Defining Professionalism in History and Genealogy

A friend recently pointed me to a 2007 blog post by Gavin Robinson, “Gentleman Amateurs.” The post reports about the history profession and receiving serious treatment as a historian in the present market. The analysis concludes that there are plenty of differences between the amateur and the professional, but that in the end it comes down to training (read: theory). Although I am an advocate of the individual learning as much as anyone is able or capable, I agree that training (read: theory or education) make differences in final products.

I am of the professional camp in my exact field (genealogy/family history) but I am not against people making in-roads into the field or learning as much as they can, even becoming professionals in their own right. I am extremely against people hanging out a shingle and saying that they are genealogists for hire when they have only completed four generations of ancestral research and feel confident using basic online sources. My father says that being a professional means that “you get paid to do something.” In that case, nearly anyone is a professional at whatever it is that they do, and the vast majority of people are professionals without any credentials or needing them.

This is not the case in professional genealogy, and I think it is also not the case in professional history. I am not sure that I am comfortable expecting everyone in the historical field to gain doctoral degrees. There are not enough teaching positions, period. My emphasis if pursuing such a degree is not on a tenure track position. I see no reason to abstain from looking for, or accepting such a position, but my focus is on changing the daily lives of people through the public history sphere particularly through online scholarship and emerging media applications.

My research background personally goes back to 1996, and professionally started in 1997 albeit as an assistant to a professional at that time. That said, I am not fluidly current on all aspects of the profession, but I see myself as a person who renews my training methods when I immerse in the topic for a few days. I do not work on family history every day, but for the spurts, starts, and stops that happen, I follow proper methodological practices. That is because I have prior training. I never stop learning, and family history and genealogical studies are the main topics for my life now.

Instead of only focusing on only genealogical studies for my education, however, I decided on a more-broad perspective involving the topic and currently work with Public History and Library Information Science. The more I work in those fields,  I see affinities for excelling at anything to do with computers, databases, and graphic user interfaces. There is a middle ground in the field where I can learn basic programming and develop something that may work and improve the field, even if I am not an expert programmer.

Personal impressions are that the academic history and academic library fields both see genealogical studies as the charlatans of their professions and not worthy of their respect. I have received this type of treatment when mentioning my field to associates my entire life (until recently) and find it demeaning. It is a treatment borne best with patience and a comprehension that professional and personal biases run deeply and the best form of transparency is education or seeing the efforts of those so educated. Proving myself wherever I go is now a normal, albeit tiring, thought process.

The professional biases are valid when taking into consideration hyper-enthusiastic but ill or untrained genealogical researchers who lack professionalism and take anything found at face value without a critical eye for source details or other necessary precautions for passing peer reviews. Bridling the passions associated with the detective bug of genealogical research is a hallmark of being professional. It means searching with patience, but this does not require slow processes. I am not a certified genealogical researcher or have ICAPGEN or BCG certification, but have a Bachelor’s degree in the topic from an accredited university and value the certifications of others.

A previous experience with an untrained although paid “professional” during an internship in 2006 left me with more understanding about why training is important. The person in question had background in museum studies and thought that doing genealogical research would be “easy” and a natural transfer from her previous work. It is within similar spheres in the historical field profession, but it is not the same thing and her lack of experience, training, and otherwise respect for the genealogical field left her without jobs due to being fired from her clients for shoddy work. This is not to say that other museum professionals cannot do proper genealogical research, or that the museum profession is lacking. Those generalizations are not remotely implied. This illustrates that her lack of training and professionalism in trying to understand a field that was completely new to her damned her in the eyes of her clients and dropped her from cases on a regular basis.

I was only around this person for less than an hour trying to assist in a library setting and knew more about the topic as an interning undergraduate student than she did as a professional. I gave her the best customer service and assistance that I could in my internship capacity working for the library. Leaving the library that day I left with the appalled realization that there really were people out there that tried to pass themselves off as professionals when they knew nothing about what they were doing. My professors said that was a reality, but the concrete example of abstract theory occurred only when I witnessed it first-hand.

