Wednesday, 27 June 2007

Five characteristics of highly effective genealogists

Professional genealogists normally follow the codes of practice, guidelines and standards of self-regulating bodies. In North America the BCG and NGS codes are well known. These and others are conveniently compiled near the end of the book Professional Genealogy. In the UK AGRA, the Association of Genealogists and Record Agents, and its Scottish counterpart ASGRA fill a similar role.

There are many people, professionals and serious hobbyists, who profess to follow these codes, but not all of them are highly effective. Some seem just more adept at seeing through the mass of detail, finding the obscure resource, exploiting known resources in innovative ways and communicating the findings.

While hardly the result of a scientific study, here are five characteristics that seem to apply to highly effective genealogists.

They have a passion for the topic
You might even say they're obsessed. Go to their home and you'll find it crammed with knowledge -- bookcases full of resources, magazines and papers in abundance. Checking their email account you'd find genealogy dominating the correspondence. They may well have a broad range of other interests but chances are a conversation will steer back toward family history. Their enthusiasm often means a tendency to be creative in their approach to a challenge, a readiness to step outside the routine assignment, take up an unusual challenge, or to accept a leadership role.

They are analytical
It's all too easy to get carried away with the chase in solving a genealogical problem. Effective genealogists ensure they are starting with the right information. They are doubting Thomases and look for proof, or source citations, for the information on which a query is based. They don't dismiss family stories but allow for fuzziness that might have crept in as the story is passed along, perhaps with a bit of wishful thinking or telling the story as it ought to have been, not as it was. Having assured themselves they are working from a good foundation they follow the usual pattern of analysis, plotting a research strategy and then put it into action. They face up to the reality of the findings, including what may sometimes be inconvenient truths.

They network
Many professional genealogists work independently in their own businesses. Quite a few practice their skills in a related profession, such as librarianship or education, but tend to be the sole genealogy specialist within the organization. In such situations it's easy to become isolated. Nobody is an expert in everything, even within the limited domain of family history. A highly effective genealogist knows the limits of his or her expertize, and has a network they can turn to. If the task leads to a jurisdiction or area in which the genealogist does not have expertize, or access to records, the network serves as a means to access it, or direct a client to a competent resource. The network also facilitates sharing information and discussion of items of mutual interest.

They embrace technology
Would you choose a family doctor who hadn't kept up with medical advances? Think about the way you did genealogy a few years ago, if you've been involved that long, and how you do it today. We all know genealogists who rely on binders full of family group sheets, but they aren't the highly effective ones, the ones as comfortable with DNA as DAR.
Effective genealogists leaverage their expertize by exploiting technology. They keep up-to-date on the ever expanding repertoire of online resources -- databases, digitized histories and newspapers -- even blogs!

They communicate well
As passionate, analytical, networked and technologically adept as one may be, all that can come to nought if the result isn't communicated to the client in a way they understand. Effective genealogists go beyond written report formats, as found in Professional Genealogy. They seek feedback and welcome further questions on findings. They delight the client by providing more than agreed, whether it be contextual or ideas for the next steps.

Most magazines and archives will provide you lists of genealogists offerring their professional services. If all you need is a look up, and you can't find a willing volunteer, most will likely do a competent job. But assessing their capabilities from an ad is tricky. You may not hit a highly effective genealogist, one who combines these five talents, right off. When you do cultivate them. The reward will be worth it.

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