What Does it Mean to be a Professional?

“[P]rofessional genealogy is unusual: it arises from a highly popular hobby and most professional genealogists began as hobbyists. As one practitioner has observed, ‘professional genealogists are a small island surrounded by a diverse ocean of amateurs.’” Professional Genealogy: Preparation, Practice & Standards, edited by Elizabeth Shown Mills, p. 36. citing Harold Henderson, “The Profession: A Conversation Starter”, APG Quarterly (Dec. 2013) p.198.

“Most genealogists are not professional genealogists. This does not mean they lack the attributes of professionalism, but only that they do not offer that service to society. They account to no one but themselves.” Professional Genealogy: Preparation, Practice & Standards, edited by Elizabeth Shown Mills, p. 34.

Greetings, marhaba, and welcome! When re-reading Professional Genealogy: Preparation, Practice & Standards, Chapter 1 “Defining Professionalism,” these two quotes jumped out at me. They helped put into words the uniqueness of the genealogy profession and what someone like myself wonders when they are transitioning from a hobbyist, or self-focused genealogist, to a professional genealogist.  At the time I decided to pursue genealogy as a professional, I was a full-time practicing attorney focusing on Immigration Law. I had worked for over 20 years, balancing my law practice with my role as a mother and a volunteer in organizations related to my children’s education. In 2018, however, my children had all graduated from high school and were either attending university, graduate school, or working. Although I am still passionate about my work representing immigrants in their legal matters, I also wanted to move my passion for genealogy out of the background and into a professional forum.

That brings me back to the question of: “What is professional?” Which is usually followed by: “Why would someone need a professional genealogist?” Through my educational studies and research for genealogy clients these past two years, I have discovered the answer to these questions. The hobbyist that I was did not have nor take the time to truly develop the skills that are needed to meet the genealogy standards (which we can discuss later) required when researching and answering a genealogical question. I didn’t understand how to narrow a question or how genealogy citations should be formatted. I didn’t go the extra mile to include and analyze the evidence needed to prove relationships. Now, I do all of this and more.

Importantly, however, I also do not want to discount the education of self-focused genealogies. There are hobbyists who do spend a significant amount of time focused on advancing their genealogy skills, but only want to focus on their own family’s history. What an amazing gift to future generations. As I kicked off this blog last week, I was thinking: “What do I have to share? Why write this blog?” I came to several conclusions. First, for those who may have interest in the families I am researching, I hope to share with them the stories of people and bring their histories to life. Second, for those who have a general interest in genealogy, I hope there are tidbits of information that can help with their own research. And finally, for those who are professional genealogists or working toward becoming professional genealogists, I hope that we can walk through this path hand in hand.

Published by Reem Awad-Rashmawi

Photographs & Memories by Reem

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