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Saturday, August 17, 2013

The Time Has Come....

My Declaration of Independence!

The past couple of days have been an interesting voyage into exploring how I feel about the latest "hot topic" in the genealogy community. Elitism can be a dirty word. The trip began when someone I admire and respect reached their boiling point and they could no longer tolerate certain attitudes of certain people. A view I whole heartily agree with and a topic that brought about a flood of feelings I thought I had stuffed far enough away to not have to deal with. Another member of our genealogy community also spoke up, and reminded all of us that we should not generalize and stereotype and paint with too broad of a brush. They also mentioned the need to keep things positive. This persons words made me realize that by harboring and holding on to what has hurt me over the past few years has taken all my power away from me and allowed me to go to an unhappy place. By keeping silent, I was allowing my hurt to remain and I was doing nothing to stop what I feel is unacceptable behavior, and doing nothing to prevent others from being hurt, too!

I made a promise to get out of "emotional mode" and get myself to "just the facts mode" and share my unhappy experiences in a positive, educational manner in the hopes of freeing myself from my pain and helping others see that words are a very powerful thing! When we deal with only the written word, with no facial expressions and no tone of voice, our words are open to a variety of interpretations! We all need to be careful that the meaning of our words are understood by those reading them, and not taken in a way that can cause hard feelings. I am finding it very hard to put down words when my heart is not moving my fingers! So, I will try to keep my emotions in check while sharing my experiences. I tried for 3 hours yesterday with no emotion, but could not get past this quote:

"Integrity is doing the right thing, even when no one is watching" 
~ C. S. Lewis

Doing the right thing means speaking up. Being as the point of this is to be educational, to make a point about something that I feel is not OK, there will be no need to throw stones. I will refrain from mentioning anyone's name or any specific organizations. I just hope that I can motivate all the good people in my genealogy family to be aware of a couple of rotten eggs and try to steer those eggs to a more positive way of interacting with the rest of the family.

--->Before we delve into the "ugly" part of this blog post, I first want to say that the majority of people involved in genealogy are some of the most amazing people on earth. They are fun, kind, helpful, and supportive people. You couldn't pay me enough money to trade off my genealogy friends.<---

My personal bad experience is with a few people who have worked for and earned some real nice letters after their names that have not been nice to me. (Most people with letters after their names ARE nice to everyone!)  I hope they are proud of those letters. I will never have an issue with anyone being proud of themselves for having earned something. My issue is with the very few who choose to rub the noses of those with no pretty letters after their name in that fact and then to take it upon themselves to decide that people with no initials are less important, less qualified, less valuable, etc. in our genealogy family. We ALL have something to offer! From a newbies enthusiasm to an old timers experience, it isn't the fancy letters after some names that makes the genealogy world what it is. If your definition of a professional means you have to have letters after your name, please be sure that definition includes your behavior towards others. I don't see a useful purpose in the genealogy community to have any noses stuck in the air!

To the person who was very excited about a new project and needed volunteers, I hope your project was a great success. It was a compliment when you asked if I could help with the project! It was NOT ok when you got angry when I declined the opportunity. It was not ok to send me a nasty email telling me I have to volunteer, because non-pros like me are the only ones who have time for these projects because the pros need to be working for their clients making money so they can pay their bills. You are fully aware I volunteer a lot, and not just in the genealogy world, but in my own community. You know I very rarely say no. I feel sorry for you that you can not comprehend that I also have a life with limited amounts of free time, and that I also need to work and pay my bills, even if my work is outside of the genealogy world. As of today, I am free of you. I will no longer feel bad for having said "NO" and I will no longer be angry with you for the e-mail chewing me out that was longer than this blog post so far. I wish you well in the future and I hope you have found a friendlier way of recruiting volunteers, so that you can be successful in getting the volunteers you need.

