Sunday, January 6, 2013

The Art of Communication for Genealogists

How we communicate whether in person, through snail mail, over the phone or through online messages can quickly determine the results that we do or do not receive. Like playing the game Telephone, where one person passes on a message and then it continues to be passed to all the participants until the last person reveals the message they heard. Usually after the message has passed through several people it bears little similarity to the original message.

This past couple of months I have been communicating by email with professional genealogists in Poland. Besides the language barrier, there is also the critical issue of ensuring that the messages sent are interpreted correctly. It becomes essential that in our inter-continental emails that we clarify and communicate several times to ensure we are in agreement to what is the original material needed or supplied, the desired material we wish to pursue and then a format for reporting the results. This becomes even more complicated when two genealogy professionals are working as go betweens for a client who is very specific in what is desired. The client previously worked with one researcher, then we worked together with another, and we are now working with a third. Each performed the specific tasks as they were agreed to, but with different levels of expertise. Not wanting to repeat previous research the communication needs to be especially clear.

On another current project it was necessary to hire a researcher to retrieve a Civil War Pension File from NARA. The best way to ensure this request is fully understood is to provide the online indexed information describing the file and service of the soldier and/or his widow. Sometimes this is initiated with a phone call and then followed up with an email with the details. The service provided is exceptional as in a few days we received four full color PDF files through DropBox and paid for it through PayPal.

It is always a guessing game as to if the file will be for the family being researched. This time it was, all 133 pages, with certificates, information from family Bible pages with the right family names, testimonies, physical descriptions of the soldier, residences over a long period of time, etc. It will take considerable time to analyze all of the information and place it into context.

Earlier this year we ordered another file and it was not a match with the family being researched. While that is frustrating, considering the expense of ordering such files, it is important to rule out the possibility. In all the files we ordered this is the only one not to match up, so the odds are in our favor.

The last example of communication is when working with clients. My preference is to do a review of the known material, then meet in person if possible to determine the work desired. The current researcher in Poland has impressed me with her initial contract for work and reporting methods. We certainly can learn from fellow genealogists in how to present ourselves professionally. By taking advantage of online training, conferences and institutes we become aware of the professional tools that will enhance how we communicate.

There are several of my clients who I have never met in person. This works better for short-term projects, when specific documents are being sought. Sometimes they just need to have quick online research done by someone who understands where and how to find the details they are seeking. Rarely would I work for someone without both phone and online communication. The best advice is to never surprise the client, but to keep them fully informed about the work involved and the possiblity of finding no results.

So, whether you work for clients or just contact an unfamiliar person, business, library, research facility, etc., be prepared to communicate clearly, precisely, fluently, and then confirm that communication via email or written contact. The first contact may be the only chance you will have to ensure that the other party is confident in speaking with you. Before making the contact you might want to practice what you would like to say, make a list of questions, and solicit advice of an unbiased party. We are off to a New Year and hopefully you will have many opportunities to take full advantage of utilizing the art of communication for genealogists.

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