Friday, January 25, 2013

Ask Not What Your Professional Organization Can Do For You...

Last week Barbara Mathews made a detailed post to the Association of Professional Genealogists' members-only list explaining the many issues with Ancestry's rendition of Massachusetts town records and how to deal with it and get around at least some of the problems.

For me that post alone was almost worth the $65 annual dues. While few posts there are as thorough and authoritative, there's lots of help requested and received on the list.

 (Full disclosure: I'm on the list a lot, and I'm a member of the APG board. Even fuller disclosure: these are my own unofficial opinions and the 2500 or so other APGers may disagree!)

But while we all have to decide what to do with our limited supply of money, APG is not just a consumer product. We decide whether to subscribe to or Scotland's People based on whether the benefits to us (including intangibles) will exceed the costs. Same as buying a bag of gummi worms. And that's as it should be.

Deciding to join APG involves more than that calculation. It's also a decision to identify with and support a profession. And a profession, if it's worth anything, is not just a group of people who sell a product or service -- it's also a group of people who uphold the profession's standards.

To take an obvious example: A merchant may sell those books with fancy covers and vaporous language inside that purport to be a "history of your surname." No professional genealogist worthy of the name would have anything to do with that. Of course professionals often seek to earn money, but there are also things they won't do for money.

As Michael Hait wisely pointed out in a recent blog post, APG and the profession (as well as other genealogy societies) are in part what we put into them. So I wouldn't want anyone to join simply because of great posts like Barbara's. We need members; we need volunteers; we need folks who take genealogy seriously and will help build up the profession in innovative ways. But if you're all about getting the most for the cheapest, please look elsewhere.

Harold Henderson, "Ask Not What Your Professional Organization Can Do for You...," Midwestern Microhistory: A Genealogy Blog, posted 25 January 2013 ( : accessed [access date]). [Please feel free to link to the specific post if you prefer.]


Margie said...

Harold, Interesting post. I am not a professional, IMHO, although I have been paid a couple times for doing presentations.
I have thought about joining APG because I want to be a better genealogist and want to learn where and how to do that.
I have NO intention of ever becoming a professional researcher; I would love to do more presentations and getting paid is nice but not the most important although being reimbursed travel and hotel fees would be good.
Is APG for me?

Harold said...

Margie --

Once again, just my opinion. I think APG is a good place for those who want to be better genealogists. There are lots of formal and informal learning opportunities. That said, the organization's primary focus is on the business of genealogy. So if your resolution not to become a professional researcher holds, then some of what we do in our webinars and discussion sessions and the quarterly will not be relevant to you. APG is not primarily in the business of educating people *about genealogy* as there are lots of places to do that, but we do cross that fuzzy line sometimes, e.g. we have discussions about writing, which is an issue for both professionals and serious non-professionals. And of course general genealogy issues come up on the list all the time, which is how my post today got started!