To the person who was mad at me when I joined the "Save the SSDI" bandwagon outside of the organization who works hard at raising awareness of saving access to records, I forgive you, too. It was so nice of you to introduce yourself to me with a name and letters after your name and an amazing list of achievements and experience, only to finish that intro with how important it was that I listen to you because you are a pro and I am not. You did not need to threaten me that hobbyists like me are going to hurt the genealogy community because we haven't a clue what we are doing. I have a lot of respect for the above mentioned organization. They have worked hard at fighting for and educating about saving our access to records. I have NO issue with the work they've done. But they are a small organization, and like all of us, their members only have X amount of hours in a day for life and genealogy. I can not be a member of this organization, because I don't have the proper credentials. I do not believe in sitting on my butt and waiting for others to fight my battles for me. I believe there is strength in numbers and the louder we raise our voices, the better chance we have of saving those records we all depend upon. I believe in the power of social media and communicating to as many people as possible as quickly as possible when we are aware of an issue. I am glad I didn't listen to you. As of today, I will no longer feed into your attitude that you know more than me or that you are better than me because you are certified and I am not. I just so happen to be a good person, with a big heart, and I believe that my involvement with others in fighting to save access to records has HELPED the cause, not hurt it. If you really believe that saving access to records is important, I invite you to dismount from the high horse you are on, and give ALL people who have a passion for genealogy an opportunity to participate in all matters important to genealogists. Seriously, we are not lower ranked than you. There are some really talented people in the non-certified world. And FYI, even though I don't have those pretty initials after my name, I am much more than "just a hobbyist". And even if genealogy was only a "hobby" to me, that doesn't mean I don't have talents and skills to offer the genealogy community.

Speaking of the SSDI, there was another pro who called me a moron for fighting to keep our access to the SSDI and other records. Their claim was that I was hurting the genealogy field because I was protecting identity thieves and that would make the public not want to engage the services of genealogists. I should leave the politics to the professional genealogists who know what the heck they were doing. Sigh..... I am not a moron and it is better to do something than nothing at all. It is time to declare myself free of the hurtful words of this pro and move on.

I almost went to a genealogy conference that was within driving distance. It would have been my first one. There was someone I knew from facebook that I really wanted to meet. I sent this person a message and asked if we could hook up during the conference. Their reply shocked the heck out of me! They could not meet because they had recently gotten their certification and they were trying to build up their professional status and it wouldn't look good to fellow genealogists or potential clients to be hanging around with an amateur. Hmmmm, how was anyone to know who was pro and who wasn't? I had contact with a couple other people who were going to attend the event, and they also seemed snooty, and I canceled my plans to go. Next time, NO ONE is going to have this kind of power over me! If I can go and I want to go, I'm going. I'm going to learn and I'm going to make new friends and I'm going to have a really good time talking to people who's eyes don't glaze over at the mention of genealogy! Thank-you for teaching me what kind of genealogist (pro or not) I would never want to be. No matter what I do in life, it will be my goal to be nice to people, to welcome them, and to include them. As of today, I am over you. I am over the hurt and anger and being made to feel like I am not good enough. Writing this makes me realize that it is you who was not good enough. You were not a good ambassador for the genealogy community, and it has nothing to do with pro or not pro. I hope life has made you wiser and you've found a way to fit in with the whole genealogy family. It will make you a better person and more appealing to more clients. It feels good to be free of you.

At one point, I was co-director of a group of volunteers who do a valuable service to the communities they serve. They work in the field of forensic genealogy and bring closure to families all over the world, and lessen the burden on tax payers. I was privately confronted by a pro with those pretty initials after their name telling me I had NO right to be a director of this group because I wasn't a board certified genealogist. That work as important as this has no business being under the leadership of an inexperienced hobbyist, who will make rookie mistakes and damage the reputation of paid professionals. This cause is near and dear to my heart, and I would NEVER do anything to knowingly hurt this group or the work they do. So now, I am going to stick up for myself. To this "pro", if you had acted like a "pro" you would have done your research and verified your facts and you would have learned that the other directors were not "pro's" either, and you would have learned that the founder of this organization is also someone without all those pretty initials after their name, and they are a very respected and well known member of the genealogy community! You, who acts this way, are a disgrace not only to "Pro's", but to all of the genealogy community. You weren't even a member of this organization, and you don't have a clue just how "Professional" not only our work is, but our behavior and our treatment of others. It just so happens we work very well as a team, in a very professional manner, and never cease to amaze the government officials and the families we serve! You should follow our example and try to achieve our level of professionalism. We are a shining example that letters behind your name do not make you a professional in every sense of the word. Your actions truly let the world know just how unprofessional you are. Now I declare myself free of your lack of facts and your insulting words. I have learned from you to believe in myself and the causes I make a commitment to.

