Monday, February 12, 2007

An Open Letter to Lee

Congratulations on deciding not to become "one of them." Because you are clearly not one of them; you are one of us. One of the millions of us—amateurs and professionals alike—who practice genealogy because we love genealogy, and who share our experience and research because we want others to share in our passion.

Don't let those professional genealogists who only "fight for the right to be included" define the profession. It's not hard to find others who fight for what is truly right: open and equal access for all. The impulse to exclude is found in every profession, and is always repugnant. It certainly should be stamped out in genealogy—a field in which every human being with ancestors ought to have an interest.

Unlike you, I've never considered becoming a professional genealogist. Those people on the APG list who would bicker over the placement of commas in citations would become apoplectic if they ever saw my footnotes. They would turn blue and die if they ever saw my filing cabinet. But I am proud to call myself an "unprofessional genealogist." (I'm thinking of having business cards printed up.) If anyone asks for my help, I give it without warranty, and it generally meets with their approval. I can see the advantages of becoming certified, but I've never had need of those advantages.

I understand your reluctance to be associated with anyone who seeks to deprive the average genealogist of needed resources. But don't deprive the genealogical community of your advice, experience, and good humor. Those are needed as well.


Lee - follow your passion. There's plenty of room in genealogy for everyone.

Well said Chris.

Bill Puller
The Genealogy Tech Podcast

Bill Blunt

The charity sector here in the UK had a wonderful line they used a few years ago: "Voluntary, Not Amateur" - a challenge to everyone who dismissed volunteers as somehow unprofessional.

I'm with you on this one, Chris. The Wonderful World of Genealogy is not, and should not become, an exclusive one.

Genealogy is first a hobby, then a passion. Sure, some people make a lot of dough out of it, and it's in their interests to position the sport as something that shouldn't really be tinkered with by the common man or woman in the street (or field, if you've got as many Ag Labs inyour tree as me). It's a little like when Desk Top Publishing came out, and a few smart cats set themselves up as design gurus, mesmerising the unwary with talk of 'font sizes' and 'kerning'. Well, the news is we're all DTPers now!

The APG sounds like the sort of club Groucho Marx would have been proud to be excluded from. It also sounds like something where, after spending a load of bucks you get a nice membership card. (It also sounds like some kind of wierd automotive fuel, but I guess that's not their fault).

Harry McFry would have no truck with that kind of thing. I hope Lee heeds your call - and thanks for highlighting this issue.





I'm going to agree with Chris. I'm someone who spends hundreds of dollars a year (not to mention thousands of hours) in order to provide people I do not know, with free access to genealogy, documents and histories. Why do I do it? Because I love genealogy.

It appears that something you read on the APG mailing list upset you. Well don't let the genealogy snobs get to you. I've enjoyed reading your blog, and am sad to see you leave it.


Miriam Robbins
This comment has been removed by the author.


we have the same reaction as you so we came up with this:

Charley "Apple" Grabowski

Dear Lee,
You've closed your comments so I'm hoping you'll see this here.

I don't know if you can make a living at genealogy without joining that group but if you have to go some other direction for your career I hope you'll continue to be a part of the amateur genealogy community.

I've enjoyed your blog and hope that you'll continue.

Becky Wiseman

In every field of endeavor there are the "intellectuals" who seemingly set standards so high that even they cannot meet them. And to what use? Isn't genealogy (actually I prefer the term family history) for the "common" person. Shouldn't the goal of any "professional" organization be to promote the advancement of that profession rather than, so it appears, to restrict it?

Lee, don't quit. If you do, it's as though "they win" in some small way, but by excluding or alienating the very people that can make their organization better, they are really losing. And, if you quit, we too would be losing. I, for one, have enjoyed reading your blog. Our "community" needs to hear all viewpoints. Yours included.


All I can say at the moment is that I am very touched and overwhelmed by the response. Well that, and by golly gee, Chris has done started a movement. I'm buying one of those t-shirts! More later, after all this sinks in.



Before making a judgement about a group of people or organization, you should research what you're commenting about.

First, APG and its members do not espouse records access restrictions that would leave them open only to the "pros". Where this notion has come from, I don't know. If anything, members of APG and other professional genealogists work right along side amatuer genealogists to try and keep records open to the public.

I am a member of APG but I do not have any letters behind my name...yet. I do strive to though, not because I'm a genealogy snob, but because I value education and want to give my customers confidence in my abilities.

Several of you seem to imply there is something wrong or immoral about making a living as a genealogist. Professionals provide a service to those who want it. We are not forcing our services down anyone's throat. Our clients seek us out for various different reasons.

I don't think any professional looks down on those who do voluntary research. I myself coordinate a volunteer project and many professionals do some sort of pro bono work when they can.

So please, if you're going to make a comment about a group, know what you are commenting about.



