning how to research is therefore as important, if not more important, than learning about your specialty. This includes learning how to search for information, how to find records, how to identify the information held within individual records, how to evaluate the reliability of information, how to reconcile contradictory information, and how to create a proof argument from the sum total of the evidence. Learning these principles is so much more useful than learning everything there is to know about just one area of research. These principles will carry over from one state or country to another.

So in this sense, shouldn’t all genealogists be “primary care genealogists,” first and foremost? And specialists only afterwards?

Recent Family History survey results, part two

I started reviewing the recent family history survey conducted by Myles Proudfoot in an earlier post. This post continues the comparison of results among respondents identifying themselves as amateur genealogists vs. those identifying themselves as professional genealogists.

Question 9 in the survey asked, “How often do you do family history research?” The difference in results is not surprising for this question. Amateur genealogists most frequently responded daily (27.1%), but only by a slim margin over two of the other responses: 4-6 times a week (22.1%), and 2-3 times a week (21.2%). Even for amateur genealogists, genealogy research is apprently extremely addictive, with 70% of all respondents conducting research more than once a week!

Professional genealogists conduct research even more often than amateurs, which should be expected of professionals in any field. An overwhelming 73.5% of all professional genealogists reported that they research daily, followed by 15.9% that responded 4-6 times a week. This amounts to just under 90% of all professional respondents.

Questions 10 and 11 are related, and show the responses show similarities between the amateur respondents and professional genealogists. However, the results are enlightening for anyone interested in genealogy research:

Question 10 asked, “Where do you PRIMARILY keep your family tree information?” This question allowed multiple answers, so it will not total exactly 100%. The choices were:

  • In an online tree: 16.1% of Amateurs, 6.2% of Professionals
  • On my computer: 73.5% of Amateurs, 84.1% of Professionals
  • On paper: 10.1% of Amateurs, 9.7% of Professionals
  • In my head: 0.2% of Amateurs, 0.0% of Professionals
  • Nowhere/I don’t have a tree: 0.2% of Amateurs. 0.0% of Professionals

It cannot be determined, given the disparity between the size of the samples, whether the roughly 10% differences in the first two options are significant. However, these responses indicate that a larger proportion of amateur genealogists keep their data in an online family tree, while a larger proportion of professional genealogists keep their data primarily on their computer.

Question 11 continues along the same theme: “Thinking further about record keeping, how do you keep notes to track your research and findings?” Again, this question allowed more than one response from each respondent:

  • “I enter them into my smart phone/tablet”: 3.6% of Amateurs, 8.0% of Professionals
  • “I use a digital camera to capture the images”: 19.8% of Amateurs, 34.5% of Professionals
  • “I keep them online”: 24.4% of Amateurs, 25.7% of Professionals
  • “I type them into my computer”: 68.4% of Amateurs, 82.3% of Professionals
  • “I type them onto paper”: 4.8% of Amateurs, 6.2% of Professionals
  • “I use pre-formatted paper templates”: 10.7% of Amateurs, 15.0% of Professionals
  • “I write them freehand in a notebook”: 36.0% of Amateurs, 37.2% of Professionals
  • “I don’t keep a record of findings or clues”: 2.6% of Amateurs, 0.0% of Professionals

There are no significant differences in the responses for most of these options. The highest difference is among those respondents who selected “I use a digital camera to capture the images.” While slightly less than 20% of amateur genealogists use a digital camera to photograph records of interest, over 35% of professional genealogists practice this method. This probably comes as a result of the strong emphasis that professional genealogists place on reviewing original records (as opposed to derivative sources).

The smaller difference between the amateurs and the professionals who reported that they “type them into [their] computer[s],” probably reflects the larger percentage of professionals who reported in Question 10 that they primarily keep their genealogy information in their computers.

More of the results from Mr. Proudfoot’s survey will be analyzed in future posts.

