Becoming a professional
One of the most frequent questions I get through my website relates to how I “became” a professional. What educational steps did I take? When did I feel “ready” to take the step beyond being a hobbyist and into the realm of being a professional? I’m always more than happy to offer a few suggestions from my experiences on this path. My path is going to look different than your path, of course. But these are just some of the things I’ve learned along the way and am sharing so that perhaps you can take one less step than I took to get here.
Before you decide to take the plunge, you will need to determine how much time and money have to devote to the educational process. If yours is the main income for your family or situation, your path is going to look a lot different from someone who has the luxury of having a spouse whose income can take care of the family needs. And of course these are two points on the spectrum and everyone’s situation is going to be unique. Examining your time and financial situation will determine which courses, programs, classes, institutes and so on you might consider in the future.
If you want a “fast track” I would look at something like the Boston University program in genealogy or the National Institute of Genealogical Studies where you can earn a PLCGS (Professional Learning Certificate in Genealogical Studies). They have higher price tags up front, but I’ll bet that if I tallied up all of the money I’ve spent on the educational events I have done, their price is probably comparable if not less expensive. My educational funds were spent in smaller increments over many years. Taking a more condensed course like those above will require a larger upfront commitment.
These online courses were not available when I got started. I took a longer, slower road, finding educational opportunities when and where it was convenient. The whole paradigm of online education was not available to me yet and all of these great webinars that are not online… Woah! And even though I have crossed some imaginary line and have “become” a professional, I still partake of any online class, webinar, and study group I can fit into my schedule. A professional never stops learning and should never be so arrogant to think that they can’t learn something new everyday.
If you don’t have as much time and/or funds to put into it at once, you could do something closer to what I’ve done which is to take less expensive but just as effective courses over a longer period of time. This might be more effective if you are needing to remain employed at your “day job” while taking the necessary educational steps toward professional genealogy. I would highly recommend the peer to peer study group “ProGen” based on the book Professional Genealogy. (If you don’t have that book, get it. It is a little outdated, but only a little. All of the principles are still sound and valid. The rumor on the genealogical street is that an updated edition on the way but I have no idea when it might be published.)
Another great way to get an in-depth education is by attending week long institutes. I’ve written some blog posts about these and other relevant topics:
In addition to this I recommend attending every weekend seminar, online webinar, local genealogical society meeting, and any other online or in person study group you can fit in your schedule and budget. Read anything you can on the topic. There is no shortage of reading material when it comes to genealogical study. I have a steady stream of blogs, journals and books that pile up on my desk. I recently saw a quote by Earl Nightingale that claimed if you read one hour per day in your chosen field, you will be an international expert in 5 years. I don’t know if that is true but it makes sense. The more you read the more you learn, boost your analytical thinking, and improve your memory (or so says the internet). I know that if I didn’t read NGSQ articles, I would lack understanding of how to analyze my research findings and how to present it in a coherent proof argument.
Probably the biggest thing that happened to me that caused me to “become” a professional was that nudge from my mentor, nationally known and well-loved Birdie Holsclaw, who told me I could be and I should be doing more with my genealogy. Having someone of that caliber believe in you really is a confidence booster. So, I try to pass those messages on to others in Birdie’s honor: You can do more, you do have something valuable to share, and you can make a difference in someone’s career. It is difficult to find a mentor, I have found that mentoring just kind of happens. But you can leave yourself open to it happening. Volunteer at your local or state society, attend local events, forge genealogical friendships, don’t be shy, and allow yourself to be available to a mentor.
The imaginary line I referred to above, is really just a mental decision that my work was going to meet a higher standard than it had been at before. I would put citations on everything. I would follow the Genealogical Proof Standard. I would adhere to the standards set forth by my colleagues in regard to professionalism in my work, behavior, online presence, writing, and so on. It had nothing to do with taking clients, making money, getting the post nominals, or landing a national speaking gig. It was a mental decision. That’s when I “became” a professional.
I hope these little bits of information help you with your path to becoming a professional. Realize that your journey is different and if even one of these thoughts helps you find your path, then it was worth it.