Had you only known what you were getting yourself into...My,my,my...;-) Thank you, Chris and all, for your support. It's this kind of community spirit that keeps me hooked on blogging. So, you guys hold down the fort while I go have me a good old fashioned mental breakdown, and I'll join you again when the meds kick in.

:-) Lee


Good luck with whatever path you choose, Lee.

And Nicole—thanks for agreeing with me! Genealogy is a noble profession when carried out nobly. While the APG-L archives suggest that not every card-carrying member of the group would oppose records access restrictions so long as a back door was left open for card-carrying members, most do support open access for all.

Like Lee, I'm all for holding professional genealogists to high standards. Were I to hire a genealogist, knowing that she passed muster with a reputable organization would carry considerable weight. But, as numerous APG-L threads make clear, the issues of professional standards and of records access are inextricably linked. The next time some state legislature wants to allow access only to credentialed genealogists, I hope that every APG member joins you in voicing his or her opposition. I'm not so sure that there won't be a few of your number more interested in updating their credentials than signing petitions.


APG members are filled with a passion for genealogy. Their hope is to earn a living doing what they love.

They are also active participants in genealogical societies, they gladly work on volunteer projects such as transcribing and indexing, and they spend countless hours volunteering at organizing national, state, and regional conferences.

They post the results of their research on the Internet, they send information and suggestions to their fellow Rootswebbers, they fight to keep public records in various states open to the public, and they attempt to keep the National Archives and its regional branches from shortening their hours.

"Becoming a Professional," posted on the APG website at, explains how education, conference-going, business skills, professional standards, and so on are helpful to the professional genealogist.

Much of what's on that page is useful for every genealogist.


Joy Rich
Member, APG


Another perspective - The characterization of “APG” has neither been fair nor accurate. It’s baffling that so many folks engaged in “research” could jump on the slam-APG-bandwagon without ever having viewed the APG email list.

I have proudly been a member of APG - Association of Professional Genealogists - for three years, I “lurked” on the APG mail list long before joining. After years of family research and freebie volunteer work, I made the decision to WORK towards becoming a professional genealogist. No one becomes a “professional” at anything by just saying they’re going to be one.

The first thing I learned when joining the APG mail list was that I did not know nearly as much as I thought I did. But it was quickly apparent that the people who could teach me were on that list. It was also quickly apparent that new folks of all degrees of experience and knowledge were welcomed. There are lively discussions about all sorts of varying subjects and opinions. In five years of participating in the APG mail list, this is the first time I’ve ever seen these kinds of negative comments. The overwhelming responses I’ve seen have been about how appreciative folks were for the warm welcome and assistance they received.

Actually, about ½ the APG mail list are not members of APG, but folks who want to join in the discussions and learn, both amateur and fee-based researchers. Neither the list nor APG is elitist - thus the list being open to anyone to join or read in the Rootsweb archives. The licensing thread was started by one man as an expression of his opinion, amidst his opinions on many other issues that might effect ALL genealogists in the future.(Like what do we do if the revised "Patriot Act" closes all vital records for 100 years?) The overwhelming response from the list has always been negative each time the licensing topic is brought up.

The post nominal AG is for “Accredited Genealogist”, conferred by ICAPGen, which is not related to APG. The discussion about proper punctuation seems very appropriate among folks who are going to charge others to read their written research reports, or maybe submit articles for editors to scrutinize.

My guess is Lee caught part of the licensing thread, not the entire context, while probably having a bad day or two while seriously questioning career changes. Being a “professional” anything takes education, training, familiarity with the “standards of the trade" and hard work. Lee’s success or failure at being a professional genealogist does not ride on a couple of unrelated email threads on the APG mail list.

Lee does not need a pity party from buddies. Lee needs a reality check. Has Lee seriously looked into what it takes to start a new business venture, understanding that many fail within the first year and the majority fail by the fifth?

Was there a skills, education and training evaluation to compare with the competitive standards of the work force in the new field? Did Lee buy “Professional Genealogy”, which is like the how-to-encyclopedia of the profession?

Was there market analysis to determine who and where the future customers were, the best, most cost efficient ways to reach them?

Was there sufficient capital to cover the investment needed in reference material, office supplies, continuing education and other business expenses? Capitalization to carry the new business venture through until the client load became sufficient to cover overhead and pay a salary?

Was there commitment to the fact that most new business ventures do not make a profit the first few years? Even IRS recognizes that.

Was research conducted to determine a fair market value of the services provided and this information used to help determine the rate that needed to be charged in order to meet overhead and pay a salary?

Was their personal committment to strive to meet the Code of Ethics?

It does take more than passion for one’s work to turn that passion into a career. Nobody starts at the top. And running your own business means you have to be good at two things - the work you chose for yourself AND running a business.

Miriam Robbins

Hear, hear! Some of the most interesting lectures I've heard or works I've read were not created by those who were professional genealogists. That is not to say that professionalism and standards are not needed in this field.

You need to do what is right for you, Lee, and I support you in that.

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