Self-Employed Does Not Mean Jobless!

I am a professional genealogist and am self-employed. In April 2011, a friend said that anyone who was self-employed meant that they had no income. The comment was thoughtless, it stung since my very first tax season as a self-employed individual made me aware of how much I felt like God was blessing me and keeping me alive. It’s been the two lowest income years of my adult life since going into business, but it was part-time on the weekends, and that meant that there was little to no effort going into it.

I did not treat it as reality and had other jobs at the same time. I was scared and did not think highly of my abilities simply because it’s unusual what I do. Plenty of people do it as a hobby, but doing it for a living? That takes the next step. Changing from fluid to solid and adding the infrastructure to make a skeleton that moves. This past summer I received a very expensive business license from the Windy City, and felt quite strongly that it was time that I develop the sole proprietorship into something that is worth my effort. No more second jobs. I like having bosses and being part of an internal corporate ecosystem. There is not the risk involved in a creating a true start-up.

I’ve taken the plunge and added memberships with different societies beyond my Bachelor’s Degree in Family History-Genealogy. My goals presently include certification with either ICAPGEN or BCG and having letters at the end of my name that mean something professionally. More than fifteen years of my life is invested with genealogy, and I’ve had the dishonor of dealing with illegitimacy of my industry. Dating back professionally to about the 1960’s, my field is newer but it does not have the “cool” factor that iProducts do, and it’s based on subjective and often intangible knowledge versus a cold piece of metal deliverable.

So, with all of this background I look around me and see friends with their credentials which they worked hard to obtain for steady jobs and incomes proving their advancement in society and entrance into “real” life with a “real” job. They’re done with school, and now they work and make money and deal with their lives.

I may never be done with school, but I’ve taken a year off for business development. My life revolves around my business, around finding clients, around doing client work and research, and around library and archive schedules for finding the needed documents to finish client work to make them happy.

My livelihood is so different from most of the people I know that I turn into an underdog without really trying. I’m like the plumber, but since they don’t see my labor and since there is no union for me to gouge prices, I don’t charge plumber or lawyer prices.

In a demoralization manifestation, I went to a genealogical workshop yesterday to see whether I could qualify to join the group. I spent months and hundreds of dollars my senior year of undergrad finishing a project that proves that I am related to people from an era of history to which this group adheres. From looking at their database and the documents required, yes, I could qualify if I provide my information and pay more than a hundred dollars for someone else to check my work. (Ouch!) Just about the money, not about checking my work. I expect more documentation for my clients than these people expect in a prestigious group, so that’s not the issue.

My introduction to this group was as a professional genealogist. I see that I will need to prove my worth to their leadership, but the insulting thing was that when I mentioned to their local genealogist that I was self-employed, she later mentioned that most of the young women who were part of their group worked, or had little children and since I didn’t have a job, so I should be able to attend many meetings.

I grew up respecting this organization and felt a desire to be part of them. Now, I am not sure. I deeply hope that this lady meant her statement to sound differently than it came out. Self-employment is NOT for the weak or the wimpy! It takes more than showing up, being in a cubicle and doing the work that someone else gives you all day. You are HR, Marketing, PR, legal, accounting, deliverables, administration, and all of that rolled up in one! You have all of the responsibilities that anyone else has in a large firm shrunken down simply to yourself. You make every decision, and have every liability. There is no such thing as a vacation. Your clients are on your mind 24/6, since in my case I try to use the Sabbath for a rest and do not regularly work on genealogy for hire on Sunday because of it.

This is hard work. I don’t have an MBA, but I know my field and I look up more information on a daily basis. I listen to anyone who has something to say, especially for my grassroots basis in my city where breaking into the field may as well be breaking one’s teeth. I may need dentures by the end of this, but I’m not giving up. I have to be the meat-punching, stair-training Rocky here.

