What is a professional genealogist?
Some time ago I acquired the following book and studied it all the way through.
Mills, Elizabeth Shown. Professional Genealogy: A Manual for Researchers, Writers, Editors, Lecturers, and Librarians. Baltimore: Genealogical Pub. Co., 2001.
I do fall into a couple of these categories. I certainly do a lot of research for myself and many other people. I do a lot of writing. I lecture a lot in classes, presentations, and webinars. For example, in the last week or so, I have averaged one a day if you count webinars, classes, and presentations. I have also worked for many years in libraries as a bibliographer and reference librarian. So when did I suddenly become a "professional?"
To become a professional lawyer, I went to law school for about 2 1/2 years (I finished early) and got a degree (there were a lot of other requirements, but I won't go into that). But even with that degree, I couldn't "practice law." I had to pass a three-day long examination and be admitted to the Arizona State Bar association before I could charge money for representing people in the Courts of Arizona. Since I have now retired from the Arizona State Bar Association and moved to Utah, I cannot "practice law" in either state. But I didn't suddenly forget all of my 39 years of experience as an attorney. So am I now a "professional lawyer?"
Is being a professional a certain degree of experience and education or does being a professional have something to do with certification and recognition? Hmm. I do not have a degree in library science, so it is unlikely that I could get a job working in a library especially at my advanced age. But I likely know about as much about libraries as any recent university graduate with a degree in library science or maybe more. If I wanted to join the American Library Association, I could pay my dues and I would likely fall under one of the many categories of membership especially as a library volunteer for almost 15 years and based on my previous work experience.
But what about genealogy? I have 35+ years experience doing genealogical research. I spent about five years taking genealogy classes from Brigham Young University. I have attended and taught at untold numbers of genealogy conferences and attended and taught hundreds of classes on at least that many genealogy subjects. I have read a pretty good percentage of all the books published about genealogy as a profession. I have authored or co-authored over 25 published books on genealogical research subjects and that is just the beginning. So when did I become a professional, if I did?
Oh, I get it. You have to charge money for your services, then you get to be a professional. I have been paid, off and on, some money for my genealogical efforts, so does that fact make me a professional? I could put a bunch of letters after my name and call myself a professional. Is that what does the trick?
As I have written about previously, there is really no specific criteria for becoming a "professional" genealogist. There are, of course, those, as is the case in all areas of activity, that set themselves up as authorities, experts and professionals. But there are very few opportunities in genealogy to obtain a degree or work as a full-time genealogist. There is an Association of Professional Genealogists, to which I belonged for a number of years, but essentially all that is required for membership is to agree to its Code of Ethics and pay your dues.
The dictionary definition of a "professional" is extremely vague and for that reason, almost anyone who is working in any capacity in our society can claim to be a professional. I know quite a few people who quietly work in Family History Centers and libraries who would not consider themselves to be "professionals" who are really more professional than most of those who do.
I am really a lot more interested in doing my own research and helping others do theirs than worrying about whether or not I receive any money, recognition or whatever for doing what I love to do. I am more interested in results and competence than any certification by any "professional organization." I have known a lot of incompetent attorneys over the years who had passed all the requirements for practicing law and I also know a lot of people who are doing genealogy that really have no clue how to do research, but that is always the case. What I think is most important is to do a good job and to keep learning how to do a better one and I really don't care a lot about whether or not anyone considers me to be a professional or not. Of course, I will keep writing and teaching and talking because that is what I do.