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

Sunday, July 24, 2011

Genealogy, Profession or Pursuasion?

I thought I could move on to other topics after my conclusions to the recent spate of citation posts, but it seems there is another underlying issue here, whether genealogy is a profession or a persuasion? I recently read a post by Michael Hait:

Michael Hait, “Source Citations: Why Form Matters, part four,” Planting the Seeds: Genealogy as a Profession blog, posted 21 Jul 2011 ( : accessed 24 July 2011)

I would normally link my reference to his post directly to the post itself, but Mr. Hait requests the above citation. Anyway, his comments got me thinking. Arizona is one state in the United States that does not have an unauthorized practice of law statute in effect. This essentially means that in Arizona, anyone could practice law if they chose to do so. I don't think I have to argue that law is a profession. Normally, to practice law in any jurisdiction, you have to attend some kind of law school (usually accredited) and graduate. Then take an extensive examination administered by the local State Bar Association and then after passing the exam, be admitted to practice law by the Supreme Court of the State. There are a few variations on this theme, but most jurisdictions have an exam and regulate the practice of law.

Now, because Arizona doesn't have an unauthorized practice of law statute, does that really mean anyone can practice law? Well, no. Because the State Supreme Court regulates the courts, they make rules that only allow admitted, exam passing, State Bar members to practice law in the courts. So what else is there? You can become a document preparer, but guess what, even that "profession" is regulated by the Arizona Supreme Court.

I might mention that many of the same types of requirements apply to everything from dog groomers to accountants in Arizona. Professions are regulated. Why? Of course, for the protection of the public from dishonest, poorly qualified and shoddy non-professionals. Does that really work? To some extent. For example, in Arizona if you are not a registered contractor (builder) you cannot bring a lawsuit to enforce a claim for payment for services. So, if you do some construction work for someone and you are not a registered contractor, you cannot legally collect the money due you for your work!

Professions, such as law, were not always regulated by local governments. However, the idea of guilds and labor organizations have an ancient history. Professions have their academic counterpart. You cannot get a job as a professor for a college or university, usually, without some academic degree. A full professorship almost always requires a doctorate degree or more. The academic professionals impose their own requirements on "membership" in their exclusive profession. If you have ever received a Ph.D or equivalent, you know how hard the academic community can make entrance into their profession.

So what does all this have to do with genealogy? There are those who wish to make genealogy an academic profession with regulated credentials. They make the requirements as difficult as practically possible, so that the public can be assured that those who have the professional designation have passed all of the requisite requirements. Then there are those who would argue restrictiung the "practice of genealogy" only to those who are "qualified." Thereby making genealogy a real profession.

Professional genealogists see this idea of restricting the "profession" as protecting the public from the unauthorized practice of genealogy, just like the Arizona Supreme Court views the practice of law. I take a much more liberal position. I do not think that genealogy should be restricted either by jurisdictional fiat such as the Arizona State Bar and Arizona Supreme Court, nor do I think it should become an exclusive club of academic professionals. I have pointed out in the past that there are virtually no university level courses with only one or two exceptions, producing a qualified degree in genealogy. Why is this the case?

As it is, genealogy is a very democratic and inclusive persuasion. I can legitimately call myself a genealogist even if I never attended a university at all. Some of the best researchers I know are not academically qualified.

The argument about citation form is basically a secondary argument for "professionalism" in the world of genealogy. Do we want genealogy to become like the legal profession? Absolutely exclusive? I argue for inclusiveness and charity in the field, recognizing the vast majority of practitioners that have no formal training or any desire to obtain any. In almost any human activity in the world today, there are some adherents that rise to the professional level. I do believe that genealogy needs professionals. I also believe that genealogy needs standards. But I do believe that we can be inclusive and not lose our own professional level standards.

As a final note. Do I think it is necessary to use "proper" citation form in my blog posts? Think before you give your own opinion. How much formality do you want to live with? Do you have a personal copy of Mills' book?

Mills, Elizabeth Shown. Evidence Explained: Citing History Sources from Artifacts to Cyberspace. Baltimore, Md: Genealogical Pub. Co, 2007.

