by Christy Fillerup
Call it genealogy, call it family history, I simply call it addicting. I also call it my career goal. I am one of many family history hobbyists working to make their living through genealogy, whether by researching, lecturing, teaching, or writing. Classically, genealogists have been categorized in one of two ways: “Professionals” or “Hobbyists.” Although the definitions of these terms are a topic of hot debate, for the purpose of this article, I define “professional” genealogists as those making some portion of their living from any of the afore-mentioned genealogical activities.
I began my journey to professional genealogy by reading the wonderful posts of the pros on the Association of Professional Genealogist’s Rootsweb mailing list (APG List). These thought-provoking posts were full of obscure record source references and detailed source citation questions—they were terrifying. It was with some trepidation that I posted my first query to the APG List, hoping for the secret to a long and fruitful life as a professional genealogist. What I received was a lot of good advice and the realization that the transition between hobbyist and professional was much bigger than me – there were a lot of us toiling in obscurity.
Most individuals aspiring to make this transition find themselves traveling a lonely and often confusing road. There is hope, however, for genealogists working toward making their hobby into their career. A largely overlooked Rootsweb mailing list, the “Transitional Genealogists Forum,” (TGF List) enjoyed a revival in December 2007, and it has become home to many genealogists striving to make a career from genealogical pursuits. It has grown over the past nine months and is populated by some promising new professional genealogists. The benefits of coalescing into a community have been many and varied. Some benefit from the networking and mentoring relationships. Others enjoy opportunities to refine research skills by participating in one or both of the list serve’s current online study groups. It provides younger genealogists with the chance to ask often admittedly obvious questions of the willing professionals monitoring our little corner of the world. More than anything else, the list provides companionship and road signs for those walking the winding paths of professional genealogy. I would highly recommend the TGF List archives to anyone just now joining the TGF List.
The APG List has periodically debated the need for a formal mentoring process within the professional genealogy arena. This online community has enabled many well-established professional genealogists, including Elizabeth Shown Mills, Elissa Scalise Powell and Mary Douglass, among others, to mentor professional hopefuls on a large scale. In addition many private mentoring relationships have developed as a result of discussion on this list.
Rondina P. Muncy, owner of Ancestral Analysis, is an active participant in the mentoring process. During a recent conversation about the benefits of mentoring, she said, “Normally, the mentor/mentee relationship is one that evolves into a mutually beneficial arrangement. I find that I have strengths that help my mentors and my mentee has strengths that help me. The easiest way to establish this kind of relationship is to be vocal on the APG and TGF lists. You have to put aside your fear of saying something foolish and take the risk of stating your opinions and asking the harder questions. You also have to take the time to answer questions. There will always be someone that knows more about a specific area than
you that you will benefit from and someone that can benefit from the expertise you have gained.”
Networking is a huge part of any successful entrepreneurial endeavor. The TGF List has not only allowed many mentoring relationships to develop, but also many symbiotic relationships between peers. Sheri Fenley said it best on her blog when she wrote, “I have become part of a community of like-minded individuals who are collectively striving for the highest level of truth and accuracy in their research. This community cares about the quality of research that they will be leaving behind for future generations. I have stepped way out of my comfort zone in the area of social networking (you know, making friends and playing nice with others) and have found that it’s not as intimidating as first thought.” She has given me permission to broaden her emphasis from the blogosphere of her original post to the transitional genealogy community at large. Randy Seaver, of Genea-Musings similarly believes that “the TGSG [another name for the NGSQ article study group] and ProGen chats have enabled me to know my group colleagues better.”
The transitional genealogy community has also come together to form two online study groups, both the brain-children of transitional genealogist Lee Anders The first to develop was a group studying the articles published in the National Genealogical Society Quarterly. The study group is based on the William Litchman model that was advocated widely by the highly respected genealogical educator Ken Aitken. Angela McGhie leads one of the discussion groups and believes the exercise has been beneficial. She says, “I have appreciated the TGF mailing list and especially the well known professionals that monitor the list and take time to answer questions. One of the best things that has come from the list is the online study groups. I have been a part of the Transitional Genealogists study group from the beginning and have enjoyed the focus on studying methodology. As a group we work to see if we feel the case study meets the Genealogical Proof Standard. We discuss the sources and the methods of using them to solve genealogical problems. I have gained great insights and feel more prepared to apply the principles of evidence analysis to my own research.” What hopeful professional can’t benefit from a brush-up on methodology?
The second online study group studies Professional Genealogy, edited by Elizabeth Shown Mills (Genealogical Publishing Co., 2001, reprinted 2007). This study group’s focus has been on the more practical side of starting a genealogy business. Topics have included contracts, setting rates, creating business plans. Look for more on this group in the coming months from creator Lee Anders. Lee has excelled in organizing our community into productive study groups bent on furthering our own knowledge of good business tactics, good research skills, and good communication.
The free exchange of ideas and information is the lifeblood of any profession. The TGF list provides a safe environment for genealogists transitioning from hobbyist to professional to explore the expectations of the professional genealogy world. As the next generation of professional genealogists begin to rise, it is vital that they discuss important issues facing the profession, seek guidance in shaping our best practices, and discussing ways to educate the public about what we do. The Transitional Genealogist Forum List allows us to do this with ease.
Christy Fillerup is a self-proclaimed transitional genealogist. She has been researching her own family lines and those of friends and in-laws for over ten years. She lives in Salt Lake City and is getting her toes wet in the professional genealogy pond by conducting record search services for other professional genealogists at the Family History Library. She will complete the University of Toronto’s Professional Learning Certificate of Genealogical Studies in English studies this fall (2008) and hopes to apply for ICAPGEN Accreditation sometime in 2009. Certification by the Board for Certification of Genealogists will hopefully follow in 2010. She is a member of the Association of Professional Genealogists (APG), the Utah Genealogical Association (UGA), and the National Genealogical Society (NGS). Her website can be found at www.millenealogy.com.