What is Junk Genealogy?

Once again, we visit the fantasy wasteland of junk genealogy. What exactly is it? There is no answer here, nor there …, but maybe elsewhere. The poster who I’m quoting from and responding to, Mary Petty, has posted ambiguous, scare-tactic advertising statements on a professionally made “best” “genealogy research services” blog for Heirlines Family History & Genealogy, Inc. I will not advertise the company by linking to it. My responses are meant to be corrections and amplifications of the quoted statements. We’ll call the other writer Virginia, since there seems to be a Santa Claus somewhere about.

“Anyone may self-designate as a genealogist, often erroneously self-applying the term professional genealogist to lead the consumer to believe that there is a profession in genealogy research services.”

Actually, Virginia, genealogy has been a profession since at least the 1930s when Donald Lines Jacobus, one of the premier genealogists of the last century, wrote Genealogy as a Pastime and Profession. You might want to at least peruse the blurbs on the dust jacket sometime.

“Any one [sic] can self-appoint themselves as a professional and charge money …, or do this for free, falsely claiming pro bono or professional stature of the advice, instruction, or facts. … For the consumer’s [sic], it’s a real buyer’s-beware environment.”

Yes, Virginia, it is a buyer-beware market out there. “Caveat emptor.” All of life is, in fact, buyer-beware. Genealogy as a pastime and a profession is no different.

For the consumers of genealogical research services, Virginia, the picture is vastly different. Any consumer worth their salt is and has been advised by reputable sources prolifically visible on the Internet, to do their homework before choosing a provider. No one needs qualifications to offer pro bono genealogical research, and to state that someone is “falsely claiming pro bono” status is foolish. The very nature of pro bono work is volunteering, not professional, or for-hire work as you imply. The quality of pro bono work must always be checked.

“Just calling something Professional Genealogy does not make it so for either the practitioner or the products and services and outcomes. Any one [sic] can work in genealogy today, producing whatever they call genealogy, with no standardized qualifier as to the validity, quality, and status of the product or the producer.”

More verbiage from a “commercial industry” “Genealogy Research Services” provider. My impression is that Virginia is campaigning as a politician in these recent postings and not trying to advocate clear, concise, and correct genealogical information standards.

The majority of professional genealogist advertising that I have seen recently, and I’ve seen a lot of it, is quite accurate and truthful as to the terms and conditions of the deal. The qualifications of the researchers are also a given, due to the materials in which they specialize.

Most of the people who advertise to do genealogical research do not find it necessary to become credentialed, as they have a narrow focus to their business. For instance, I’ve seen researchers advertising lookups in one county’s records only. There is hardly a need for that person to go to Salt Lake City, Utah to become an accredited genealogist just so they can do accurate, complete, and reliable research in a very specific record set. It is hardly necessary for that person to advertise that they are an accredited genealogist when all they are advertising is one simple, accessible (to them, anyway) line of research.

“Genealogy is so intertwined with hobbyist, amateur, and self-styled professional work, that consumers have no authoritative means of separating between the real work of authorized practitioners, and that produced by the self-designated professional or massed-produced [sic] or recopied by the hobbyist world.”

Actually, Virginia, the consumer does have authoritative means of separating “real work” from that “recopied by the hobbyist.” Much of what is produced these days is re-copied from practitioners’ work; it merely comes without sources. I read recently in one published, otherwise reliable resource that a piece of information had come from an “undocu­mented Ancestry World Tree entry,” although the data was available on the Internet from an authoritative family source. Had the professional provider of the piece with the Ancestry.com entry done their homework a little better, the community would have been better served with a stronger source. The data had been in print for years. I posted part of it on the Internet many years ago. It was freely available, with the source and my contact info.

I’m also minded of another resource commonly available to the hobbyist from Ancestry.com’s library, written by a long-time professional who is not accredited (to my knowledge). It states that the Massachusetts vital records to 1849/50 series is not to be used as an authoritative source. I’ve also seen in print that these record sets were compiled, with rigorous checks, from many authoritative sources not otherwise available to most people and that they are quite accurate.

Which expert, speaking on the vital record sets, is to be believed? I’m certain not to ask you, however, since you aren’t accredited or certified. I’m inclined to believe that the record sets are accurate since I’ve used them and compared them with independently created works.

“Paleontology, archeology, and astronomy have existing professions that use the well-established pattern of professionalism to control who is designated by their professional organizations as a real paleontologist, archeologist, and astronomer.”

Virginia, you forgot that genealogy also has an “existing profession.” Gee, I wonder how that happened? Do you mean to say that after nearly a thousand words describing a professional genealogical research service profession that there isn’t one? Oh, and by the way writing “archeologist” is like spelling genealogist as “geneologist.” It’s insulting.

It looks like you forgot history, too, which has a very long history, and very close relationship to genealogy. I believe the right phrase for a professional genealogist would be a generational historian. You can google that term as well, to find its definition, background, and discussion. I find it interesting to be just such a professional.

I’m sorry, Virginia, there is already a solidly real profession called genealogy research services. We don’t need another one. If you want, you can start your own vague credentialing organization. “Anyone may self-medicate . . .”, err, umm, designate, ah, that was it. I’m minded again of the articles in Professional Genealogy and Becoming an Accredited Genealogist.

Thanks, but no thanks Virginia. I’ll stick with the existing, clearly defined and convincing standard bearing agencies: APG and BCG. I’ll also continue to refer my clients and prospects elsewhere than your web site and associated stuff.


Oh, one last thing, my opinions expressed or implied here are mine, and mine only. Oh, and that point in the BCG ethics about damaging other genealogists’ practices? It applies here, I believe, since the original poster seeks to capture the market with scare tactics from other, perhaps far more qualified, genealogists.

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