Moving on, I'd like to address the professional do-gooder who felt it their mission in life to contact some of my friends and I and inform us that we should not be calling ourselves genealogists because we are not certified, that if we were good at our own family trees, it would be ok to call ourselves family historians... I AM a genealogist. If I would give myself a little more credit and quit letting jerks like you take the wind out of my sails, I could probably shout from the roof tops that I am a pretty good genealogist. As of this very moment, I am also free of you. You do not have the power to define who I am, what I call myself, or where I think I fit in in my world. I dare you to loosen up your definition of who or what a genealogist is. I dare you to open your door and put out the welcome mat. You might just get lucky and get to know some of us nice people out here, and we might actually rub off on you. Who knows? Maybe we will even help you find your happy place! In the blink of an eye, I am now free of your meaningless words.

The next example of my experiences with unprofessional pros didn't even hurt my feelings. They made me down right angry. I was volunteering with a group that tries to find the families of deceased veterans. A credentialed pro took it upon themselves to contact me and tell me I should not be working on veterans cases. That all veterans deserve to rot in hell because they fought in wars and wars are against God's word. It's us amateurs who are giving the genealogy field a bad name and hurting future work of pros because we do such controversial work. This one is hard to refrain from name calling! <Taking Deep Breath> I feel that the work that pros and amateurs do in the field of forensic genealogy to help veterans, their families, and the military is very important. I don't believe that our work hurts the field of genealogy at all. I think it helps the field of genealogy. There are some very talented and good people working in the forensic area of genealogy and I just might as well admit you can't fix stupid and not waste anymore time on this person with very strong feelings, because I am never going to change their mind. I'll just say a little prayer for them, ask God to give them a guiding hand and move on. I am now free of my anger directed towards this person.

Life is all about balance, and I found that balance with the person who was mad at me for NOT volunteering when I got a private message from a person who was upset with me FOR volunteering! They actually called my volunteering evil because people like me do too much of it and if all us amateurs would quit volunteering maybe there would be some paying work so the pros could afford to pay their bills. Another pro who needs to do their research, because there are lots of pros who also volunteer, and much of the volunteer work we do has no way to turn it into paying jobs. If it gets done, it gets done by volunteers. Maybe this person should try networking by doing some volunteer work. Maybe it would lead to some paying work. I don't know, and I don't care. I'm free of this persons angry words. I will always be proud of the volunteer work I have done. I encourage others to volunteer.

I worked on a special project with a pro. They thanked me for assisting and complimented me for the good work I did. They took all the work and made it look like it was their own, and gave no one else credit for their involvement in the project. When I inquired about this, they said this project needed the clout of a professional and it was better for the cause for the work to be presented by a pro and not include the amateur volunteers. The pro got all the credit. I still have the satisfaction of a job well done and for doing a good thing. I need to let go of the disgust and believe in Karma and that someday, this pro will really get the TRUE credit they deserve.

Looking through this I realize that besides the bad taste a few pros have left in my mouth, one of the other reasons I changed my mind about going pro (as in getting a degree or board certification) is that volunteer work is an important part of my life. I had a pro tell me that if I continued to just volunteer and not start charging for my work, then I can never call myself a "pro" or belong to "pro" organizations, because "pros" have to have paid clients. 