Why does anyone think that being a professional in this field is any different from being a trained and respected professional (more than simply getting paid for it) in any other field? History traditionally pays less than other fields where there is not in-depth math or science background. Pay scale also has nothing to do with inherent qualities of professionalism. A student friend of mine working at Subway made literally perfect sandwiches on a regular basis. It took him time to do it, and in his unusual talent, people waited for their honestly perfect sandwiches because they saw a true artist at work. We paid the same amount as for any other Subway worker, and we waited longer, but the man was a genius and his work excelled anything seen before or since in fast food.

Not to say that I normally want to wait a long time for a sandwich, but it is a rare person (maybe, say, a real professional?) who makes sure that their work is of best quality. Someone who lives a life of best quality, and does their best to treat others around them with the same panache and proper dignity is worthy of repute.


Something to Emphasize

Just learned that a good friend of mine’s Dad got diagnosed with cancer. While I used to think that there was separation between professional and personal parts of life, her blog reflects what I now realize: they’re the same thing. No matter how it’s put, and no matter what else happens, the principle player in life is always the same. What you do in one sphere directly affects all of the other spheres.

I have friends who are afraid of posting what they really think online due to possible negative reactions. This is a fair and honest thought process. A blog post found recently on the topic mentioned that monitoring your online presence is crucial. I have been using Google Alerts for this purpose for years. Why Google your name when Google can do it for you?

Otherwise, I take the stance that I am not afraid of my posts. I can edit as need be, and I strongly do not want self-righteous inflections. That said, I am who I am. A quote modified from Abraham Lincoln mentions pleasing people some of the time. It is a rare person who has convictions who pleases a mass audience. For the 400 friends  in my queue on Facebook, my main group is less than 30 of them and even then, restrictions to information apply. My closest friends give me solid advice and never sugar coat things, but have substantial wisdom. Over time, they prove sincerity. If I need to move, they ask where and when to help, and they can get things done.

My public face is extremely formal. The better a person knows me, the crazier and more fun I get. All of that said, I did not originally intend to post passionate opinions, but find that is better writing for me. I am an amateur writer and like writing for mass understanding. Not that I need to dull my speech patterns or purposely talk in slang jargon or underhand. Instead, I like clear speech written freely. My personal hero is Thomas Jefferson. He was smart, intelligent (not directly synonymous attributes) and his clarity of expression strikes awe and harmony in beautiful concordance. A goal for my dissertation or for my Masters essays is clarity. While my enunciated discussion garbles easily during every day conversation, writing allows for direct expression. Both forms of communication matter equally and in each I have failings. Reading better writing assists, as do style manuals, or diction coaches and confidence-building.

Admitting flaws and failings is not easy. Especially in times when a person would make someone “an offender for a word” (see Isaiah 29:12) it is hard to think that anyone would let someone get away with less. For able competition in the marketplace, the more highly educated a person is, the more able they are. However, this requires proof of class beyond degrees (multiple intentions meant.) I like being personable, and I love delivering the goods with dignity. Class, polish, and sophistication are hallmarks of this view. At the same time, I like to eat Gino’s East pizza and think it ludicrous to pay more than necessary for a given commodity. I am middle class America.

My writing organization needs help, and my normal vocabulary is not where I prefer, but I am smart and I can do anything that needs doing given the time and resources. There is no fear in this standpoint. I hope that there is no arrogance, either.

I am a grad student and tired. Signing off from Chicagoland,

The Genealogy Doctor

“Talismans of Print Culture: Tinfoil Scrap and Newsprint Squib”

Analysis of Lisa Gitelman’s “Souvenir Foils: On the Status of Print at the Origin of Recorded Sound” New Media 1740-1915. Accessed originally from Digital Media class pdf. 

