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.