Tuesday, July 10, 2012

At What Cost, Gaining an Education in Genealogy

Investment in Time, Understanding, Skills, Professionalism

Learning is a lifelong pursuit for genealogists. Each day a new type of computer application, database, discovery of unknown records contributes to the ongoing need of a willingness to learn.

When I was first developing an interest in genealogical research I was a junior in high school. My grandmother fed that interest by sharing the family artifacts in her possession.  Then she took me to the family cemeteries, so I could become the next generation keeper of the family history. She wrote letters to her distant relatives and took me to visit others who lived near by.  This first phase of my education in genealogy was richly rewarding as I began to compile the family data and stories that only these people had a recollection of. 

The second phase of this education was visiting the local family history center. There I discovered how to do the beginnings of research. This was very rudimentary research compared to what I have at my fingertips today. Some microfilms were ordered and I began to explore the New England records of my grandmother’s maternal family who lived in the same town for over 200 years. As a young adult this was a hobby that continued to fulfill my need to know my ancestors.

During my final years in high school and the next few years, I entered the third phase.  I was employed in my first customer service related job. In this job I learned to relate to people of all backgrounds, working to solve any complications that arose in their purchases. I also became adept at reading and scanning records, typing various records and balancing a budget. These skills would serve me well throughout my life, especially in my family history research.

Phase four of my education was my enrollment in college following graduation from high school. A college education provides much more than a one-career path toward employment. The first two years I attended local community colleges and completed most of the basic core classes. These classes are a basis for wherever the future may lead one, no matter how many times they may change their minor or major before graduation. Some of my favorite classes were history and writing. These naturally blend well with an interest in genealogy. I had no intention to make a career of family history, but I benefited by the enhancement they provided in my research.

Phase five was very different from the others. I made a decision to serve a mission for our church and went to Guatemala for sixteen months, following two months of intense training in Spanish as it related to the work I would be doing. This period of educational opportunities included working with people of all types, being organized, using our time wisely and sharing the love of family history work with many people. My skills in foreign language were greatly enhanced.

Upon returning home I started phase six by working and then going away to attend college at Brigham Young University in 1977. In the next few months I refined my work related skills, enjoyed attending a variety of classes and learning to live independently. An interesting thing about attending a variety of classes is that you become a more well rounded person. The love of learning continues to build and the thirst for more knowledge enhances the type of researcher you become. I minored in Spanish and majored in Elementary Education. Even though I did not take any genealogy classes, I did continue to visit the Family History Center at the Lee Library on campus, which has a wonderful collection, second only to the Family History Library in Salt Lake City.

Of course I was mildly distracted during this time period by a young man who proposed to me when I returned home in April of that year. This was the turning point to phase seven of my education, with me returning to live in Portland and utilizing the local family history centers. This phase consisted of the early years of our marriage and the births of our six children, so time for research was very limited. I was fortunate that some of the best genealogy instructors were also the teachers for our Sunday School class for family history. This was the beginning of my formal education in family history organization, putting the information that I had already gathered onto family group sheets and pedigree charts. During this time I also found time to make several trips to Salt Lake City and worked in the Family History Library. These trips entailed focused research in census records, land records, and surname research. In 1985 I considered entering the BYU Independent Study course, but things came up that prevented this. I was awarded an Associates Degree in Spanish on credits I had already earned.

Phase eight began when my youngest child entered elementary school in 1997. Before this time I had done some volunteer work in the schools in Parents Club and PTA officer positions and in the church in a variety of positions. Now I had additional time to serve in new and interesting positions. I worked on the high school Site Council and eventually served on the School Board for eight years. Positions on civic boards offered the opportunities to work in a professional environment. Teaching Spanish to community school classes reinforced my language skills. After some convincing I was allowed to work in the family history center as a volunteer, they felt a young mother would not have the time to dedicate to this work. This was an intense time of education and my knowledge expanded ten fold. I thrived in helping patrons do research. My reward was that my own research filled in any down time and my family history began to blossom. At first I was the shadow of the more experienced volunteers and in turn they had great suggestions on how to pursue my own work. I worked in this position for over ten years and continue to fill in as needed.  At this time I also began attending and speaking at local Family History Center Fairs. These venues offered an amazing array of classes. It also offered the opportunity to associate with local researchers with common interests.

