Archive for the ‘Professional Genealogy’ Category

Marketing outside of the box

How best to market your services is one of the most important factors that a professional genealogical researcher or lecturer must consider. After all, in order to conduct research professionally, someone must hire you to do so. In order for someone to hire you, they must know that you offer your services. This all comes down to how you market yourself.

Marketing has definitely changed in the past couple of years with the growth of the social Internet. How do you make yourself stand out from among other professionals? Obviously, research skill and experience are still essential. But they are no longer enough.

Here are two interesting and unique marketing ideas that I use:

The Visual Resume 

A picture speaks a thousand words. We have heard this a million times, and it is as true today as it was the first time we heard it.

Why not apply this principle to your resume?

I created the following “visual resume” using Microsoft PowerPoint, and have posted it on SlideShare, LinkedIn, and Facebook.

These slides provide all of the most important information about my services, including testimonials from past clients, in an interesting and unique way. The dry format of a resume has been replaced with much more palatable ilustrations.

Trading cards

I have to thank Thomas MacEntee of Geneabloggers for discovering this company.

Meet-Meme allows you to create your own trading cards. The trading cards contain a QR code (as well a short link for those of us that are i-challenged) that will take people to a profile page that you create at the same time that you create the card. This profile page can contain several links, with special attention to social networking sites. My profile page, for example, contains links to my Twitter, LinkedIn, and Facebook pages, as well as custom links to my Lulu bookstore, this blog, and the African American Genealogy Examiner column.

At the Institute of Genealogical & Historical Research (IGHR) last week, I ordered and gave out 20 of these fun trading cards to fellow genealogists. They were a hit! Everyone that had a smart phone immediately wanted to run the QR code and go to my profile page.

Your Ideas?

Have you tried either of these ideas? What did you think about them?

Have you tried any other interesting marketing ideas?

I’d love to hear about them!

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: http://users.rcn.com/timarg/PaHR-Access.htm.

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

610-791-9294”

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.

How do people learn, and how should we teach?

As genealogical lecturers, we should be aware of two factors: what our audience wants, and what our audience needs.

In order to understand what our audience wants, all we have to do is ask them, and listen to what they tell us.

However, to understand what our audience needs, it is important to understand a little bit about how people learn. This is a relatively new field of research, employing both brain biologists and psychologists. There are numerous theories about how the brain works, and researchers still openly admit how little is actually known. Yet strides are being made.

Dr. John Medina, a developmental molecular biologist and research consultant affiliate with the University of Washington School of Medicine and the Brain Center for Applied Learning Research at Seattle Pacific University, published the New York Times bestseller, Brain Rules: 12 Principles for Surviving and Thriving at Work, Home, and School in 2008. This book outlines 12 “Brain Rules” that discuss various aspects of the brain that are currently known, and how these can be applied to our daily lives.

These twelve rules are summarized on the Brain Rules website:

  • EXERCISE – Rule #1: Exercise boosts brain power.
  • SURVIVAL – Rule #2: The human brain evolved, too.
  • WIRING – Rule #3: Every brain is wired differently.
  • ATTENTION – Rule #4: We don’t pay attention to boring things.
  • SHORT-TERM MEMORY – Rule #5: Repeat to remember.
  • LONG-TERM MEMORY – Rule #6: Remember to repeat.
  • SLEEP – Rule #7: Sleep well, think well.
  • STRESS – Rule #8: Stressed brains don’t learn the same way.
  • SENSORY INTEGRATION – Rule #9: Stimulate more of the senses.
  • VISION – Rule #10: Vision trumps all other senses.
  • GENDER – Rule #11: Male and female brains are different.
  • EXPLORATION – Rule #12: We are powerful and natural explorers.

The Brain Rules website contains quite a bit of information, including the Introduction to the book, Chapter Summaries, References, a blog, and several supplemental videos and SlideShare presentations. All of the information can help to inform us both on how we ourselves learn, and how we can teach others effectively.

There is even one presentation included on the site that is specifically designed for this purpose: “Brain Rules for PowerPoint presenters.” The presentation carries the additional credibility of being designed by presentation expert Garr Reynolds, author of the absolutely essential book, Presentation Zen: Simple Ideas on Presentation Design and Delivery. Garr’s philosophies on presentation use much of what Dr. Medina espouses, and the presentations are highly effective.

