Hopefully none of you are reading this on your iPhone at a red light (or worse, on the road).
Harold Henderson posed the following analogy for consideration on the Transitional Genealogists Forum:
is that there are a lot more amateurs (or hobbyists) out there than
professionals. That’s not a problem in itself, but on occasion a few
amateurs do things that place all genealogists in a bad light (such as
telling a busy clerk all about their great-great grandparent, or talking
loudly in the archives, or even defacing documents, for example).
It occurred to me during a road trip that professional drivers — usually
truck drivers but also buses and other vehicles — are another professional
group that swims in a sea of amateurs. How do they think about this and deal
with it on a day-to-day basis?”
Just as a preface to my thoughts on this, I:
- have held a commercial driver’s license and been an Ohio Department of Education certified bus driver since 1996
- have been a state-certified on-board school bus driving trainer since 1997
- receive at least four hours of in-service training each year
- have taken a number of advanced driving courses over the years
- have not had a ticket since 1992.
There were a number of replies to this post, but none that I felt addressed Harold’s original question. Not having internet access on a regular basis has slowed my blogging to a crawl, but has given me the time to hopefully distill my thoughts on the subject to a more concentrated, concise response. – not usually my forte. You may still feel it’s not my forte after wading through this.
So here it is: whether on the highway or in the courthouse, professionalism is not determined by who gets paid, who has passed which tests, or who drives what vehicle. Professionalism, rather, is an approach to what you do. It requires an awareness of what the standards (laws) are, and a consistent application of and adherence to, those standards. A third piece of the puzzle is respect for the other parties you interact with in your travels. Whether you have passed some tests (CDL/BCG), taken some training courses (Defensive Driving 101/IGHR), or saw it on Cops or WDYTYA: if you know the rules, follow them, and treat people with respect – you are a professional, and people will perceive you as such.
Think about your commute to work and a typical bad experience on the road. Let’s say you narrowly avoid getting t-boned by someone running a red light. Do you care (aside from the physics involved) whether it was a smart car, mom and the kids in a minivan, a limo, or a semi? No – all you care is that someone wasn’t paying attention and almost killed you. The experience most likely shaped your impression of that ride as a whole. Whether or not they were “professional” is an afterthought at best. When you get home that evening you say, “Man, there were some real idiots out there on the road today!” You don’t walk in the door and comment “Wow, those professionals were okay, but the amateurs almost did me in.” On any given day, your impression of the road is forged by ALL of the driving behavior you’ve encountered that day.
Similarly, a court clerk or archivist doesn’t care whether or not you do this for fun, get paid, or have some letters after your genealogical name. Either you followed the rules, showed awareness and preparation, treated them with courtesy…or you didn’t. They don’t have a good or bad experience with a professional or amateur genealogist – they have a good or bad experience with a genealogist. Period. If the experience is bad, they go home thinking, “Man, if I never see another genealogist in here, it will be too soon.”
So how do we, as genealogists (and drivers) combat this? What is our approach – knowing that the previous person might have chalked up a strike against us before we have ever even walked in the door? Simple: we make ourselves as aware as possible of standards, records, and repositories. We always act in accordance with the rules and standards – even when it might be faster or more convenient not to do so. (I would bet that a large percentage of problems both on the road and in the courthouse are caused by impatience and hurriedness…speaking from my personal experience in both arenas). And we always, always, always treat those we encounter with respect – even when they prove they may not necessarily deserve it. Even if it’s that title searcher who has had the book you need on their table for the past hour.
How many times have you had a bad experience on the road redeemed by the courteous act of someone else? Back there, when you almost got t-boned, you pulled into the gas station on the corner to get gas and regroup – perhaps change your underwear. In heavy rush hour traffic, you realize it might be a futile task trying to get back on the road – especially since the light in the next intersection just turned red and cars are starting to back up towards you. But just then, a driver who is aware and courteous also recognizes this and rather than pulling up on the bumper of the car in front of them, leaves the exit open so that you can pull into the lane.
That is exactly what we need to do as genealogists acting professionally – whether we are getting paid or not. In fact it’s all we can do. By acting professionally yourself, you are not just projecting a good image for you – you might even be undoing a negative impression created by someone less aware.
Now get out of my way – I’m on my way to do some research.