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.

Writing the Ridgelys

On 11 August 2010 National Park Service archaeologists at Monocacy National Battlefield announced that, using clues from the historical record, they had discovered the remains of several slave cabins dating from ca. 1794–1827.[1] I remember reading the Washington Post report on the discovery, and thinking I would love to research the families that lived there.

Within two months, I received an interesting telephone call from the owner of African American genealogy website Afrigeneas. They had been contacted by Essence Magazine for a feature piece, and needed someone with experience researching slaves in Maryland. With the deadline looming I was able to identify one of the slaves owned by the Vincendiere family and trace his descendants down to a journalist in Pittsburgh. His obituary named his ex-wife and a daughter, both still living. The piece, “A Legacy of Love and Pride,” by Robin D. Stone, appeared in the February 2011 issue of Essence.[2]

I decided to follow this with an article discussing some of the research I had done—the methodology, not just the results. On 21 February 2011 I published “Researching the descendants of the Vincendiere slaves, part one” in the African American Genealogy column I wrote on Examiner.com.[3] I originally intended this short piece as part of a series describing the research I had conducted on the family. The first part garnered some attention from the right people. Within another few weeks I received an email—and then a phone call—from the Cultural Resources Program Manager of Monocacy Battlefield, Joy Beasley. We met for lunch and discussed a potential project.

To make a long story short, the National Park Service hired me to research the lives and descendants of all of the slaves living in the slave village—all of the slaves owned by the Vincendiere family. When all was said and done, several months later, I delivered a report over 900 pages in total length, including document images. I had discovered the identities of slaves and their descendants not only in Maryland, but also in Louisiana. One of these families was the Ridgely family.

The Ridgely family—including mother Caroline Ridgely, her children, and their descendants—fascinated me. Their stories were remarkable. All of them had been freed by 1860. Caroline’s son Cornelius Ridgely served in the U. S. Navy during the Civil War. A number of the descendants graduated from various universities. Several became doctors or dentists in Baltimore and Washington, D. C. One descendant worked for the National Park Service during the 1930s before serving in World War II, and later became principal of a Washington, D. C., high school not far from where I worked in Washington. The family story seemed perfect for a three- or four-generation family history narrative. The story wrote itself.

Writing a family history narrative uses different skills than does writing a proof argument or a case study. The one piece of advice I would give anyone attempting to write such a piece is to identify a common theme that holds the story together. This technique produces a compelling narrative.

After I had finished it, I spent about a month editing it. Reading it and re-reading it. Making sure the sentences were concise and the paragraphs were topical. Finally, just a few days before the deadline, I mailed copies to the National Genealogical Society, for its annual Family History Writing Contest.

Several months passed. Finally I received a response. I had won First Place. The prize was an all-expenses-paid trip to the NGS Conference and possible publication in the National Genealogical Society Quarterly. As I was already speaking at the 2012 Conference just a month or so later, I was given the option of attending the 2013 Conference in Las Vegas.

For publication in the Quarterly, more work still needed to be done. The Contest judges had provided me with comments for improving the article. Taking these into consideration, I went into another round of editing and rewriting. Finally I submitted the product to Thomas W. Jones and Melinde Lutz Byrne, the editors of the Quarterly.

A short while later, the editors came back to me with more edits and a few items that needed follow-up. Another round and I resubmitted the article.

After all was said and done, the editors sent me a final draft. This draft was in the familiar format of the Quarterly—the fonts, the spacing, the header and footer. It was a very exciting day for me. Having an article published in the preeminent genealogical journal in the United States had been a long-term goal of mine. I was finally at the last step.

Of course, the rest of the issue had to be laid out. It had to go to the printer. I had to wait for the issue to be completed.

About two weeks ago, my two-and-a-half-year journey had reached a new milestone. I received my copies of the December 2012 issue of the National Genealogical Society Quarterly. My article, “In the Shadow of Rebellions: Maryland Ridgelys in Slavery and Freedom,” was the first in the issue.[4]

This research has not yet reached its final conclusion. Who knows where it may take me next?

