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

Sunday, March 16, 2014

Returning to the issue of Genealogy as an Academically accepted subject

Despite a lot of online opinions that genealogy is not considered an academically accepted subject due to the "hobby" nature of the activity, I think the reasons are more historical than they are based solely on the popularity of genealogy as a pastime. Historically, genealogy has a very bad reputation, which I might add, was more than justly deserved. I have quoted the old Spanish saying before about someone with less than stellar veracity, that "they lie like a genealogist." As I have also mentioned before, the one book I have found that adequately reports this history is

Weil, François. Family Trees: A History of Genealogy in America. 2013.

The exclusion of genealogy from the usual round-up of university courses except in a small handful of schools around the world is due to one overriding factor: the lack of a definable professional genealogical community. In other words, if universities turn out genealogy graduates, will they be accepted into a work force? The answer is clearly no because no such work force exists. The relatively small number of certified or accredited genealogists does not make up a large enough pool of professionals to qualify. In addition, neither of the larger accrediting organizations base their entry requirements on a degree of any kind. Although, the International Commission for the Accreditation of Professional Genealogists allows an education component in qualifying for accreditation, there is no requirement that the classes be part of a formal educational experience at an established university.

If you look at almost any of the other professional or academic university degree programs, almost all the different degree programs are somehow connected to either business or government. Take law for example. Almost all of the states in the United States require graduation from an accredited law school as a threshold for taking the attorney qualifying exam called the bar exam. This is interesting in light of the fact that most states require a school accredited by the American Bar Association with a handful that allow individuals to take the bar exam with degrees from schools approved by the state. For example, Arizona has a rule that no one may take the bar exam without a degree from an American Bar Association accredited school. California, on the other hand, will allow anyone to take the bar who has graduated from a state approved school. It has only been a few years since "reading for the law" was the way a person became a professional attorney. Now, only five states, including California, allow a person to take the bar examination without a degree from an accredited university.

Is this a chicken vs. the egg problem? Which came first the school requirement or the bar examination? You can read the history at "The Bar Exam: A Brief History." The truth is that the bar examination predates the school requirement by many years. So what motivates the bar exam and law school requirements? Lawyers. So where are genealogical equivalents of lawyers? They don't yet exist. So, without a cadre of professionals who claim a lock on the profession, there is no incentive for requiring a degree or even an examination for admittance.

Because of genealogy's broad grass-roots appeal, there is not likely to be any one standard evolve that will do other than give prestige to the recipient of accreditation. Now, I don't want you to think that I disparage the accreditation process. Not at all. But there is no direct connection between that process and any study or school requirement. But it is only these types of accrediting organizations that can exert the pressure needed to require formal training such as was accomplished by the American Bar Association.

You may now be thinking that there are a lot of degree programs that don't involve professional organizations. That is correct. Liberal Arts subjects are based on classic ideas of education and not upon qualification for a specific profession. Why was history considered to be acceptable and genealogy was not? We have now come full circle. Genealogy was viewed as a very narrow profession and not a broad academic discipline. Genealogy did not evolve as did law and medicine or we might say, has not yet evolved in the way law and medicine did in the late 1800s.

Will genealogy evolve into a regulated profession? I don't believe it will happen because it is not something that is presently very remunerative. You do not have a lot of rich genealogists running around making young people aspire to genealogy as a profession. Who wants to follow a profession primarily made up of old poor people?


  1. Thank you for your interest in my book! Francois Weil

    1. You are welcome. It is a great source of information that needed to be said.

  2. The concluding paragraph is a winner :)