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.

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.

My AIIP10 Top 10

The 2010 Association of Independent Information Professionals (AIIP) conference wrapped up in Cleveland today and it was another excellent event. Below are my top 10 highlights from the conference. I hope those that are unfamiliar with the group will take a look at their web site and consider saving up for the 2011 conference in Vancouver, Washington, next April. All genealogists are info pros and would find value in this event (and as an AIIP member!).

10. Roger Summit Award Lecture: The immediate past president of AIIP selects the recipient of the Roger Summit Award, who gives a lecture at the conference. This year’s awardee was Peter Shankman, founder of HARO and a marketing/PR guru. He gave a really funny, engaging talk with great advice on how to portray yourself.

9. Door Prizes! Members, vendors and conference sponsors are encouraged to contribute door prizes, which are given away throughout the conference. There are tons of opportunities to win something and your chances are good (the conference averages about 100-110 attendees each year). This year, I won a centerpiece at the gala and a lovely bowl donated by another conference-goer. Books, subscriptions, gadgets and gift certificates usually are up for grabs as well.

8. Getting the 23 Things Done: AIIP/SLA member Deb Hunt led a session on this initiative to encourage us to experiment with various Web 2.0 tools. The 23 Things program was originally created by a public librarian in North Carolina and was adopted by the Special Libraries Association (SLA) for its members. New tools mentioned include Trackle, BackType and Addictomatic.

7. Member Introductions: A tradition at the conference is to line up all the members and give each 30 seconds at the microphone to give an elevator speech. It’s a good exercise to distill what you offer as an info pro into a short, snappy intro. This part of the conference is the perfect way to meet all the other attendees. The introductions provide a jumping off point for networking later in the conference.

6. Good Grub: The food this year was phenomenal, especially the last lunch, which provided a taste of Vancouver, Washington’s regional fare: salmon, hazelnuts and apple pie. Yum! I also thoroughly enjoyed the dessert at Saturday night’s gala (which involved copious amounts of chocolate sauce).

5. Roundtable Discussions: Conference attendees break up into smaller groups to discuss topics of interest. This year, conference speakers and others were invited to host roundtables about hot topics that generated a lot of buzz over the course of the conference. I attended an excellent discussion on pricing by AIIP member Susan Berkman.

4. Volunteering: This is the second year in a row that I served as PR and materials coordinator for the conference. I worked with a stellar group of fellow AIIP members on the past two conferences and gained lots of experience. Volunteering had the added benefit of giving me more visibility among AIIP members.

3. Learning: The conference featured sessions on everything from protecting your business to web site design. The topics selected for the invited talks are of interest to anyone who runs a business. My mind is spinning from all the new techniques and strategies I learned over the past few days.

2. Tips Sessions: In a format similar to the roundtables, we had the opportunity to sit in small groups for 30-minute sessions on a variety of topics. I attended “How NOT to Market Yourself on the Web” by Mary Ellen Bates, “From ‘To-Do’ to Done” by Char Kinder and “Business Etiquette” by Ulla de Stricker. I learned a lot from them in just 90 minutes!

1. Other AIIP Members: My favorite part of the conference is meeting the other members and making connections. This group is so diverse and talented. Members offer expertise on marketing, accounting, research techniques and more. The specialties of the group cover every topic and industry imaginable. I made a lot of new friends and potential partners this year, including two genealogists!

But wait, there’s more! I had to arrive late to the conference this year due to work and so I missed some other conference features that are worth mentioning. Before each conference several AIIP members offer pre-conference workshops on a variety of topics. These are intense half-day or full-day workshops and an excellent learning opportunity. In a similar vein, many of the conference vendors provide free training sessions — these are great opportunities to get insider tips on various products and services. There is a special session for first-time conference attendees where they get to practice their elevator speeches and learn tips for getting the most out of the conference. Each class of first-timers bond and have even started holding reunions at subsequent conferences.

AIIP member Mary Ellen Bates suggests setting aside $30 a week in a savings account over the course of the year. That’s enough to cover travel, hotel and registration for the next conference for most interested attendees. I highly recommend the investment!