The public is very interested in finding cheap ways to discover their true ancestry. And the Internet marketplace is willing to accommodate with whatever snake oil it can sell. The consumer has forgotten or never known that there is no such thing as a free lunch when it comes to producing a verified genealogy. This desire to spend little effort or resources to learn the truth about their family tree, drives the misconception that a family tree can be established merely by finding a book on Ebay with the consumer’s family name, or at the local antique store, or online. This unsubstantiated and unprofessional approach to family history will not provide a documented family tree through properly investigated, studied, analyzed, and cited research, the hallmark of professional genealogy research services. These books and Internet-made popular avenues for building a pedigree exist today as misleading family history because they lead the consumer to believe that the minimal effort or purchase will give them accurate information about their family. These kinds of genealogies are money streams for their producers and are designed to introduce the purchaser to facts about people with a common surname that are found in very large databases or through information gathered from unknown sources. There is no stated relationship to the purchaser except that the book or online material contains information about a family name that is common to the consumer. This is a buyer beware alert!

Professional genealogy is obligated to build, maintain and protect the standards and reputation of the professional genealogy industry for the consumer and the profession. Those engaged in professional genealogy research services have an obligation to educate the public regarding the need to document the research that establishes their family tree as well as the costs associated with that purchase. Because these snake oil family history books are revenue streams for their producers, they have been heavily marketed; and the public has come to believe that cheap purchases are a valid substitute for the more expensive accurate professional genealogy research services. Professional genealogy must take an active role in consumer education so the purchaser can make an informed decision about the quality of the product they are purchasing. The public should always know what professional genealogist did the research and where, what professional standards were followed in doing the research, and what sources are cited and documented establishing the lineage. The public needs to be educated about what constitutes a documented family tree vs. snake oil family history books, the Internet and database surfing research. Professional genealogy needs to educate the consumer about real family tree and the time, effort, skills, knowledge and resources that must be extended to produce it accurately and truthfully.

Posted by Mary E. Petty, B.A. Cum Laude (History)
Vice President HEIRLINES Family History & Genealogy, Inc.
Member of Salt Lake Utah Chapter of the Association of Professional Genealogists
Ancestors are the People of History. Do you know who yours are?
Let the Professionals at HEIRLINES Family History & Genealogy find your ancestry! 1-800-570-4049 * * PO Box 893 * Salt Lake City, Utah 84110