It seems a bit overboard to wave around one's "genealogy" qualifications, but since some people take this a whole lot more serious than others, several of the genealogical organizations serving as standard-setters for the field state that all genealogists and family researchers should clearly list our qualifications as a means of letting the public know how qualified we are to be presenting the data, and therefore what level of trust may be placed in our particular set of work. I would like to state up front that I am not trying to represent myself as an expert. I was passed the mantle of family archivist from my parents who had collected a large amount of data from our expanded family (aunts, uncles, cousins, etc.) and who established communication bridges between our data and the work of several other Marcotte researchers in the U.S. and Canada. I have spent enough time doing this since 1971 that I must admit to moving beyond the realm of just a hobbyist, but it is certainly not something that I pursue as a career or for financial gain. My personal experience with professional genealogists so far has led me to believe that it is this financial gain criteria plus the amount of time per week spent that more sets me aside from the general ranks of professional researchers than is adherence to any particular set of standards practiced in terms of due diligence. My apologies if this page seems as ostentatious to you as it does to me. Feel free to think of this page as a "Blog," since it consists mostly of my opinions on the subject.
I have a Bachelor’s Degree in
French, and a minor in German. I have formally studied Italian, Russian, and
Portuguese. I have informally studied Spanish and several other languages. I have
worked in the military in
A proficiency in foreign languages allows a researcher to pick up on details and supporting evidence that might otherwise be missed or partially or entirely misinterpreted. It is obviously not the only skill a genealogist needs, but it is a very important one for researching ancestors from a country that uses a different language than one’s own.
My other degrees (B.A.,
Economics and Masters in Business Administration) are relevant only in regard
to the research, analytic and communications skills they bestowed while earning
them. Professionally, throughout my career in information systems consulting and management
I have also spent a lifetime studying, implementing and renewing project and systems methodologies (ex: Six Sigma Approach to Project Quality).
While such methodologies are perhaps more typically thought of as relevant to the information technology or scientific realms,
a system can be described as simply as any web of relationships among various entities or elements that combine to form a new whole\entity, (...which may possess properties not entirely attributable to specific constituent elements, etc., etc.) At any rate, a proficiency in such systems methodologies
is therefore very helpful in collecting, analyzing, organizing and connecting such an array of related information as one finds in a genealogy.
The French language degree and other language courses in college were also
accompanied by various history courses and relevant topical discussions and
research related to the culture and literature of
In the military, the type work one performs is referred to as a Military Occupation Specialty (MOS). Mine was 95BV52LGMFR. The 2LGMFR portion meant I was a linguist in 2 languages: German and French. The 95V5 portion meant that I was a Military Police Investigator (MPI). Although my primary responsibilities were involved a daily use of my foreign languages (i.e. - working side by side with the local criminal police, customs officials, and Judicial or Finance Ministry officials), my preparation for the role also included completing the Army's military police training, and then the Investigator school and subsequent related training, followed by just over two years of investigative work at my duty station in Kaiserslautern. While criminal investigations are of course not particularly similar in nature to tracking down ancestors and primary source records, the use of both computers and paper trails to locate people and related information is certainly a skill that I that I have been able to apply in genealogical research. I have also found my subsequent work of three decades as a relational database designer and administrator to be somewhat uniquely useful in ferreting out obscurely-indexed information.
Certification? No; I am not a “certified” genealogist, nor do I have current plans to become one. For persons who wish to make a living in this field or establish a professional reputation for him-\herself, I agree that it would be a very advisable and commendable thing to do. I have no plans to change occupations, and therefore certification\accreditation is neither appealing nor career-enhancing for me, although it may well be for others. This is one of many hobbies I have; that’s enough for me. Genealogy is not my life or my livelihood. For some people it is.
- Comments about certification, proof vs. truth, and "experts"
FACT: I can (…and might, if sufficiently provoked) provide quotes by some of the more acclaimed genealogists alive today that illustrate flagrant departures for their own “certified” professional standards (This is not to infer that all or even most of them do.) My point is that while the educational process should better prepare you for how research should be conducted, certification doesn't automatically improve your personality or judgment, erase your biases, bestow greater intelligence or self-discipline, or transform you into a superior genealogist. Neither do I mean to impugn the general body of work by certified and professional researchers. To the contrary, I find that on the whole such genealogists do a commendable job. I simply mean that a measure of acclaim is often accompanied by an overdose of confidence, resulting in a tendency for overstatement, and sometimes sarcastic treatment of equally-valid but conflicting opinion. Stature in the world of genealogy seems all too often carry the side-effect of a loss of the humility and extra precaution taken while gaining such stature. Some might point out that the challenge of authoritativeness issued by this and other statements made on this page are excellent examples of my own point. I am just overly tired of experts from various walks of life exerting their influence into marginally-related areas that exceed their area of competence. People have opinions. Having an expertise does not reduce the natural compulsion to express opinions. An opinion by an expert is still an opinion, not a fact. In Law, Science, Medicine, Academics and even "History" one often (if not usually) finds equally-qualified experts who defend or attack totally conflicting interpretations of the same evidence. Beware of experts. "The assumption here is that—by virtue of their expertise—advocates, clinicians, and researchers are able to set aside biases and judge an individual practice objectively on the basis of the data. Unfortunately, research evidence does not support these assertions. Study after study has shown that the anecdotal base on which expert judgment rests yields conclusions that are no better than those of the naïve public." ***
Since genealogy is for more people a hobby than a profession, and is practiced across thousands of municipalities, states, provinces and national boundaries there is not any single or even primary governing agency that controls professional genealogist certification, but several entities including universities, community colleges and independent organizations have established what many genealogists feel like is a reasonable number of standards, education requirements and a code of ethics for their profession. One of these entities, the Board for Certification of Genealogists (BCG) publishes a code of ethics that include the following for the “protection of the public.” These are steps that I try to apply uniformly. Where such is not the case, it is because I accepted something from another source as substantiated. Sometimes the substantiating sources are disputed. So basically there’s no winning, except to not list anything, and that’s not a winner either, so I list the data as under dispute.
