There is a crisis of truth in genealogy because there are no industry-wide comprehensive standards. Such standardization is a direct result of the formal institution of an organized profession. While there is rampant use of the terms Professional Genealogy and Professional Genealogist by the qualified practitioner, and the self-styled pro, and the amateur, there is no such organized profession in genealogy today. This lack of established and protected standards affects the accuracy, credibility and trustworthiness of all producers of family trees in the private and public domain; genealogical research findings, results and publications; Internet genealogy and family history websites, databases, postings, blogs, products, and services; qualifications for professional genealogist designation and formal educational programs, credentials, certifications, and accreditations. It has created the situation today of the blurred lines of distinction and separation between what and who is real, trustworthy, and true and what and who is not. Today’s Professional Genealogy is both a hobby and a commercial activity and Professional Genealogists can be qualified practitioners or self – styled pros and self-designated experts as well as hobbyists who do not take clients but want their genealogy labeled “professional”. Consumers need to know and understand all of this in order to be fully informed and able to make the best choices for their genealogy and family history needs.

Without profession-mandated and enforceable standards to qualify, establish, and certify practitioners, methodologies, best practices, ethics, resources and sources of information used in genealogy to research and produce the family tree and genealogical and historical products and services, genealogy truth is rootless. With the absence of such standards, anyone may claim anything as true and can market their work as professional, thereby misleading the consumer and creating over and over again the untrue facts that make up much of the world of genealogy. All are left with an “anything goes”, “buyers-beware” marketplace and environment in family history.

And the consumer has the right to know this, whether they be a hobbyist climbing their own family tree or a client seeking to hire a qualified genealogist to provide accurate genealogical research services; a genealogical society needing competent professionals to lecture, instruct or write about genealogy for their membership or a government agency requiring minority status authentication or locating fallen heroes next of kin; a doctor doing pharmacological or medical research using family health history or an attorney or academic in need of forensic genealogy and expert witness testimony; or a professional genealogist requiring authentic information or qualified pro to pro sub-contractor work.

Until a such profession is organized in genealogy and such standardization takes place to separate the qualified from the self-designated or hobbyist, consumers must do more thorough personal due diligence in choosing what information they will use in pursuit of their family tree, and in determining which practitioner is really qualified to supply them with the truth.

Consumers must be aware:

1. Recognize that Genealogy is both a hobby and a commercial activity, and has no organized profession. This blurs the line separating the real commercial practitioner and qualified professional genealogist from the amateur and the self-styled “pro” or so called “expert”. Anyone can call themselves a professional genealogist and claim professional status. The consumer must be the credentialing committee and do his own sifting for accurate information and qualifying their practitioner. To get what you want, to get what you pay for, to get the truth in genealogy today, consumers must learn the differences and separate the real professional and real commercial practitioners, products, and services from the amateur world of genealogy. And encourage the industry to organize and standardize a profession so the bar can be raised and standards set and maintained. This is in the best interests of the consumer, the practitioner, the industry, the profession, and the public and private domain family tree.

2. Look for a full-time career professional genealogist with credentials when you need professional research help and advice. Real professionals follow the professional career track: education, training, full-time experience, membership association, competency certification and accreditation, business license and membership. A smart consumer looks for a qualified professional genealogist who has a degree in genealogy, training in genealogy, full-time career work experience in genealogy, competency certification and accreditation, business license and compliance, and is a member in good-standing with APG.
3. Remember that the Internet is just a resource and must be carefully evaluated and sourced for accuracy. A pretty website does not make a professional nor represent truth. Something found on the Internet, does not make it true or false nor does it make the producer a professional or not. The consumer must determine the validity and trustworthiness for himself of what and who he finds on the Internet by using his personal standards of professionalism and business excellence. Or hire a qualified person to do it for them.

4. Anyone may self-designate as a professional genealogist. And charge money for it. With the absence of profession-mandated standards, anyone may claim anything as true and may market their work as professional, thereby misinforming the consumer and all who ever access their work. Traditionally a professional genealogist was someone who did research for hire. It is popular today in genealogy to claim professional status and to not do research for hire. Many such self-styled experts prefer to write about genealogy or have a blog, own a website related to genealogy, or lecture or instruct others about genealogy. Many such pros do this kind of genealogy as a side job or for their love of being involved in the genealogy world. Wise consumers will seek out career professional genealogists who have full-time experience in genealogy work when competent qualified research is needed.

5. Anyone is eligible to join the professional genealogy membership organizations that currently exist in professional genealogy by just paying their dues and agreeing to an ethics and membership standards statement. While there are no profession-prepared members-only organizations, these organizations often have arbitration committees that can help out when consumers or professional genealogists have issues. One such prominent organization is the Association of Professional Genealogists ( It is open to all who pay their money and agree to adhere to the ethics and standards of the association. No professional pre-qualification is necessary. The prudent consumer should always choose a qualified practitioner who is in good standing with APG.

6. Currently there is no profession-prepared or education-based competency credential for the pre-qualified professional or career professional genealogy researcher. The same competency- tested credentials in genealogy research are available to hobbyists, self-styled experts and pros, and professionally designated practitioners alike, who apply and earn such credentials, whether or not they intend to do family history research for hire or commercial genealogy. Two competency–testing organizations exist in the world of genealogy today, The Board for Certification of Genealogists ( and The International Commission for the Accreditation of Professional Genealogists ( These certification and accreditation bodies are open to all who wish to apply and then qualify as per their standards, and agree to abide by the ethics of said credentialing boards. No professional pre-qualification is necessary. These organizations also have arbitration committees for disputes and issues. This is a real plus for the consumer and practitioner.

7. For truth to grow and flourish in the world of genealogy, standardization must develop, bringing with it professionalization of the industry and competency, compliance, and certification. Look for a Profession in Professional Genealogy Research Services by 2020. In the meantime, become better informed about what constitutes truth and professionalism in genealogy so you can make the best choices for your unique family tree.

Submitted by Mary E. Petty, BA (History), BA (Genealogy)

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