For many years now, I have made an extensive study of professionalism and its application for a profession in the occupation of genealogy research services. I have shared in a variety of venues, some of what I have learned. I realize that I come from a different perspective from most with an interest in family history. I have had full-time career involvement in the professional genealogy researcher occupation in professional genealogy research services. Because of my life’s work experience, I have sought out knowledge about what constitutes a true profession and how what we do, can be so established. After nearly 40 years in the business, I wish I knew then what I know now. You know that scene in “Frequency” where using time-travel, one of the characters is told to remember and use the word “Yahoo” when he gets back to the present. Oh, I would do things differently now that I have lived the past and been to the future.

We are in for a ride in genealogy research services. “Professionals” today in genealogy want to do their own thing – individually, not as a profession. They want self appointment and are opposed to the establishment of a profession. I favor a profession and have hopes that there are both practitioners and consumers who see the value in supporting the evolution and development of such a profession. This would bring a better future in the genealogy industry. I seek like-minded practitioners who desire to professionalize in the truest sense of the word that we may work together to form such a profession. I encourage consumers of such services to insist upon such qualified professional standards in their practitioner.

I look at the journey the American Medical Profession has taken and see application for genealogy research services in what doctors have experienced and learned. It took American Medicine much of the 19th century and well into the 20th to achieve that professional status, that unity and that prosperity of being a profession. And with the coming of full government encroachment in the 21st century, we are seeing those gains lost. Commerce is not static. Third parties like insurance companies and governmental regulation and bureaucracy are “practicing” medicine today. In professional genealogy which has little standardization, third parties that are not in the profession, are becoming increasingly involved and are doing the same for this commercial enterprise.

Questions must be answered regarding the future of a profession in family tree services work because like health, interest in genealogy is not going to go away. There is a consumer demand to know their family history and genealogy and it is growing. Translation – people are willing to pay for qualified professional help and wanted trusted free advice and information now and in the future. What are these questions?

Who will set the standards for accurately determining the family tree? Who will determine who is qualified to set those standards? Who will define those standards? Who will have the authority to be professional? Who will educate the consumer about the standards, the profession and the practitioners? Who will educate the practitioner and qualify him?

The future holds the answers to these questions and more. We can learn from the past or we can ignore those lessons and just walk head on into the future with no thought or preparation for the development of a profession in genealogy research services. This is not in the best interests of the profession, the current practitioner, future practitioners, the consumer, and the public domain family tree.

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

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