SOURCES:

[1] “Slave Village Discovered in Maryland,” press release, 11 August 2010, National Park Service, Monocacy National Battlefield, Maryland (http://www.nps.gov/mono/slavevillage2010.htm : accessed 16 February 2013).

[2] Robin D. Stone, “A Legacy of Love and Pride,” Essence Magazine, February 2011, 122–127.

[3] Michael Hait, “Researching the descendants of the Vincendiere slaves, part one,” posted 21 February 2011, in “National African American Genealogy” column, Examiner.com (http://www.examiner.com/article/researching-the-descendants-of-the-vincendiere-slaves-part-one : accessed 16 February 2013).

[4] Michael Hait, CG, “In the Shadow of Rebellions: Maryland Ridgelys in Slavery and Freedom,” National Genealogical Society Quarterly, Volume 100 (Dec 2012): 245–266.

Resources for studying historic laws

When we examine historic records, it is vital that we evaluate them in the context of the world that created them. One of the most important aspects of doing this is to understand the laws under which these records were created.

The Law Librarians’ Society of Washington, D. C., provides a list of resources for researching laws. Many of the links in “State Legislatures, State Laws, and State Regulations: Website Links and Telephone Numbers,” of course, refer to modern legislation. Yet there are a number of sites that have digitized either images or transcriptions of historic laws as well.

For example, the Online State Resources for Genealogists ebook contains links to the following sources for historic law books, among numerous others:

You can also discover many historic state statute books that have been digitized by Google Books. The easiest way to find these is to search for “laws [state name]” or “statutes [state name]” directly in Google Books, not from the Google main page. The results will vary depending on what has been digitized for the specific state. Occasionally, once you have discovered the naming pattern for historic statute books in the state–or even the identity of the state printer–during the time period you are seeking, you can find better results by searching specifically by name.

A search for “statutes of Virginia,” for example, produces results for Hening’s Statutes at Large for 1819, 1820, and 1836, and a 1971 supplement, all on the first page of results. Clicking on the name of William Waller Hening in these results produces several books of legal commentary that he wrote, a few volumes of court decisions, and an additional volume of the Statutes at Large from 1823.

Another site to search for digitized books is Internet Archive. Through partnerships with numerous libraries and universities, the collection of books on this site almost rivals Google’s. Recommendations for searching are the same as listed above, with similar results.

For example, a search for “laws of Minnesota” on this site produces 98 results, including volumes of session laws from 1891 and 1915, and general laws from 1866, 1878, and 1889.

To search for federal laws, the Library of Congress has digitized the published U. S. Statutes at Large, as well as various published Congressional debates and proceedings, from 1775 through 1875. These include full-text search capability, on “A Century of Lawmaking for a New Nation: U. S. Congressional Documents and Debates,” part of its American Memory digital collection.

Understanding the laws that regulated our ancestors’ worlds is an integral part of researching our ancestors within these worlds. Once we have located the relevant laws, we might discover that the intestate succession laws describing how property was to be distributed bring new meaning to the probate records we have located. We might discover that the tax laws defined the values in the tax lists, when specific property was not described. We might discover that the language at the end of a deed that we dismissed as boilerplate actually had a very well-defined legal meaning, that is necessary to fully understand the record.

There are really no limits to what we might discover once we understand the laws of the past.

For more evidence of this, I recommend reading Judy G. Russell’s blog, The Legal Genealogist. She frequently discusses this very phenomenon.

If you would like to cite this post:

Michael Hait, CG, “Resources for studying historic laws,”Planting the Seeds: Genealogy as a Profession blog, posted 28 January 2013 (http://michaelhait.wordpress.com : accessed [access date]). [Please also feel free to include a hyperlink to the specific article if you are citing this post in an online forum.]

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

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

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

She continues:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

SOURCES:

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

If you would like to cite this post:

Michael Hait, CG, “When you find a document that may be about one of your ancestors …,”Planting the Seeds: Genealogy as a Profession blog, posted 25 January 2013 (http://michaelhait.wordpress.com : accessed [access date]). [Please also feel free to include a hyperlink to the specific article if you are citing this post in an online forum.]

Notable Genealogy Blog Posts, 20 January 2013

The following recent blog posts are those that I consider important or notable. Unlike other similar blog lists, I cannot guarantee that they will all be from the past week. (Some weeks I simply do not have time to read any blogs.) But I will try to write this on a fairly regular basis.