In other words,

Understanding how the brain works –> understanding how our audiences (and ourselves!) learn –> providing what our audiences need –> effective presentations

Two new genealogy writing opportunities

Two announcements have gone out about some writing opportunities for genealogists.

First, the genealogy website Archives.com is looking for new writers. Their announcement reads,

The Expert Series is a collection of articles from top genealogists around the country. Every week we feature a new article aimed to help beginning and advanced genealogists alike solve common research problems, break-through brick walls, and learn how to improve their research techniques. It’s a phenomenal, free resource for all and we’d like you to be a part of it!

We compensate our writers for the hours they spend writing on researching and give them a complimentary membership to our website, Archives.com.

What we look for in a writer:

  • Author must be a professional or extremely experienced in their field
  • Author must have excellent writing skills
  • Sign a standard contract and W9 form

Please contact Ayme Alvarez at ayme@inflection.com if interested in writing for the Expert Series.

The second announcement comes from Michael John Neill, author of the very popular Casefile Clues newsletter:

Based upon reader surveys, we’re going to start a “beginner” version of Casefile Clues on a trial basis–seeing if there really is enough interest and demand. I am looking for other writers who would be interested in contributing pieces to this version.

Anyone who is interested in writing for a beginning genealogist audience can email me at beginners@casefileclues.com and I’ll send specifics and additional information when I return from Utah later in the week. I can’t promise high wages at this point, but a tagline and website for each author will be included.

If you are interested in writing genealogical articles, these two new opportunities may be just what you are looking for.

Writing a genealogical case study–Sell the research!

It’s funny how, if you try hard enough, you can apply almost anything to genealogical research.

For example, I recently read an old post on the Final Draft Communications’ Put Your Best Word Forward blog, entitled, “Write a Case Study to Show How You Shine.” Final Draft Communications “is a copywriting and grant writing agency that has provided writing, editing, and messaging services to a wide range of clients in Northern Colorado and beyond since 2001.” In discussing case studies, FDC is speaking to using case studies for marketing. In this blog post, a case study is intended as an extended testimonial from a client.

Karen Marcus, the Head Copywriter for FDC and the author of this blog post, writes,

A case study, also known as a success story, is a great way to show that people are saying nice things about you in a more concrete and relatable way. A case study tells the detailed story of one customer’s experience with your products or services. With a story format, readers become more invested and can imagine themselves in the place of your featured customer. In other words, they can begin to imagine doing business with you.

In genealogy, we read case studies quite often. The premier genealogical journals, The National Genealogical Society Quarterly, The American Genealogist, and The New England Historical and Genealogical Register, all feature genealogical case studies in every issue. Indeed, case studies constitute the core of these journals’ publishing efforts. Many other journals from state and county genealogical societies also feature case studies, as occasionally do the mass market genealogy magazines.

Genealogical case studies explore a research problem and how it has been solved. This may seem quite different from a sales case study. But can we apply Ms. Marcus’s tips on sales case studies to our own genealogical case studies?

The tips Ms. Marcus outlines are, of course, applied directly to sales copywriting. Let’s take a look at these, however, and see if they apply to a genealogical case study:

1. Present the Problem. “Open your case study with an introduction to the customer: who they are, what they do, and why they needed your products or services. Remember, you are trying to create a picture that readers can make themselves a part of, so be specific in terms of industry, size, customers, and competition. Then, present the problem that they were trying to solve when they found you.” Well, of course, we would not open a genealogical case study with an introduction to a former customer, but we would definitely “present the problem that [we] were trying to solve.”

2. Outline the Choices. “Chances are, when your case study customer was looking for your products or services, they found others who could provide them as well. Mention who those ‘others’ were, what they had (and didn’t have) to offer and why your customer chose you.” Again, we are not concerned with a customer, but in Ms. Marcus’s description, she describes previous research. To apply this to a genealogical case study, we should describe our own previous research (the starting point) as well as our beginning research plan.

3. Show the Solution. “Describe how your products or services solved your customer’s problem. Here’s your chance to really show how you shine: mention product names, service packages, or special implementations….” As genealogists, our “products or services” would be the research we conducted and the records we located. Ms. Marcus even advises us to add full source citations (“product names”)!

