Archive for the ‘Professional Genealogy’ Category

What is a professional genealogist?

I recently read two blog posts that inspired this post.

The first was “Why I Want to Remain an Amateur” at Greta’s Genealogy Blog. This is an absolutely wonderful post. Greta loves genealogy research, and desires to develop her research skills and abilities as much as possible, but has no desire to be paid for her genealogical activities. This post explains why not.

The second post was not new, but came through yesterday on Twitter. “APG at a Crossroads,” written by Mary E. Petty at the Heirlines blog. Ms. Petty, with her husband James W. Petty, AG, CG, run the “HEIRLINES Family History & Genealogy” professional genealogical research firm, based in Salt Lake City, Utah. This post was originally written in 2006, but continues to be promoted, as its appearance on Twitter yesterday attests.

This post begins,

I think the Association of Professional Genealogisis (APG) is at a crossroads – they have to decide what master they serve. Either the hobbyist: the self designated part -timer, and / or full timer; or the career practitioner: the professionally designated genealogist, qualified by the “professional’s only” track (professional genealogy education, training, experience, credentials, membership, continuing education, standardized business best practices with licensing and ethics) to serve the public as a professional genealogist?

Right now all of these groups are trying to have a piece of the consumer pie and this does not meet the number one objective of a professional business membership organization – to support the qualified practitioners and set standardized best practices, ethics, methodology, business standards etc, and behaviors to protect the qualified practitioner and the consumer.[1]

I strongly object to two points Ms. Petty raises:

(1) She asserts that only those genealogists who follow what she deems a “‘professional’s only’ track,” including “professional genealogy education, training, experience, credentials, membership, continuing education, standardized business best practices with licensing and ethics” are qualified to be considered professional genealogists. She specifically notes throughout the post that she defines a professional genealogist quite narrowly as one who conducts genealogy research for clients as their full-time career. Implicitly this excludes those whose main source of income is writing, lecturing, or some other aspect of genealogy, or those who conduct research for clients on a much more limited basis. It also explicitly excludes “the self designated part-timer, and/or full-timer.”

(2) She asserts that the Association of Professional Genealogists exists only to serve these “qualified” (by her definition) practitioners.

Currently, only a single accredited university in the United States offers a Bachelor’s degree program in Family History: Brigham Young University, in Provo, Utah. Perhaps not coincidentally the Family History Library is in Salt Lake City, Utah. With access to the microfilmed records at the Family History Library and the degree program at Brigham Young, it seems quite natural for genealogists in Utah to qualify as “professional genealogists” under Ms. Petty’s definition. On the other hand, for genealogists elsewhere in the country, is is not quite that easy. If a researcher has limited access to records, he or she has limited potential for earning income solely on client research.

I am a full-time professional genealogist. I conduct research for clients about half of my working time. The rest of the time I write, publish, lecture, teach, etc. One hundred percent of my household income stems from my genealogical activities. If I only conducted client research, I might not be able to feed my family. But my income is supplemented by other sources.

Many professional genealogists are not full-time. They may have a full-time career outside of the field of genealogy. They may be retired from another career, but choose to conduct client research on a limited basis simply because they enjoy it. They may choose to research their own families only, and not conduct client research at all. But they are skilled researchers who write and lecture prolifically in order to teach others.

All of these are professional genealogists.

According to Ms. Petty, the APG should only serve “qualified” full-time career researchers. She asks in this post, “Why are they [the APG] unwilling to set maintain and regulate the criteria for membership in their organization and set the standards for designation as a ‘Professional Genealogist’?” She compares professional genealogists to “beauticians, teachers, CPA, Lawyers, and other similarly licensed (government-regulated) or professions that are self regulated.”

Professional genealogists, as a career field, do not resemble any of these licensed or regulated career fields that Ms. Petty names. The field most like professional genealogy, in my opinion, is freelance writing.

One does not have to have a degree in English or journalism to be a freelance writer. One does not have to be credentialed to be a freelance writer. One does not have to write 40 hours a week, and nothing else, to be a freelance writer. One’s sole qualification to be a freelance writer is that one can do the job that they are hired or paid to do. You must be able to write at a high level. Some people may be able to do this with no training whatsoever. Others may need formal education. But your value as a professional is judged by the quality of the product of your work, not by any other factors.

