Professional Genealogy: Preparation, Practice & Standards, Elizabeth Shown Mills, Editor: A Book Review

Disclosure: I received a complimentary copy of this book to review.

When I heard that Elizabeth Shown Mills had a new book out, it went on my “must have” list, until I heard the title – Professional Genealogy – and did a double take. That’s because Professional Genealogy (published in 2001) is on my bookshelf and I wondered if this 2018 book was a simple revision.

It’s definitely not!  Professional Genealogy: Preparation, Practice & Standards is similar to its predecessor – Professional Genealogy: A Manual for Researchers, Writers, Editors, Lecturers and Librarians in that topics under which chapters are grouped are nearly identical. However, the 2018 authors, all highly respected names in today’s field, are writing to a modern audience. The only name common to both books is Elizabeth Shown Mills herself.

Professional Genealogy: Preparation, Practice & Standards is, as expected, first rate, being well-organized and comprehensive.

While the title targets current/future professionals, this book is relevant to the home researcher, too. 21st century genealogical standards are much more rigorous than in the past, even compared to 2001. All researchers today should be honing skills to produce high quality results; they can learn a lot from this book.

The 26 chapters are divided into six categories: Professional Preparation, Ethics & Legalities, Career Management, Professional Research Skills, Writing, Editing & Publishing and Educational Services.

Professional Preparation

Defining Professionalism (Chapter 1) sets the tone for the book, noting that an educated professional must also display honesty and integrity. Professional Preparation guides the reader through steps necessary to attain that status. I love that one of the chapters is devoted to careers within the genealogical field aside from client-based research.

I wish, though, that there was a fifth chapter in this section – one that was in the 2001 book. I’m disappointed that the 20-page chapter from 2001 – The Essential Library – has been dropped. It definitely needed to be updated, but some books are classics, like The Source, Val Greenwood’s 4th edition of The Researcher’s Guide to American Genealogy and Map Guide to the U.S. Federal Censuses by Thorndale and Dollarhide. Having suggested reference books covering atlases, source and style guides, professional journals and non-U.S. resources would have been a welcome addition to this 2018 edition.

Ethics & Legalities, Career Management, Educational Services and Writing, Editing and Publishing

These four sections are very much geared to those looking to create a genealogy business. That isn’t a goal of mine, but, for those who are so inclined, giving these chapters a thorough read is essential. The advice is sound and covers everything from accepting client-based commissions to creating contracts to  writing reports/articles or books. For those who wish to teach classes or present at conferences, all the basic elements needed to be successful at either of these endeavors are covered. If I did want to start a business, I’d have my yellow highlighter out  and post-its placed all through these chapters.

Judy G. Russell’s chapter on Copyright & Fair Use (Chapter 7), found in Ethics & Legalities, should be mandatory reading for everybody, whether lay or professional. Respecting copyright is a topic which many genealogists don’t firmly grasp. Judy, aka The Legal Genealogist, clearly explains copyright and fair use – what it is and what it isn’t.

Professional Research Skills

This section of the book has the most to offer to the wider audience of genealogists, as chapters include Reasoning from Evidence, Problem Analyses & Research Plans, Research Procedures, Forensic Specialization, Genetics for Genealogy and Lineage Applications, topics to which all of us can relate.

In my view, Professional Research Skills is the heart of the book for one simple reason. One can behave in a professional, ethical manner and do a terrific job setting up/marketing a business, but without superior research skills, which come from education and practice, failure is a given. Those same research skills are even more critical for the average, non-professional researcher, who may not have given much thought to furthering his/her genealogical education.

At the back of the book, there is an appendix of abbreviations and acronyms along with a list of the figures and tables in  the book. Endnotes and Further Study (additional bibliographic notes) at the end of each chapter provide a mountain of additional resources to enhance one’s learning experience! Yes, I’m one of those people who actually reads footnotes. 🙂

Professional Genealogy: Preparation, Practice & Standards is available from Genealogical Publishing Company, priced at $59.95, which is not inexpensive. However, in spite of the price, every genealogist should have this book on his/her personal library whether or not you are considering heading down the path to a professional career.











3 thoughts on “Professional Genealogy: Preparation, Practice & Standards, Elizabeth Shown Mills, Editor: A Book Review”

  1. A very thorough and thoughtful book review. Thanks for highlighting the strengths (and missed opportunity) of this new edition. Will have to look for it.

  2. Thanks for this review, Linda. I haven’t bought a copy yet as I have so many books I’ve already bought and haven’t read yet. However, maybe I should go ahead and buy a copy. Although I’ve decided I’m not planning on taking clients, I am enjoying doing presentations. Also, it sounds like a great way to keep improving my skills and knowledge in all areas of genealogy.

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