Archive for the ‘Genealogy Career Options’ Category

Addressing questions about the professional genealogy survey

From now through next Tuesday, 26 February 2013, I am conducting a survey of anyone identifying themselves as a professional genealogist. For more details and the link to the survey, please read the announcement here.

First, I would like to thank all of those professionals who have taken the time to respond to my survey. The more people respond, the more accurate this portrait of our community will be, and the better we might understand ourselves.

I would like to also respond to some of the questions I have received in various forums.

1. This survey is completely anonymous. At no point do I ask for your name or any contact information. I do ask for the ZIP code for US residents. I am gathering this information as a way to map out where US professional genealogists live. Do certain areas have a higher concentration of professionals than others? If so, do these areas correspond to high population centers, active genealogical societies or APG chapters, or major genealogical repositories? (Or is there some other factor that might affect the concentration of professional genealogists?)

Several people have pointed out that I might be able to identify respondents using their ZIP code. I can only assure respondents that I will not do that. I am not interested in individual data—only the collective statistics. I will not share the ZIP codes with anyone else. When I discuss the results, I will only discuss in terms of states or regions.

2. The survey is lacking in international representation. I definitely want input from international professional genealogists. I simply don’t know a lot of the intricacies of international genealogy communities. This ignorance is most glaring when it comes to the membership organizations and educational opportunities available. Please complete the survey anyway. There are a few free-form boxes for membership organizations and educational opportunities where you can input your responses.

3. The survey is not just for those who conduct research for clients. The sole qualifying question is whether you consider yourself a professional genealogist. You do not have to conduct client research, you do not have to be credentialed, and you do not have to be a member of any particular organization. In fact, part of the goal of the survey is to capture data from those who consider themselves professional genealogists but may not fit into older models of what a professional genealogist is and does.

4. The survey does not require any answers about income. It does ask a few questions about income, but these questions offer “Decline to answer” as an option. Money is always something that people get rightfully anxious about discussing.

There were other questions concerning income that I considered asking. For example, what percentage of your income stems from research, writing, lecturing, etc.? However, I decided that two or three questions about income were more than enough. Perhaps in a future survey, these other questions can be asked (whether by myself or by someone else).

For the sake of uniformity, and recognizing that my reach is somewhat geographically-limited, all questions concerning income are in U. S. dollars. For international members who use other currencies, please try to estimate a conversion into U. S. dollars if you choose to respond to those questions.

———

I hope these additional explanations help to alleviate some of your concerns. To take the survey, use the link in this post.

Creating a portrait of professional genealogy

The March 2007 issue of the Association of Professional Genealogists Quarterly published the results of a member survey.[1] It is the most recent portrait (of which I am aware) of the community of professional genealogists. In 2012, the APG conducted another membership survey, but its goal was not to paint a portrait of the community, but to determine the direction of the future of the organization. Its results have not yet been published.

I believe it is time for a new portrait of the professional genealogy community. A lot has changed in the past five years:

  • Ancestry.com instituted (and then discontinued) the ExpertConnect program, introducing many genealogists to the profession and strengthening the client market.
  • Social media and the Internet–including blogs, Facebook, and Twitter–decimated the “wall” between professional genealogists and our avocational counterparts.
  • The membership of the Association of Professional Genealogists has grown from just over 1800 members to over 2500 members.
  • APG has grown into a truly international organization, with chapters in Ontario, Canada, and Western Canada, as well as the Internet-based Virtual Chapter.[2] New chapters are currently being organized in the British Isles and Australia/New Zealand.[3]

The most glaring omission in APG’s previous surveys is that the surveys targeted only those professionals who were, at the time, members of APG. There are many professional genealogists who are not members of APG, for various reasons.

As this blog’s stated purpose is to support and educate professionals and aspiring professionals, I have designed a survey to try to meet these goals. I would like to produce a portrait of the professional genealogist community. This survey is not, in any way, sponsored or endorsed by the Association of Professional Genealogists or any other organization.

I would like to invite any who consider themselves professional genealogists–whether your business focus is research, education, publishing, or something entirely different–to complete this survey. Please share this post freely, so that the survey might reach those professionals who may not otherwise find it.

The survey is anonymous–it does not inquire the names of any respondents. The questions are relatively straightforward, and should not take more than 5 or 10 minutes to complete.

[Click here for answers to some common questions/concerns regarding the survey. Added 21 Feb 2013.]

The survey will be open for one week, beginning today, 19 February 2013, and closing on 26 February 2013. Sometime in the future I will discuss the results in this blog.

Click here to take the survey

Note: I do recognize that there is one shortcoming inherent in the survey. As it is being produced and shared online, only those professional genealogists with an online presence will be able to respond. In today’s world, with the Internet as prevalent as it is, am hoping that this will create only a small, reasonable, and acceptable margin of error.

SOURCES:

[1] Sharon Tate Moody, CG, “Who Are We?: A By-the-Numbers Look at the Average APG Member,” Association of Professional Genealogists Quarterly, March 2007, 5–7.

[2] “Chapters,” Association of Professional Genealogists (http://www.apgen.org/chapters/index.html : accessed 19 February 2013).

[3] Minutes, Association of Professional Genealogists Board Meeting, FGS Conference – Birmingham, Alabama, 31 August 2012, “Board Meeting Minutes,” Association of Professional Genealogists: Members Only (http://www.apgen.org : accessed 19 February 2013); content available to members only.

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.]

Professional genealogists and genealogy professionals

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

How does one define professional genealogist?

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

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

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

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

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

Look at Thomas’s definition of “Marketer”:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What do you think?

SOURCES:

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

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

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

If you would like to cite this post:

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

Genealogy blogging for fun and profit

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What do my fellow professional genealogists think?