Likewise, one does not have to have a degree in family history or even history to be a professional genealogist. Formal or informal genealogical education (be it BYU’s program, one of the Institutes, attendance at a national conference, or participation in a Continuing Education program) definitely helps one learn the best advanced research techniques, but there are other ways that one can do the same independently. A professional genealogist does not have to conduct client research full-time. A professional genealogist does not have to be credentialed.

Like a freelance writer, the sole qualification to be a professional genealogist should be that one is able to perform the job that one is hired or paid to do. One must be able to perform the research. A professional genealogist’s value as a professional should be judged by the quality of the product of your work.

The Association of Professional Genealogists may be at a crossroads. But not because it should be limiting who can join. The APG should continue its policies of inclusivity rather than exclusivity.

However, the field of professional genealogy is changing. APG must be able to balance its focus. Its membership does not only consist of full-time career professional genealogists conducting research for clients. The organization now contains authors, lecturers, librarians, and many others whose income either in whole or in part comes from a field relating to genealogy. It cannot allow any one faction to control its policies, but instead recognize the diversity of its membership, and serve all of our needs.

I believe that the APG has done a fairly good job at accomplishing this goal. There is room for improvement, but I think it is moving in the right direction. It must continue to do so, and not allow narrow minds to limit its influence in the field of genealogy.

Follow Friday: Professional genealogists websites

It is Follow Friday! This is a blogging meme in which authors recommend other blogs, websites, repositories, or anything else. In keeping with the theme of this blog, I will spotlight different resources for professional and aspiring professional genealogists each week: not only genealogy-related, but also others of interest.

Today I will not recommend one site, but many.

If you are a professional genealogist or an aspiring/transitional professional genealogist, you need to have a website. Above and beyond anything else, your website will be your #1 marketing tool. I can honestly say that no less than 90% of the research clients that I have had in my career have spent at least some time on my website. How do I know this? Because their initial email to me comes through the “Contact Me” form on my website.

When you are developing a website, look at the websites of other professional genealogists, especially those with long standing careers. What do you like and what don’t you like? How much information do you want to include on your website?

One of the best ways to see other researchers’ websites is to go look to the membership directory of the Association of Professional Genealogists. The APG website allows you to search for a researcher by name, location, research specialty, or geographic specialty, and many of the entries include links to the members’ professional websites.

Take a look at researchers similar to yourself, that is, those researching in a similar location, research specialty, or geographic specialty. After all, these researchers are your direct competition–though in the genealogical community, there is rarely animosity (and often cooperation) among competitors. All the same, a potential client looking for a researcher is as likely to find their website as yours. How can you make yourself stand out? It all starts with your website.

Below are a few examples of websites belonging to professional genealogists. There are both positive and negative aspects of all of them. Some are better than others. Some have great content, but lack in design. Some have great design, but little content. I am not espousing any of these researchers over any others, and cannot vouch for any of their research skills. Not all of these professionals accept research projects. Not all of them are members of the APG.

Still, take a look:

I had to slip that last one in.😉

If you are a professional genealogist, please feel free to add your site in the comments (but please no advertising). What do you like most about these or other websites?

Tips for a short genealogy road trip

This Saturday, 5 November 2011, I will be speaking at the “Pennsylvania Family History Day” event sponsored by the Genealogical Society of Pennsylvania and This is a very exciting program, including the following lectures:

  • “Getting Started with” with Juliana Smith
  • “Immigrant Cluster Communities” with Lisa Alzo
  • “Researching Pennsylvania Ancestors” with John Humphrey
  • “Dead Men Do Tell Tales” with Lou Szucs
  • “What Is a ‘Reasonably Exhaustive Search’?” with Michael Hait, CG
  • “Formation of the Pennsylvania Counties” with Susan Koelble
  • “Finding Your US Military Heroes on” with Juliana Smith
  • “Visualizing the Past: Maps and Genealogy” with Shamele Jordon
  • “Pennsylvania’s Land Records” with John Humphrey
  • “Hidden Treasures at” with Lou Szucs
  • “Mining the Motherlode: Using Periodical Literature for Genealogical Research” with Curt Witcher
  • “Using the Pennsylvania State Archives and Library” with Kathleen Hale and Aaron McWilliams

This will be a great program, and I am proud to be a part of it. For more information, visit the Genealogical Society of Pennsylvania’s Events Calendar.