Everyone becomes an educator, experimenter, and the original novelty of the democratic populace is readily available when used in technological efforts.

Continuity exists between the purveyors of tinfoil phonograph souvenirs at the outset of sound recording and current digital media. Within the selling techniques of the Lyceum movement are the effects that something new and purportedly or actually scientific have when displayed before an otherwise uninformed audience: edutainment is not a new commodity and is effective.

As part of the “cabinets of curiosity” displayed by pseudo-museums and peddlers of the nineteenth century, similar vaudeville or burlesque[1] shows were akin to the current news media of Jay Leno or David Letterman. The introduction of the phonograph as a new media form needed acceptance for the population to understand it, and for the popularity of the invention or potential technological revolution to catch on. These lyceum showmen were a pre-cursor to the introduction by Ed Sullivan of The Beatles on television, or Ted talks.

The effect of the new medium had a similar or nearly parallel effect to how digital mediums function today. Evolutions in technology continued after initial introduction, and once the medium was useful beyond an initial tinfoil event through use of wax disks, the change to the medium caught mass appeal. The same idea is true of Walkmen to portable CD players to the I-Pod revolution.

Souvenirs are still a matter of object orientation in modern day (ie. Berlin Wall pieces in 1989 and afterwards), but their new media counterpart is the story itself broadcast to the world through a Facebook status update or Tweet. Real-time events and broadcasts featured on YouTube carry weight as documented and unaltered in graphic sincerity with the ability of toppling governments and giving the people an unfiltered voice.


[1] “The term ‘burlesque’ did not then denote striptease, but rather a topical, risqué comedy, full of witticisms pointed at the events of the day.” –From the article

New Blog Look

For anyone paying attention, I changed the blog theme for closer consistency with my Digital Media class’s blogs. While my old blog theme was not bad, all blogs need to evolve to become more useful to audiences. I am looking forward to learning more about pictures and intellectual copyright, among other issues. The picture for the blog is from a travel blog. Its modification is due to WordPress, but far be it from me to post anything without citing the source. What a tragic idea. The picture is of a cemetery of great importance to me personally, and may contain the only picture (albeit from a distance) of a gravestone, that links a particular anniversary to my daily routine. Hence, it is the header picture here. It is not just “some random cemetery.”

Running the Gamuts of Blogging: Digital Media Class Readings for Week 1

Digital Media Class Readings:

Fletcher, Stephen J. “A View to a View to Hugh: Reflections On the Creation of a Processing Blog.” A Different Kind of Web (unknown): 22-32.

Lovink, Geert. Zero Comments: Blogging and Critical Internet Culture. New York: Routledge, 2008.

Massanari, Adrienne L., and Meghan Dougherty. “Best Practices For Bloggers.” Center for Digital Ethics and Policy. (accessed January 21, 2012).

Fletcher’s article was informative and positive. The article was too-close-to-home as I know the one of the subjects of it, having been through part of my undergrad school time with her, and hearing about how “they were making an article about [the experience].” At the time, I was a little jealous. Now, I am glad to have known her when… and to know that she is off doing other things. The article and the process taken within it are good practices for showing how blogging from personal diary entries evolves to tracking processes in the information industry by respected institutions. A blog is more than tracking a summary. It is a work credential.

Lovink’s introductory article on Web 2.0 was wise. His article on “blogging as nihilist activity” left me listening to his arguments at about the same rate as the teacher of Charlie Brown fame. I am sure that he knows much more on the subject than I do, but this chapter felt over-indulgent in its negative viewpoint and pontificating in the same article. Lovink uses diverse source materials from different continents and I enjoyed his use of different culture’s experiences with the World Wide Web. However, in his quest to provide templates and examples of his highlighted points, he displays the mentioned “snarkiness of blog writing” within his own article. The article could cross-reference itself.

