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Genealogists: One Big Happy Fightin’ Family

Are arguments good for the genealogy community?

In Harold Henderson’s recent post Is genealogy ready for an argument?, he discusses the need for some ground rules when it comes to “online discussions” within the genealogy community. Harold puts forth some fairly common sense proposals many of which are generally followed in online communities, besides genealogy.

Are You Getting The Entire Story?

I’m sure some of you are wondering “Was there another fight among genealogists?” or “Who is it this time?” and some will roll their eyes and say, “Oh not again!”  Very often in social media and online platforms, members enter into a story timeline at different points and they need to “catch up.” Well here is your DVR for the actual story, from my perspective. I also do this because very often we do this “dance” in the genealogy community where we talk about someone or several people without stating specifics. In this case the discussion/argument was public, in an online space, and real names were used.

The argument took place on Wednesday evening, August 14, 2013 on the TRANSITIONAL-GENEALOGISTS-FORUM-L Archives mailing list which is a public list. The topic was why GenealogyBank does not allow professional researchers to use their product for client research, but instead requires the purchase of a membership for each client (read the entire thread starting here).

I objected to a comment made by Michael Hait in the threaded discussion and I made an honest reply stating that Michael was “being rude and disingenuous.” I stand by my statement and offer no apology. I took exception to this statement made by Michael: “APG is a professional organization, not a discount warehouse for hobby tools.”

Why? Well it had been made clear by Kerry Scott that she had worked to get APG members a 20% discount on GenealogyBank. Some felt that they had been misled since GenealogyBank cannot reasonably be used for client research. I felt, and continue to feel, that Michael’s comment not just denigrated the volunteer work Kerry had done, but also exacerbated the hobby vs. professional schism we see going on in the genealogy community.

As an aside, I didn’t feel the need to be chivalrous and step in to defend Kerry’s character or hard works. She can do that herself, believe me. I stepped in because I too have worked in a volunteer capacity for genealogical societies trying to get those same benefits. I too have encountered genealogy vendors who’ve stated that they won’t work with certain organizations because their members don’t appreciate the discount or realize what it took to secure the discount. Finally, I think it is my analysis of the genealogy market and the dynamics of vendors and genealogy non-profit organizations that also pulled me into this discussion.

Bottom Line: Families Fight. Get Over It.

So now you are fully informed as to what happened with who and where. I don’t think it is unprofessional to call someone out for being rude during an argument. I said it simply and honestly. I didn’t engage in name calling. It didn’t become “personal” as some would characterize it. I did the same thing I’d do at an APG social function or any other genealogy function: I told someone that I felt that they were being rude.

Read the further comments and you’ll see my statements on how the genealogy community insists on doing this big elaborate dance when it comes to discussions and arguments.

I grew up in a family where there were fights. Big, nasty, drag down fights. Things were said that were inappropriate and feelings were hurt. Days or weeks later we would all have a big laugh but we were still a family. I grew up to thrive on that honesty and I use that same honesty in the genealogy community.

When I’m in a discussion you’ll always know how I feel and what I think. I won’t clutch my pearl necklace in a social setting of colleagues, make a veiled statement and then talk about you like a dog once you leave the room. You get it served up right then and there.

Straight shooter, that’s me. Does it get me in “trouble?” Damn right it does. Do I care? Not really.

That’s Me – The Unprofessional Genealogist

Wednesday’s discussion was the last straw for me in terms of my interactions with the so called “professional” genealogy community. I alluded to some changes in my professional genealogy career over on Facebook with a simple “I’m done.” As in put a fork in me, I’m done. As in the temperature gauge popped out of my breast, I’m done. As in, I’ve had enough, I’m done.

So I’ve rescinded my application to become a Certified Genealogist with the Board for Certification of Genealogists. That’s the first step. I don’t think that I’m suited for the BCG program, but I wish them the best of luck since it does seem to work for many.

