Some people eat, sleep and chew gum, I do genealogy and write...

Thursday, September 24, 2015

Why would I want to be a professional genealogist?

The Association of Professional Genealogists (APG) lists 16 professionals when I specify Utah and Utah County in a search. Of those professionals, five do not do work for clients. I would assume that Utah would have the highest concentration of professionals in the country, so this is an interesting observation. Of course, there are likely some professional genealogists that do not belong to the APG, but even then, the number cannot be large. I did another search for Salt Lake County, the location of the Family History Library. and the number increased to 34 with 8 not taking any clients. As a control, I searched for Arizona, the entire state. There were 34 in the entire state with only 3 not taking any clients.

As a comparison Arizona has over 16,000 attorneys while the state of Utah has almost 8,000. This is interesting because all a genealogist has to do to join the APG is to pay the dues and sign and agreement to abide by the rules. A lawyer has to go to school for 3 years and take a 3 day examination and submit to a background check. I would say that what I need to know as a genealogist is roughly equivalent to what I learned in law school. I might also add that attorneys need to be accepted by the Bar Association in their state to practice law, but a genealogist doesn't have to have any certifications or credentials at all. Out of all the genealogists listed on the APG searches, Arizona only three had CG or AG designations. In Utah there are 138 genealogists listed. Of those listed, only 35 have CG or AG designations. In case you don't know, a CG designation comes from the Board for Certification of Genealogists (BCG) and the AG designation comes from the International Commission for Accreditation of Professional Genealogists (ICAPGen). 

As I write part of this post, I am on a train to Salt Lake City, Utah with hundreds of Comic Con attendees. The last ComicCon Conference in Salt Lake had 140,000 people attend. This may be why I am thinking about numbers. I am sitting across from a lady who has loudly announced that she is getting a Masters Degree in fairy tales. Maybe I missed my calling in life. (Afterthought: What am I talking about. I do deal in fairy tales. I am a genealogist!).

Now, why the numbers? For one thing, genealogy is not a growth industry. The demand for professional genealogists in businesses is pretty marginal. Even large companies like FamilySearch and do not employ very many "genealogists" as such. They are more interested in programmers and other persuasions. There are a relatively few genealogists that end up with full-time employment in a genealogy related business. There are some larger genealogy research companies, such as Ancestry ProGenealogists in Salt Lake City, Utah but they list only ten genealogists.

What would be my prospects if I were to go to Brigham Young University and major in family history? Would I get a job when I graduated? I would probably try to get another degree in something like Library Science or History, just to make sure I had something that had an attraction to a prospective employer. ICAPGen presently lists four possible openings for genealogists. I would not find that to be very promising.

Do we see a significant growth in the future? Well, no. Some years ago, we started our graphic design business. At the time, there were dozens of local print shops in the Mesa, Arizona area. Within a few years, because of technological changes, mostly desk-top publishing, many of the local shops had disappeared. Genealogy is less volatile than something like printing, but it is affected by technology. Back then the idea was that anyone could do publishing on their own computer. That same type of message is being sent out to the genealogy community today: anyone can do genealogy on their computer at home. Why would they need a professional?

Personally I am driven to achieve "professional level" competence but I am past the point of wanting to make a business of genealogy. Nevertheless, I write and teach and occasionally get paid for both, but nearly all my teaching is now voluntary and unpaid.

If I were to go back in time and do it all over, I would seriously consider being a professional librarian/genealogist. I think the job satisfaction would be much higher than law. I certainly would not make as much money, but I would not have had all the conflict I had in law. Realistically I would be concerned about the job prospects and the openings. 

1 comment:

  1. Very interesting. Here's an added thought. What I saw as a missionary in the FH Library before the advent of compared to after when all genealogy (almost) went digital, and then for the next 7 years as well where Family Tree was released, and I taught both to patrons and missionaries, ... here's what we saw. The programmers at first knew VERY little about genealogy, and it showed badly, and there was very little communication between the guys in the Jos Smith Mem Bld and the genealogists in the FH Library. We used to call Temple Square the Grand Canyon of communication between the 2 groups. We would scratch our heads at how nFS worked, and say, "Now why did they do that?" Then CEOs and product managers and the program itself changed, and communication improved immensely. Engineers came over to us and presented ideas and we gave feedback frequently. Now - I truly think that if an engineer has been there since the beginning of Family Tree, they are also pretty well versed in genealogy, some even doing their own! Ha. So perhaps the definition of Genealogist needs to be tweaked just a little bit. As you know, the digital genealogist/engineer is a new breed of family historian indeed.