Even if I give the above examples the benefit of doubt and justify their words and try to say they meant to be helpful, their words were not helpful. I am not going to let the above people have me upset anymore, but I am also done being silent. From now on, when I experience such things or see others being treated in an unfair manner, I will speak up. I am now free of hurt, pain, and fear. I am now free to be my big-hearted & fired-up old self!

Although my personal experiences are with pros who have an issue with something an amateur is doing, the whole point of this is that genealogy is a big sandbox, and what gets my undies in a wad is those who think they need to have their own sandbox and don't need to make room for others to play. No-one in our community / family is more special, wonderful, amazing, or deserving than any of the rest of the people who share our passion. We all need to be kind and respectful of each other. We all need to give people a chance to shine. Let's not cut someone off at the knees because we have some preconceived notion that they need to have or not have a degree or certification or membership to specific organizations, etc. 

We can be elitist in many ways. When we go to conferences, do we make it a point to get to know people we've never met? Do we invite them to our table to socialize with us and our friends? Or do we appear to be elitist because we only sit with our old friends, or our fellow bloggers, or our fellow speakers, or our fellow society members? When we participate in public forums, etc. on websites, do we include that quiet lurker who's afraid to join in? I think even those of us who make it a point to not exclude others can make sure we put out a bigger and better welcome mat and make sure we are the politeness police and we make sure ALL are welcome and ALL are treated in a decent, friendly manner. We can try to make a new genealogy friend every time we interact with fellow genealogists. WE will then have the power, and WE will be responsible for growing genealogy.

Let us all write our own personal code of conduct and let's have being nice to others the first thing on our list!

 ~ Skip

A side note:

The whole exchange of thoughts and feeling expressed by myself and others on facebook moved someone who I think the world of to contact me privately and inquire about my feelings. I shared with this person part of the above list, and it's the first time I have shared that list with anyone. Remembering the list brought up some of my hurt feelings and brought tears to my eyes. I have no shame in not being a pro - someone with board certification or a degree - the thing that has bothered me in the past is how others treat me because I am not a "pro". This person then shared some of their thoughts with me and paid me a compliment that just lifted me out of the depths of darkness and made my spirits fly way up to the sky. If this person reads this, they will know I am speaking of them. I wanted to publicly thank them for being such a good person and such a good representative of genealogy and paying me one of the best compliments I could be paid by a fellow genealogist! They said...

..."YOU are one of the people in genealogy who I admire and respect. I consider you a professional genealogist. You were involved with running a major genealogical organization, and certainly fit my definition of a genealogical professional. I am surprised that you consider yourself an amateur. Getting paid is not the definition I use."

"I'm so very sorry that you've met some unkind people in genealogy. I am surprised by that too, especially if they were board-certified. I've just not really run into that, so I guess I've been lucky so far."....

Gotta tell 'ya, I am GLAD this person has not had a run in with the ones who choose to be nasty. I hope it stays that way! I hope we all make it a goal to be like this person and reach out to our fellow genealogists and make them feel good about what they do. ~ Skip


Ann G. said...

Skip, thank you. I know this wasn't easy to write, but you're not just making a difference with the work you do. Talking about this stuff also helps the rest of us who've been there.

Focus Grandma! FOCUS!! said...

WOW! All I can say, is I wish I had written this! I certainly am going to take your advice and just go on with my own genealogy (and a few friends). I have been feeling pretty useless the last couple of years. I think I will even start volunteering again. I just might help someone! ~smiles~

Thank you Skip, for helping me see one of the reasons I have been struggling to get back involved with my research, which I have always loved.


Anonymous said...

I think Sylvester McMonkey McBean, the fix it up chappie has got an opportunity here...

Pat Richley-Erickson said...

Dear Skip,
I had simply no idea this sort of thing is going on. I find this simply incredible. Glad the majority of genealogists (with or without pretty initials after their name) are mighty fine people.

It literally turns my stomach to imagine how you felt widen even one of these incidents happened.

Please accept gentle hugs, and know that you are loved, appreciated and respected!

