Wednesday, August 13, 2014

I'm a ProGen Alumnus!

Twenty months ago, I started out on an adventure. It was--like all adventures--difficult and challenging at times. But it also was rewarding and self-improving and well worth my investment of time and effort.

I'm talking about ProGen: a formal, online book study course on the text Professional Genealogy: A Manual for Researchers, Writers, Editors, Lecturers, and Librarians, edited by Elizabeth Shown Mills (Baltimore: Genealogical Publishing Company, 2001). This course involves nineteen months of reading, research, and writing assignments, providing feedback to your cohort's assignments (and accepting it from them on yours), as well as a monthly chat with your cohort, coordinator, and a mentor who is a BCG (Board for the Certification of Genealogists) certified genealogist.

So why did I take this course? What all is involved? What are the benefits? What is the outcome? And where do I go from here?

Why I Took ProGen
First of all, I wanted to explore the possibility of becoming a certified genealogist through BCG. While I have had no formal training in genealogy, I have learned the research process through over twenty years of research experience, reading lots of how-to texts, and listening to lectures at conferences, in webinars, and on audio cassettes. Well-known genealogy courses available online through Boston University were not affordable for me, but I wanted something more involved and advanced than the excellent-but-basic National Genealogical Society's Home-Study course. I knew from ProGen's course description that there would be a focus on the business aspects of being a professional genealogist, something about which I was fairly ignorant. So I made my decision to go with ProGen.

What All is Involved
I started blogging about ProGen in The ProGen Study Group: Getting Started and The ProGen Study Group: Lesson One. There's a lot of good information in those posts which I won't repeat here, but which give you an idea of the intensity of the program. However, I decided not to continue posting about ProGen for several reasons. First of all, my time spent in blogging was getting eaten up pretty quickly by my ProGen assignments. Truly, you need to give yourself a good twenty hours a month to get it all done, and sometimes that wasn't enough! Secondly, I realized that giving too much detail about the program was not a good idea, ethically. Someone could take that information and create their own course.

I will give you an overview of some of the major projects, and my favorites. One of my favorite projects was compiling a list of our genealogy library (books, CDs, and other resources), as well as a wish list. We could present these lists in any type of format or media. Some chose to do it through Good Reads, some did Excel spreadsheets, while I chose my presentations as two Pinterest boards, here and here. Another fun project was creating locality guides for our geographic areas of research, local or ancestral. These included libraries, archives, courthouses, cemeteries, universities, genealogical and historical society collections, and any other research repositories in those areas. The guides listed details such as physical addresses, websites, contact information, hours, access restrictions, and practical considerations, such as nearby restaurants and hotels for out-of-town researchers. These guides have been compiled into an online list to which ProGen alumni have access for future projects.

Oddly enough, the toughest assignments were also my favorites. Some of them required two months to complete, with the first draft due one month, and a final draft due the next. However, they required me to dig deep into all the skills and knowledge I have thus far acquired, as well as challenged me to provide solid evidence for every assertion I made. Some of these assignments included research plans, proof arguments, and one-generation family narratives. You can read mine online at Google Drive. Please note that Google Docs do not always keep the same formatting as Microsoft Word when being uploaded to Drive; therefore, some of these may look "funny" when viewed online.
The Benefits of ProGen
As I've already mentioned, ProGen challenged the way I had done things before. I couldn't simply rely on my memory or toss around probable factors. I had to stick with the facts and have them in order, use logic and reason, and come to sound conclusions. If I didn't, members of my cohort could easily pick apart my theories and conclusions. The cohort itself was one of the biggest benefits of the course; I had a group of people who, while having my back in supporting me through the course, weren't going to accept anything less than quality when it came to evaluating my assignments. I felt safe with their constructive criticism, and reciprocally, I knew they didn't think the worst of me when I pointed out their errors or asked for better evidence to support their conclusions. It's nice to know I can contact them again to ask them to be a second pair of editor's eyes for a research report or family narrative for a client. Meeting once a month with our mentors was also helpful. We could ask questions about their career experience or for help when we just didn't understand an assignment.

The Outcome of a ProGen Course
There are a lot of positive results that I brought away from ProGen. The first is having a better understanding of the business end of genealogy, such as contracts, mission statements, business plans, etc. Professional genealogists spend only a portion of their time doing research. A great deal of time is spent on business paperwork, such as client letters and contracts, as well as the writing of research plans, proof arguments, and research reports.

Many of the projects showed me where I lacked organization in my office or computer files for my own personal research, citations, or even the sources of where I had obtained my resources, documents, and photographs. Some of the assignments took much longer than they should have, because I had to put those things in place before I could even get started on the project. This has motivated me to start spending good chunks of time going through my office and computer files and my genealogy software to put those pieces in place. It has caused me to slow way down on the "research" part and spend more time on analyzing the information contained in those documents. The most wonderful result of this is that I have found many more clues to help me toward breaking down some brick walls that have stumped me for years. I've also found details to help flesh out my ancestor's lives and understand more of what they were like, personally; eradicating what I call the "telephone-book genealogy" of boring lists of names, numbers (dates), and places.

I was fortunate to have read a how-to-genealogy book years ago that emphasized keeping track of where I got my information. While it didn't teach how to formally cite sources, I did keep fairly good notes. Now it's important to me to put these notes into correct citation format, so that they are ready to use in formal genealogy documents such as research plans, proof arguments, research reports, or family narratives. It also will save me tons of time to help me be able to analyze the quality of evidence, as to whether it is original or derivative, primary or secondary, direct or indirect. It requires a huge amount of time to front load this, but definitely is worth it in the end.

The most important result of this course was to realize how much more I have to learn in this amazing field of genealogy, which seems to be constantly expanding in its depth and scope. Yet, it's perfectly acceptable to celebrate what I have accomplished thus far in my journey.

What's Next?
One of my early assignments was writing an education plan. Some of the things on that list included attending institutes such as GRIP (Genealogical Research Institute of Pittsburgh), SLIG (Salt Lake Institute of Genealogy) and/or IGHR (Institute of Genealogy and Historical Research) at Samford University. Eventually, I would like to attain my certificate in genealogy through the BCG. However, I have created some personal financial and non-genealogical career goals that must have priority for the next five or six years. These will allow me to have the freedom to pursue the above genealogical goals without hindrances later. In the meantime, I'll continue to monitor and participate in groups like the Transitional Genealogist Mailing List, and the Resources for Professional Genealogists group on Google+. I'll join groups like the Association for Professional Genealogists and the Genealogy Speakers Guild. I'll study formal journals like the New England Historic Genealogical Society's Register and the National Genealogical Society's Quarterly. I also would like to do another book study, this time on Tom Jones's Mastering Genealogical Proof.

I will continue to give presentations at workshops, seminars, and conferences; teach classes for the Community Colleges of Spokane; and am now taking on clients for research projects. If you are interested in having me speak to your group or do research, please email me, and I will send you a list of my topics or information outlining what my research services entail.

You can also email me or comment below with any further questions you have about ProGen. I sincerely encourage you to seriously consider taking this course to enrich, whether to satisfy your curiosity about the business aspects of the profession or to enhance your own personal research strategies and skills.

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