Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Three adjectives to be used with the word genealogist.

I do think that the field of genealogy has shown a desire to draw distinctions within genealogy as to how each individual is practicing it. My offering to this discussion is to define three adjectives used with the term genealogist. They are not mutually exclusive adjectives.

A scholarly genealogist is one to endeavors to be careful in his or her research and writing, following genealogical standards and participating in continuing educational opportunities.

An avocational genealogist is one who follows it as a hobby. An avocational genealogist is unpaid. An avocational genealogist could well be a scholarly genealogist in his or her genealogy work. Newcomers to genealogy have many avenues open to them for learning and expanding their skills sets, from meetings of local societies to online training and educational resources (both free and paid) to college-level formal education.

A professional genealogist is one who is paid for his or her work in genealogy in any one of several roles, such as teaching, writing, blogging, hosting radio programs, doing client research, or lecturing. We all hope that professional genealogists are also scholarly genealogists and that they also continue to learn.

And, let me just say while on this topic, an embarrassment to us all is someone who plugs dates and locations into a form without engaging in a thoughtful process. I hesitate to add an adjective to the word genealogist in this case so that I won’t be quotable on the topic.

My point here is that scholarly genealogy is a goal for all of us, whether or not we are paid for our work.  All too often as we begin the discussion about doing better genealogy, we get waylaid by the discussion about whether we can do great work without getting paid for it. We can also go astray when the discussion begins to engage on licensing or on scientific methodology.

Let us all meet each other – hobbyist and professional alike – under the banner of scholarly genealogists.


  1. I agree with you that data entry of family history information without analysis (aka name collecting) is an issue to be dealt with and the genealogy community can do so through education. I don't see the people who engage in this as an embarrassment or even the act itself as an embarrassment - I see it as an opportunity.

    I hesitate to use the term "scholarly" because right away I think a certain segment of the population will "tune out." I can't see having a session on "scholarly genealogy" at my next genealogy society meeting. But if I term it differently, they will come.

    "Genealogy on a solid foundation" is what I want everyone, especially newcomers, to attain.

  2. Is "scholarly genealogy" really a goal for everyone? I'm trying to get people interested in their family history (clients included) and they'd immediately excuse themselves from the scholarly group.

    Maybe I'm approaching the term wrong, but I agree with Thomas that it will repel more people than it will attract.

  3. Thomas and Amy, this is great feedback. I like that term "genealogy on a solid foundation." I can see how the word "scholarly" would repel newcomers.

    I'm going back to the drawing board. I'm still looking for ways to be inclusive about doing genealogy with care. Any adjectives come to mind?


  4. Adjectives . . . how about "terms" and "terminology" like

    "foundations of genealogy"
    "genealogy building blocks"
    "genealogy worth keeping"
    "genealogy of substance" or "with substance"

  5. How about

    Educated Genealogist


    Critically Thinking Genealogist


    Analytical Genealogist


    Discriminating Genealogist (this is my favorite)

  6. Discriminating genealogist? I love it. It reminds me of buying shoes or a dress and thinking about price, color, quality, etc., etc. This is something I think more people can identify with -- using discrimination. It's easy to go from there to building a strong/firm foundation. That image still is so good.

    I'm liking this. Thank you all!


  7. I appreciate your sharing your thoughts about this “thorny” topic and I completely get what you’re going for. I have no answers to this conundrum am completely unhelpful for not coughing any up. But I do want to offer up some additional thoughts about drawing these intra-disciplinary distinctions.

    Personally, I find that using the term “professional” in front of the words “genealogy” and “genealogist” diminishes the value of the activity of genealogy in general, whether it is a hobby or a livelihood. If someone uses the term “Professional Genealogist” to label themselves, it makes me leery of that person’s abilities. To me, it means the individual knows that their skill set is weak and that they have to add some razzle-dazzle.

    The majority of occupations that regularly use “professional” as a prefix are sports-related, e.g., pro wrestling, pro football, pro race car driver, pro athlete.

    Accounting and Civil Engineering are the only two occupations that immediately spring mind that use “professional” for certifications: CPA (Certified Professional Accountant) and P.E. (Professional Engineer).

    Some organizations use “professional” in their titles, e.g., Assoc. of Professional Genealogists, Assoc. of Independent Information Professionals, Association of Bicycle and Pedestrian Professionals (<-- no joke!), etc. , but the individual members of these orgs (except for APG) do not identify themselves as a “professional whatever.” It just sounds silly to say “professional information professional” or “professional cycler and pedestrian” and so on.

    Occupations are usually subcategorized by specialty: surgeon/reconstructive surgeon, Engineer/Electrical Engineer, historian/medieval historian, teacher/middle-school teacher, musician/violinist, librarian/systems librarian.

    There are those who are experts in a field by virtue of years of experience but who are not credentialed and are therefore, not worthy. This group tends to have identifiers like “aid”, “assistant”, “technician” and “para”: teacher’s aid, physician’s asst., CAD technician, para-legal.

    I completely understand wanting to make distinctions between the genealogy hacks and the awesome, top-tier researchers, but that won’t stop individuals from self-identifying as being Professional Genealogists, especially if the *embarrassments to us all*, the Name Tickers, have been ticking off names off for 2 years. They’re Pro’s and don’t you dare disagree with them!

    I am a,
    professional daughter
    professional magazine reader
    professional genealogist
    professional dog sitter
    professional geographer
    professional procrastinator

  8. Merlyn,
    Just to clarify, CPA stands for Certified Public Accountant (not Professional) to distinguish from Private accounting. ;-)

  9. This discussion has been excellent. I like the idea of "scholarly genealogist" as an aspirational goal for everybody in the community, whether for pay or not. Amy and Thomas make good points, however, that as an occupational descriptor, "scholarly" may frighten some people. But "scholarly" in practice is what all should strive for.

    As for "avocational," that's not a bad teem except to the extent that it is associated with "hobby" which tends to diminish the gravity with which many such persons pursue their work. In another field, astronomy, some of the most significant discoveries have been made by "avocational" practitioners.

    O, the limits of our language!

  10. Thank you for including the "avocational" as part of those seeking for the "scholarly" level. I think it will take another 20 years before I feel like I would even dare do any research for a client and call myself a "professional," however I do strive to make sure my research is moving in the "scholarly" direction. Honestly, I can see the hesitation to use that term, but I believe that most people that are willing to dive in head first and do that level of research are not the same people that would run away at the use of the term. In my experience (which I recognize is meager, considering present company in this discussion), it is the folks that are out gathering leaves and using a glue gun to paste them onto their tree that would turn tail at the use of that word. Perhaps there are others that would be more welcoming for them and invite them in at the beginning. However, the reality is that this is dang hard work and if they are afraid to research in a "scholarly" way, they will likely never reach the heights being addressed with that term in this post. It is a reality check moment for them perhaps to think of their work in that light, but this is not a work for the faint of heart. :)