Monday, June 27, 2016

A Matter of Money

Every now and then, someone in the genea-blogging world brings up the topic of genealogy as profession rather than hobby. While this is mostly not the realm of my own efforts, I am part of a small family business and naturally take an interest in reading business topics. In addition, because I participate in genealogical endeavors as a board member of a local genealogical society, I have an additional vested interest in following these posts.

Last Wednesday, Blaine Bettinger took up the topic in his blog, The Genetic Genealogist, in a post entitled "Charging for (Genetic) Genealogy Services." Not only was the post thought-provoking, but one that generated a great deal of conversation through nearly fifty comments appended to the bottom of the page.

Examining just why it is that genealogical services are undervalued in comparison to a number of other businesses, Blaine points out the cost involved in properly equipping one's self to become a qualified genealogistespecially a genetic genealogist. He touches on issues of cost of education and training, supply and demand, even the ethical considerations surrounding the expectation of pro bono services.

Blaine's conclusion wrapped up all these considerations in the statement (emphasis his):
The genealogy community must be careful about...fostering a general expectation of free or cheap services while still being sure to offer pro bono services. An expectation that all genealogy should be free or cheap devalues who we are and the highly specialized skills we have worked so hard to develop.

While he brings up some valid points, I couldn't help but think that genealogists cannot expect others to adequately value them and their skills without first showing that same respect for each other. In reading this post, my mind went immediately to the instance of a meeting, back during the first year of my position on the board of our local genealogical society.

Granted, such societies are often the venue of non-professionals taking a lead role in self-help for fellow enthusiasts. However, it is these same organizations which rely mainly upon the services of professional genealogists, particularly in the realm of providing speakers and training for meetings.

How much do those societies generally pay their speakers for a worthwhile hour of instruction?

Before you answer that question, consider the numbers on the flip side of this equation: how much effort and knowledge go into the making of those hour-long educational programs? I can vouch for the likely numbers in answer to this question, as my family's own business produces educational programming requiring many more hours to design than to execute. Plus, before that training session ever begins, the instructor often has to invest time in travel to and from the meeting location. All of this time investment should be reflected in the formulation of the program's value.

I don't know what the current answer is for other genealogical societies, but I can safely say that, before our society decided to step up their game and offer quality programming for our monthly meetings, we weren't paying our speakers much at all. Even now, though we do provide a much more reasonable "honorarium," if the amount were divided out over the full time it takes to formulate and deliver such a program, the hourly remuneration would be embarrassing.

Yet, if we feel the services of genealogists ought to be valued more reasonably, why aren't we as societies leading the way in this issue? It does no good to talk about the problem if we aren't willing to serve as examples through our own collective actions. If we want others to value the services of professional genealogists, we need to first do so, ourselves.



  1. Interesting thoughts. The same "issue" appears in many other businesses too - I used to "do websites" but the expectation was that the site should be very cheap (if not free) - partly sue to others that offer "free websites" and make the client pay a premium for "website hosting". It's like the stereotypical used car salemen of old... a slimy business practice - but not one I could overcome so I left that business and will never return.

    1. It would be instructive to see if there were any models for a successful turnaround from undervalued field of professional services to appropriate level of remuneration to adapt in this situation.

      While I can almost understand the predicament for the field of genealogy (after all, like plumbing, one can do it on one's own but unlike plumbing, genealogy is much more fun), it doesn't make sense to see such a thing happening in a field as necessary as website design--even in those early years when everyone was still getting the sense of valuation in that brand new field.

  2. I suppose genealogy is viewed as a hobby, not "real," possibly because no one goes to college to become a genealogist. Well, maybe that's not true -- I have never explored whether there is a college degree. From what I can tell, the path to becoming "real" is rigorous, college-worthy or not. The report I received from a professional genealogist was impressive and could not be cranked out by someone with just a passing interest in genealogy. She was worth every penny.

    As for paying a speaker what they SHOULD be paid, I suspect many societies are in the hands of the old guard, the ones who still tip the shampoo girl a quarter and the hairdresser a dollar. A paradigm shift will be required.

    1. An interesting perspective, Wendy. Yes, a paradigm shift is in order. And, encouragingly, is in the works, from what I see.

  3. We always asked our member to do "free" programs:)

    1. If I'm understanding you correctly, Far Side, that's what our society used to do, as well.

      Now, we do have some "fun" events in which we don't focus on bringing in a good speaker, so the event is low- to no-cost for us as a society. But for those meetings in which we try to get informative or educational presentations, our membership dues are partially designated for this purpose, and we operate on the theory that we get what we paid for.


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