Monday, November 9, 2009

Square Pegs into Round Holes

The Ancestry Insider produced a thought-provoking post last week titled The Genealogy Maturity Model (GMM) in which he assigned attributes to generic levels (Entry, Emerging, Practicing, Proficient and Stellar) for genealogists in the categories of:

* Sources and Citations

* Information and Evidence

* Conclusions and Conclusion Trees

The five generic levels to describe genealogy researchers in the GMM are:

* Entry -- Newly interested in genealogy

* Emerging -- Emerging knowledge of how to do genealogy

* Practicing -- Usually produces verifiable genealogy conclusions

* Proficient -- Produces verifiably correct genealogies

* Stellar -- Produces well-regarded genealogies

Please read all of The Ancestry Insider's post for the full discussion, and read the comments from knowledgeable people, who mostly disagreed with some or all of the effort to define the levels and attributes.

I was reminded of the recent APG Professional Management Conference presentation (which I did not attend at the FGS Conference - I have only the syllabus) by Natasha Crain titled "Who Pays for Research? Segmenting the Genealogy Consumer Base." Natasha segmented the paying customers, with a primary research interest of genealogy, into the categories of:

* Dabblers -- has limited curiosity, checks out online family trees, falls away.

* Casual Seekers -- has more curiosity, uses entry-level tools and methods, returns occasionally

* Affluently Curious -- Casual Seekers with wealth, want other researchers to do the work for them

* Targeted Seekers -- has objective to solve a family mystery, usually not interested in broad family history

* Avid Hobbyists -- has historical interest, loves the search process, regularly spends time doing research, belongs to groups

* Professional Genealogists -- Generates income from research work, writing or speaking.

Are these categories - both from The Ancestry Insider's and Natasha's lists -- attempts to put square pegs into round holes? Is it really possible to categorize any specific researcher accurately? And if it is possible, do we have the right levels and attributes for those levels?

It seems to me that there are these levels of genealogy researchers (I wrote about this three years ago in the post If Genealogy Interest is so high, why are the number so low?):

* Dabblers -- have some interest in "I wonder who my grandfather was?"

* Casual researchers -- tries to find out who their grandfather was, and earlier generations too, by looking for information in books or online databases

* Part-time researchers -- tries to learn more about how to do research, and then applys the knowledge in online and repository resources occasionally

* Active researchers -- does genealogy research on a regular basis in online and repository resources

* Networkers -- joins societies and groups to network with other researchers, learn more, and share experiences

* Teachers and speakers -- develops teaching and presenting skills

* Actively engaged -- are full-time researchers, take clients, have credentials, writers, editors, leaders.

Nearly every person I know in genealogy circles is at one level or another of this experience and capability ladder. Obviously, the earlier levels feed persons into the later levels.

I'm not sure how much I've added to the discussion started by The Ancestry Insider, but I wanted to get these thoughts on the table.

Your thoughts or ideas?


Ron Ferguson said...

With the caveat that I have yet to see a reasonable explanation as to why one may wish to categorise genealogists, your post is an interesting follow up to that of Ancestry Insider.

In the two system you quote I would identify myself as an Avid Hobbyist or Networker. To do so was easy from the descriptions given, unlike the GMM model where I would have had to make an assessment based on my compliance with certain so called "standards" with which I might not agree in the first place - as I detailed in my response to Ancestry Insider.

Recently I have noticed a number of sites who have asked for an indication of one's competence when registering, and I assumed that they do this as an aid to the marketing of the site/product. I can see that some form of standard classification would be to their advantage, and, of, course, for the registration of professional genealogists, but what other reasons may there be?

Ron Ferguson

Tamura Jones said...


You have definitely contributed by pointing out that the idea that there is more than one type of genealogist, and that some broad categorisation seems possible is not new. The "Ancestry Insider" did not acknowledge that and none of the comments so far pointed that out.

Your post just reminded me of a few expressions used to describe some genealogists, such as "family tree climber", "name collector" and "tree copier".
I did as quick google, and found this 2004 article by Bill Mumford, Are You a Family Tree Climber,
which repeats the categories that Elizabeth Shown Mills used in an December 2003 article in the NGS Quarterly: Traditionalist, Generational Historian and Family Tree Climber.

Such informal categorisations are useful as a way to discuss and understand genealogy.
Additionally, formal accreditation and certification does have its place in business.

I seriously doubt the desirability of trying to formally label every individual researcher as "level 1", "level 2" or "level 3".
Such labelling does not make the world of genealogy a more welcoming place.

- Tamura

mhollick said...

Square peg that I have always been, I don't seem to fit into your first group, if you define professional as those who generate income or take clients. I don't do either. In fact, I've always treated genealogy as a money-losing proposition. One doesn't get paid for journal articles although the research involved is costly. It's about the thrill.

I guess I would be actively engaged, except for the money thing again.

Of course, that leaves the problem of being good at one aspect as opposed to another. You can be an expert in say colonial New England genealogy and be a complete novice in African-American genealogy.

Geolover said...

I completely agree with Ron Ferguson's first paragraph.

