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.