I’ll also be retooling what I do in the genealogy community and focusing more on my business. I will still offer the same educational content via webinars, e-guides, and other content. I have a different vision of what it is to be a genealogy professional.

For me it comes down to being the most honest person you can be especially in your interactions with others in the community. I’m fine with that being characterized as “unprofessional” and frankly, I’m proud of it.

©2013, copyright Thomas MacEntee

28 thoughts on “Genealogists: One Big Happy Fightin’ Family

  1. Thomas — I always love your candor. I wish more people were honest (to your face), while being specific, polite and respectful. I wish that in both my personal life and in my professional life.

    So, (as I raise my glass to you) … I will say that being a straight shooter and honest while being polite and respectful is to me the highest indicator of being “Professional” … I hate the games of life and conversation, both personally and professionally. Always have …

    Like you, I have made (and will make more) choices about my professional life to basically do what I love, for those who are appreciative and minimize my interactions from those who often seem to “suck” the energy out of our community with disrespectful exchanges, lots of negativity, name calling, and a variety of tactics.

    I strive to be the same type of “Professional” or shall we say “honest unprofessional” as you. Though I am not a religious person, I have always tried to live by “treat others as you wish to be treated.” Life, so far, has always treated me well to do so …

    I look forward to continuing to keep up with all you do for the genealogy community. Again, thanks for your candor.

  2. My response is over at my blog. I do think it would be good to publicly discuss what kind of standards email discussion lists should have, and what exactly “a different vision of what it is to be a genealogy professional” means.

  3. I think some in the “professional” group are fearful of the incredible research being done by so many in the “unprofessional” group. Yes, there’s a lot of genealogy crap online, probably put out there by so-called hobbyists, but there’s no need to paint everyone with the same brush. There are a lot of unprofessional researcher doing serious work.

    And, if I understand the basic issue correctly, the objection is that, for business use, a fee is required for each client and so a discount is meaningless? And, I admittedly haven’t looked into the details of the TOS, but can members get multiple discounts with GB? Regardless, even if it’s only one, a discount is a discount. Better than a sharp stick in the eye.

    By the way, isn’t this a cost that can passed on to the client?

  4. Thank you, Thomas! I so appreciate your frankness on this issue, as well as others. There’s plenty of room in the genealogical community for those who want to be involved. Best of luck in your rerouting.

  5. Bravo and thank you, Thomas! We need you in our Community as a Genealogy Professional. I love the distinction that you implied between the “professional genealogist” and the “Genealogy Professional”.

  6. I follow geneabloggers content, and I have to say this kind of thing will probably keep me from coming back. If you want to be “unprofessional” that’s your decision, but I don’t like being around people who create drama over the stupidest things. I actually went and read the thread you responded to and felt it was important that someone be honest and tell you that you are the one who is wrong. Whether what Mr. Hait said was right, wrong, or something else your reply was the one that was uncalled for and went over the top. There were a million better ways you could have replied, but you chose the most confrontational. As best I can tell, you are going on this anti-professional kick based on your overwrought reaction to one sentence written by one person on the Internet. One sentence has made you decide to stop pursuing being a professional? I know it’s hard to see what’s in front of your nose some times, but can’t you recognize how childish you are? Is it really your plan to be the one who throws temper tantrums on the internet for all to see? If you’re proud of that, so be it. I’ll just go find some professional content to read.

  7. Just to point out, Thomas, GenealogyBank does not require professionals to take out an account for each client for whom they access GB. That was Judy Russell’s interpretation of how we might work around the non-commercial use restrictions of the GB ToS. Neither GB’s website nor its ToS provide any instructions to professionals about how they can contractually utilize their subscription for any purpose other than personal use. The wording will probably become clearer in the future, my guess.

