Diving in Thumbs First: My Take on the Paid Genealogy Debate

Apparently, there’s a hullabaloo going on in the genealogy community about trying to make money as a genealoglist and as a genealogy blogger in particular.

Seriously?

The thread starts here and has proliferated widely. I’ll admit I have had trouble keeping up with the entire discussion — I’ve caught snippets here and there on geneabloggers.com, Facebook and Twitter.

Like many, I got started in genealogy by working on my own family research. Then, I went to library school and while there, learned that librarians could work for themselves doing research for hire. This appealed to me. I enjoy researching people and old things. I saw the light. I could do genealogy research for others and get paid. What could be better than doing something you love and earning money for the privilege?

I opened Bayside Research Services in the summer of ’09 and started blogging shortly after that. I’d never blogged before, but I knew it would be a good marketing tool. It has turned out to be so much more. I love the Geneabloggers community and hate to hear there’s strife right now.

For what it’s worth, I’m not currently trying to make money off this blog — I don’t host ads or affiliate links. This isn’t because I don’t want to. I just haven’t had the time to devote to this yet.

Also, I actually have two blogs. This one is more of a personal blog where I discuss everything from my personal genealogy projects to new technologies I’ve discovered. My company web site also is a blog and there I post sale information for the photo solutions company that I work with (Creative Memories) and I post updates about my research projects. That is where I actually try to make money — by connecting folks to my CM web site and by featuring my investigations and skills so that people will consider hiring me.

As others have mentioned in their posts on this subject, it is difficult to find a way to live solely off of genealogy research. I have yet to find the magic formula that will work for me and so I haven’t given up the “day-job.” That pays the bills and provides health insurance and other benefits. I love my day-job too, but if I had my druthers I would prefer to spend my days in archives, brick-and-mortar or online, researching days gone by. It may yet happen.

As to the kerfuffle currently going on, I’m not quite sure what the trouble is. There certainly is room for hobbyists and paid genealogy researchers alike. I know we have a lot to learn from each other and we certainly can help each other out. Many hobbyists must rely on paid genealogy researchers to help them bust through brick walls or access far-flung records. Paid researchers enjoy networking with hobbyists at national conferences and local historical society meetings. Let’s work together to continue to build our community.

I’ve also seen at least one comment from a hobbyist considering “going pro.” It’s a scary leap, starting a business, with accounting and other tasks a business owner must undertake. That’s where you can learn from your fellow genealogists. Also, I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, all genealogists are information professionals and if you are considering opening your own business, please look into the Association for Independent Information Professionals. There you will find not only several genealogists who are members, but professional accountants, marketers, business mavens and other types of researchers who are there to help. I can’t emphasize enough the value of this organization.

I also recommend picking up a copy of Mary Ellen Bates’ book, Building and Running a Successful Research Business: A Guide for the Independent Information Professional, Second Edition. It’s a step-by-step guide for setting up everything from your stationery to an LLC.

Mostly Wordless Wednesday: Anyone Recognize This Flowering Tree?

One of my AIIP11 conference roommates and I happened upon this tree on the way back from Fort Vancouver. Most trees in the area had yet to pop their leaves, but this one was going bonkers. And look at the flowers!

It has a trunk and size like a crepe myrtle (@walnutresearch in the foreground):

Mystery flowering tree-bush-plant-thing in Vancouver, WA. Fellow conference-goer trying to smell one of the flowers to see if they smell like roses.

And waxy leaves like ??????:

And flowers like roses (but they don’t smell strongly):

AIIP11, Day 3

Day 3 of AIIP11 began with a panel discussion on using social media. Scott Brown, president-elect, discussed LinkedIn. I’m already using this site, but not to its full potential. Scott reminded me that I can use the Publications tool to include blog entries. There’s also a WordPress app I need to investigate. Finally, he discussed company pages. I did not even realize you could create those on LinkedIn. I may create one for that site, but I also will probably do one for Facebook, which is good if you have a locally focused business like I do, as he mentioned.

