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

Wednesday, June 17, 2020

Genealogical Reality vs. Expectations

There is often a distinct divide between our personal expectations and reality. One of the most common examples among those who are involved in the millions of online family trees is the expectation that the information recorded in those family trees is accurate. However, there is an exactly opposite and equally common expectation among some genealogists that all the information in online family trees is inaccurate and not supported by sources. What is the genealogical reality? I will try to answer this question as I continue writing this post.

What do I mean by the term "expectations?" I would include in this term all of the preconceived and learned information you have about what constitutes "doing your genealogy" or "compiling your family history." Behind your preconceptions and experience, there is always some core motivation. As an example, some genealogists have a religious motivation. Others do not attach any religious motivation to doing genealogical research and are merely interested or fascinated with the history of their family. In addition, there are some genealogists who are motivated by genealogy as a profession. Some genealogists spend nearly all their effort and time helping other people find their familial heritage and do very little work on their own family lines. Because an individual's motivation is highly personal, everyone has their own motivation, and sometimes an individual's motivation is a combination of many different factors. 

In the past 50 years, with the advent of computers and the internet, genealogy has become a big business for a few very large genealogy companies. It is very likely that many of the employees of those companies are motivated by obtaining and keeping their jobs rather than any altruistic interest in the complex field of genealogical research. One of the more obvious developments in the genealogical world aided by the global promotion of genealogy as a potential activity for "everyone." is the idea that genealogy is simple, family-oriented, and fun. I am certain that the media advertisements for these large companies almost uniformly emphasize the simplicity of their websites and how quickly the neophyte can become a competent family historian. Most of these ads raise expectations that are far from reality. Frequently, a realization of reality comes when the newly minted genealogist finds that his or her ancestors came from a country that speaks a language different than the one spoken by the new genealogist or some other similar event that demonstrates the complexity and difficulty of genealogical research. 

There is also a segment of the genealogical community that believes that genealogy is a purely academic and scholarly persuasion or professional pursuit and that those who can actually do genealogical research need to be qualified and even certified to pursue "real" genealogical research. Again, just as there are successful people in almost all human endeavors that are "self-taught," many professional-level genealogists are not recognized by any formal training organization despite the fact that there are university-level degrees in genealogy. 

The reality of genealogy is that it is a highly complex and difficult pursuit at almost all levels. Those who expect it to be easy will almost always be frustrated by its complexity. Those who expect to make genealogy their profession will soon learn that the actual number of jobs available is very restricted and that most of the jobs with the genealogy companies do not actually have anything to do with genealogical research, they are mostly administrative positions and sales. To see a sample of what is available professionally try a Google search for "job openings in genealogy." You might also want to click on the job openings and see what the typical pay scale is for the jobs offered. 

If you have professional aspirations, I suggest that you may wish to get a degree in Library and Information Science, Archives and Records Administration or other similar occupation or profession. If you want to become a professional genealogist, I suggest starting to do some research into the qualifications and business requirements. See "Becoming a Professional Genealogist" for an example. Here is a book you might want to read also.

Clifford, Karen. 1998. Becoming an accredited genealogist: plus 100 tips to ensure your success! Salt Lake City, UT: Ancestry.

Historical and genealogical research are intensely involved in libraries, archives, and online research. Some of the academic areas that are pertinent are paleography, history, languages, and geography. Most professional genealogists are also extremely experienced in some specific geographic area such as research in the  Southern United States or Eastern Europe. 

Here is the real question: if genealogy is so easy and fun that anyone can do it, why are there professional genealogists? Perhaps you can see some gap between generally held expectations and the reality of genealogical research. Oh, I failed to mention the complexity of DNA studies as well. I guess I will have to return to this topic sometime. 

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