Finally, in 2002, I felt the personal need to complete my Bachelors Degree and applied to the Independent Study program through BYU. I had adequate hours and on campus time to qualify. This was phase nine and probably the most invigorating part of my education. I changed my major to a focus in family history, one of the options in working towards a Bachelor of General Studies degree The following are the classes I choose to take to meet the requirements for earning this degree. While some were more challenging than others, all of my years of research and life experiences made this a very enjoyable experience for me. This program built on one class to another, to develop an experience of knowledge and practical application of that knowledge. Please note that I was in serious car accident in December 2002, shortly after I applied, so it took some time to move forward with the classes.

Student Development 100                               9-17-2002    A-
Genealogy REL 261                                      11-19-2002    A
US-MW Family History Research 403           8-01-2003    A
Writing Family Histories 433                          8-10-2003    A
Family And Law in American History 400     9-21-2003    A
US-NE Family History Research  401            9-30-2003    A
Directed Research in Family History 481R    1-12-2004    A
US and Canada Geography 450                      1-20-2004    C+
English Language Handwriting 421                4-15-2004    A
American Family History 378                         4-19-2004    A        
Professional Paths in Family History 482      12-9-2004    A
Oral History 432                                             1-12-2005    B+
Student Development 490                              1-21-2005    A

Part of the educational process required attendance at more advanced conferences. In attending the 2003 BYU Genealogy and Family History Conference I met requirements of one class by reporting back on what was presented in several of the classes. In 2005 I attended the Federation of Genealogical Society Conference in Salt Lake City, Utah. The national conference is a gateway to meeting people and learning about many facets of genealogical research. This conference was my first active participation as a volunteer for FGS as I coordinated the Ruth C. Bishop Volunteer Hall of Honor Award. Following my graduation from BYU in 2005, I had my first teaching experience at a large conference at the 2006 BYU Genealogy and Family History Conference. We each have our comfort zone in lecturing or teaching others, and I value the experience of doing so in many venues.

Phase ten, working professionally, for me is directly related to reporting income earned to the Internal Revenue Service. Even though I do pro bono work and speak at local Family History Fairs and Societies for nominal costs, I refine my skills and pay back to the genealogical community in these efforts. For the paid work I do, it is the time to demonstrate the value of all that I have learned in the past. There is a definite thrill when the client is given the results of the research and they discover the connections to their ancestral lines. My true love will always be the basic genealogical research. When this is combined with a client and exploring the resources they hold in their possession, then combining that with general research there is always a story to be told. Each story is unique to that individual, even when shared with extended family members. Clients come from a variety of sources, most through word of mouth, some from the APG web site, some through local genealogical society web sites. The key points for the clients are factual research, thorough reporting and well thought out research plans. Each time I take on a project there is always new learning experiences involved. The first points in every project are to create a plan, establish knowledge of the area being researched in and letting the client direct where and how the research is to take place. Thus the projects are always a learning experience between the professional researcher and the client.

So what is the cost to gaining an education in genealogy research? It is going to involve an investment in time in continual learning, an understanding of the learning opportunities available, continual development of skills through ongoing research, and a maintenance of Professionalism in standards. It will mean reinvesting dollars earned in a business plan for future growth. For further growth gaining certification through the BCG or accreditation through ICAPgen are the next steps. These are further proof of the skills and professionalism for serious genealogical researchers. Even though I have been through ten distinct phases in my genealogical education, there are many more phases to come. May you look at every learning opportunity as one more phase in your personal and professional growth as a genealogist.

In June of 2010, I finally received accreditation through the ICAPGen program. This was a three-year endeavor and the feeling of fulfillment is worth every effort I made in this pursuit.
Originally written May 9, 2009.

1 comment:

  1. Wow! Congratulations on your amazing accomplishments!

    I too attended BYU back in the day, but didn't finish my education at that time. Instead my personal priority was to marry my sweetheart and start a family, which we did. We have five wonderful children.

    It was gratifying to read your comments regarding your experiences with your Sunday School teachers who taught family history. I am a family history consultant who also teaches a family history class during Sunday School. I hope that I have helped my students gain a love for and a knowledge of family history.

    Great post Sue! Congrats again on your many accomplishments.