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A Tale of Four Students Quest for a Professional Genealogy Bachelor’s Degree

Recently a group of students gathered at HERITAGE GENE@ALOGY COLLEGE in Salt Lake City, Utah, to discuss how they came to be enrolled in a professional genealogy college bachelor’s degree program to enhance their qualifications as professional genealogists. The discussion generated the following questions and answers that are relevant to the genealogy community:

Question: Why are you seeking a college degree in professional genealogy research?

“I believe that anytime you want to be a professional at something, you need education first,” said Shawn Magnuson, homemaker and second-year student at HERITAGE GENE@LOGY COLLEGE (HG@C). “Genealogy is more than trolling for names. It is about being qualified to research, document, analyze and technically report your findings to the client in an understandable manner that holds up under professional scrutiny.”

Third-year student, Ralph Oldland, travels weekly from Washington, Utah to attend on-site-classes at HG@C in Salt Lake City because he wants the professional research degree and the knowledge to operate a professional genealogy business. He does this even though he has already run other businesses. “I’ve been doing genealogy since I was eight years old and loved it. I didn’t like my regular job. My wife told me to find something that I really love to do for a job so that I can be happy. She found reference to Heritage Genealogy College on the APG site and I checked into it further.”

Four-year student, Diana L. Harvey, a college administrator, responded, “I have a Master’s Degree in Education and I have seen how important a degree is to assure employers and students that I have the ability to handle a job. I’m bringing that same view to genealogy. If I tell you I’m great, but I can’t show you a background, training or degree, how will you know as a client that I know my field? I can tell you that I’ve done it for 15 years but what does that mean? Does that mean I’ve spent twenty hours a week on the Internet doing my own family history or that I’ve spent hours in the state archives, or that I know how to find unusual sources, or how to do inference from scanty data? It doesn’t tell you anything; but if I can say that I have a degree, I’ve met professional standards”

First-year student, Mary E. Petty, comes to HERITAGE GENE@LOGY COLLEGE from a unique background after being in professional genealogy for 32 years as the co-owner of Heirlines.com. Why is she here? She is already in the business. Why get a degree now? “I have been doing some very serious thinking as the last of our brood has moved out of the nest. What if something happens to Jim?” Mary’s husband and partner at Heirlines, James W. Petty, AG, CGRS is a 35-year-career, full-time professional genealogist. His career path include: Professional Genealogy Degree: (B.S. BYU 1973); Professional Genealogy Experience and Training: 1969-Present (The Genealogical Society of Utah 1973 -1980, HEIRINES, 1979- Present); Professional Certifications: He has earned professional genealogy certifications from BCG (CALS 1984-1989, CGRS 2000- Present) and ICAPGEN (4 AG accreditations 1971-Present). Mary, who has worked along side Jim, said, “I would have to take over the business. And I’ll need to have the qualifications for our clients’ sake that I am a professional beyond just saying that I’ve been working with clients for 32 years or have a B.A. degree in History.” She has always recognized Jim as the professional at HEIRLINES.COM because of his professional genealogy background. “I know that other professions have certain requirements that must be in place in order for the practitioner to present himself to the public as qualified to work in the industry. Like a CPA or attorney, or medical doctor. In 1972 I had to get a teaching certificate after I got my history degree, and before I could do anything with my B.A. degree to be teaching professional. I just want to follow professional steps to qualify as a professional genealogist. I feel obtaining a bachelor’s degree in professional genealogy research will help me in my goal to become a professional genealogist like Jim.

Question: What have you learned as you have pursued a professional genealogy research degree?

“I’ve been doing research for 10 years. Before I came to the classes, I thought I knew at least the basics of genealogy research. I thought that 10 years of experience of working on my own lines and helping a number of friends with their family history was enough to call myself professional and to start my own genealogy business. I’ve had an eye-opening experience coming to these HG@C classes. There is more to professional genealogy than just knowing how to look up a census record on the Internet or run QUICKEN,” Shawn adds. “An essential element in the body of knowledge of professional genealogy is learning the steps necessary to do research. A lot of people don’t know the variety of methodologies and nuances needed to be a successful researcher. For instance, I didn’t even know that boundary changes would affect my research success. This is something quite simple, but I was unaware of how the lay of the land could affect what records to use.” Shawn further states, “I don’t believe anyone should do genealogy for hire just based on their own family research, with no professional genealogy education and experience.”

Mary says, “I have had the time of my life learning about genealogy research, ethics and fraud, genealogy report writing and using family history research to solve genetic and medical problems. Going back to school has provided me with the opportunity to interview Olene Walker, the Governor of Utah, learn from career professional genealogists how they have run their businesses, and do case studies. I am looking forward to my internship and learning more about running a successful professional genealogy company.”

Diana states, “I have definitely learned! I’ve been able to go back and find things I didn’t know existed. The Ethics and Fraud class was immensely helpful because we developed our own statement of ethics. This forced me to do some introspection and set standards for myself. Also, I can use the degree in ways I didn’t know existed: i.e. heir searches and title searches that I wouldn’t have thought of myself. It gives me more credibility with the client. I also learned that contracts are necessary – having a written contract, what to put in a written contract and how many problems can be avoided with a written contract. Also, extremely important to me, is knowing how to prepare professional reports, defining research, and the potential for future research.”

Ralph Oldland states, “I’ve learned that census records can be a good source for proving family relationships over an extended period of time. Tax and land records can be used when censuses are not available and to track the movements of families. I have really grown in my genealogical research knowledge and abilities.”

How Did Heritage Genealogy College Begin?

Jeanette Daniels, BS in Education and professional genealogist for over 27 years, wanted to see a good professional genealogy research course available on a college level. She contacted the State of Utah Board of Regents with this idea. She was informed that she needed to form a genealogy college. With the help of the Board of Regents, a curriculum was created with the idea that it would be accredited as other colleges and universities. Other professional genealogists who have contributed their expertise to the curriculum include: James Petty, AG, CGRS; Steve Parkes, AG; Kory Meyerink, MLS, AG; John Kitzmiller, AG, CGRS, FSG; Roger Minert, Ph.D, AG; as well as Paul N Daniels, DPM, who has done our medical and genetics courses. For more information see: http://www.genealogy.edu

By Mary E. Petty, B.A., Shawn M. Magnuson, Diana L. Harvey, M.S., Ralph Oldland,
and Jeanette K B Daniels, B.S.