  8. Blah, blah, blah . . . I’ve never seen anyone get more mileage out of NOT doing something. I thought your post last November about why you weren’t speaking at FGS was the most pitiful cry for attention that I’d ever seen, but this just takes the cake. So what if you’ve rescinded your CG application? Big deal, I could have called that play months ago, and it’s pretty much your only choice at this point. You don’t want to do the work, or you’ve realized that your skills aren’t up to snuff, so you throw a tantrum and alienate all the people who HAVE done the work and might have been willing to help you.

    A colleague of mine thinks you’re a marketing genius, but I think you’re mentally ill. Seriously. Look up the Wikipedia entry for “histrionic personality disorder” and see if you don’t sound like a textbook case. If you decide that you need to seek professional help (and I don’t mean from a professional genealogist), I’m sure you’ll milk that experience for all it’s worth too.

    Oh, and just in case you and your toadies want to question my reason for anonymity, it’s not cowardice, but self-protection. You love to dish out the “honesty,” but you absolutely cannot take it, and you have a bad habit of burning people who dare to shoot straight with you. You’ve burned many of my friends in this field, along with other people I admire but haven’t actually met, and you will NOT do it to me.

  9. Thomas,

    Thank you for your always frank take on things.

    I feel our ‘Codes of Conduct’-whether APG, BCG or others-have been specifically written to prevent naming names and stating facts. This stifles the full and honest airing of differences of professional opinion in a field full of as much art as science. In every other aspect of this field we are expected to cite our source and state our facts. Being unable to do so in the realm of disagreeing with our professional colleagues leads to the incredibly stupid, childish, passive-aggressive backbiting you’ve address.

    I can be blunt. I have repeatedly committed the personal cardinal sin of getting in front of a keyboard when my frustration level is DEFCON2. And there is no question I can be bullheaded about my opinions. But I want to be challenged by and learn from others who disagree. I want my genea-friends and colleagues to call me out if I’ve overstepped and especially if I’ve crossed the line into rudeness. Isn’t that why we form and join associations in the first place? To discuss, debate, disagree and even argue?

    Of course, you know the overwhelming majority of us will hunt you down wherever you go personally and professionally. But I am sad for the many others who will not find you, or not find you sooner.

    With much love and respect,

    As an aside…this was the response I received from when I first started my business last year. Via email, 3/19/2012:
    “You may use your personal account to assist you with
    your clients research as long as you refrain from sharing the actual
    documents, including both electronic and print versions of the content
    found on”

    Unless their TOS has changed significantly, extract the genealogical facts or quote, cite as the source, advise the client how they can access the content themselves.

  10. Thanks Dee Dee for the clarification – at the very least, I am hoping we do get that “clearer wording” right from GenealogyBank soon. It is a great product and many researchers with clients feel hampered by the current restrictions.

  11. I’m bummed about this entire fiasco.

    First, I wish we could separate the GenealogyBank thing from the interpersonal conflict, because they don’t have anything to do with each other, and I feel very bad that this company is being dragged into a completely separate fight.

    Second, I was certified in my last profession, and if I were taking clients regularly I’d be certified in this one, because certification is for me. No one else. It’s for me to test my skills, and it has nothing to do with other people.

    Third, I get frustrated by snootiness too (I didn’t feel Michael’s remark met the definition of snootiness for me, but I’ve felt it in other conversations). But snootiness avoidance isn’t part of my career strategy. If it was, I’d never work again, because we had these exact same discussions in my last line of work, and I don’t know of any profession that doesn’t have them.

    Any sizable collection of humans is going to have some people you don’t like, with attitudes and beliefs you don’t share. The only way to avoid that is to live in an echo chamber.

  12. In the last two years or so, I’ve developed a new slogan: Do you. ALWAYS.

    I don’t blame you for not getting certification – I wouldn’t get it either. Not only because genealogy isn’t my main career, but also because I can’t handle the snootiness that often comes with it. I know that the snootiness is a small majority in the certified community, but they are the loudest and the world just doesn’t make enough ear plugs for me to put up with it. It just doesn’t fit with me.