The conference will be held in Exton, Pennsylvania. According to Google Maps, this will be 91.6 miles–a 1 hour, 48 minute drive–from my house. So I have to prepare for my trip.

Here are a few tips for others making a short trip like this:

Print your directions. I used to have a GPS device in my car, but it died. Rather than buying a new one, I just use the “old” (as in pre-2005 or so) way of not getting lost. I print out the directions from Google Maps, especially if I am going to an area where I have never been before. I learned my lesson on a few earlier trips, when I printed only one-way directions then got lost trying to get home. Now I print directions for both ways, not just how to get there.

Leave early. If you have to be somewhere at a certain time, leave early. You never know when you might hit traffic. Even if you are not on a fixed schedule, you should still consider making the most of your trip. If the courthouse or archives opens at 9am, do you want to get there as soon as it opens, so that you have a full day? Or do you want to time your trip to avoid the rush hour gridlock near a major metropolitan area? You will want to find out about traffic patterns if you can. Living just outside Washington, D. C., for most of my life, I would time my research trips into the city to avoid rush hour. Rush hour traffic in the area could turn a twenty-minute trip into an ninety-minute trip very easily. And it could be far worse if there was an accident.

Keep cash on hand. I know, for example, that I will hit at least one toll while driving from Harrington, Delaware, to Exton, Pennsylvania. Three weeks ago, driving to Cherry Hill, New Jersey, I had to pay at three tolls each way. You may also need cash for parking fees, public transportation (if you can’t or don’t want to drive all the way to the building), entry fees for some repositories, or pay lockers. Many repositories now allow you to pay with a credit card, but there are still many that use coin-operated photocopiers. You might need cash for these as well.

Turn driving time into learning time. I will be driving for nearly two hours each way. This is four hours of my day not doing anything. Why not take advantage of that time? I can’t read or research while driving, because of course I need to keep my eyes on the road. But I can still use the time to learn. Most of the lectures presented at the national conferences, and some local conferences, have been recorded over the last few years. You can purchase these lectures on CD from JAMB, Inc. Pop a CD into your car’s CD player, and learn from expert genealogists like Elizabeth Shown Mills, Helen F. M. Leary, Thomas Jones, Craig Scott, Barbara Vines Little, J. Mark Lowe, or any number of the other nationally-recognized speakers.

Go before you leave. You don’t want to have to stop halfway through a two-hour drive. ‘Nuff said.

21st Century business card designs

In an earlier post, I discussed “marketing outside of the box.” This previous post demonstrated two unique ways of marketing yourself, taking advantage of modern technology trends, like Internet social media and QR codes.

Now what about that good-old-fashioned standby of marketing: the business card?

How can the standard paper business card be improved to take advantage of modern technology? I have recently seen two ideas that utilize these concepts.

The first is to include a QR code on the business card. The QR code can contain a direct link to your website, scannable by most smartphones. Beyond the presence of the code, however, most of the business card would remain the same as what we are accustomed to. You would still generally include at least your name, and most also contain other personal information. On the other hand, since much of this information can be embedded into the QR code itself, none of it must necessarily appear on the card.

There are quite a few services that allow you to create a custom QR code, and incorporate the codes into your business card design. The example here was created by a free site called TEC-IT.

A second interesting idea that I have recently come across is the “Google Me” business card. This is a very simple idea, but it plays on a very important aspect of 21st century marketing. Let’s face facts: no matter what you try to impress upon potential clients about yourself, many of them will make their decisions based on the results of a Google search.

In an earlier post I discussed the results of a Google search for the title of my website. Try Googling yourself.

Searching for yourself emphasizes the level of control you can have over your web presence. You will see among the results profiles on any of the social networks that you frequent, and some that you may have even forgotten.

Searching for yourself will also emphasize the lack of control you might have over your web presence. You will be surprised the level to which you may appear online in ways that you may not have intended. And of course, these are the hits that your potential clients are sure to see.

Once you have a firm grasp of your online presence, however, the “Google Me” business card is fantastic. It tells your potential clients that you are confident in your abilities. It tells them that you are not afraid of them searching for you online. Most importantly, it tells them that you are an expert in your field, who needs no further introduction. You don’t have to toot your own horn. The Internet will do it for you.

