I recently posted a question online that had been puzzling me for some time.
“What name do we give ourselves when we refer to our hobby and what we do? Are you a Genealogist or a Family Historian, or something entirely different?”
Is there actually a difference and at the end of the day, does it really matter?
I have always referred to myself as an ‘Enthusiastic Amateur’, both in a light-hearted way, but also semi-seriously. This to me highlights the fact that I am not a professional researcher and my view is ‘what I lack in ability, I make up for in enthusiasm’. It’s a bit tongue-in-cheek, but it does show that I am not a professional researcher. As an aside to this point, I know many amateur’s that are equally as skilled as their professional counterparts, so, therefore, being classed as “an amateur” is by no means a detrimental title, I just mentally differentiate an amateur from a professional based on the fact that the professional charges for their services, whereas an amateur does not. Now I know many of you will cross over both sides of that fence, but it’s just a simplistic view of my own, that helps me sort out who’s who.
I was astounded at the response to my original question and I was literally inundated with replies, which really made me question my own views and it made me think about how we describe ourselves is far more important than I ever imagined. Of course, if you are making a living from Family History and you are already classed as a ‘professional’, then the image you might want to convey will be reflective of that, and you will want to convey an air of ‘professionalism’ and quite rightly so. For maybe the rest of us, the hobbyists, it’s a bit more fluid, and we can change our name a bit like a chameleon does to suit every occasion.
The problem that I find with labels, whether you give them to yourself or you are given them, is that they can actually be slightly misleading. My original tongue-in-cheek title that I gave myself, at the start of the blog; ‘Enthusiastic Amateur’, although only meant as fun, can actually have a negative impact on how people might view you. The word amateur can imply either a lack of experience or level of expertise and can also suggest a lack of quality. I am sure many of the amateurs amongst us, including myself, would feel slightly aggrieved at being thought of in that way. So, therefore, the name that we give ourselves can potentially be more significant than we actually realise. You could also consider at what point and what level of experience do you consider it reasonable to give yourself a “Title”. My good friend Gem, of Quirky Gem’s Podcast fame, suggests that a person should really “earn their stripes first”, before actually calling themselves something, which is certainly another very valid point.
The results were quite revealing. The two most common replies were indeed ‘Family Historian’ and Genealogist and there was a noticeable difference between the replies from UK ‘Genies’ compared to my American friends. It does appear that there is a divide of opinion across the pond. It might well be a cultural difference in language? I would love to hear your views on the subject.
In my view, a ‘Family Historian’ is someone that researches people, places, cultures, heritage and the context of where and when our ancestors lived. Whereas a Genealogist implies somebody who just researches pedigree’s (family tree’s), of course, I am sure that some of you will disagree with this.
There were certainly lots of variations of both these terms, some humorous and others, just a subtle variation of the original two;
Here are just a few examples of the alternatives;
Genealogy Geek, Collector of Stories, Family Researcher, Historical Researcher, Story Teller, Armchair Genealogist, Story Keeper, Family History Keeper, to name but a few.
So, has my own opinion changed from my original thoughts?
Whilst I am still very much ‘enthusiastic’ and I am still not a ‘professional’, I have opted to change my title to ‘Story Teller’, which best describes what I am trying to achieve, but Family Historian also ‘fits’ rather nicely. Does any of this really matter and is it really that important? Yes, if you hope to make a living at Genealogy or Family History, but less so if you are a hobbyist, such as myself.
If you have your own thoughts, I would really love to hear from you and maybe you call yourself something entirely different. Over the years, I have also affectionately referred to myself as ‘The Happy Reaper’ because of my obsession with trying to find the final resting places of as many of my Ancestors as I can, but that’s an entirely different story.
Just for fun, I have created a few new titles for you all to enjoy. Maybe you fit into one of these categories instead?
Tree Harvester – Someone who collects and ‘hoovers up’ trees and people from anyone’s tree they find on our favourite Genealogy website, probably has a tree that contains over 50, 000 names on it.
Cut and Paste King – Someone who thinks in Genealogical terms that GPS means Global Positioning System. Somebody that is quite happy to cut and paste any relative facts from someone else’s tree and thinks that as far as verifying the details are concerned, they are happy that “it must be a fact, because I saw it online”.
The Magpie – Who hasn’t been attracted by that ‘Bright Shiny Genealogical Object’? We all have to a certain degree, but it takes strong willpower and discipline not to spend all day, every day, chasing ‘Fools Gold’.
The Ethnicity Expert – Takes a DNA test purely for the Ethnicity Estimate and frustratingly for you and me, has no interest in Family History or building a family tree. Never replies to a DNA message.
The Surfer – Spends many days aimlessly flitting around our favourite websites with no structure or method and repeats the same searches again and again and again……
The Archiphobe – Someone that thinks that all records are online and has never left the comfort of their armchair, very dismissive of others who suggest that there are ‘other records available’.
The Finisher – Someone who has obviously ‘finished’ their family tree and cannot understand why the rest of us are lagging behind.
So which one are you?………………
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