Next, Ellen Naylor, discussed blogging. I need to explore some of the resources she mentioned:
Social Media Examiner – make your blog social
Hubspot.com for statistics
Remarkablogger
Virginbloggernotes.com

Lark Birdsong talked about Twitter. I already use this extensively, but I got some good tidbits from her too:
Use Tweepi to reciprocate
What the Hashtag – I tried using this site yesterday and it seems to be gone… (UPDATE: Yep, it’s toast)
Twittradder.com

Next, Cindy Romaine, president of the Special Libraries Association, presented on SLA’s FutureReady initiative.

David Meerman Scott, the Roger Summit Award winner, delivered a lively talk on marketing and PR. He wrote “Real-Time Marketing & PR” and encouraged us to keep up with things as they happen. It’s okay to plan for the future, but don’t forget about today.

UPDATE 4/11: Egads! I forgot to mention one of the sessions. Current AIIP President Cynthia Hetherington presented on loving promoting yourself (well, both, actually). It was a super-funny presentation with lots of good tips. I arrived late to the session, sans iPad, and didn’t get a chance to take notes except by Tweet.

I played hooky during the last session to explore the local farmer’s market and pack for my flight home. Before heading to the conference gala, I attended a lovely soiree hosted by another AIIP member in her swanky suite. They even had a dining room table! I was quite jealous.

The gala was quite fun. I sat at David Meerman Scott’s table and he was interested to hear about the Friends Album project. I had really nice chats with fellow AIIP members Mary Doug Wright and Michelle Bate as well.

Unfortunately, I had to depart early this a.m. (Sunday) and am typing this from O’Hare airport as I await my connection to Baltimore. I can’t wait for the next AIIP conference in Indianapolis in 2012.

UPDATED: Did you miss Day 1 and Day 2?

AIIP11, Day 2

The second day of AIIP11 began with Sari De La Motte, who is a body language expert. She coached us on using effective breathing in our conversations with others, especially when delivering bad news. She had really interesting insights into human behavior. She counseled us to take a breath and consider your options before reacting to something. A very hard thing to learn, but I can see how it would help make difficult situations result in better outcomes.

Next, John McQuaig led a session on pricing. He had helpful advice for gaining insight from clients in order to better meet their needs.

After that, Mary Ellen Bates gave a talk on marketing. I liked her advice about establishing three goals for the year and tracking your success. Her one-day makeover advice regarding your online presence is very effective as well. I’ve seen the benefits of doing just that very recently.

There was a tips session in the evening where we discussed various topics in small groups for 30 minutes each. I joined discussions on participation-centered presentations (by Linda Stacy), e-newsletters (by Lorene Kennard) and working with non-profits (by Marge King). I learned a ton – this is one of my favorite parts of the conference.

Deschutes Hefe

Then it was time for fun. Some folks went on outings arranged by the conference organizers. I went into Portland with friends. We had an amazing dinner at Deschutes Brewery and ended the evening at Powell’s Books. I found the local-interest section and bought books on the Oregon Trail for my own genealogy research. I also found a book on the Alamo, which mentioned my ancestor John Smith.

Powell's Book Cart (Tormentum Malorum)

UPDATED: Recaps of Day 1 and Day 3 are also available.

AIIP11 Day 1

Tulips in Esther Short Park, Vancouver, WA.

Excellent first day here in Vancouver, WA. I started my day walking around Esther Short Park across from the hotel, taking pics. Thankfully, the promised rain held off and we had nice weather all day.

I attended a vendor training session on the new ProQuest interface for Dialog searching, which looks to be much more intuitive for Dialog newbies, but still has the old command line search capabilities for tried and true users. I want to start exploring the possibilities for genealogy research in its databases when all are online later this year. Bonus: met a potential client at this session.

Building at Fort Vancouver, WA.

Next was lunch with several attendees. Then, Lorene Kennard and I walked to Fort Vancouver to tour the historic site. I took lots of pics, which I will post later. Next, we met up with more friends for ice cream at a local gelato place.