The best and most useful article was from Loyola (Massanari and Dougherty) and dealt with basic blogging techniques and attributes. In a quest to find a positive introduction to the formal stylistic merits of blog writing, this was the best article read. I found the applications and possibilities of blog writing a good exercise for processing work in Fletcher, while I understand that most people simply blog for their own use according to Lovink. I will agree with this sentiment in that I do not expect my blog to act a cash cow or to change mass audience opinions. I am not an “A-list” blogger or famous, and I am fine with that.

My first intention when setting up the blog was having content to link to from my newly established Twitter account as of a few months ago. The primary focus was giving tips on genealogical problems, and without self-generation of questions, or another party with a question, that idea did not go far. I am definitely not against giving advice of that nature. However, the current purpose of the blog is to put forth thoughts about views on where history is now, what I am learning at school (both schools), and to have an outlet for self-expression. The blog also serves a dual purpose being a place for posting of class assignments and development of the needs of a Digital Media class.

Digital Media class applications:

During a two-part final last semester where I did not have to present one of the days, I spent that time unobstructed in thoughts and writing down notes. An idea for an open-source geo-coded multi-layered historical map came to mind. The software that I want to use to get this to happen is available as of searching on Monday night. The same night of searching, I conversed with my Dad, and he said that the concept is leading edge and that I should start with a website first and then work from there. He was cautious about how I would do it given my lack of programming background. To me, that does not matter. Either I figure out a way of doing it myself with guidance and direction from the people who do, or else I still figure it out without direction. I am of the opinion that anyone can learn how to do something given the time and patience. I do not have extreme quantities of either quality, but I have determination to see this concept to completion. Determination is something that gets a person through anything, with the help of Deity. I am busy, but there is no exact timetable and I can’t get this out of my head no matter what else I do. I’m sold and in love with a concept that needs to happen and until I can demo it for someone else, I can’t and don’t want to get rid of the thought process. Here’s to a combination class blog, writing on history as a diverse field, and other varied blog applications.

A Little Bit Different Labeling

‘These students all walk around with labels, almost like it’s written on their foreheads—Bloods, Crips, the crimes they’re charged with. For some it’s a matter of pride,” Dekker says. “The Savior doesn’t see any of us with labels. We could all walk around with labels on our foreheads for the things we’ve done. I see them as my boys, my kids.’1

Read an article where education changes people this morning while getting up and ready for work. Although I am highly inspired by movies like Stand and Deliver, The Freedom Writers, and other movies, I wonder how much alike are the people outside of incarceration to those within it.

What impacted my thinking was the term “labels.” In my experience, that term is used every day without mentioning it explicitly. Whether on files or how I see myself and others, labels make a huge difference to how things function. I wouldn’t know what it is like to commit a felony, but I definitely know what it is like to walk around with an unwritten metaphoric MARC record on my forehead: “assistant, white girl, daughter.” Then adding fuzzier labels, “public history major, graduate student, tuition-payer,” to self-imposed labels, “Christian, LDS, memory-keeper” to the labels of others that I may or may not guess correctly: “bright, organized, fearless and fragile, patient, multi-talented, hard on yourself.”

My favorite part of Dekker’s quote is that she sees people as people, without labels. Sure, you identify the name, and learn what you need to know about others, but I love that she looks past that and gives the benefit of the doubt. In theatrical terms, it would be “suspension of disbelief” but in this case it is “believing is seeing,” meaning that she believes in the good in others and does not dare them to prove her faith in them wrong. She hopes for things which are not seen (or labeled) which are true about the kid’s characters.

While this may be more of a moralistic post, I don’t see a reason to not include it in my studies of people, places, and change over time. It is a part of me and I am a part of graduate school. It may not be applicable to everyone else, but I never said that it had to be. I know that I continue writing about reflections from AHA, but I noticed the factions more than the coalescing continuity of the profession there. It would be unwieldy to try to have everyone together all of the time, but within the profession are stark disparate groups that are so far apart that some of them did not bother attending despite Chicago’s being a national transportation and cultural hub.