Beyond this, the design of the business card itself is striking for it simplicity. It contains only your name with no further identifying information about yourself. It also piggy-backs on the notably simplistic but instantly recognizable Google home page design.

These business card designs demonstrate just two of the many ways that you can leverage 21st century technology into traditional business marketing techniques.

Have you seen any other business card designs that effectively do the same? Or any other business card designs that are unique or remarkable in other ways?

If you would like to cite this post: Michael Hait, CG, “21st Century business card designs,” Planting the Seeds: Genealogy as a Profession blog, posted 22 Sep 2011 ( : 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.]

APG Events at the FGS Conference

The 2011 national conference of the Federation of Genealogical Societies will be held in Springfield, Illinois, next week, from 7 September through 11 September 2011. For more information, visit

The Association of Professional Genealogists (APG) has scheduled several events to take place at the FGS Conference:

  • Tuesday, September 6, 7:00-9:00 p.m. Annual Meeting & Roundtable. Rendezvous Room, Hilton Hotel. J. Mark Lowe, moderator of group discussion, “Those Difficult Situations…how do I come out smelling like a rose?”
  • Friday, September 9, 8:15-noon, APG Board meeting. Plaza 3, Hilton Hotel. APG members are welcome. Please let Kathleen Hinckley know if you plan to attend so seating can be arranged.
  • Friday, September 9, 12:15–2:00 p.m., APG Luncheon and Awards Presentations. Luncheon presentation by Kenyatta D. Berry, “Discovering a Genealogical Treasure Trove with A.B. Caldwell.”
  • Friday, September 9, 2:00-3:00 p.m., APG PMC. “The Small Business Administration and the Transitional Genealogist” by Mary Clement Douglass.
  • Friday, September 9, 3:30-4:30 p.m., APG PMC. “Developing Genealogical Skills: Mentoring from Novice to Expert” by Melinde Lutz Sanborn.
  • Saturday, September 10, 8:00–10:30 a.m., PMC Workshop, “Think Like a Targeted Marketer: One Marketing Plan Does NOT Fit All” by Natasha Crain.

Updated on 9/5/2011:

When the initial message was sent, one event was inadvertently omitted from the schedule of events:

  • Friday, September 9, 5:00 p.m., PMC presentation, “Apps Galore for the Professional Genealogist” by Pamela Boyer Sayre, CG.

Turning your genealogy hobby into a career

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

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

Ms. Thebault recommends the following four questions:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The 5 Most Misused Words and Phrases in Genealogy

Over the past quarter century, the field of genealogy has developed its own vocabulary to describe the evolving standards. Unfortunately, some of these terms are used in other fields with slightly different meanings. Here, in no particular order, are the top five most misused words and phrases in modern genealogy.

1. “Research”:

Especially to beginning genealogists, the term “research” is equivalent to “looking for records.” The more experience one gains, the more one becomes aware of how little of the research process is actually involved in physically looking for records. Far more research is conducted after a document has been located. Research also includes

  • learning more about the record itself–its creation, background, and purpose;
  • identifying the information the record holds;
  • determining how this information applies to our research problem;
  • assessing the reliability of the information;
  • correlating the information with that held in other records previously located;
  • and deducing what clues in the record point to potential sources for more information.

In all, I would estimate that about 20% of all research is actually conducted in the physical search for records. The remaining 80% involves the forming of conclusions based on the information turned up in that physical search.

2. “Primary” and “Secondary”:

You will often hear researchers in other fields refer to primary and secondary documents or records. In genealogy, we differentiate between original records and derivative records. These terms generally correspond with what other fields call primary (original) and secondary (derivative). Since many of us learned these terms in these other fields (or even in genealogy years ago, before the current definitions evolved), it is common to hear genealogists refer to “primary” and “secondary” records.

In current usage, reliable eyewitness testimony is considered primary, while information provided by someone who was not a witness or participant is considered secondary. Experienced genealogists, who always strive to review the original record rather than a derivative source, understand that any single record can contain information of different natures. A death certificate might provide both birth and death information, for example. In most cases, while the information about the death may be primary, the birth information is secondary. This is why we discuss primary and secondary information, as opposed to primary and secondary documents.

3. “Evidence”:

The term “evidence” refers to how we apply information to our research problem. There are two kinds of evidence, as defined in modern genealogy: direct and indirect.