Brownie and strawberry gelato from Dolce Gelato in Vancouver, WA.

Then, it was time to get ready for the poster session on topics from book publishing to Paypal to enewsletters. This was followed by the opening reception, where I met many conference first-timers and talked genealogy at length with the incoming editor of AIIP Connections. Oh yeah, we managed to find time to visit the hotel bar to try out the AIIP conference cocktail too.

The Silver Bullet: Absolut mandarin + Cointreau + lime juice, shaken + Chambord pour

What a great start to the conference. Can’t wait for the first full day tomorrow!

UPDATED: Read all about Day 2 and Day 3.

Follow Friday: AIIP Conference Tweets

Next week (April 7-10) is the 25th Annual Association of Independent Information Professionals Conference in Vancouver, WA. Be sure to follow #aiip11 on Twitter to keep up with all the sessions. Several genealogists are members of AIIP and I encourage anyone who has a genealogy business or who is thinking of starting one to look into this group. The conference is just one of the many benefits of joining. You’ll get a taste of what you can learn from this wonderful group by following conference tweets.

Still need convincing? Take a look at my recap of last year’s conference.

Conference Materials Survey: How Attendees Get Organized

I’m running a series of posts about a survey I did to see how conference attendees organize the information and materials they bring home with them. Please be sure to read Post 1 (Survey Results Overview), Post 2 (Questions 1 & 2/Attendance & Note-taking) and Post 3 (Questions 3 & 4/Vendors & Swag) for analysis of the results thus far.

In this post, I’m going to examine the answers to Question 5: How do you organize your conference materials when you get home?

Respondents had the following answers to choose from (and once again, they could pick more than one):

  • I don’t
  • I create a binder for each conference I attend
  • I scan everything for future reference
  • Other (please specify)

Twenty-one folks admitted that they don’t organize materials once they return home. Thirteen said they create a binder for each conference (but many more said they use simple file folders instead). Nine said they scanned the materials. I had 51 replies for “Other” to sort through.

There were many interesting ideas among the various responses submitted. Here are a few examples:

“The best way is to share your conference highlights with someone else. When I start talking about a session, I really “get” what I learned. The best conference I had was when my roommate and I de-briefed each other each evening on our highlights.” (this type of comment was echoed by at least one other respondent)

“One thing that helps me is postings or articles about conference sessions. e.g. for our AIIP conference, I love reading the articles in Connections, esp. if I missed a session. I love the way others perceived the content of a session as it broadens my own understanding.”

“I generally review all my notes and create a list of action items for follow-up.”

“I write up summaries (with links to slideshare etc) and keep it in a file on my computer.”

One respondent mentioned in answer to this question that she live-blogs to help her record sessions. Another respondent said they take notes on index cards and then these are filed appropriately on their return — I need to follow-up with this respondent to see how these are organized. I keep imagining they have an old card catalog cabinet or something.

Still another very organized respondent organizes reference materials for vendors and products she already uses in files she has for each of those providers; notes on topics related to research she performs are filed in the appropriate boxes by subject; she has a “Try It” box for new things to explore and she schedules time to try these out; and finally, she sorts the cards for contacts with whom she needs to follow-up.

Stay tuned for my next post on how many folks purchase conference materials on CD/thumbdrive and/or purchase recordings of sessions after the fact. Read more below:

Conference Materials Survey — Results Overview

Earlier this month, I asked folks to respond to a survey about how they deal with the information, materials and swag that they collect at conferences. I will be putting together a full report on the results, but I’m going to publish the report bit-by-bit on my blog as I write it. You, my faithful readers (and hopefully, some of the survey’s respondents) will get a sneak peek!

The Questions

The survey’s questions were as follows:

1 ) How many conferences have you attended in the past year?

2 ) How do you take notes at conferences?

3 ) Do you visit vendors at conferences?

4 ) What do you do with vendor swag when you get home?

5 ) How do you organize your conference materials when you get home?