4. Quote the Customer. “A good case study will have plenty of direct quotes from the customer. … Let them tell the story of how you helped them in their own words, then use those words to help you relate that story to your prospects. (By the way, it’s always a good idea to let your customer review a case study before you publish it.)” A good genealogical case study will have plenty of direct quotes from the records. And of course the best genealogical journals will have a good editorial board that will review your case study before they publish it.

5. Reveal the Results. “Here’s a great place to use facts and figures to help you tell the story. Did your product help the customer increase profits by 50%? Mention it! Did your service allow the customer to generate 100 additional leads per month? State it! You might want to use charts or graphs here to illustrate your points.” Did you solve your genealogical research problem? State it! You might want to reiterate your proof argument by detailing each piece of supporting evidence.

Are my sources original? Who cares?

Many genealogists conduct all of their research using digitized and microfilmed records.

So what?

Ancestry, Footnote, GenealogyBank, the Internet Archive, USGenWeb, and other genealogy websites provide access to indexes, abstracts, transcriptions, and digital images of a large number of records. And their offerings are literally growing every day. The Family History Library holds microfilm of deed books, church records, will books, vital records, county histories, landowner maps, tax lists, and all of the other important record groups from around the world. These can be ordered through our local Family History Centers and provide access to the local records we need.

Here is the problem: these are not all of the records that you will need to use.

I use digitized records. See my recent “online case study” in which I attempt to research the family history of a freed slave in Texas using exclusively records held online. I have subscriptions to Ancestry, Footnote, and GenealogyBank, and have even compiled and published an e-book containing over 2,000 records available online on non-genealogy websites.

I also use microfilmed records. Sometimes from the Family History Library, and sometimes at other repositories such as state archives.

But I also use many original records directly at the repositories that hold them. By original records, here I mean those records available exclusively on paper. Records that have never been digitized and never been microfilmed. Often these records have not even been indexed, and the only way to research within the records is to conduct a page-by-page search.

In many cases, my success at locating the necessary records to prove a link or move beyond a brick wall was founded entirely on my use of these original, undigitized, unmicrofilmed records.

The Genealogical Proof Standard is a five-part checklist that allows one to verify, to a certain extent, the validity of one’s genealogical conclusions. The first requirement is that we conduct a “reasonably exhaustive search” for all records relevant to our research problem.

This does not read “all digitized records” or “all microfilmed records”; it reads “all relevant records,” and should without a doubt be taken to include those records that are not digitized or microfilmed. Take the following cases as examples:

1. Goal: identify the former owner of a freedwoman born enslaved in Maryland. How original records helped: In 1852, some Maryland counties recorded the names and ages of slaves owned, on the tax assessment records. These slave assessment rolls have never been digitized, microfilmed, or indexed. A page-by-page search through hundreds of pages, encompassing four separate election districts, finally revealed a household assessed for slaves with the names of the mother and child of the appropriate ages. Why digitized or microfilmed records would not have worked: The only other source that would have provided the names and ages of slaves during this time period would have been the estate inventory of the slave owner. In this particular case, the slave owner identified died in 1848, but the child was not identified by name in his inventory. These slaves did not bear the surname of the slave owner, and without having even a small “cluster” of people to look for, it would not have been possible to identify the family.

2. Goal: Identify the family of a man born ca. 1800 with a surname common to the area. How original records helped: The county in which this man lived his entire life had a courthouse fire that destroyed all of the probate records prior to 1852. A microfilmed land record was found in which the father sold land to the son, but this deed did not identify them as father and son. However, a case file in the state’s Chancery Court recorded the distribution of land owned by an unmarried brother among his siblings, as fellow “heirs at law” of their father (from whom the brother had inherited the land). This case file, while indexed, has not been digitized, microfilmed, or abstracted. It provided further support by proving that the land was originally owned by the father and distributed among his children. Why digitized or microfilmed records would not have worked: As noted, a single deed in which the father sold land to his son (the subject of research) was located, but no family relationships were noted within the deed. There were also no other tell-tale signs that this was a family deed, such as a low consideration amount, etc. The surname is relatively common within this specific county, so the deed alone does not prove a filial relationship. No other records containing specific relationship information about this family appears in the surviving county records. Only the undigitized, unmicrofilmed court case file provides the list of all surviving heirs at law that was vital to truly proving the relationships.