Ol' Myrt

Randy Seaver said...

Skip, thank you for sharing your experiences and feelings about this. I appreciate your honesty and wish you all the best as you continue to work in genealogy what YOU want to do and feel called to do.

In my experience since being exposed to the lettered folks since I started my blog, I've never had an experience like you described. Just lucky, I guess. I haven't worked directly for or with a lettered person, and in my dealings at conferences and at local societies have been shown respect and received advice when I asked for it.

I am a bit surprised that you've had so many negative experiences, and am amazed that you've hung in there throughout. I admire you and your attitude.

Skip Murray said...

I wish I could figure out how to reply to individual comments! The amount of people who are being supportive and sharing their kind thoughts are shining examples of all the GOOD people in genealogy!

My Mom used to marvel at my ability to "attract the crazy people in the world" and yet, seem to always end up being tied to "the kindest people on earth". I appreciate ALL the kind people so much!!!!

Hugs to you all.
~ SKip

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Cheri Daniels said...

Amazing! Thank you so much for the bravery and insight! I have never had this specific experience but have gotten some odd vibes at conferences from a few of the upper crust, but thought it was my imagination - I tend to be a bit of a research wall flower until my social media button gets switched on so I blame no one but myself. However, you have inspired me to branch out more at conferences! I like the challenge of breaking free from the birds of a feather mentality! Btw, I know a few ultra professional genealogists who are incredibly experienced and knowledgeable in the field...provide top notch services....never became certified and yet never want for lack of work! They are booked all the time because people recognize honesty, hard work, expertise, and professionalism. They are also kind and supportive to others of many research levels. Jerks exist in every field regardless of education or lack spending their time and efforts criticizing the valuable work of volunteers they convey their obvious lack of clients...and we all know why! I wish you could publish names so we could avoid these pseudo professionals who don't have a clue what it means to be a professional or a genealogist! Don't give up on your passion! There are more of us around to support you than criticize!

Harold Henderson said...

Skip --

Thank you for writing. It has to have been hard to write and even harder to live through. I'm seconding what Pat and Randy said. I have escaped the many kinds of bad treatment you describe -- even though I have asked some pretty prominent people some pretty dumb questions (not that I knew it then!) and always got unfailingly polite and helpful responses. It sounds like you will stand up for yourself next time, and that's good. The vast majority of us, both professional and un, wish you well. -- Harold

Beverly McGowan Norman said...

All I can say is Wow! I guess I have been lucky not to have had an experience such as yours. Thank you for sharing your experiences, and I hope those guilty parties will read and see themselves for what they truly are.

Trailer T. Guru said...

So glad that you are a fighter, Skip, and even happier that you are able to rise above it! Wish I had known what you were going through at the time.

When people complain that amateurs are "taking their jobs", I'm never sure which jobs they are talking about. The people I help wouldn't go to a professional anyway! I'm also not sure how we give them a bad name...wonder what that name is? Would like to know so I could call them by name should we ever meet.

I always said that the best revenge was to be happy & successful at what you love.

Hugs...Terry Elliott

Shirley Becker said...

I am a genealogist, I have no credentials, am not interested in getting them because I feel at my age it would be a waste of time. I need that time to research and learn new ways to research.
I am always willing to help people in starting or continuing their work on their own tree, and I know that I have helped. This is a feeling that no one can take from you, though I must admit that I have also had a few comments made over the years.
Thank you so much for your blog, it has enabled me to keep going in my NY research. I am studying on how negative proof can actually prove something, even though there is no paper evidence.
Shirley Becker in CA.

Starwalker said...


I had no idea this was going on. I had not experienced this.

All I know is when I met you, you greeted me with open arms and passed a lot of knowledge on as did the other's that I meet through knowing you.

As I said on another person's posting, labels do not define who you are. We are each different in what we bring to others and are not a "label".

I am not saying to that we should not go for the degrees / initials after our names if that is the path you want to go but if you choose not to that is okay also.