AI's purpose was, he said, to posit some categories to assist developers of genealogical products.

An underlying assumption was a desire to enhance skills and results of genealogical researchers - deliberately excluding from consideration those exclusively interested in adding names to trees.

Genealogical educators could benefit from some thinking about audience along these lines.

In a way this highlights the difference between LDS' approach and that of most others involved in marketing genealogical products (leaving aside journals, many societies and some professional organizations): the aim of genealogical accuracy.

Janet Hovorka said...

It looks like the difference between your categories and that of AI is that you are talking about WHY or maybe HOW MUCH TIME the genealogist is involved and AI is talking about HOW WELL they do it. I believe AI's focus is largely on sources and how they use them. I know alot of "Active Researchers" who are unfortunately still "entry level" (like Mike said--one year of experience twenty times over-- such as the lady I know who is still determined to prove she is a descendant of Pocahontas). Perhaps a combination of the two would be useful. Something about why they are doing it, and then about how motivated they are to push beyond AI's first two levels and learn to do it right. (And BTW, this discussion is very useful for developers of genealogy products. But you are probably right Tamura, it probably does make genealogy a less welcoming place. I hope it isn't ever used to formally categorize anyone.)

Elizabeth Shown Mills said...

Good points have been made by both the original authors and the commentators at this and the AI blogs. My comments will jump off the springboard of mhollick’s insight, particularly his statement:

>Of course, that leaves the problem of being good at one aspect as opposed to another. You can be an expert in say colonial New England genealogy and be a complete novice in African-American genealogy.

Martin has pegged the one fundamental problem with any effort to categorize genealogists, my own 2003 efforts included.

Expertise or skill, IMO, represents a rather-indefinable balance between (a) one's knowledge of three separate things: sources, methodology, and theory; and (b) one's experience in applying all three types of knowledge. As Martin points out, one can be truly an expert in one subject area and unlearned in another.

However, AI's use of the word "maturity" connotes something different to me. To my mind, "maturity" is an attitude and attitude does, in most cases, ultimately determine success at any endeavor.

When I evaluate AI's Genealogical Maturity Model from a subject-area standpoint, I totally agree with Randy's and Martin's feeling that we're forcing square pegs into round holes. However, if I view the maturity model as an analysis of the mindset of genealogists, I don't think I've seen a better analysis of what leads to reliable work in our field.

Using AI's maturity model as a description of attitudinal milestones leading to quality also answers a spot-on issue Ron raised: why would one even want to categorize genealogists? I suspect all of us would agree that doing so merely to separate, stigmatize, or favor certain individuals would be counterproductive. However, doing so to understand the practice or discipline of genealogy can help all of us in our common goal of producing meaningful and reliable results.

Many serious genealogists, whether they are in a cousin-to-cousin sharing relationship or a mentor-protégée relationship, do try to help others improve the quality of genealogical conclusions. Toward that end, IMO, the GMM provides a valuable set of rubrics that will undoubtedly benefit from future refinements by both AI and his readers.

Karen Packard Rhodes said...

I don't see AI's efforts at adapting the GMM from computer programming to genealogy so much as an attempt to "categorize" genealogists as it is a means of starting a discussion of the way in which genealogists (or whatever you want to call anyone at any particular stage, by whatever definition) may perform a self-assessment which might help them evaluate where they are and where they want to be, in terms of rigor of practice or in terms of how deeply they want to get drawn into this addictive pursuit!

And we must remember that this is a model adapted from another discipline, a model which probably can't be taken "off the shelf" and made to fit our situations. It has to be massaged. We are doing that massaging right now.

I think the great thing is that the dialogue is occurring, that we are thinking and talking about the broad topic of how do we assess our progress, what measures can we use to measure that progress. Each discipline has to have some sort of measure. This is part of the maturing of genealogy as a discipline, and is, I think, necessary to genealogy entering the arena of academic disciplines. As a mature college student (I went back at age 60), I am excited by the prospect of genealogy taking what I think is its rightful place among the academic disciplines.

Now, not everyone who gets into genealogy has to go there! I'm not saying that. But for those of us who would like to see this, and who can detect in the field the stirrings and the elements of an academic discipline on the rise, this is an exciting time.

Ron Ferguson said...

Whilst I welcome this discussion as being an improvement on so called "standards" being imposed by a self appointed body, I do get a little concerned with statements such as "Each discipline has to have some sort of measure."

This is an assertion which begs the question as to why it should be necessary. Karen does go on to say "[it is] necessary to genealogy entering the arena of academic disciplines", and in that context it may be true. I would emphasise that I have no objection per se to genealogy becoming an academic discipline.

Nevertheless, I do worry about what I would like to call "standards creep", being defined as the way in which a standard applied to one circumstance becomes accepted as the universal standard.

There are many examples of this, but as other correspondents have said, one can be an expert in, say, a particular country's genealogy and its methods of reporting whilst being an absolute ignoramus in another's. Without international co-operation, or at least due consideration of all countries' foibles, we will be exposed to standards creep.

Ron Ferguson