There are many other cases that can be used as examples, but these are two of the most recent cases that I have worked on. In both cases, there is simply no way that the digitized and microfilmed records would have provided the evidence needed to form a valid and reliable conclusion. Only the original, paper records, held by the State Archives, provided this evidence.

“Rocking” as a genealogy lecturer

Genealogy blogger Dee wrote an interesting post in her “Ancestrally Challenged” blog on Tuesday, 17 May 2011, entitled, “How to Rock as a Genealogy Lecturer.” This post is written from the perspective of a member of the audience of genealogy lectures, and tells exactly what she wants and expects from lecturers.

I would recommend that all genealogy lecturers read this post fully several times, take it to heart, and adjust your presentations. Dee’s post is typical of comments I have heard from other audience members at genealogy meetings and conferences, as well as meetings and conferences in other industries. I worked in the audio-visual field in Washington, D. C., for ten years, specifically in the field of conferences, and have had opportunity to participate behind the scenes in many conferences at the Convention Center, large conference hotels, and the National Press Club. No matter the industry or subject matter, how presenters present is crucial to the success of their mission, whether sales, persuasion, or education.

Dee’s suggestions can be summed up by her headings:

  1. Know Your Stuff
  2. Give Me What I Came For
  3. Keep Your Promises
  4. Don’t Read from the Syllabus
  5. Strike a Balance
  6. Make Time for Questions

I would recommend that all lecturers, myself included, make the conscious effort to heed these suggestions. By doing so, we will provide our audiences with exactly what they want. This will benefit both the lecturer–a good reputation is crucial to being offered more and better-paying speaking jobs–and the audience–who will be better educated by having higher quality lecturers available.

After all, as professionals, it is not our job to tell the customers what they want, but to listen to them, understand what they want, and provide it.

BCG Application Guide now available for free download

The revised 2011 edition of the BCG Application Guide from the Board for the Certification of Genealogists, as well as the revised Preliminary Application, are both now available for free download from the BCG website.

The Board for the Certification of Genealogists was created in 1964. According to the History published on the website:

BCG has its roots in the American Society of Genealogists, an elected organization of highly respected practitioners of genealogy. ASG sprang from academia. It was established in 1940 to, in part, “elevate the profession of genealogy to the same literary and scientific level enjoyed by history.” By 1963 the fellows — members of ASG — had become concerned that there was no organization that set scholarship standards for professional genealogists. Such an organization was necessary, they felt, if genealogy were to be treated as a serious research discipline.

Several ASG members initiated talks with leaders of the National Genealogical Society and with librarians. By February 1964, plans for the Board of Genealogical Certification had been finalized. The first trustees represented different groups. Among the names are a veritable who’s who of genealogy: Dr. Jean Stephenson, John Frederick Dorman, Walter Lee Sheppard Jr., and Milton Rubicam from ASG; Colonel Carleton E. Fisher, Mary Givens Bryan, and O. Kenneth Baker from NGS; and Dr. Roy F. Nichols, Dr. Walter Muir Whitehill, and Mary Lucy Kellogg representing historians, archivists, and/or librarians. The remaining trustees were Cameron Allen, Meredith B. Colket Jr., Kate F. Maver, Isabeth E. Myrth, Herbert F. Seversmith, and Kenn Stryker-Rodda. The first board meeting was held in April 1964.

Since that time, BCG certification (designated by the postnomial “CG”) has grown into one of genealogy’s highest honors. Becoming a Certified Genealogist involves proving your research and documentation skills through the creation of several of genealogy’s most common work products, including transcriptions, abstracts, a case study, and a compiled genealogy or compiled pedigree. These products undergo an intensive peer review process by other certified genealogists, who judge your work against a set of rubrics based on The BCG Genealogical Standards Manual.

Among many other accomplishments, Certified Genealogists were instrumental in the creation of the Genealogical Proof Standard.

For a more detailed look at the certification process, Elissa Scalise Powell, CG, and Dr. Thomas W. Jones, CG, present a certification seminar at various national and regional genealogy conferences. This seminar has also been video-taped, and can be viewed on the BCG website as well.

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.

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