Recent Family History survey results

On 12 March 2011, Myles Proudfoot invited genealogists to participate in a survey, through his blog “Family History 21ster.”  The survey was open until 5 April 2011, and on 12 April, Myles posted the results. Following his initial posting, he also offered the results cross-referenced by various factors. One of the most interesting was the “Amateur vs. Professional” breakdown. To view these results, read this entry.

The results may bear a slight margin of error due to the sampling size. Among survey respondents, 668 identified themselves as “Amateur genealogists,” while 54 identified themselves as “Academic genealogists” (no definition was offered), 113 identified themselves as “Professional genealogists,” and 60 identified themselves as “Not a professional genealogist but I do genealogy as a part of my job.” These three categories combine for a total of just 217, less than 1/3 of the number of amateurs. For the purposes of this overview, however, only the two categories “Amateur genealogist” and “Professional genealogist” will be compared, unless otherwise noted.

The first marked difference between amateurs and professional are revealed by two questions regarding experience. When asked, “For how many years have you been actively engaged in genealogy in total?” amateur genealogists responded with an average of 16.9 years, while professional genealogists responded with an average of 23.1 years. This by itself does not show a particularly significant difference, especially considering that the large sample of amateur genealogists certainly included a number of beginners. However, the subsequent question asked, “At what age did you start doing your genealogical research?” For amateur genealogists, the average age was 37.8 years. For professional genealogists, however, the average age was over ten years lower, at 26.1 years.

There are a number of ways one might interpret this data. My own reading is that those who begin at a younger age therefore become proficient at a younger age. Not necessarily already dedicated to a life-long career at this younger age, these younger starters would have a greater tendency to pursue genealogy as a viable career. This was certainly the case in my own personal experience.

The next insightful difference in responses comes as a result of the question, “Choose the description that best describes your approach to genealogical sources.” Five choices were provided:

  • I typically rely on already compiled genealogies.
  • I mostly rely on already compiled genealogies and online sources.
  • I use a limited number of record types and repositories. I mostly rely on online and microfilmed sources.
  • I use a wide variety of record types. I often contact record custodians to obtain copies of high-quality sources.
  • I insightfully pursue research at multiple, targeted repositories, making use of a very wide variety of records and record types.

Those who had identified themselves as amateur genealogists answered most often “I use a limited number of record types and repositories. I mostly rely on online and microfilmed sources,” with a 38.6% share responding in this way. Second most often, amateurs responded “I use a wide variety of record types. I often contact record custodians to obtain copies of high-quality sources,” with 35.0% selecting this option. This was followed by “I insightfully pursue research at multiple, targeted repositories, making use of a very wide variety of records and record types,” with 19.5% of amateur genealogists providing this response.

Professional genealogists provided significantly different responses to this question. The first two options were not selected by a single respondent identifying themselves in this way. The most-selected option by amateur genealogists, a mere 4.5% of professional genealogists selected “I use a limited number of record types and repositories. I mostly rely on online and microfilmed sources.”  The second most-selected option of amateur genealogists, only 18.8% of professional genealogists responded, “I use a wide variety of record types. I often contact record custodians to obtain copies of high-quality sources.” However, an overwhelming majority of professionals selected, “I insightfully pursue research at multiple, targeted repositories, making use of a very wide variety of records and record types,” an answer selected by 76.8% of the professional respondents!

The difference in these two responses is both surprising and incredibly meaningful. The response to this question may, in fact, be one of the qualifying factors between that which makes one an amateur genealogist and that which makes one a professional genealogist. One will recall that there was no significant difference in the years of experience between these two groups. However, those who become professional genealogists appear to research to a much greater depth than do amateurs.

The first factor in determining whether any genealogical conclusion meets the Genealogical Proof Standard is that the researcher must have completed “a reasonably exhaustive search” for all relevant records relating to their research problem. According to the results of this survey, over 3/4ths of the professional genealogists who responded abide by this requirement or a similar burden of proof. In contrast, less than 1/5th of the amateur genealogists who responded abide by this or a similar burden of proof.

The exploration of the results of this survey will continue in future posts…


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