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

Wednesday, March 5, 2014

Comments on Becoming an Excellent Genealogist -- Chapter One

At #RootsTech 2014, I received a complimentary copy of a book published by ICAPGen, the International Commission for the Accreditation of Professional Genealogists. The book is as follows:

Meyerink, Kory L., Tristan Tolman, and Linda K. Gulbrandsen. Becoming an Excellent Genealogist: Essays on Professional Research Skills. [Salt Lake City, Utah]: ICAPGen, 2012.

After an overview of the book, I immediately decided to comment on the book, chapter by chapter, not just do a one time review of the entire book. It is that good and that important to genealogists who wish to rise to a level of excellency. Most of ideas resonate with my own and many sections of the first chapter sound very much like some of the classes I have taught at the Mesa FamilySearch Library. It is really nice to find something I can completely agree with for a change.

The first chapter of the book is entitled "What Makes an Excellent Genealogist?" by Kory L. Meyerink, MLS, AG, FUGA.  Yes, to some extent the book is aimed at genealogists who would be motivated to become accredited or certified. However many of the problems associated with the unsophisticated popularity of genealogy as a "hobby" can be overcome by learning the principles set forth in the book.

Indirectly, the first chapter addresses an interesting concept relating to the way that genealogy is practiced. For example, if I were to take up woodworking as a hobby, and began building woodworking projects willy-nilly without any instructions and without taking time to learn how to operate any of the machinery, I would probably turn out junk. However, the junk would be my own and it would be highly unlikely that anyone would copy what I had done. In contrast, if I approach genealogy as a "hobby" and I began to construct a pedigree willy-nilly with no instruction and without taking time to learn how to operate in the genealogical community, it is equally possible or probable that I will turn out junk. However, this junk may very well be broadcast to the entire world on a public family tree. In addition, we have to recognize that anytime we began working on researching our ancestral lines, we are in effect, involving all of our relatives whether we recognize that fact or not or even know who they are. For this reason, genealogy falls within a unique type of activity that automatically involves a larger ancestral community.

In essence, the first chapter of the book outlines a way to adequately function within this greater ancestral community to which we all belong. The chapter appears to reduce the process of becoming an excellent genealogist to a list of suggested methodologies. But this is in fact the basis for improving the overall function of the genealogical community. I would guess, that the most influential impression generated by the genealogical community to those outside the community, is one of marginal incompetence. Even the existence of those in the community who could be considered to be excellent genealogists are so far outnumbered by those who have little or no background, training or experience that the challenge of improving the overall image of genealogy is practically impossible.

The existence of a book such as this one indicates that there are at least some members of the genealogical community who have a sufficient amount of self-awareness to question the general practices that are so abundantly illustrated in the millions of online family trees. The first chapter of the book correctly focusing upon the issue of methodologies, provides a basis for introspection and self-assessment. As the chapter points out the only way to make any progress as a genealogist in overcoming the limitations inherent in much of what passes for genealogy is to make a conscientious effort to study, learn and begin the process immediately of correcting past errors.

Some of the key steps suggested by Kory involve some obvious issues such as watching for changing jurisdictions. But other suggestions such as implementing a research plan to research non-family lines, are not quite as commonly accepted as necessary. All in all, I felt that the suggestions in the book were extremely valuable and would recommend the book and particularly the first chapter as a basis for a secondary or perhaps advanced class on genealogy.


  1. Thank you Brother Tanner for your insight. I just began History 217, taught by Professor Harris. I feel this will be helpful for myself as well. Also, thank you for the classes you taught at Roots Tech. I really enjoyed them, and enjoyed meeting your wife.
    Diane McFarlin