Michael Leclerc, on the Mocavo Genealogy Blog, posted "The Death of Expertise" on 5 April 2014 which discussed his view of how the Nichols article applies to the genealogy industry and community.
James Tanner wrote "The Sequestration of Genealogy, Not Its Death" on the Genealogy's Star blog on 5 April 2014. He noted that the peer-reviewed periodicals are difficult to access online, and most of the beginning genealogists he works with will not care.
Drew Smith added "Expertise is Neither Dead nor Sequestered" to the conversation on the Rootsmithing: Genealogy, Methodology and Technology blog on 5 April 2014.
Michael John Neill wrote "The Genealogy Elite and Genealogy Police" on his Rootdig.com blog on 7 April 2014.
Each of these experienced and influential researchers and writers have a lifetime of genealogy expertise, and are considered by many genealogists as informed, engaged and really smart people (including myself, having met and discussed genealogy affairs with each of them).
If this topic interests you, I encourage my readers to carefully read each post above and make appropriate comments on the posts if the spirit moves you (but please come back here and read my commentary too).
How did we get into this perceived "mess?" Or is it a "mess" at all? My own views are sort of an amalgam of those expressed by my genea-blogging colleagues, plus more, including some history, and opinions, according to Randy:
1) There is little "formal genealogical education" for most researchers (I know, there are several degree programs, several certification programs, educational course, conference, seminars, webinars, YouTubes, etc.), so most researchers start out without much formal methodology training, as a hobby or avocation. That's just the way it is, and genealogy expertise is not developed similar to many other disciplines where expertise is recognized after achieving a bachelor, master and doctoral degree, and publishing extensively, in the chosen field.
2) In the "old days" (pre-1985?) beginning researchers went to the local library, checked out a genealogy reference book, and tried to follow the step-by-step guidelines. Eventually, they discovered other repositories (e.g., genealogy libraries, state and national archives, courthouses) and found more books, periodicals, microfilms, manuscripts and unpublished papers. They photo-copied material that pertained to their family lines, and tried to piece the information together on pedigree charts and family group sheets. This process took a long time since it required traveling, reading at the repository, paying for the copies, etc. In this era, the "expertise" was with the book/periodical authors/editors, and with the repository/archive curators.
3) Then along came the Internet and genealogy software programs in the 1980s and 1990s. Some researchers adapted to the software programs, and eventually to online family trees, and worked to add name/event date/event place information to their database program, linking persons to parents, adding source citations, adding media items, etc. The programs evolved also, from very simple database programs to the modern, very sophisticated, programs that can do everything for you, including crafting source citations and providing research guidance and suggested records.
4) Another major change occurred in the 1990s, when the Board for Certification of Genealogists developed the Genealogical Proof Standard, wrote the BCG Standards Manual, and provided excellent examples of working to the standard in the peer-reviewed journals and in published books. Some in the genealogical community adapted to this standard, but many did not, and some may consider credentialed genealogists as "elite."
5) Through the years, only some of the genealogists have joined local, regional or national genealogical societies where they found like-minded researchers, were exposed to genealogical speakers and seminars, and perhaps regional or national conferences, where they learned more about honing the genealogy craft, applying that knowledge to their research, and enjoyed the social interaction with their society colleagues.
6) Along the way, only some of those beginning genealogy researchers dedicated themselves to learning as much as they could about their addictive avocation and/or profession. The rest put it aside, and might occasionally come back to it after years or even decades. As we can tell, the genealogy landscape has changed considerably over the past 30 years!
7) Then along came beginning genealogy researchers who did not have access to or experience with libraries and archives, and wanted to do all of their work online because surely everything they need to know and find is online. Not exactly! Here's the California Genealogical Society and Library "iceberg chart," which is still as true as ever (and probably always will be!):
Some of these beginners learned about keeping a research log, doing a reasonably exhaustive search, citing their sources, etc. Some joined genealogical societies, or took education classes, or watched online webinars and videos to improve their knowledge base and help advance their research.