(above BCG ethics employed here under “fair use” principle)
While these are great ethical ideals for researchers, and ones that I strive to personally embody, you can easily view flagrant violations of these or other standards (such as the “flaming” of other genealogists) in the remarks of several of today’s top professionals, historians and university professors just while browsing through a few of their websites and on-line groups\forums for genealogy, medieval history, book reviews, etc. That doesn’t mean you won’t find a page where I refute someone else's opinion or data; I just try not to get tacky about it.
Proof is one of the bigger issues related to certification, and to a similar extent with one’s status among “professional” genealogists. Proof, however is often missing due to fires, floods, the fragile nature of paper documents and ultimately just the passage of time. While many theories about Native American or royal ancestors are presented as unproven, it is easy to find postings by experts that say that since such origins are speculative, they should not be presented on the internet, at all – while nearly in the same breath these experts will state that the same ancestor had European or common origin, fully knowing that no proof exist for that theory, either. Lack of proof NEVER constitutes proof of a reverse hypothesis in science, philosophy and certainly not in genealogy. Few "totally discredited" theories are truly "totally" discredited, despite the Ivy League PhD credentials of some who make such statements.
Also, "discredited" does not have the same definition as "disproved," despite the tendency for some to treat the terms as synonymous.
As best I can tell, many quite acclaimed genealogists had\have no particular educational background that more qualifies them than have many of the family genealogists (this is starting to evolve, as college programs offering associates degrees in family research and genealogy are cropping up with required course work in very relevant disciplines, such as foreign languages, history, library science and documentation). A PhD from Harvard, Yale or another prestigious university does not make a person an expert in every other field, nor even signify that the person did more than escape with a C-minus average. A visit to one or more on-line group forums where such illustrious professors and other academic types regularly dialogue can be most illuminating. If you examine any particular researcher’s background, you ought not to be too surprised to sense a predisposition to treat evidence according to one’s own demographic, social and educational experience. These do not always transfer seamlessly from one discipline to another. “Innocent until proven guilty” for example may be the law, but this is not a safe premise in physics or chemistry, nor is it a valid research standard for history or genealogy. To paraphrase Kelsey*, Laughery and other scholars, interpretation begins even before the interpreter reaches the text\details. A researcher is an interpreter (of data) and is rooted by his\her own “situatedness.”** You will observe my situatedness in my very choice of interpreter imagery and vocabulary. "However hard we may try to be objective, our ways of sorting and processing information...are necessarily conditioned by many factors."**** I encourage you, however, to look closely at any claim of foremost or leading expertise to see whether such is bolstered by that persons specific academic background, and not accept an opinion as a statement of fact – whether it is me expressing the opinion or anyone else. A claim that a hypothesis has been discredited by some better-known "expert" does not automatically mean that it has been disproven, or that the dis-repudiation is academically or scientifically deserved.
I inherited a substantial body of genealogy work from parents and other family. I’ve been working on these genealogies over 40 years, since my first trip to Europe in 1971. That neither makes me an expert nor guarantees accuracy. Neither does it make an expert of anyone else. Proof is in the product.
A huge part of the attraction to genealogy for most is the speculation about possible famous or infamous ancestors and the on-going discovery process. For a few more specific comments on speculation, famous genealogies and accuracy - Click here. Like history, there is, as one colleague put it, all too often no such thing as a "final word" in genealogy. If we were to remove the fun and speculative parts of genealogy, then paid researchers and professional researchers might well find that there was a dramatic reduction in the call for their services. As far as I am
concerned, if someone can provide new insights about whether a speculative
ancestry is right or wrong, let them. If you are convinced a lineage is wrong, then prove it. That is what many of those with disputed
ancestors are now doing through DNA testing. If a
lineage is speculative – by all means please mark it as such, but don’t
chastise me or anyone else for doing it this way. Displaying and discussing a theory, then
publishing and continuously testing and refining evidence is the only way that new knowledge ever emerges.
Repression of alternative views, rote memorization and repetition of
old knowledge never did anything more than provide an elementary education and creates closed-mindedness and stagnancy.
is as important to learn, teach and consider what is NOT, as it is to learn,
teach and consider what IS.
* - situatedness is the phrasing used by Gregory Laughery, PhD, Director of Swiss L’Abri; “Language at the Frontiers of Language.”
**- “The Theological Use of Scripture in Process Hermeneutics,” by David Kelsey, Luther A. Weigle Professor of Theology at Yale University.
*** -Meehl, PE: Credentialed persons, credentialed knowledge. Clinical Psychology: Science and Practice 4:91-98, 1997
*** Charles Kimball; University of Oklahoma, Director of Religious Studies Program (PhD Harvard)
Back to Marcotte Genealogy Page
Back to Michael Marcotte's Home Page