    You called someone out because you felt it was justified. It doesn’t matter whether or not it was (I feel your comment was fair), because you were stating how you felt. Which is, in my view, what these lists are for.

    You know I’ll always support you and have your back because I think you are a hardworking, strong, dedicated person, and you aren’t afraid to do you. You are who you are and you don’t make apologies for it. That’s important.

    This too shall pass.

    And in the meantime, I am so excited to see where you will take your career.

  13. Certification is not for everyone and everyone who is certified is not necessarily the best genealogist on the planet. This year I attended a couple of presentations by certified genealogists and I’m sorry but those were the most boring of all presentations I’ve ever been to..nothing was offered that I could use in my own research. Of course all are not this way but being a CG does not automatically make someone the best in the field.

    Thomas: you are great at whatever you undertake and I admire your entrepreneurial spirit – no one else matters and no negative comments matter.

    Anonymous gives an excuse of some kind for wanting to be just that: anonymous – well in my book whatever “anonymous” says isn’t worth much because it speaks of someone who is too cowardly to have an open discussion..this feels like high school nonsense. Adults have adult conversations. When a mature adult has something to say, that person has no difficulty with an open discussion. Sometimes I think people just like to hide behind their computers so as to throw barbs and arrows that they would not if they were face to face with the person they are insulting.

    Well that’s my two cents. Anyone who does not have the guts to be known isn’t worth his or her own salt. If you are one of my FB friends, do me a favor and unfriend me because I always try not to surround myself with negative people.

    I have been online for a good many years and I’ve seen it all and I myself have been through it all. Fini! 😉

    Thomas and everyone who is my FB friend: tonight is Friday wine night..join in! “Anonymous” you are not invited to the party lol –

  14. The genealogy family can at times be a bunch of cut-throats. Just have to know when to step away and leave it to those who think they have the most to gain. It is wonderful to be content with genealogy as a hobby and not deal with all the super egos. As Thomas said to me once, “Everyone should be redeemable.” Thank you for standing by me when it was tough.

  15. Thomas, I agree with everything you have said and appreciate what you have done for the community and especially me, even though you may not know it. I’m fairly new to this community but have been ‘around’ other communities. There are ‘elitists’ in every community. I read through the list in question and saw some elitism.

    And to shorten this: Kerry Scott, Elyse Doerflinger, and Lucie LeBlanc Consentino – I ditto your remarks completely.

    Finally, Thomas – thanks for being who you are through it all – that is the most admirable to me – There are too many people that will not do that. I am interested, when you are ready, to learn your vision on being a genealogy professional.


  16. Rorey, that was pretty much the same answer I received when querying GenealogyBank when they first made their online service available, what? 6-7 years ago? I have been a subcriber pretty much since the beginning. Did I regularly check ToS all these years, naw, not that much. The current wording that appears to pretty much prohibit the work except for one’s own personal use is not the level of strictness that I remebered, and certainly does not match what I was told way back then. The response you received is workable. Although it does present a hiccup in a court case in which a sourced copy of the evidence might be required.

  17. Well, all I can say is that I interpreted it as a rude comment as well. I think it’s interesting that he is claiming that he was simply asking a question. Sorry, but I don’t buy it.

  18. Anonymous, you are way out of line here. Unless you are a licensed mental health counselor or psychiatrist, you have no business calling someone mentally ill, much less making a diagnosis based on Wikipedia. Wikipedia? If you are a mental health counselor, you are highly unethical.

  19. I’m so glad I took the time to read the complete thread of conversation that took place over at TGF-L Archives List. I used to subscribe to that list, and now I remember why I unsubscribed. If any of you are interested, and you haven’t done so, follow the links Thomas has included here, and read the complete discussion and make up your own mind. It was also helpful for me to read Judy Russell, the Legal Genealogist’s, posts about the newspaper websites’ terms of use being discussed. Thanks, Thomas, once again for pointing ME in the right direction!

