I have great hesitation to write this post but I'm going to do it anyway. It's too honest and maybe it will open up divisions between genealogists like the acrimonious ones between working moms and stay-at-home moms (yes, for those of you not in the know, those two groups duke it out).
On Saturday I gave some talks at a conference. Before my "Deeds and Probate" talk I strolled around talking to the members of the audience. I came upon two people who identified themselves as graduates of the Boston University Genealogical Certificate Program. We were chatting pleasantly when out of the blue one of them asks me, "Well, what are your qualifications for giving this talk?" She was joking, I think, maybe. But it came too soon after dropping the fact that they were BU Certificate grads, of which I am not.
In fairness, it's a good question. And that's why we provide titles for our talks, descriptions and a bio that tells the audience in advance who we are and what kind of experience we have. That way attendees can make a decision about whether a talk would be worthwhile or not.
I was a bit caught off guard by that question. Any one who knows me well, knows that I enter into a state of shocked silence when caught off guard. Probably one of the few times I am ever silent. I'm never one with a good quick come-back. I gave the person a sort of lame, "all I could think of off the top of my head" answer.
But I've been thinking about this and will probably will continue to do so for awhile. What qualifications do I have? None really, on paper. I don't have a certificate from Boston University or any other program. I haven't been to Samford, and I am not a Board Certified genealogist.
What do I have? Yes, I am self-taught (unless you want to consider the twenty years of indoctrination I received from my genealogist mother). I have been reading the APG lists, old and new, since 2005. Then the TGF list after that started. I don't comment like I used but I still read them. Those lists exposed me to Elizabeth Shown Mills, Elissa Scalise Powell and many of the other top genealogists of this generation. I absorbed their words, heeded their advice, studied as they suggested and drowned myself in books to lead me on my way. I felt I couldn't have better teachers. And while I've never met Elizabeth Shown Mills I still regard her as a mentor, as she is to so many, because I was willing to accept everything she had to offer. Elissa I've had the pleasure of meeting, hearing her present and talking with her one on one. Sometimes even a casual conversation is a teaching moment.
And no I don't have any credentials but I've thrown myself into the genealogical community, particularly in New England. I've tried to get out there and meet everyone. I've had the honor of getting to know, little by litte, Melinde Lutz Byrne, Helen Schatvet Ullmann and Sharon Sergeant. Still to this day, the most terrifying moment of my speaking career was while giving a sparsely-attended talk when I was still green as could be and Melinde and Helen were both present. And did they go easy on me with the questions? No, but I'm a better genealogist for it.
As for my work, I am a full-time historical researcher. I use that term instead of genealogist because I wear many hats. Sometimes I do genealogical research, much of the time I am researching house histories and other times you will find me researching cemeteries or gravestone carvers. I work eight plus hours a day on research depending on my schedule. Sometimes it's for clients, sometimes for a writing project and sometimes background research for something bigger. I have researched in most registry of deeds, probate courts, archives and libraries in Eastern Massachusetts.
No, I don't have a certificate from a genealogy program. Sorry, how many of their graduates are full-time researchers and don't hold down a second, non-genealogy related job? Would I like to have a certificate? YES!! Yes, I really would. But I've made some choices in my personal life and that precludes me from committing to days or weeks away from home or even ponying up the money for these programs when it needs to be used for something else.
I do believe that credentialed programs are the way of the future. And I would like to become certified some day. When the kids get a little older I hope I can make that happen.
In the meantime, how am I going to look on paper? I will continue to be credential-less. Does that make me less qualified to give talks and to share my experience?
I struggle with this. I've got more than just something but what is it and how do I say it when someone hits me with a question like "How are you qualified to give this talk?"
Maybe you can tell me. I'm done venting for now. I've got deadlines and research to do so I'm heading back into the trenches...