Wednesday, August 28, 2013

My View: The Many Facets of the Genealogy Community

[Editor’s note: This post is in response to Genealogy: AHouse Divided or A House With Many Doors? over at GeneaBloggers.]

I've started a discussion over at GeneaBloggers relating to recent issues in the genealogy community. I can tell you that genealogy is not the only community that periodically discusses these issues and here are my personal opinions on several discussion points:
  • Do you think the genealogy community periodically needs to have these discussions related to professional vs. amateur genealogy? Or are they unproductive and if so, why?

    Families, organizations and communities that don't discuss important issues are dysfunctional and become powerless.
  • Has the DIY (“do it yourself”) approach in genealogy and the influx of many new to genealogy ruined it for the rest of us?

    As a community we need to welcome newcomers to genealogy, even with their junk genealogy and bad trees and bad research habits. Each new genealogist is an opportunity to provide guidance and education and put them on the path to fully enjoying genealogy in all its permutations, from profession to hobby. Those who believe in "Genealogy: Don't Try This At Home" are either trying to maintain genealogy as an exclusive conclave or who see a large number of genealogists as potential professional competition.
  • Does the use of the terms “professional” and “amateur” in genealogy help or hinder the community?

    Terms continue to evolve in the genealogy community. I've opted to call myself a "genealogy professional" since I no longer take research clients and I participate more as an educator and evangelist for genealogy and family history. Terms such as "professional" and "amateur" by themselves are not divisive and don't necessarily hurt or help the community. It is their use and context that determine the power of these terms.
  • What is your definition of a professional genealogist? A hobby or amateur genealogist?

    In my opinion a "professional genealogist" is someone who provides genealogical research services for a living, regardless of any set certification or educational degree. I use the terms "amateur genealogist" and "hobby genealogist" interchangeably as someone who does genealogy to learn more about their ancestors and themselves. I don't regard "amateur" as a pejorative term. I look to its Latin roots as a lover of something, in this case a lover of genealogy.
  • Is there one true path to being a professional genealogist? Is a credential or degree necessary?

    There are many ways to become a professional genealogist. In my opinion, a credential or degree is not required to be a professional genealogist; they merely indicate that a person has met a set of established requirements. 
  • Is professional training in genealogy geared more towards those with a higher socio-economic status or those who already have a higher educational background?

    Professional training in almost any field often includes procedures and practices that are meant to exclude. This is the very essence of professional training as a means of setting a segment apart from the rest of society and recognizing an achievement such as a degree or a credential. However, some professional groups create "process, policies and procedures" that appear to prevent equal opportunities for all applicants.
  • If you could tell someone new to genealogy that there are “standards” to follow, what would they be?

    If I were to tell someone that there were "standards" for genealogy I would say: 1) cite your sources in a simple, clear and concise manner; 2) always seek the truth and document it; 3) question everything; 4) learn, learn, learn; and 5) have fun.
  • If the gamut of genealogical experience spans from Professional to Amateur, are there descriptive terms that can be used for those “in between” those end points? Hobbyist? Talented Amateur? Professional Amateur?

    I think "genealogist" is a sufficient term to describe anyone in the gamut between professional and amateur genealogist.
  • If someone uses their credential or experience in a way that is meant to demean, discount or dissuade the work of another genealogist (professional or amateur), what is an acceptable response to such a comment? Should it be ignore or is a response required? Would the response be different if the comment were made in-person or electronically (email, blog post, comment, etc.)?

    Any credible organization will have a code of ethics and a complaint process to handle violations and they will clearly advertise both on their website. I've decided that I will no longer be silent when I see "bullying" by anyone in the genealogy community who lords their credentials or experience over another person so as to discourage someone else's professional pursuit or enjoyment of genealogy. And I don't believe it matters if the original comment was made publicly or privately, online, in person or delivered on vellum parchment via carrier pigeon or flaming arrow.
  • Is there elitism in genealogy? If so, will it ever be eliminated? If it can’t be eliminated, what are some suggested tips on dealing with it?

    Elitism is in the very roots of genealogy and cannot be avoided. Finding one's ancestors in hopes of proving you were better than your neighbor is a cornerstone of genealogy in America and the practice has a long history. Elitism when it comes to who is qualified to do genealogy should always be called out and discussed. The best response: work to educate newcomers to genealogy and provide them with access to great resources and information on best practices. 
  • Has genealogy always been rooted in elitism or is there simply an active push by some practitioners to set standards which will ultimately benefit all in the genealogy community as well as those that consign genealogical research services?

    See above as to the "roots" of elitism. Several groups have pressed standards for the genealogy community and we've all benefited: there is a better awareness as to the importance of source citations, the value of using a proof standard, and highlighting educational opportunities. 
  • Is there really room for “everyone” at the genealogy table?

    I continue to believe that there is room for everyone at the genealogy table. While seated there, you must choose to either ignore toxic behavior or call it out and discuss it.
  • Are Professional Amateurs a threat to professional genealogy or simply a new breed of genealogist who happen to have a strong command of technology and a different perspective on genealogy?

    The Internet has democratized the genealogy field and its tools; some practitioners don't want to face this reality. There has been a reduction of barriers to doing genealogy thanks to technology. Instead of welcoming those with tech skills who want to take a different approach to genealogy, some groups refuse to work with those who bring new ideas or those that won't submit to their standards.
  • Is there a generation gap in genealogy? Are there any other “divides” in the genealogy community or are these divisive tactics which act as roadblocks to enjoying genealogy as a hobby or profession?

    There is a definite generation gap in genealogy as well as a technology gap (more like a chasm). While this might appear to be a "divide" there are groups and organizations working to bridge it. However, certain segments of the genealogy community fail to admit to such gaps. Such gaps are to be ignored at the peril of becoming out of touch and irrelevant.
© 2013, copyright Thomas MacEntee

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