SOURCES:

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

If you would like to cite this post:

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

What is forensic genealogy?

In an effort to explore some of the different career opportunities for genealogists, the following interview was conducted via email with Leslie Lawson, President of the Council for the Advancement of Forensic Genealogy.

Note from Leslie: Some of the answers to these questions I have pulled straight from the website for the Council for the Advancement of Forensic Genealogy at: http://www.forensicgenealogists.com/index.html. We worked long and hard to define ourselves and our goals for all the world to see!

1. What is “forensic genealogy”?

Forensic genealogy is research, analysis, and reporting in cases with legal implications.

Using methodology and ethics consistent with the highest standards of the profession, Forensic Genealogy is conducted by unbiased, disinterested, third party practitioners with no personal or professional stake in the outcome.

2. What is the difference in methodology between forensic genealogy and traditional “ancestral” genealogy?

Whether going back in time or coming forward in time it takes an educated research skill and knowledge about the available databases that can help you with this search. Each state decides what records will be available. Some states are extremely difficult to research in and others try to make it fairly easy. Going back in time is easier to a point, usually about 1850, and then it takes a different skill set, or mind set, to figure out how to go back further. To come forward from 1930 to today you must have knowledge about the place you are researching in and what information is available for that place. Are there newspapers, city directories, voter’s registers? Can you access the SSDI to help bridge the years? Is there an online tree somewhere to help you locate living family members?

3. What are some of the issues that forensic genealogists confront?

Broken families where siblings don’t talk to each other; they also don’t talk to other living family members. Fifty years ago there was almost always a family member who was the one person that kept up with every person in their extended family. Today people are so busy that they often don’t know what is going on within their immediate family.

There is the constant threat of closing record sets. Some records that are closed to researchers might include funeral homes or cemeteries that refuse to give answers citing privacy issues or HIPPA [dead people don’t have HIPPA coverage]. Some businesses want to charge a large sum of money to open a book or access a computer. With all the scams in the news the next difficulty comes when we try to contact living people. Many are very wary, as they should be, but it does make it difficult at times to convince them to speak with us. I usually start the conversation talking about their grandparents, information that scammers wouldn’t necessarily be aware of.

4. Who are the most common clients of forensic genealogists?

Most of our clients are attorneys; oil and gas companies; banks; trust accountants; guardians for the elderly.

5. What is the mission of the Council for the Advancement of Forensic Genealogy?

From the homepage of our website, under “Our Objectives”

  • Advance public awareness and understanding of the profession.
  • Encourage broader use of the services of qualified forensic genealogists.
  • Promote and maintain high standards of professional and ethical conduct.
  • Encourage best practices in client services and business models.
  • Promote interchange of information among members through electronic forums, trade publications, meetings, and seminars.
  • Provide education and training for professional advancement of membership.
  • Assist fellow members in professional development though mentorship, full membership, credentialing, and awarding of fellowships.
  • Influence legislation that impacts the profession or the ability to access public records.

6. What advice would you give a genealogist who is considering a career in forensic genealogy?

Understand that these cases can be very challenging; time sensitive affairs. If a judge is nipping at an attorney, you can bet that attorney will be nipping at you. Know the law of the state you are working within. Ask a practicing forensic genealogist if they can mentor you so that you can learn the ropes. You might not be able to access the professional’s files because of their confidentiality agreements, but you can certainly practice on your own family by picking a line you know nothing about and bringing all those lines forward to today; then contacting said family members. Perhaps you’ll have a fmily reunion with that new information you’ve uncovered. Understand that we are constantly learning about available records, and networking with others to be our legs on the ground when we need onsite researchers.

If you want to pull records for anyone, learn how to write citations! We’re not looking for perfection; we’re looking for accurate citations. If I receive a document with citations you can be pretty sure I’m going to call you again if I have work in that area. And you can also bet I’ll share your name with others. Understand if you are a record puller, forensic genealogists need prompt response, follow through, and citations.

And if you really want to learn about forensic genealogy, come to the Institute! At this writing there is one slot left open. You can learn more about what we are offering at the website. It will be an intense 2 ½ days, and your mind will be swimming when you return home. It is our intention to walk you through all kinds of real life scenarios that we have run in to while doing this work. We hope to give you answers to many of the common and not so common questions. Our hope is to truly stretch you as a professional genealogist.

UPDATE: For another perspective on this subject, see Barbara Matthews, “Response to ‘What Is Forensic Genealogy?,’” The Demanding Genealogist blog, posted 23 May 2012 (http://demandinggenealogist.blogspot.com : accessed 23 May 2012).

Registration for the Forensic Genealogy Institute now open

Today, 21 January 2012, the Council for the Advancement of Forensic Genealogy has announced the creation of the Forensic Genealogy Institute.

According to the CAFG website, the Institute “offers twenty hours of significant hands-on instruction with real-world work examples, resources, sample forms and work materials.” This will be an advanced course designed for professional genealogists, taught by working, experienced forensic genealogists. The instructors include Michael Ramage, J.D., CG; Kelvin L. Meyers; Leslie Brinkley Lawson; Dee Dee King, CG; and teaching assistant Catherine W. Desmarais, M.Ed., CG. Special guest instructors may also be announced.

For professional genealogists interested in exploring the field of forensic genealogy, or simply interested in expanding their set of research skills, the Forensic Genealogy Institute should help fill this need. To my knowledge, no other organization offers an advanced course focusing solely on forensic genealogy.

The Forensic Genealogy Institute will be held from 25-27 October 2012, at the Wyndham Dallas Love Field Hotel, in Dallas, Texas. Registration is limited to 25 participants, and is now open.

For more information, read the official press release here, or visit the Council for the Advancement of Forensic Genealogy website here.

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