Yes, I have a job where I have to be kind to get respect. I have to deal with under-valuation from a portion of society that should be familiar with my field and regularly doesn’t have a clue. I am frustrated, but have to be patient and gentle with people who have painful issues as I do surgery on their family’s wounds and help them figure out who in the world they may be. It’s a hard JOB, but someone gets to do it. (Me!)


Unexpected Consequences of the Government Shutdown: National Archives Closed

The government shutdown was easily preventable. Whether blamed on legislation or on one party or another, the whole thing is an imbecilic and catastrophic effect of the brinkmanship between the President and the houses of Congress. There are enough complications in the matter that no “good guy” appears.
in all of it. However, there are representatives of the United States people involved. I don’t care about their “big business” connections. I care presently about whether I can run my business and whether I can get to my needed resources to get my business done.

I am a genealogist. Without the National Archives open, I cannot do my work, specifically if I need a historical naturalization, it is nice and locked up. No one seems to have access if no one is working there. Conservation is not happening. Cataloging and all those things that the government does to attempt to have free and open access to public information stops. The government is, of essence, breaking some of its own laws without sufficient access to documents allowed by the Freedom of Information Act.

Case in point: Yesterday was the first time I tried to contact the National Archives since the shutdown. Although the phone line at the Chicago Branch rang, no one answered. I tried the National line and heard a voice mail about their being shut down due to the government shutdown. It’s so nice to hear that the nation’s archives, as formed as part of the Constitution, is non-essential. Isn’t that pretty?

I tried contacting my house representative first seeing as there were more representatives, maybe I might get a tiny touch more time than the Senator’s offices allowed. I found out who my representative was and emailed Jan Schakowsky.

From there, I looked up my senators. Mark Kirk and Richard “Dick” Durbin. Mark Kirk had someone there to help me find his email form and to allow me to voice a concern. Dick Durbin’s office may as well have not existed. His pre-recorded message indicated that his office shut down. So he considers himself “non-essential” personnel? *stunned silence for about three seconds* HOW DARE HE! I am one of his represented constituency. That means that he should ALWAYS be open and available. If not in an emergency, then when? There was an emergencies only line available and I called that and left a message. Apparently he does not want contact. If you are representing ME, you had BETTER want my contact and be willing to respond and to reply. No matter how well-connected in Washington you are, it does not matter if you do not pay attention to, listen, and field the concerns of your represented people.

Is he just a crony for policy, or does he truly consider himself “non-essential?” I have no problems making sure that he is non-essential if he does not consider contact with his constituency of enough influence to have even one person to staff a phone or field an email.

Whether or not Dick Durbin is attempting to make a point with shutting down his office in showing what the government looks like without workers, he is allowing the idea that he does not want to work for me. So fine, don’t work for me. I’ll find someone who will.

As for Mr. Kirk, he kept his office open and some nice people took my comments today. As for Jan Schakowsky, I called her today, left some contact info, and expect to hear back before the end of the day.  Whether I get SPAMMED or not, at least there is someone there to work for me instead of packing up and forgetting who got him or her to Washington in the first place.

And no, I have no problems in performing daily emails, phone calls, and even writing physical letters. I have no problems in organizing and going to their offices if necessary.

Messing with how I make a living and how I feed my family when you supposedly serve me makes me upset enough to do something about it. I would not be an activist if not driven to it.

FamilySearch Pictures and Sources: Using the Facelift

Changes in FamilySearch’s user interface spawned new research efforts when sources transfer easily from software to social ware (FamilySearch) for accuracy and depth in ancestral research.

Little inspired me to try FamilySearch for research and posting outside of their LDS-specific uses in ages. As such, I did not keep up with changes until the last two months. Initially, the information I really wanted to review was on, After becoming spoiled by’s instant abilities, I waited while FamilySearch brought their collections “up to code” with the monolith.

For any researcher, the sources are what turns cute family stories into real family history. Pictures (now ubiquitous and essential to Internet life) are easily uploaded and connected to ancestors. Instead of image-less names, dates, and places, uploaded pictures and stories make lives of the dead.

