During the course of 2014, this was a ‘hot topic’ in genealogy. As well as many informal discussions, written articles and blogs, there was also a symposium at WDYTYA? Live entitled ‘The Future of Professional Genealogy’ organised by The University of Strathclyde where amateur and professional genealogists could share their views. I have aired my views on this topic on a few occasions – though I rarely do on other topics on this blog – and today, the issue popped up again.
Without going into the ‘how’ and the ‘why’ of my new discoveries, I found myself looking at the websites of a few other genealogy and probate researchers this weekend …. New ‘companies’ keep popping up all the time. Some look highly reputable and others highly dubious. Would you want someone administering your ancestor’s estate who isn’t registered with Companies House? Would you appoint someone to act on your behalf who can’t write good English on their website? Would you sign a contract with a company who only have a mobile telephone contact number?
Back in 2011, an excellent blog was written by Michael Hait entitled ‘What is a professional genealogist?‘. Within the blog, he highlights two other posts which inspired him to take to his keyboard. The first was an absolutely splendid post by Greta Koehl, ‘Why I Want to Remain an Amateur‘ in which she describes how she loves genealogy research and wants to develop her research skills and abilities as much as possible. However, she went on to say that she had no desire to be paid for her genealogical activities. Whilst this is very laudable, there are many people trying to make a living from this business and those offering services for nothing only exacerbate the problems we have.
The other post which Michael mentioned was ‘APG at a Crossroads‘, written by Mary E. Petty at the Heirlines blog. Mary, with her husband James W. Petty run the HEIRLINES Family History & Genealogy professional genealogical research firm, based in Salt Lake City, Utah. The post was originally written in 2006 but it has been aired a fair few times over the last nine years. Mary’s post begins:
“I think the Association of Professional Genealogists (APG) is at a crossroads – they have to decide what master they serve. Either the hobbyist: the self designated part-timer, and/or full timer; or the career practitioner: the professionally designated genealogist, qualified by the “professional’s only” track (professional genealogy education, training, experience, credentials, membership, continuing education, standardized business best practices with licensing and ethics) to serve the public as a professional genealogist?’
I agree with Michael Hait’s comments regarding Mary Petty’s post and indeed, various comments made by readers of his blog. Mary asserts that the Association of Professional Genealogists exists only to serve these ‘qualified’ (by her definition) practitioners. What a load of claptrap!
There are plenty of self-titled professional genealogists in the United Kingdom. Some are members of AGRA, some of APG and some (of the better ones) who do not have a membership of either association. Does APG need to ‘decide which master they serve’? Or can they serve both masters? Do we – the ‘professionals’ – need to be a member of some ‘body’ or another to be referred to as ‘professionals’? Do we need to be ‘certified genealogists‘? And what on earth is a ‘qualified genealogist‘? (a term I have seen banded about by some researchers recently…. who made that one up?!)
Seriously folks, we need some kind of ethical standards, good practice etc. and some of the people out there who give this business a bad name need to be kicked into touch, but who am I to say who those people are? The tough thing is, how do our clients choose? How do they know if they are getting a good service (or not)? Right now, they have no way of knowing…. CheckATrade? Maybe CheckAProfessional should include us ….?