Sunday, May 3, 2015

Becoming a Pro Genealogist

Thinking about becoming a professional genealogist?  That thought hadn’t occurred to me until last fall.  My professional background is in counseling psychology and I’ve been employed as a school counselor in public and private settings for most of my career, with side ventures as a reading teacher, day care owner, rehab counseling supervisor, and an educational placement specialist (finding the right fit for both child and school).  I admit I’ve always been passionate about counseling but passion alone does not make a professional. To be considered a professional, one must have completed the educational requirements, obtained licensure and demonstrate day-to-day ethics in the field.
I looked at genealogy as my hobby and counseling as my profession.  In fact, several years ago when I overheard my husband tell a neighbor I was an expert genealogist I quickly told him to stop saying that. Granted, I was passionate about my hobby but a professional genealogist, no way.  I didn’t even know how someone became professional.
Over the years I’ve helped several family members become Daughters of the American Revolution and founding members of the Society of Descendants of Lady Godiva.  Alhough these experiences helped me gain confidence in my work they did not put me on the level of a professional genealogist. 
Co-workers, friends and distant relatives have asked for help and referred others to me - Can you locate my birth parents?  What happened to my Great Uncle George?  Can you show me how to find the names of my great grandparents?  Why did my family move to Florida?  How is this person related to me?  Seeing the recipient’s joy when the result of my findings was presented was rewarding to me. I felt like I had joined my two passions - counseling and genealogy – especially when I had to delicately tell the person about some difficult truth – your great grandpa was an alcoholic who never married your great grandma, and by the way, he murdered someone. 
About 5 years ago I began a surname update project on my husband’s mother’s line.  I entered all of the Harbaugh family from the 1947 Cooprider & Cooprider Harbaugh Family History:  A Directory, Genealogy and Source Book of Family Records into my Main Tree on Ancestry.com.  Then, I added info from Henry Harbaugh’s 1856 Annals of the Harbaugh Family in America .  (Yes, this is the same family as Coaches John & Jim Harbaugh who are my husband’s 3rd cousins and no, we haven’t met them.)
Since I made the project publicly accessible I was contacted by a lot of descendants who helped update the records further.  Then I decided to do a surname project with my dad’s line – the Leininger family.  I added into my tree all of the various branches and tried to connect them together back to the original who knows how many times great grandpa across the pond.  A work in progress which most likely only dna will ever be able to solve. By making my findings public, though, I have been able to corroborate with extended family. Still, I was shocked when a Nebraska librarian emailed me her appreciation as a number of her patrons were helped by my tree. I valued that feedback.  Then a professor contacted me as he was looking for an authority on the Leininger family.  I forwarded him on to a cousin who pointed out I had a more documented tree than he had. 
Around the same time I was contacted by a reporter of a major newspaper requesting assistance – could I help locate a photo for a story that was being featured.  I love a challenge and this was certainly going to test my skill level.  I began to seriously start thinking about becoming a professional genealogist. 
Online I found the Association of Professional Genealogists (APG) which is an organization dedicated to promoting professionalism in the field of genealogy.  When I think of a genealogist, I think of an individual who is researching lineage.  I never thought about all of the specialty areas and related fields, such as adoption, author, geneticist, heir locator, lecturer, lineage society specialist, and document translator.  Joining a professional organization would be moving in the right direction but I wanted to compare my work with those that are considered the experts.    
I’ve noticed the initials after the names of presenters on webinars but I never stopped to think what those initials meant.  Digging further I discovered that there are only two credentialing genealogical organizations:  The Board for Certification of Genealogists (BCG) in Washington, DC and the International Commission for the Accreditation of Genealogists (ICAPGen) in Orem, Utah.  This means BCG certifies (CG-Certified Genealogist and CGL-Certified Genealogical Lecturer) and ICAPGen accredits (AG-Accredited Genealogist).
What’s the difference?  Per Google, certification is confirmation “provided by some form of external review, education, assessment, or audit.”  Accreditation is a “…process of validation…” with standards being set by peer review.  Nice definitions but I still was unsure which I wanted to achieve and more importantly, if I was ready to do it. I took an online quiz at http://www.bcgcertification.org/ruready.html.  The results identified areas in which I needed to improve.  I began reading more journals and referred to the Genealogical Standards when I was writing reports.  The area that I still need to look further into is attending a Genealogical Institute.  I’ve taken a variety of workshops locally and online over the years to improve my skills but I’ve never been formally trained.
In reality, the greatest hindrance was I lacked the confidence that I was ready for the next big step.  I put the information aside and enjoyed the winter, snuggling on the couch in front of the fire with my laptop happily researching my Duer’s and Hatton’s and working on an EBook I’m writing about my husband’s grandpa in World War I. 
My recent visit to the Family History Library in Salt Lake City motivated me to go forward in the field.  The genealogists I met with to discuss my brick walls so impressed me with their expertise that I wanted to become like them.  I asked a couple about becoming credentialed and was directed to ICAPGen and BCG.  Understandably, since ICAPGen is Utah based and historically associated with the Church of Latter Day Saints, ICAPGen was what they had achieved.
So my next big decision was to become either certified or accredited.  Next time, I'll continue on how the requirements influenced my decision.

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