A leader in my grad student association wants people in different camps and majors within the department to come together and I agree with that thinking sincerely. I’m a label-er as much as anyone else. I’ll admit that I like some specialization, but that is less important than unifying people for good. So long as the unification treats everyone as equals is the crux of the matter. In a college department, that’s not hard. In a profession with century-old separations in field work and biases that are nearly inherent to internal structures and culture, it’s harder. We live in a time when people can either divide themselves against each other and focus on what does not mesh perfectly or focus on what groups and what brings us together. There is much more power in coming together and working for common good than in dividing and being dismissive. I am not looking to change everyone’s viewpoints, but to allow for change over time.

1- Tango Tanner, “Dekker’s Boys,” BYU Magazine (Winter 2012): page nr., (accessed January 24, 2012).

Citations made using, footnote style without superscript functionality.

Recent Discoveries and Colloquations

I am still getting used to the fact that anyone outside of my undergraduate institution would find legitimacy in my foundation topical interest, family history/genealogy, in academia. While not a normally “acceptable field” within scholastic academic history from my impressions of the AHA Conference attendees and sessions, I am par for the course in breaking new ground. Like any student, the way that I think evolves and changes as I learn more. I feel like I learn something new daily that assists with explanations of my interests or in preparation for writing an article/book and app creation.

Recent discoveries:

Family History-Specific (Methodological practice and useful book.)

  • Genograms- While common in therapy for mapping family relationships, genealogists also have to map family relationships regularly as does anyone who normally deals with family interactions on a professional level. Whether researching Great Aunt Bergamoine (absolutely hypothetical examples; no basis in reality personally) and her husband, Fred, or their children, Boys 1, 2, and 3, there are a lot of complicated family dynamics. Before today, I saw symplistic examples of this in presentations. Nothing ever formally taught. Now I know the vocab term, and have friends in Psychology that gave advice of looking into Genograms: Assessment and Intervention. Added to Amazon wishlist.
  • The Unofficial Family Archivist– Mini disclaimer: I have not as yet (27 Jan 2012) read this book, but from the chapter summaries, links, and basic premise of the book it looks good. For friends asking for how to protect their documents, I want to recommend this as it appears to give answers to questions that I have not yet learned the answers to while in Library School. I may require this book someday for teaching undergrad courses on family history/genealogy in a general survey class on the topic. That would be fun.

App Research:

  • I am nervous about how much to say about the app that I want to make, but I will need to collaborate with at least two other universities than the two where I go to school in order to make this work. Suffice it to say, it’s smashing together already-existing data and maps, adding a GIS interface, Wiki mapping tags, and putting it into use for an app that allows for the lay person to access information about family from the document up, or basically to play your own version of Who Do You Think You Are? but in live time with current and useful sources. I don’t know anything about programming apps, but I know what needs to happen. Grew up with a programmer Dad. The demo vision is in my head, and explaining how it works is easy. Building the tool? Harder, maybe. Need help.

Article-Book Research:

