Wednesday, November 2, 2011

What does the word “professional” mean in genealogy?



Jacobus, in writing his “Preface” to the first issue under the title The American Genealogist, noted that the the editorial staff of the journal consisted of both amateur and professional genealogists.[1] In so doing, he drew a line between those who do genealogy for gain and those who do not. He also set them into one group of equal colleagues.

If any term can be seen to create furor on a genealogy email list, it would be the word “professional.”[5] Mail-list readers bring to the discussion their own understandings. Underwriting much of the discussion is the concern: is it elitist? Does it exclude genealogists who simply don’t work for others?

The dictionary definition of this word is only part of the problem. Does it apply only to those who earn money by doing genealogy? or does it apply to all those who are scholarly in their pursuit? The extent to which conduct and skills as well as financial gain are involved in the definition varies.


“Professionalism” Definition: Subtopic
Present in Wikipedia[2]
Present in Webster’s[3]
Present in Dictionary.com[4]
Expert knowledge
X


Expert skill set
X

X
High-quality work
X


High standard of ethics; character
X

X
Relationships with colleagues
X

X
Work morale and motivation; conduct
X
X
X
Participating for gain
X
X
X


Being or becoming professional in genealogy is a hot topic these days. The Association of Professional Genealogists has a Professional Development Committee.[6] In addition, an email list-serve independent of APG has developed called the Transitional Genealogists Forum. TGF is for those who are at any point in the process of becoming professional.[7] The ProGen Study Groups have developed, also independently of APG, to offer an eighteen-month program of study on the topic.[8] Whatever it is that sets a professional aside from an experienced or an amateur or a hobbyist in genealogy is clearly a hot topic.

A professional in medicine or law has special training and licensing. One of the reasons it is hard to discuss the definition of professional within genealogy is the fact that one does not have to be specially educated or licensed to participate or to love participating. Genealogy encompasses researchers with a wide variety of backgrounds as well as a wide variety of goals. Thus, it becomes important to be able to discuss professionalism while at the same time maintaining respect for the goals and capabilities of beginners or hobbyists.

Few other fields have this compass. Golf does as do other sports, but comparing what many of us see as a scholarly pursuit to a sport is a difficult jump to make. 

This is an area in which we as genealogists need to continue to learn, dialog, and think. What do you think?

[1] Donald Lines Jacobus, “Preface,” The American Genealogist 9 (1932-1933): xiv; www.americanancestors.org : viewed 1 Nov 2011. Note that one achieves the page of roman numeral xiv by searching for page 1, then clicking for the “previous” page twice.
[2] “Professionalism,” Wikipedia, 2011; http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Professional : viewed 2 Nov 2011.
[3] “Professionalism,” Merriam-Webster Online Dictionary, 2011; http://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/professionalism : viewed 2 Nov 2011.
[4] “Professionalism” and “professional,” Dictionary.com; http://dictionary.reference.com/browse/professional : viewed 2 Nov 2011. The last definition the site :gives for “professional” is: “following as a business an occupation ordinarily engaged in as a pastime: a professional golfer.”
[5] See http://mailman.modwest.com/pipermail/apgpubliclist/2011-July/thread.html for the stress the word professionalism put into one email thread on the now-defunct APG Public List. See http://ca.groups.yahoo.com/group/theorygen/message/914 for the beginning of a message thread addressing professionalism on the public Yahoo group Theorygen. You may have to log in to Yahoo groups, but you don’t have to log in to Theorygen.
[8] See descriptive information at http://www.progenstudy.org/index.html .

6 comments:

  1. I aspire to achieve the skills of a professional genealogist. I do not aspire to become someone who does work for others. This is not because I disdain work for others, but because at my age it would not be a reasonable aspiration and also because I am not sure that working for others would fit my personality.

    But the ability to search and analyze as certified professionals do is an ability many people working only on their own families can aspire to. To this end, I have become a member of APG. I also belong to several other genealogy societies; I take advantage of many learning opportunities.

    I have not met a professional genealogist who has looked at my efforts to learn with scorn. Most of them have approved of my efforts and have been helpful as I try to meet my goals.

    Setting goals and setting standards and trying to meet and to maintain them can only help genealogy in general.

    I meet others who do not aspire to these goals. I do not scorn them; but I acknowledge to myself that we have different goals.

    Trying to be better is not elitism. When and if we scorn those who do not try, we become elite. On the other hand, if a person shows me a pedigree chart without sources I will be polite. I will not add it to my public research. (I may use it as clues to careful research on my own.)

    Also, anyone can offer to help me for a certain amount of money. If I understand the skills and ethics of certification, I will better be able to hire someone who has the same goals I aspire do. We do that with mechanics and house painters, as well as with doctors and lawyers; shouldn't we also have standards with those we hire to help us with genealogy?

    Sue

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  2. I know some people get all twisted in knots about the term, but I regard it as simply someone who makes a living from genealogy. On the other hand, there are plenty of amateur genealogists doing professional-level work, which I aspire to myself.

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  3. @Sue Great thoughtful comments. Meeting standards creates value in our own work product as well as a measure for the work of or for others.

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  4. I have always wondered that in order to become a member of the Association of Professional Genealogists (APG) one need only pay the dues. This is not so with say the ABA or AMA. Yet, the APG had the trappings of an ABA/AMA organization and the BCG does not. Yet the BCG is the de facto licensee if there is one.

    I still think that for definition purposes, a professional genealogist takes on private clients and charges them. That is she makes a living from genealogy. I consider myself a high end amateur and/or a scholarly genealogist based on my publications.

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  5. As the post very systematically points out, "professional" is a systematically ambiguous word, meaning both "for hire" and "expert," which of course are not always the same thing! I agree with the other commenters. I have never been able to figure out why anyone would join APG and not want it to become a more professional organization.

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  6. You all have led me to define some terminology so that we can get on (or nearly on) the same page comfortably. There is a new blog posting on its way, scheduled for Tuesday, that I hope will aid us in this discussion. I'm looking forward to hearing your feedback on it.

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