The Future of Professional Genealogy

31 August 2014

In yesterday’s blog, I promised to feedback on the Symposium at the end of WDYTYA discussing The Future of Professional Genealogy. I was invited to attend by Dr Bruce Durie of the University of Strathclyde, along with other professional genealogists, interested people and organisations, to discuss the potential need for a framework for genealogical education, licencing and/or regulation.

Chaired by Phil Astley, an Aberdeen City Archivist, an introduction to the symposium was provided by a rather horse (I know it’s supposed to be hoarse!) Bruce, with regard to Pros, Cons and Contingencies of Regulation and Registration. He raised a few interesting points including the fact that we do not have a unified professional body, contrary to most professions. In fact, we are also one of just a handful of occupations which you can perform without having to prove that you are capable of doing it! (I was reliably informed by a business colleague recently that estate agents are the same but let’s not link ourselves with them….)

The next speaker was the Director of Professional Services for CILIP, Simon Edwards. It took me a while to work out what CILIP was and how what he was talking about was relevant to the symposium but he explained how the Chartered Institute of Library and Information Professionals works and the difference between charitable and chartered status and the cost of each. I am guessing this is considered a possible route for the future of professional genealogy?

Rosemary Morgan and Carol Baxter followed with their whirlwind tour of existing certification and qualification schemes, from AGRA, ASGRA, Strathclyde, Dundee and IHGS to BCG, APG and others. A tall order in just 20 minutes and I was grateful to find out that the recording of the meeting will be made available (in due course) on the University of Strathclyde website as there is no chance I could write down all the pros and cons of each body, scheme, university, course etc. Like other attendees though, I was surprised to find out that there are only 15 members of ASGRA and 100 of AGRA…. one wonders why? Do individuals not want to be members of these organisations? Or do they not make the grade?

I was rather amused during the meeting to find out that the word symposium actually means ‘a drinking party or convivial discussion‘ alongside being the term used for ‘a conference or meeting to discuss a particular subject’. Although no alcohol was provided or consumed, a convivial discussion followed the presentations, ably moderated by Dr Ian Macdonald with the microphone support of Tahitia McCabe (Knowledge Exchange Fellow, Genealogical, Palaeographic and Heraldic Studies). Many people expressed their views about the need for education and/or some kind of formal accreditation in order to be pronounced as a professional genealogist and some attendees quite clearly felt that without an ‘education’ in genealogy (from one of the various bodies), people should not be allowed to call themselves professional. Others – including myself – were strongly opposed and voiced the need for regulation and standards in our profession but not accreditation. I would recommend viewing the recording when it becomes available.

Although at times the discussion went a little ‘off track’ to include people’s careers prior to genealogy and genealogical researchers desire for a logo on their website, the debate continued even after the Chair’s summary and the close of the symposium. I am sure that conversations will rattle on in private/public and on social networking channels in weeks and months to come. A survey is being carried out to ‘determine the way forward. It is a private exercise and not produced by any educational, professional or commercial body … .The overall summary of results may be shared and published but individuals will not be identified.’

Interesting times ahead.

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