  20. I just caught this latest “controversy” this morning – so I’m late in adding my two cents – but I’ve mulled this over with a mental recording of Sammy Davis Junior looping: “I’ve gotta be me, what else can I be but who I am?”… get the idea!

    I have no side on this issue – just a heated disagreement among professionals (which is nothing new in any field) – BUT – I think Thomas has really uncovered the root of this problem. It’s not just about being snarky on web comments or calling people out for rude behavior – or even elitism among the certified folk (perceived or genuine – not poking THAT bear right now). It is a fundamental rift among our transitioning field. As the genealogy profession changes due to a flood of technological influences there is going to be a natural increase in frustration. Each side sees their value – but in different ways.

    I completely understand the value of certification, especially for keeping the research standards high in a field that has an outside reputation of being a hobby. However, I am beginning to see a new class of genealogy professional that should be just as highly regarded as any CG. As a profession we have great need for folks like Thomas and many others whom I learn from every day from the comfort of my own home – or from great conferences. This new breed of genealogy professional guides us through the challenges and great rewards that technology provides – and this is NOT just general technology instruction! This is specialized instruction for OUR needs which is a full time job and takes talented folks who are able to provide this invaluable professional service.

    This level of professional service does NOT replace the need for sound genealogical research methodology, but will enhance it tremendously if we ALL learn to embrace it and respect these new roles in our field. This is not worth fighting over – we are living in exciting times and our field is in desperate need of a technological kick in the pants – which we are getting from our new (not too new) type of professional genealogist!

    Oh, and one other thing – we all should strive to maintain a professional tone – but gauging the accurate tone in print (e-mail, message boards, etc.) is one of the hardest things to do – almost impossible sometimes. So take a deep breath – there are so many different personalities – let’s not overreact every time someone steps on our toes!

  21. Thomas, you rock, and I admire you very much. You’re a model of what I want to achieve in this field. You’ve helped me focus on my path, based on your successes, and I ALWAYS learn from your presentations, webinars, blogs, etc. I’m not a pro, yet, but strive to have enough skill, credibility and training to be respected in the field, whether or not I end up with a “professional” accreditation. I applaud your honesty, ethics , hard work and generosity. I can’t think of anyone I’d rather emulate.

  22. Thomas,

    I get how you feel. I was a small dot on this big map, but some of you may have noticed this small dot hasn’t had much to say of the last two years. One reason was completely personal; I’m a mom of three who got herself drug into 4H with the kids and even volunteering to teach the kids. It’s a part time job alongside my full time job, so just no time for genealogy. But why was it so easy for my to go in that direction and walk away from the genealogy community? Because of exactly the crap you are experiencing. And just like you I get myself in trouble way too much with my mouth. I try so dang hard to watch it until I explode, and I know it’s never pretty when I explode. I get in trouble.

    I had decided that this next year will not be a 4H year because we want to spend time with our oldest before he’s a senior in high school to do the out door things (camping, hiking, fishing) that he loves, and I had also planned to get back to some of my genealogy work. Now I’m thinking that maybe I will just stay in the background and continue to enjoy the pleasure of researching my own family, writing books (that I can make available to cousins and not the critical eye of rude jerks that think they are better than the rest of us and feel the need to throw it in our faces), and helping my cousins who have always been a pleasure to get to know. Now I’m having second thoughts about coming back.

    Don’t go completely away though, I enjoy your writing, blogs and FB. I have more respect and appreciation for someone like me that is a straight shooter and calls it like they see it, then pathetic looser that hides behind “Anonymous.” I’ve experienced the same idiots on my blog too. I just delete them and don’t even give them the satisfaction of being heard.

    Good luck with whatever you decide Thomas and know that there are many of us that love and respect you. You are and will always be an inspiration to many, so don’t let the few bad apples spoil the fun 😉


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