Any information taken out of context is easily misinterpreted, or misrepresented. Although reaching back to the past does not guarantee “accuracy in reporting,” meat on the bones (stories, pictures, and the daily stuff that is often relegated of being no importance to the person at the time) is important in sparking interest for the instant Internet and media-based generation, often a hundred or more years ahead of what someone once thought of as “boring.”

Outside of and including historical professorships, history is bigger and bigger business. Applied and marketable history is not a bad thing and teaches faster than monographs. While considered the standard for “serious” research, unless there is a connection to a direct past event, why read the monograph?

Adding applicable, accessible, and non-copyright restrictive photos and basic source materials gives a reason to review a historic monograph. Consider family history or genealogy as “front lines” history when trying to teach the subject.


Genealogical Collections Aggregator

Genealogical Collections Aggregator

I built it. The first layer of the Family Place Tracer (C) is done as far as working method. There are other layers that make a difference to the overall scope and vision of the project, but this is done. I have to finish the theoretical NEH grant request, but much of it is already written. Will investigate how to build more layers into this map, but this is the first look for now. We’ll see how far it goes.

Managing Collections for the Home Family Historian

Machu Clan Name in Manchurian

Manchu Clan Name

While reading my management book this evening during homework, I am trying to see how the family historian works as an information disseminator.

“Managers not only gather information, but they also share it with others.” (Stueart and Moran 11)

Family history researchers are notorious for keeping their information to themselves. People are not trained as families, and thus act like their information is as individual as the researcher, whether or not it coincides with efforts of others. There is usually no one with whom to work on the information unless unusual amounts of effort are made. It is a happy family that can share information without griping.

it is not a if there aren’t ways of communicating. While postal mail is an unusual way of sending information today, it still happens and works. “Real mail” is more effective for communicating information than email or Facebook, although the latter are easier methods for disseminating information faster.

How to best communicate is up to every family to choose for themselves. I have a Twitter account but have not used it in possibly three months. I use Facebook perhaps at least every other day, and email many times a day. I use WordPress in spurts, sometimes weekly and sometimes twice a day. Other methods of communication are available for those who use them: Ancestry message boards, Yahoo and Google Groups, forums in places diverse as the audience.

Ask the Missionaries: They Can Help You

During General Conference in October, Elder Nelson mentioned repeatedly in his talk: Ask the missionaries. They can help you. I was watching conference at my Church building and the missionaries for my general area sat a few rows ahead of me. While watching them, they were okay with the things that Elder Nelson was asking them to help with, excepting family history.

Although it is a commandment that people in my Church work on knowing who their ancestors are, the vast majority of Church members that I have come across know almost nothing about the topic. There is not a lot of training  on the topic beyond essentials, at least in the U.S. Outside of the Church, genealogy is a hot topic, and receives much attention. It was not a surprise to watch the sisters look at each other in a mild amount of fear when Elder Nelson asked the missionaries to help with people finding their ancestors. Sister missionaries can range in age but until recently, they were typically in their early twenties. Few people in their twenties are very concerned about their ancestors unless there is a direct need to be so interested such as the death of a loved one.

I became interested in family history (genealogy) when I was a child, and work with the field both inside and outside of the Church with friends and colleagues. It was my Bachelors degree major.

So, I gave the sisters my number to train them in basics. For our first meeting, the computers at the family history center were down. While a little frustrating, that did not stop things very long. We re-scheduled for today, and we ended up meeting at a McDonald’s with wifi near my neighborhood although in their area, and started looking up their family information.

Neither of the sisters knew what to expect. The first sister was pretty shocked when she saw that her ancestors enmeshed with our Church’s historical movements. Some family members were active members, while others went back and forth. However, by the end she knew that the stories she heard were real. She saw what information the Church had on her ancestors in live-time, and saw where the history and her family worked with each other. I gave her explanations as we went to help her see the context of what was happening around the dates in her family’s life.  The dates and places were enough to see that there were multiple stories happening that tied her directly into historical events with which she was familiar but were not real until she saw them on the page.