8) Some "searchers" are "name-collectors" who want to add names and not much else to their tree, unless it's really easy to do. It's a game, or contest, for some. There are millions of Ancestry Member Trees with just names, some dates, some places, no sources (except for the Ancestry.com source citations that accrue when a record is attached after clicking a green leaf Hint - those are good things!). There are other online tree systems that try to help the searcher find records (e.g., MyHeritage Record Matches), and some online systems rely on user notes and sources (e.g., WikiTree).
9) Genealogy research is a very broad field, with many specialties, and everybody in the community needs to learn as much as they can over time. I've read that it takes over 10,000 hours of study and effort to become an "expert" in any field, whether plumbing, teaching, engineering, or genealogy. I was able to devote perhaps 500 hours a year before I retired from my engineering job in 2002, and now devote over 2,000 hours each year to my genealogy study and application, and still feel like a beginner in many ways. I am not certified or accredited, and I don't consider myself as an "elite" researcher, and I greatly respect and try to emulate those that are certified and accredited. I learn a lot from the articles in NGSQ, NEHGR, TG, TAG, and other peer-reviewed genealogical journals, and I think every serious researcher should be reading them on a regular basis (either online or in a library).
10) The most basic thing I've learned over the past 26 years is that "I don't know what I don't know," and that "genealogy research is a continuing education endeavor." It never stops. Part of that is learning to adapt to, and to use, technological advances. For example, I've tried to adapt over the past 30 years from typewriters to word processors to computers to laptops to tablets to smart phones to voice-activated devices (and eventually to thought implants and teleportation). Part of it is reading genealogical literature - published books, peer-reviewed periodicals, society magazines and newsletters, free and commercial websites, blogs and online articles, etc. Part of it is staying up-to-date with new record collections and new search techniques. Part of it is knowing what is not available online, and knowing how to find those resources offline, and making the effort to find those offline resources.
11) Online family trees with unsourced or poorly sourced information may be commonplace, but they can be extremely useful for finding leads to family structures and to records. The key is to sort out the wheat from the chaff. Those that have sourced records, especially those that lead to an original source (e.g., probate, land, tax, vital, Bible, etc.) or a reliable authored work (e.g., NEHGR article, family history that cites sources, etc.) can be very helpful. The contributor who puts up an unsourced tree may have gems hiding in the midst of all of the persons with no supporting documents - because it's their family and they don't understand the genealogical craft yet (or perhaps they don't want to!). If there's an event date and a place, then that's a lead that may be found in records of some sort that can be found.
12) I refuse to bash or denigrate those who are not at the so-called "elite" level, because there, but for the grace of God, was I 25 years ago. My view is that, with very few exceptions, every researcher wants to do the best job that they can on their family tree, but some have not figured out the educational opportunities, or don't have the technological skill to find them online. As always, the key is education and work experience. The genealogy industry has done a great job on providing educational opportunities, but we can't make people learn until they realize that they need it.
13) My conclusion is that, if there is an "elite" group, then they follow the BCG Standards, and the Association of Professional Genealogists standards, and adhere to those standards in their research, writing and client services. There are also many researchers trying to learn more through conferences, seminars, institutes, online courses, webinars, study groups, etc. so that they can gain more expertise and perhaps become professionals.
14) My experience with the genealogists with credentials is similar to Michael's - that they are helpful, encouraging, patient, and very willing to share their expertise and knowledge with those wanting to learn. There is little back-biting or criticism, unless someone does or writes something unseemly or egregious. I haven't seen any "genealogy police" either.
15) This is way too long, my apologies for the stream-of-consciousness paragraphs - I hope that they will be useful. If nothing else, they can always be a bad example of "have blog, will write my thoughts..." I'm going for a walk after spending two hours trying to write this. Did anybody read this to the end?
The URL for this post is: http://www.geneamusings.com/2014/04/musings-on-genealogy-expertise-elites.html
Copyright (c) 2014, Randall J. Seaver
UPDATED 9 April: Tammy Hepps posted "In Defense of Genealogy as a Hobby" on the Treelines blog, on 8 April 2014. Please read the dialog between Tammy and the commenters too.