Those who define themselves with a "label" and who feel that they are separate from those who do not have it are not reaching their full potential as to who they are and how others see them.

When you isolate yourself in this manner, you miss all of the wonderful human beings there are out there who could enhance your life not detract from it.

I remember a quote from a movie [not sure which one] but they said "they are not better than me, we are just different in the path's we are moving on"

We all have the different paths that we journey and it is who we meet along the way that guides us forward [even for those of us who seem to like the path backward :) ].

So, I am glad you have moved on along your path and are leaving the road blocks behind. Maybe you will meet them again on a future path, and maybe not but just remember, it is who YOU are inside that matters, and what YOU MEAN to US.

To Me, the only "label" I apply to you is Friend.

Debi Disser

Debra Newton-Carter said...

Wow! All I can say is I had no idea...all the people in the sandbox I play with have been fantastic, and I am SO SORRY for the cruel and hateful manner in which you were treated! But I whole-heartedly agree with everything you said!

My husband has worked at the VA Hospital for 26 years, first in Northampton, MA and now in Asheville, NC. All the men in our families, both sides (except my husband who serves his country's veterans daily) have been in the military: Army, Air Force, Navy and even Marines. I THANK YOU FOR YOUR WORK in assisting to locate veterans' families!!! That work is much needed and a real blessing to the families, I am sure!

I am currently in the process of earning my BCG credentials...not because I want to be a "pro," but because when I tried to apply to graduate school, none of my professors still living (class of 1983) remembered my work well enough to write me a letter of recommendation. I desire to earn a dual Masters of Library Science and Archives & Records Management so I might get a better job outside of Food Service Management before the job cripples me...or just drives me nuts. I promise to always maintain the integrity and civility I must demonstrate on a daily basis with the public and my employees.

And on a side note...I wonder if those "pros" who treated you badly are also treating their friendly neighborhood deli associates just as distastefully?!?

Again, thank you, Skip, for your honesty, humility & integrity. If it weren't for Thomas MacEntee, I would never have known about your blog. I think now you have a new follower!

Anonymous said...

Skip--I can relate. The negative genealogy experiences I've had have all been at the hands of so called pros (with pretty little letters behind their names).

One experience was bad enough and made me mad enough that I filed a complaint with the Board for Certification of Genealogists. Since they investigated my complaint, I can only surmise that it had merit.

I've sat thru more than a few uncomfortable board meetings where CGs in particular have targeted some poor soul...mostly successful genealogists who don't have letters. The challenge, insult, and belittle their efforts. It makes for long board meetings.

If business is the concern of pros, then perhaps they should look at their behavior. Frankly, at this point, when I find out that someone has the letters behind their name, it causes me to pause and move with caution.

Unfortunately for true pros (with or without letters!), the actions of petulant people with letters goes a long way toward wiping out the good will that true pros try to build. I'm happily surprised when I find I'm dealing with a true pro.

Terry said...

Greetings Skip,

I thoroughly enjoyed your article, it reminded me of my recent experience with some wonderful people with pretty letters behind their names.

I was so intimidated in asking them for a recommendation for a research fellowship I almost didn't ask. When I did contact them they were very supportive of my proposal and my research.

After I read the recommendations for the first time as a "non-professional" researcher I felt my work mattered and it was acceptable to people I have longed admired who took time out of their busy schedules to help me reach another level.

I didn't get the fellowship but the recognition from the two PHd's was (for the time being) reward enough.

Clearly you have found positive feedback in the work you do and at the end of the day, you will receive your reward or as the "African Proverb" states, "if doesn't kill you, it will make you stronger!"

Sheri Fenley said...

The work you have done and continue to do for the genealogy community speaks for itself Skip. Your gift of time and talent is priceless and very appreciated. When I use the word "professional" I use it as an adjective, not a noun. How one conducts themselves -whether taking on clients for pay or doing research for a volunteer project. The alphabet soup of postnomials do not define "professional" behaviour.

It is very scary go to your first conference by oneself. But what you come away with after attending is well worth it.