She took a lot of notes and her eyes bugged out regularly.

For the second sister, she had more questions about modern issues and had other effects where it was unclear what was happening and how things came together but there were still complicated twists and turns in her family’s history. She knew more about her family’s background to start, and in her case it was less of a dramatic unfolding.

Going back to the first sister, I wanted to make sure that she knew that her background was epic. While the first place where we left off was not exactly the happiest, by the end of it she was able to see people who made it through, people who were obviously determined, down to children who made it through when both parents were dead by the age of six. They found their way to being great people. She knew very little about her family’s background coming into our meeting but left with an intense amount of knowledge about herself and her family’s efforts going step by step through Church history starting (in her case) in 1839. Watching the knowledge and paradigms shift was fun.

For me, it was just fun to work with these sisters. I could see that the information whelmed the first sister, but when they were all done, they knew that they could be asked by Church members or others and either help them themselves or knew where the resources were. They also learned that there was a lot more to family history than that they previously understood, including seeing their roles in it. It was a grand afternoon.

I appreciated being able to help, and felt that this was important. One of the sisters will soon be transferred, but they both know more about themselves and their history now. I hope that it made a positive impact and didn’t rock their worldviews out of creation. After a bad week, this was a great thing to be able to help. Now I hope that they can pass it along.

Document Yourself: Genealogy for Beginners

Associates keep asking me how to start their family history. This reply may be so basic that I do not wish to sound obvious, but start with yourself and move backwards. A lot of people understand the conceptual “going backwards” part, but the starting with yourself leaves them with non-connecting looks.

Think of your living space, and/or that of your parents or children. Think of where you work, where you shop, go to Church (if applicable), pay taxes, and everything else. What are the basic records found at each location? What are the major events in your life? Has anything in your life ever cost more than $1,000 (US)? Then there should be some sort of documentation for it, and it probably was a big deal when the purchase happened such as for a house, a car, school, a birth, etc.

Although papers are important, there are many stories that pass down through generations without papers. Sometimes, unless there is a specific need for a paper’s creation, major events do not receive record. But, start with what you have. A) Anything that is paper that has your name on it, which is from an official source of some sort is worth looking at. Driver’s licenses are not paper, exactly, anymore, but they also count.

General guidelines (not the professional standard, but things that I look for when gathering basic documents):

  • Name or variant of name
  • Location or institution of some sort (State of Illinois, Carnegie Mellon University, Holy Cross Hospital*, Department of Defense, Our Father Lutheran Church*- *some of these locations may or may not exist. These are given simply for hypothetical purposes only)
  • Numbers (date, or identifying number of any sort)
  • Anything that looks official or pertinent.

Some items may look official and be complete fluff. Other items could be small or odd shapes, and those are the ones to keep track of carefully as there is usually only one of them in the world. The archivist in me does not want to make copies of items due to light damage, but sometimes only surviving copies ARE the only thing that survives. Not everything is on 100-year microfilm or gold archival-quality DVDs. Scanning helps, but it takes effort to up-date formats. Possibly the hardest thing about family history is that there is no way ever to say that it is done (save Deity says it) and finished due to updating formats for documents alone.  

However, start smaller.  Look around the house. Notice what is on the walls. Pictures are documents in their own right in many cases. Although photoshop works wonders, most people are not about to try to break into your house to steal a 100-year-old picture of Great Aunt Susie to digitally craft something or someone else in there. Despite Hollywood, most people’s families really are not that interesting to anyone outside of their family, if even to them. So work on it in bits and pieces.

Organize the items first by surname, and then by generation. When you deal with much larger quantities of family members, then separation into geographic locations is a better idea. If all of your family documents fit into either a single 2″ binder or a single-drawer file box, then organization by surname is not a bad effort or method entirely.

Make the record of yourself. You think that you are not interesting? Try writing your story and then read it back to yourself out loud. If you need to, read it to a friend or family member. You will be surprised what happens when importance and weight come into play from another’s opinion.