Symposium in Glasgow – The Future of Professional Genealogy

As the Who Do You Think You Are? Live! expo in Glasgow was winding down, the professional genealogists and a number of other interested persons and organizations were invited to attend a presentation and discussion concerning the potential need for a framework for genealogical education, licensing, and/or regulation in the British Isles. While I certainly am not a professional genealogist, I was lucky enough to be invited as well. I think that was because I was able to be the “genealogy journalist” who would report on the proceedings.

Many of the issues discussed in the symposium are similar to issues in other countries but a number of the issues, especially in dealing with governmental bodies, appear to be unique to the U.K. Here are my notes from the Symposium:

Welcoming comments were made by Phil Astley, Aberdeen City Archivist.

An introduction was offered by Dr. Bruce Durie, a professional genealogist with an academic position as Chair of Genealogy and Palaeography at the American School of Genealogy, Heraldry and Documentary Sciences. He is also the Sennachie (Genealogist and Historian) to the Chief of the Durie family. He spoke on “Pros, Cons and Contingencies of Regulation and Registration” He focused on one question: “How do you find a qualified genealogist?” Some other organizations, especially in the legal field, prefer to deal only with QUALIFIED professionals. The question is: What constitutes “qualified?”

Issue: Today, there is no generally-accepted definition of a “qualified genealogist.”

Following Dr. Durie, Simon Edwards, Director of Professional Services at CILIP (Chartered Institute of Library and Information Professionals), spoke on “Benefits, downsides and a road-map to becoming a more organised profession.” Simon used CILIP as an example of what could be accomplished to define a definition of qualified professionals. He pointed out that the primary benefits include a well known “seal of approval” as well as providing a path to training and education for present and future members of the organization.

Downsides: It is more difficult to make changes to an organization’s charter and (what I would call the) operating by-laws. Being a registered charity also entails more paperwork and administrative tasks.

Next, Carol Bannister, Genealogist and Tutor at the University of Strathclyde, and Rosemary Morgan, a professional genealogist specializing in researching ancestors in London, including metropolitan and non metropolitan Surrey, spoke on “Existing Certification/Qualification Schemes” – Rosemary described several certification organizations (AGRA, ASGRA, and BCG). Carol spoke primarily about the principles of genealogy education. Most other professions require a university of college validated and approved programmes of learning. Courses are based on measurement and assessment of learning outcomes. All require rigorous peer review assessments, both practical and academic skills. Carol provided descriptions of several existing genealogy certifying bodies.

The formal presentations were followed by discussion by the audience and the panel, moderated by Dr. Ian Macdonald.

I tried to take notes during the discussions but quickly fell behind, hampered by my rudimentary keyboard techniques. The event was videotaped and will be made available for viewing in about a week or ten days from now. If you have an interest in the topics discussed, I strongly suggest you watch the 90+ minute video when it becomes available at

If you are a professional genealogist or someone working to become a professional genealogist in the U.K. or are involved in an allied field, please take a survey that is available now at:


Many genealogy hobbyists are members of organizations such as the APG but are not accredited CG. Those individuals learn to improve their skills as members but may not be seeking certification. Having a stringent requirement may find these hobbyists left out and therefore possibly not enhancing the field of genealogy with their experience and knowledge. Even worse would be many who no longer learn about professional genealogy skills which could lower the standards of overall genealogy or cause may to drop out of researching or not even bother to do their family history research.
Today there are many non-professionals in some law groups, counselling groups and medical advice groups. These groups seem to be growing since those areas often are too expensive or remote for many to utilize.

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Not all genealogy professionals have genealogy qualifications. Some have a great deal of practical experience in place of formal qualifications and are now too old or too busy working for clients to undertake a lengthy formal course of study. Are they to be discounted in favour of those with academic qualifications? To provide a two tier system? Is someone who has been making a living from genealogy for thirty years but has no academic qualifications somehow a worse genealogist than someone who has recently completed an academic course?

I am a management consultant by background who has strayed into genealogy in later life. The analysis, research and creative thinking skills I use on behalf of my clients every day as I tackle their brick walls are the product of that background and I have been using them for so long that they are second nature. Would such a certification course cover these skills and techniques? Would there be discussion of the subjective nature of the “best fit” decisions those researching family history have to make in the absence of corroborating documents? Genealogical proof is something to strive for but not always possible. Even accepted genealogical sources may be inaccurate as they in turn made their own best fit decisions at the time.

Genealogy is not and can never be an exact science. Is maybe this drive towards academic qualifications an attempt to try to make it seem more scientific and respectable or an attempt at quality assurance? Do clients actually want, know or care whether the genealogist they use has taken some kind of genealogical course? Don’t get me wrong I am in favour of genealogy courses but feel that they should be more flexible and perhaps less formal to better suit those who come to genealogy as a second or third or fourth career with their own skillsets. Give those of us who are more mature the ability to mix and match courses to suit our particular needs not follow a set course blindly only to never use half of what we have been taught or find it does not apply to the current problem anyway.

There is no one right way to approach a problem, no one right way to write a report, however much this militates against setting quality standards. We do not want conformity or uniformity if this eliminates that flash of inspiration or creative thinking which suddenly breaks down a brick wall. We do want analytical thinking and the tools we use to aid this. We need to learn computer database interrogation skills, and how best to display information for easy assimilation by clients and relatives. In other words if we are to all be certified we need to revamp the genealogy courses to cover the genealogy research needs and working conditions of the 21st century and find a way to acknowledge and celebrate experience and achievement within the certification process.

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This was probably a very useful seminar – but bearing in mind that it was organised by Dr Durie who spoke on qualifications, it is a great pity that the Institute of Heraldic and Genealogical Studies – who have been providing courses to train professional genealogists and have had a qualifications framework in place for over half a century, and whose input from a unique standpoint should have been crucial – was not even consulted when the event was being set up, nor invited to provide a speaker.

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I congratulate the authors of the previous three comments.
There are a lot of different types of professional genealogist and I think it good just the way it is, because it accommodates everyone. The different types, and there is probably more, are:

1. Certified Genealogist.
2. Full time Non Certified Genealogist with years of field experience.
3. Part time Genealogist
4. Hobby Genealogist
These groups could then be placed in two main groups.
a. Those that travel
b. Those that don’t travel. These could use third parties.

And I think that there are major advantages and a few disadvantages to both groups. And I think that Dick could do a major piece on this issue. The biggest advantage of having a non traveling genealogist is the price, but if they use third parties, they want to expend as little as possible, which could cause the third party to cut corners. The main advantage to a traveling genealogist is they should find more information that should increase the percentage of success.

The other problem with Certification. Who says those doing the certification are qualified to certify. I have a huge problem with people claiming to be Native American Researchers. Normal American Genealogy is as different to Native American research as English is to Russian. Yet because of money, people will claim to do it. I wouldn’t mind this being monitored much more. There are many people who lose out on Native American scholarships and mothers who lose their foster babies, because the Tribal Courts have jurisdiction. A white person will not be accepted by these courts. It is the way it is. Yet I’ve had many people come to me and cry because they hired a person who is qualified as a genealogist claiming they can do Native American Research.

Some fields need to be credentialed. I don’t think anyone wants a GP performing brain surgery on them.

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