  • I wrote my undergrad senior thesis on the History of Digital Family History. Heavy revisions four years later, and some soul gave me a shot as part of the LUC History Grad Student Paper Conference where I presented in the digital humanities panel. All of the back story is in previous blogs, so to bring things more to today’s interests, while in Organization of Knowledge class, I learned a little about the history of cataloging. After seeing a slide presentation barely skimming facts, proverbial light bulbs went off about a chapter on how things are or have been cataloged. I feel like I’m making a “Genealogy for the Uninitiated and How to Understand those That Do It” book. Have no idea of the title, but my professor is right. There needs to be more dialogue from those that do and those that don’t do it. Further, there is more discussion needed between the fields of public history, “regular” history, and anyone that works within a historical field who was not a part of AHA this year. Explicitly, museums, more archives, family history-genealogy, historic houses, and other places that feel like step-cousins from the same parental “genealogy” so to speak.
  • I am turning my History of Digital Family History into an article starting with the current paper. It may gain traction after finishing a possible poster proposal for AHA 2013. AHA 2012 taught me that anyone can do this, and a person does not have to be a PhD to start out. A PhD gets more respect, credibility, and the ability for more leverage in some forms of employment, but it also has breaking points. If you have a PhD, why aren’t you teaching? Honestly, I haven’t gotten that far yet, but there must be more than tenure track positions to vie for, even if I’m considering vying for adjunct professorships. I love teaching. I will not outline my experience in the topic at this time.
  • Although not typical for most historians from what I see of the field, maybe I am less uncommon than I think. I am willing to use any and all sources available, maybe. If it is an archaeological dig from an EPA Superfund site that was where a historical scandal took place, I am willing to find out more about the scandal, the resources, and dig in. Just because something is not within the confines of “normal historiography” doesn’t scare me. History is a creative process and a changing field. Sure, yes, you know the context of where you are moving into. If the wheel isn’t broken, no need to fix. However, if missing inner tubes, or if no one thought about the equivalent of vulcanizing rubber, let’s do something a little different and change it from wood to metal to something better, etc. I see no reason to ever be afraid of sources. I may not use them all since some things are not perfectly pertinent to research, and I can easily see historiography coming in to play to try to attack something that I consider precious or even sacred. My mind is open, but not so open that my brains fall out the other side. Critical analysis is a skill set absolutely necessary for anyone, and without it a historian cannot or should not function. Proper judgement meeting wisdom and culminating in something truthful is good. (Here, I wish that I understood like Solomon. But even then, I don’t recall the Bible mentioning how Solomon got so wise outside of it being a gift. Gifts are bestowed and sometimes earned, but it makes me wonder how Solomon got where he was. If someone wants to answer this thought process, fine. I haven’t had a chance to look up specific reference for the tale, but am pondering on my own.)

My background with the History of Technology:

  • My Dad is a programmer, so when asking stories in childhood about my Dad’s college background, I got tales of punch cards and he taught me about computers in places the size of rooms and the days of Bell Labs. The history of computing technology was a part of my household complete with electronics parts from age five and my first time trying out the new computer Dad bought. Plastic and metal cadavers of computer towers were normal in my house along with transistors, resistors, ports boards, Read/Re-Writeable E-Proms, and green plastic boards in all sizes and shapes. These went  along with Dad’s oscilloscope, soldering irons, and drafting tools for design back in the late 80’s and early 90’s. My father always said that unless there was a Radio Shack in a town, there wasn’t civilization. These days, I’m inclined to agree.
  • For me, if there wasn’t a Borders, there was a lack of civilization. The world went down the tubes earlier last year with Borders closing all stores.  Seeing the closed stores in otherwise pretty and trendy locations makes me think that a) I need to know more independent book stores, and b) paper books are still tremendously viable and need protection/enforcement, and use. By that I mean that a country whose educational system does not emphasize learning to think independently (read: high comprehension and critical analysis) for its citizens needs help. The Founding Fathers were more literate than the current civilization.
  • When I was a child, I tried BASIC and that didn’t work as well as I hoped. In high school, I learned extremely basic html during the beginning of Internet coding. Now, I wouldn’t be able to keep up with all of the languages and codes if I tried, but I’m not sure that I have to know everything to create an app. I want it to run on Androids as well as Macs because I own an Android, not an i-Something. But in any case, if it doesn’t work from the outset on a regular computer, it probably won’t work as an app. So, back to history of cataloging.

After all of that, I need to get back to/on homework. It makes it easier to download my brain onto something every once in a while, and although I sincerely doubt that anyone is interested in reading all of this, maybe I can do some good. I do not know whether these opinions will change but I feel like a ship with the prow of the bow plunging ahead through semi-stormy waters. Who I am at the core does not change, and my path feels reasonably clear. How I get there and make it through the storm is anyone’s guess, but I plan to move boldly and as nobly forward as I am able to do.