Direct evidence refers to information that directly answers our research question. For example, if our research question asks, “when was John born?,” then a record containing the information, explicitly stated, that John was born on 4 July 1826, would be considered as containing direct evidence.

Indirect evidence refers to information that is relevant to our question but does not directly answer it. For example, using the same question about John’s birth, we examine a series of annual tax lists. John does not appear on any tax list until 1847. We then review the tax laws of that time period, and discover that men were required to pay taxes beginning at the age of 21. The tax records do not explicitly state John’s date of birth, but we can infer that he was at least 21 years of age at this time. This appearance on the tax lists therefore constitutes indirect evidence of his date of birth.

The term “evidence” is not synonymous with either the terms “information” or “proof,” but this is how it is most often used by many genealogists. Information is held by records. Evidence is how we apply this information to our research problem. And proof is …

4. “Proof”:

We often hear from other genealogists that a certain record proves a certain fact. This is a common misunderstanding of the concept of “proof.” No record contains proof. Records contain information.

As genealogists, we identify, evaluate, and correlate the information in these records, through which process we discern each piece of information’s individual value as evidence. Eventually, we hope to reach a soundly reasoned conclusion. “Proof” refers to the documented summary of the evidence that leads to our conclusion.

The Genealogical Proof Standard, itself an often-misunderstood concept, is the measure by which we judge our proof arguments. In its most common phrasing, the Standard contains five parts: conduct a reasonably exhaustive (or extensive) search for all relevant records, completely and accurately cite all sources used, correlate and evaluate all evidence, reconcile all contradictory evidence, and form a soundly reasoned, written conclusion. The extent to which each of these parts is demonstrated and documented in the written proof argument helps to determine the probable reliability of the conclusions.

Because it is most often phrased as five “parts,” many researchers begin to think of the Genealogical Proof Standard as a five-step process: first we do a search, then cite, then correlate, etc. On the contrary, in the course of our research, these “steps” are rarely completed in order. While searching for relevant records, we must cite and evaluate each individual record as we find it. Certainly, one begins by searching for relevant records and ends with the written conclusion, but the rest of the Standard is an ongoing process. How we define relevant itself evolves with each new record located.

As we begin to form conclusions, we should honestly assess our research against the Genealogical Proof Standard to determine whether or not our conclusion is warranted by our research.

5. “Report”:

This is a dangerously misused and misunderstood term for aspiring professional genealogists. Unfortunately, the misunderstanding stems most often from genealogical software programs, which are using the same term in a different context.

When one inputs one’s information and conclusions in a genealogy database program, it is common (and recommended) practice to periodically print out this information. In all database software, the output of data into a readable format based on specific parameters is called a report. Genealogy software most often includes the ability to print this data out into a rudimentary compiled genealogy in either NGSQ or Register formats, or compiled pedigree in Sosa-Stradonitz format. These are called, by the database, “reports.”

The research report provided by a professional genealogist–and even those reports one writes for one’s personal research files–are generally not in the form of a compiled genealogy or pedigree. A compiled genealogy or pedigree may be part of the research report, but not necessarily. In my reports, genealogies or pedigrees are most often used as a system of organization or summary of conclusions rather than the body of the report itself.

A professional research report, in general terms, is a detailed, documented report of the research conducted. This would include discussions of all of the processes described above under “Research,” as well as the formation of proof arguments and full conclusions. It also includes all negative searches conducted, that is, those indexes, databases, and record groups searched where no relevant results were located. All of these would be contained in the body of a report.

Professional genealogist’s research reports also contain other sections: a reiteration of the stated goals (both long-term and short-term, if applicable), a summary of all information provided or known at the beginning of the research, a brief summary of the conclusions reached within the report usually located before the main body, and suggestions for further research.

In other words, a research report simply does not resemble the reports printed by database software. The two terms are not synonymous at all–and given the very different contexts of their usage, should not be misunderstood to be so.

These are the words and phrases I see and hear misused most often by other genealogists. What are some other terms that are commonly misused?

If you would like to cite this post: Michael Hait, “The 5 Most Misused Words and Phrases in Genealogy,” Planting the Seeds: Genealogy as a Profession blog, posted 19 Aug 2011 ( : 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.]

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