6 ) Do you purchase conference handouts on CD or thumbdrive, if offered?

7 ) Do you purchase recordings of sessions, when offered?

8 ) What would help you make better use of conference materials when you get home?

9 ) Other thoughts? Do you use systems/tools to keep yourself organized at/after a conference not already covered above? Ever been wowed by how a conference presented its materials? How did they do it?

10 ) Please provide your email address below if I can contact you with follow-up questions and/or if you would like a copy of the results of this survey.

The Respondents

I advertised the online-only survey to my networks on Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, here on this blog, and on the listservs of a couple of professional associations to which I belong (the Association of Independent Information Professionals and the Special Libraries Association, in particular). Eighty-five (!) people responded to my survey during the week that I had it available online. This was more than I could have hoped for.

The majority of the respondents, therefore, were librarians, genealogists and other types of information professionals. These folks tend to be organized and focused on how they process information. It is presumed that they all had a comfort level with computers, the Internet and some forms of social media in order to take the survey.

Preliminary Results

The demographics of the survey respondents might suggest that the group who participated may be more organized than your average conference attendee. After going through the aggregated responses to the multiple choice questions and skimming the individual comments for other of the questions above, many of the respondents do have intricate systems for organizing conference information.

I also found though that many, like me, expressed frustration with a lack of time and appropriate tools to organize everything that they gather. There were suggestions for dealing with notes, handouts, giveaways, business cards and other data, information and materials that one collects at a conference. Some of these suggestions are systems that the respondents already use and others are wishlist items that will depend on conference organizers, or even vendors, to supply.

In ensuing posts, I go over the responses to each of the questions asked in the survey. Read on at the links below:

Tombstone Tuesday (AIIP10 Edition): Erie Street Cemetery

I attended the 2010 Association of Independent Information Professionals conference in Cleveland, Ohio, this past weekend (read my recap here). The conference hotel was located directly across from two important Cleveland landmarks: Progressive Field (where we watched the Indians lose to the Twins) and Erie St. Cemetery.

One of the stones in the cemetery is for Joc-O-Sot or Walking Bear.

Next to his stone is that of Chief Thunderwater. Both earned names for themselves by participating in theater acts and Wild West shows.

Another stone that caught my attention was this one:

The dates are a bit hard to read due to the staining on the stone, but when you blow up the photo, here’s what you see:

SCHARLOTT

Father
Born July 11, 1835–Died Mar. 13, 1904 [age ~69]

[space]

Amelia
Born July 3, 1859–Died Mar. 13, 1903 [age ~44]

Dorothy
Born Nov. 28, 1860–Died Mar. 28, 1864 [age 3 1/2]

Margaret
Born July 26, 1866–Died Aug. 16, 1867 [age 13 mos]

Albert
Born Jan. 2, 1873–Died Aug. 16, 1873 [age 6 mos]

Albert H
Born Mar. 3, 1877–Died Feb. 3, 1880 [age ~3]

Carrie
Born May 15, 1879–Died Nov. 1, 188[3 or 9?] [age ~4 or ~10]

Harry
Born Aug. 15, 1885–Died Dec. 3, 1888 [age 3]

Edna
Born Mar. 3, 1887–Died Jan. 5, 1888 [age 10 mos]

Can you imagine? I had to know, were these the only Scharlott children or did more survive into adulthood and are perhaps buried somewhere else? I think I found the family in the 1880 census in Cleveland on Ancestry.com (under the name Scherlotk; click on the photo for a larger view):

(Ohio, Cuyahoga County, Cleveland, District 15, page 7, lines 40-49, 1880 U.S. Census, Ancestry.com)

You can see Amalia and Carry listed in the census — presumably they are the Amelia and Carrie listed on the stone. Their birthdates match.

It’s somewhat comforting to know that after all that loss, some of the Scharlott children survived. And now we know their parents’ full names as well. As to why the mother, Anna, isn’t included on the stone, one can guess that she survived her husband, remarried and is buried with the subsequent husband. That’s another question for another day.