By Carolyn L. Barkley
In an earlier blog article, I featured Thorndale and Dollarhide’s Map Guide to the U. S. Federal Censuses, 1790-1920 (Genealogical Publishing Co., 2007) as one of the titles that we all need to have in our home libraries. Affectionately known as Pro Gen, Professional Genealogy: A Manual for Researchers, Writers, Editors, Lecturers and Librarians, edited by Elizabeth Shown Mills (Genealogical Publishing Co., 2007), is another must-have title for your collection. It’s not too late to make sure that it’s under your tree or wrapped to give a friend who researches his or her family.
First, a word about the title. Please do not look at the words “professional genealogy” and assume that this book is not for you. It is, instead, a book that typifies the phrase “life-long learning.” Professionalism is a state-of-mind to which we all need to aspire. Even if you are a beginning researcher, you need to be aware of the larger context of the world of genealogical research, its standards, its experts and mentors, its endless horizons. Producing professional-level work is a goal to which we all need to aspire with each research trip, each analysis, each piece of writing, each publication, each lecture. As urged in the book, read the parts that are relevant to your work now, add new chapters later, and continue to reread them as your experience grows and changes directions. In ProGen you have the opportunity to learn from experts in the field who provide riches for everyone, regardless of skill level or career.
Important background information is provided in the first section, “Professional Preparation.” Donn Devine defines professionalism; Clair Mire Bettag provides an overview of the educational opportunities that are available, including academic degree as well as non-credit programs, online courses, and major conferences. Of particular importance are the chapter on certification and accreditation (you should also visit the Board for Certification of Genealogists’ website) and the essential library suggested by Joy Reisinger.
You can gain invaluable basic skills in the section entitled “Professional Research Skills,” containing information on developing research plans and analyzing the information found. A very useful chapter by Mary McCampbell Bell discusses the techniques for producing quality transcripts and abstracts of original documents, as well as the essential information that should be included in each. Samples of transcriptions or abstractions of specific documents such as deeds, mortgages, and inventories are provided, as well as specific guidelines for probate and land records. Librarians, you will find this section of particular importance in gaining an understanding of just what it is that these people are doing in your library and how to train your staff to assist them more effectively.
One of the singularly most important skills to acquire as you aspire to a professional level of work in the field of genealogy is the ability to compile and write about the information that you’ve found. While I believe that analysis is one of the most overlooked steps in the research cycle [just look at what some people post online if you don’t believe that!], the formal composition of our research findings into a written document is a close second. Whether you research for yourself or for clients, writing is essential. One of the most important national conference lectures I ever attended was one that Elizabeth Shown Mills gave on writing research reports. I came away from that lecture with a new understanding of how to organize and clearly express the information about a specific research objective. Over the years, I have passed that information on to others and tried to be consistent in using it in my own research – I always use it for reports to clients. ProGen includes the details of this critical skill in Chapter 18. Other topics in the “Writing and Compiling” section include composing genealogy columns, presenting proof arguments and case studies, writing book and media reviews, preparing family histories, and completing lineage papers.
Don’t skip the section on “Career Management.” Everyone should read Patricia Law Hatcher’s chapter on time management. When I retired, I thought I would have all this “free time” to do all the things I hadn’t been able to accomplish while I was still working. Was I in for a surprise! There is still more to do – more that I want to do – than I can find time for. I reread this chapter on a regular basis to help me arrange my life and my work with an eye toward balance – I’ll let you know when I’m truly successful, but I practice all the time. If you research for clients, or you are thinking about starting, you will want to read the other chapters in this section covering such topics as structuring a business, setting realistic fees, and business record keeping.
Each chapter provides resources for further study and, throughout the book, figures are provided to help you with specific topics: copyright forms, contracts, letters, research reports, idea lists, tips and more. They are included in a separate table-of-contents style listing at the beginning of the book to make access to them more convenient. Appendices include abbreviations and acronyms, as well as codes, guidelines and standards.
Professional Genealogy is a must-have title for you as a researcher, or for you as an individual who assists researchers, writes or edits works in the subject area, or lectures to groups about genealogical topics. Put it on the shelf near your work space; use specific chapters as a basis for library staff-training or genealogical programming for your local society. If you feel that your skills are increasingly meeting professional standards and practices, consider joining the Transitional Genealogists Forum Mailing List to participate in the discussion and mentorship that occurs on that list. (See an archived GenealogyandFamilyHistory.com blog article about Transitional Genealogists.)