(By the way, the above citation is in Turabian form, because I happen to like Turabian).


  1. To me, a Certified Registered Nurse Anesthetist (CRNA) I feel that a Profession is something that is obtained by education and experience.

    Your training and expertise is rewarded by monetary compensation. I also feel that the powers that be in education are trying to expand their talons into professions by constantly raising the bar to Masters and Doctorate degrees in order to justify their existence and increase the amount of money in the educational coffers.

    If you are making your lively hood by doing research and genealogy, it is your profession. I am trying to find my ancestors and it is my hobby.

    I believe that citations are necessary to document where our ancestors originated. Do I, as a hobbiest, need to be criticized by others when I do not follow their exacting specifications?

    I do not think so, I do not plan on Genealogy as a career but I think that an advanced degree in the subject does not make me a better researcher for what I want to do for my personal satisfaction.

  2. I spent quite a bit of time cleaning up my citations recently. I finally settled for this standard: Each citation, regardless of format, must answer the question, "Why do I think that?" I simply must know why a fact is entered into my database. I know that my more recent citations are better formatted than my early ones, and I am fixing my earlier ones as I come across them. However, If I spend the next 3 years reformatting citations, I will find little joy in my hobby. I enjoy genealogy, I enjoy digging for facts about my family and I don't want this to turn into a citing contest. I don't have the time, and my family doesn't really care. If someone thinks my genealogy, or my writing us unprofessional, so be it.

  3. Ultimately, my citations must satisfy one person -- me. Some are rock solid. Some have simply come when I have decided from the evidence -- positive, negative, and not present -- that this is the real thing. I am by training and practice a retired journalism teacher with college degrees with both history and journalism majors. History is not decided by a board or organization. History is history and genealogy is genealogy. Both can be a little messy, but they do not detract from the fact that some leaps of faith are necessary. Sometimes multiple on the scene of the crime citations are not ever going to be available.

  4. James,

    I hope that you did not misunderstand the point of my post. I have vehemently argued *against* the exclusivity of even professional genealogy. I myself do not hold a college degree, and would be excluded by those who desire the exclusivity that you discuss in this post. I am completey self-taught, yet my work meets the stringent BCG Standards.

    On the other hand, I do see genealogy as ultimately an academic pursuit. Everyone, even the most casual hobbyist, desires the truth. Part of achieving this is following research standards, as you yourself have often supported in this blog. The Genealogical Proof Standard requires that all citations be full and accurate. It does not state which citation method should be used.

    As I outlined in my blog post, it is proper to use the Chicago style because the other styles are insufficient to cite original records. MLA and APA simply do not contain a format to cite them. So Chicago (which also happens to be the citation format preferred by historians) wins the battle by default.

    Both Evidence Explained (the preferred genealogy citation format) and Turabian (which you use in this post) are based on the Chicago Manual of Style. Neither is a separate, stand-alone citation format. You might also note that your citation of Evidence Explained, which you describe as Turabian format, is identical to how you would cited the book using its own prescribed format. This is because both share the common CMOS foundation.

    Michael Hait, CG

  5. One last thing: My suggested citation for my blog posts is not intended to prevent linking directly to the posts. In fact, in another post, I specifically recommend using both methods in order to take advantage of the unique abilities present in online publishing. :)


  6. Ah, but you can call yourself a professional genealogist without ever becoming certified or accredited. Most would want to I imagine, but there is no requirement.

  7. In the end any citation no matter its format, if used in any publication without an image of the original or a facimale thereof, is still a secondary source and it is still incumbent on the one who uses the source to verify the accuracy of the origianl....getting us into all kinds of interesting dicussions of using published abstracts, etc.

    For almost 40 years in my own family history, a published source, transcribed of a 18th century parish record, has been cited as the documented evidence that a man had 2 sons, when, had the researchers gone to the original microfilmed source,(the only source now available from the Virginia State Library or the FHC) would have seen the error, that what had been transcribed and published by the author, a renowned historian of his day, was in error and that in the orginal manuscripted records in exqusite handwriting it was written as one son.