Professional Genealogists: Qualities, Skills and Knowledge

Kenflower.JPG
Dr. Phil on TV tells us that spousal abuse is one of those drop dead deal breakers in a marriage. He tells the abused spouse to get out of the situation immediately.

Are there drop dead deal breakers in preparing professional genealogists? Or preparing genealogists to behave like professionals?

I was thinking about this and reflecting on a couple of recent events. First, there was the a client from my past looking for a professional genealogist to research her Indiana/Tennesee/Kentucky based Jackson Ancestors. Second there was couple of former student who were struggling with serious problems understanding the genealogical proof standard and its application to writing a basic proof argument or proof summary. Heavan knows these are not simple ideas to wrap your brain around and then do! But they are learnable.

I'll give my client some suggestions for a researcher, and some guidelines. However I personally think any professional who I hire to do anything other than a very simple lookup will need to show me evidence of the following either by work sample or by external assessment in an accredtation program like ICapGen, or certification process like the Board for Certification of Genealogists:

  • An understanding of the nature of sources, information and evidence sufficient to comment intelligently on any source they encounter in English.
  • An understanding of the Genealogical Proof Standard and compliance with it in solving research problems.
  • Skill in transcribing and abstracting historic documents
  • Skill in analysing research problems
  • Skill in writing client reports revealing all searches, successful or otherwise
  • Skill in writing proof arguments or proof summaries.

These are deal breakers for me: if these skills and knowledge are missing– yo are not going to last on my project. But above all these, two characteristics of the best professionals are these:

Humility: The researcher who is humble is teachable. Being humble, my friend Paul Hyde taught me 35 years ago, is not thinking little of oneself, but rather not thinking of oneself at all. So the greater the humility, the greater the desire to satisfy the client, and the greater the ability to learn from experience.

Integrity: The characteristic of integrity in a researcher is manifest in the consistancy of application of the values and standards of our profession, and the honesty in dealing with the men and women in the world they work in: clents,of course but also archivists, librarians, courthouse and vital record repository staff.

With these character traits in place, a professional or a hobby genealogist can learn the other knowledge and skills

Are we there yet? No, not quite but lets press on toward that goal. Lets counsel with students who are underperforming. Lets raise our expectations and set the bar higher for ourselves and those we teach. We know better. We can do better.

When I need help and the professional steps up to offer his services, if these are not met, its a deal breaker. I'll take my business elsewhere.

Am I getting too preachy ?

Advertisements

2 responses to “Professional Genealogists: Qualities, Skills and Knowledge

  1. Ken:

    Very interesting observations. So write each day on the following:

    * An understanding of the nature of sources, information and evidence sufficient to comment intelligently on any source they encounter in English.
    * An understanding of the Genealogical Proof Standard and compliance with it in solving research problems.
    * Skill in transcribing and abstracting historic documents
    * Skill in analysing research problems
    * Skill in writing client reports revealing all searches, successful or otherwise
    * Skill in writing proof arguments or proof summaries.

    and make each of the above the topic for the day. Give examples. I’m sure there are many ‘newbies’ and perhaps ‘oldies’ out there who could use a refresher course.

    djc

  2. Ken,

    You’ve defined your qualifications for hiring a professional genealogist extremely well. And the cream of the genealogy crop can meet your criteria.

    But who you hire depends on what you want them to do. You don’t need Elizabeth Shown Mills to go get a probate file at a distant local courthouse, or a death certificate down at the distant town clerk’s office. You need someone like me – enthusiastic, knowledgable, efficient (ahem…that’s probably a straw man!), but not ESM.

    You probably need someone like ESM to solve a seemingly impossible problem where there are records that you can’t get your arms around due to distance, language, local customs or history, or problem complexity – and that’s when you hire someone that meets your criteria.

    I think that there are very few people in any locale who meet your criteria (well, except for perhaps SLC). Yes, there are professionals in a locale, but only a select few will satisfy your criteria. Frankly, I don’t know if any of my local colleagues could meet your criteria. The people who meet your criteria are probably the ones who submit regularly to NGSQ, NEHGR, TAG, TG, etc, and edit those journals.

    The goal for each of us who aspire to become professional or improve our capabilities is to meet your criteria. Our colleagues or students are at different competency levels and only constant work at skillbuilding will get them to the next level. Some will never get to the top, but they have value to me as an individual or to a society as a speaker, organizer or officer. Some will try and fail, and need to be encouraged to try again and reach for the next level. A very few will achieve the pinnacle – be accredited and work as a professional in genealogy.

    Just my 0.02 — Randy

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s