Professional, Amateur or Qualified?

16 March 2016

Over the last few weeks, there has suddenly been much discussion on personal and company blogs, Facebook and Twitter regarding membership of certain organisations in genealogy. I am not quite sure what has caused the plethora of postings but it may, in part, be due to two specific newsworthy items: (i) the launch of the ‘Register of Qualified Genealogists‘ and (ii) a rather high-profile High Court defamation battle which was reported in The Telegraph, the Daily Mail and undoubtedly via numerous other sources.

Personally, I am a member of APG – the Association of Professional Genealogists – “an international organization dedicated to supporting those engaged in the business of genealogy through advocacy, collaboration, education, and the promotion of high ethical standards” (quoted from their website). As an individual (not as Family Wise Limited), I joined APG in 2015 and, prior to this, I was not a member of any of the associations purporting to be THE association of whatever-or-another. Some researchers at FWL are also members of APG, some of AGRA and some of ASGRA…. so many acronyms….

AGRA (Association of Genealogists & Researchers in Archives) state on their website that their organisation promotes “high professional standards in the field of genealogy and historical research in England and Wales”. There are two levels of membership: Member and Associate. In order to join AGRA, there are rigorous requirements which must be met and, should you fall short of the necessary standards, your membership will not be approved. This differs from APG as they do not vet their members (when they join) in any way. ASGRA (The Association of Scottish Genealogists and Researchers in Archives) work on a similar basis – applications must be submitted with “samples of work demonstrating a good knowledge of sources, as well as an ability to interpret findings and present material in a logical, readable and professional format”. With four levels of membership – probationer, full member, associate and affiliate – they welcome “applications from professional researchers living in the UK and practising in Scotland”.

Some people choose to be members of professional bodies whilst others steer well clear. I was intrigued to read a post entitled ‘Cracking down on the Fakers‘ earlier this week which, whilst claiming to “examine why the APG recently stopped firms using its logo in a potentially misleading way” actually uses the very next paragraph of the post to belittle AGRA, referring to them as the “amateur genealogist’s friend”. I understand the main driver behind the post – that APG has stopped firms using their logo when only certain members of staff are actually APG members – but the reference to other professional bodies was (in my opinion) unnecessary in the given context.

Add to the mix the rather bizarre addition to the field – the ‘Register of Qualified Genealogists‘. This seems to have arisen after an initial (at times, rather heated) symposium during the Glasgow edition of Who Do You Think You Are? Live in 2014. Only those “genealogists who hold a recognised qualification in the field of genealogy and associated practices” are eligible to be members. Well, that eliminates me and several members of the FWL team….! There are only three institutions worldwide which currently provide courses assessed to be “to the standard for recognition“. Who decides this stuff? What about other courses such as the PLCGS (Professional Learning Certificate in Genealogical Studies) from The National Institute for Genealogical Studies? Or Brigham Young University’s BA in Family History – Genealogy? Why are they not ‘recognised’?

There are many hundreds …. nay, thousands …. of highly professional, superb researchers across the globe. Are they all members of one of these groups/associations/organisations? Nope. So, how on earth can any member of the general public decide which researcher/company to use?

Simple. They take a punt and hope that they make a good decision. Given the chance to assess all members of all institutions (and those with no allegiance), there will be horrendous researchers everywhere. Good luck out there folks!

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