Ron Coddington, “2012 Images of the Year,” Faces of War blog, posted 24 December 2012 (http://facesofthecivilwar.blogspot.com/ : accessed 20 January 2013). The Civil War was one of the first major events–and the first American war–documented with photographs. These images are striking.

Judy G. Russell, CG, “The returns of the season,” The Legal Genealogist blog, posted 26 December 2012 (http://www.legalgenealogist.com/blog : accessed 20 January 2013). Judy writes about supporting local genealogical societies, a subject I have also addressed on numerous occasions.

Maria Popova, “Richard Dawkins on Evidence in Science, Life and Love: A Letter to His 10-Year-Old Daughter,” Brain Pickings blog, posted 28 December 2012 (http://www.brainpickings.org/ : accessed 20 January 2013). This post quotes from a letter discussing evidence–a very important topic in science as well as genealogy.

Harold Henderson, CG, “Perfectionism: Is the Best the Enemy?,” Midwestern Microhistory: A Genealogy Blog, posted 31 December 2012 (http://midwesternmicrohistory.blogspot.com : accessed 20 January 2013). Harold questions whether every article published in genealogy journals has to be a perfectly-proven case.

Eric Schultz, “When Do We Forget?,” The Historical Society blog, posted 10 January 2013 (http://histsociety.blogspot.com/ : accessed 20 January 2013). Mr. Schultz takes a look at what percentage of today’s U. S. population might remember some of the most important–and memorable–events that occurred in the 20th and early 21st centuries.

Harold Henderson, CG, “So You Want to Re-Invent Genealogy? Here’s How,” Midwestern Microhistory: A Genealogy Blog, posted 11 January 2013 (http://midwesternmicrohistory.blogspot.com : accessed 20 January 2013). The standards in genealogy have been developed through decades of experience. Do you think your research experience has inspired better standards?

Continuing education for genealogists

Continuing education is a very important aspect of being a professional genealogist, or becoming one. When this post appears a few days after my writing it, I will be knee-deep in the Salt Lake Institute of Genealogy, where I will be presenting nine lectures in two courses and a tenth evening lecture.

On January 22, registration will begin for the Institute of Genealogy and Historical Research at Samford University.

In May the National Genealogical Society conference will be held in Las Vegas. June will see IGHR and the Southern California Genealogical Society Jamboree, July brings the Genealogical Research Institute of Pittsburgh and the National Institute of Genealogical Research, and August has the Federation of Genealogical Societies annual conference in Ft. Wayne, Indiana.

In the meantime, dozens of webinars will be offered where genealogists can learn from the comfort of their living room. Other opportunities for distance learning include the certificate programs offered by the National Institute of Genealogical Studies, and the National Genealogical Society’s Home Study Course and other free and online courses.

For many genealogists, these opportunities and others are well-known.

Did you know that a number of prestigious universities around the United States now offer free non-credit online history courses taught by esteemed professors and historians?

Take a look at a few that have piqued my interest:

Open Yale Courses (Yale University)

  • “African American History: From Emancipation to the Present,” Jonathan Holloway
  • “The American Revolution,” Joanne Freeman
  • “The Civil War and Reconstruction Era, 1845-1877,” David W. Blight
  • “European Civilization, 1648-1945,” John Merriman
  • “Early Modern England: Politics, Religion, and Society under the Tudors and Stuarts,” Keith E. Wrightson
  • “France Since 1871,” John Merriman

BYU Independent Study (Brigham Young University)

  • “Introduction to Family History Research”
  • “Writing Family History”
  • “Helping Children Love Your Family History”
  • “Family Records”
  • “Vital Records”
  • “Military Records”
  • “French Research”
  • “Germany Research”
  • “Huguenot Research”
  • “Scandinavia Research”

OpenCourseWare, Utah State University

Open Courses @ Illinois Springfield (University of Illinois-Springfield)

New York University

University of California-Berkeley (via Internet Archive)

 

There are a lot of other courses available online in addition to these. If you know of some that I have missed, please feel free to include a link in the comments below.

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