Tuesday, January 8, 2008

Definition of a ________ Genealogist

There has been a fascinating discussion on the Association of Professional Genealogists (APG) mailing list trying to define the different types of genealogists. Dee Dee King's first post was here and the discussion has raged over several days and nearly 100 posts as the APG list members (which includes many professionals, speakers, writers, and researchers) struggle to define, and then wordsmith, what and who they are.

Carolyn Earle Billingsley grabbed the ball early on and created the first "boilerplate" list of genealogist definitions. The definitions have coalesced and Carolyn's most recent post is here (dated 7 January) with the latest updated definitions. This has been an excellent exercise in consensus decision making that has included over 20 people. The discussion has been civil, rational, enlightening and at times humorous.

The latest definitions include:

** A genealogist is one who studies the past and present of individual families and the kinship links among those families. Practitioners of genealogy may focus entirely on their own family, or they may pursue genealogy as either a profession or a scholarly field.

** A professional genealogist is one who earns part or all of their livelihood from the practice of some aspect of genealogy.

** A board-certified genealogist is one who has earned the credential Certified Genealogist (CG) from the Board for Certification of Genealogists www.bcgcertification.org through a rigorous examination that includes peer review of his or her written work. The credential designates the practitioner as someone who has met the rigorous standards of that field for knowledge and competence in core knowledge of source materials, record interpretation, research methodology, evidence analysis,and genealogical writing. (see also Certified Genealogist)

** A forensic genealogist is one qualified through a combination of education, training and work experience to be employed or retained by attorneys, law offices, estates, courts, corporations, governmental agencies or other entities to perform genealogical work in legal issues as an independent third-party researcher, analyst, reporter and witness.

** A genetic genealogist is someone who uses DNA analysis and genealogical research to enhance knowledge about kinship ties.

There are several other definitions still in work.

There has been extensive discussion about "amateur" vs. "professional," about what "forensic genealogists" do, and about "genetic genealogists" do.

Why does it matter? The fact is that those in the profession of genealogy research need to act like and be treated like professionals in other disciplines - they need to be educated, be unbiased, be thorough, be honest and truthful, and be respected. Some professions are licensed to practice after extensive education, training, experience and examination - doctors, nurses, lawyers, etc. Other professions require levels of education, training and experience and are treated as experts in their field - professors, teachers, engineers, software, plumbers, etc. without being examined or licensed. Genealogists need standards to be treated as professionals in their discipline.

I want to thank the APG list members for this discussion and their efforts to further the genealogy profession and avocation.

What am I? I am a genealogist - it's the only one that fits my perception of my skills and status. I also consider myself a family historian, but that seems to be included within the genealogist definition. I am not a professional genealogist because I don't derive any of my income from my genealogy work, although I have been paid a bit for my work by societies, friends and colleagues to cover expenses. I have considered pursuing certification by the Board for Certification of Genealogists, but haven't started the application process. I have also considered joining the Association of Professional Genealogists (APG), but haven't done that either. Anyone can join APG as long as they will sign the Code of Ethics and pay the membership fee ($65 per year for USA residents).

Do you agree with these definitions? If not, I urge you to join in the discussion on the APG list.

UPDATED 12 January, 8 AM: Carolyn Earle Billingsley has updated the list of definitions - you can see the latest update (dated 10 January) here.


Carolyn Earle Billingsley, Ph.D. said...

Hi Randy: Glad to see your post about APG-List's definition discussion. I updated the definitions last night so you might want to check back.

Strangely enough, there is no particular definition that fits ME exactly, although I fit several categories: genealogist, genealogical lecturer and instructor.

But what do you call a genealogist who became a historian, with a PhD, and then writes a book trying to bring theory to genealogy and genealogical methods to historians? /big grin/. I'll have to think up a new category, I reckon.

My personal web site is www.cebillingsley.net, if you want to check me out. There's also a link to my blog, which has a lot of information about Indians, blacks, and mixed race groups, as well as kinship, and a mixed bag of other stuff.

By the way, join APG. It's worth the money for the contacts, the quarterly, and the members' only site, as well as some discounts on books from time to time. You don't have to be a professional to join, as you know. And joining the list is the same; no need to be a member of APG.

Keep up the great blog! Regards, Carolyn Earle Billingsley

Anonymous said...

I don't agree full heartedly with the definition of a forensic genealogist. I side more with the definition found on the Internet posted by Dr. Colleen Fitzpatrick involving heavy analysis of photographs, documents, and the like. I don't feel like the definition should be so tightly bound to "heir hunting."