I’m not happy today to be removing this membership symbol from my website and mention of the organisation from my LinkedIn page. No, I haven’t left the International Society of Family History Writers and Editors (ISFHWE). No, they haven’t kicked me out. Instead, they’ve closed up shop – permanently!
This institution within genealogy began life in May 1987 at an NGS Conference in Raleigh, North Carolina, USA. Initially it was called the Council of Genealogy Columnists but in May 2000 it became ISFHWE. It functioned as a support and networking organisation for writers on the subject, whether amateur or professional. Though its members primarily were from the USA, I felt it was worthwhile to get involved, partly for myself but also partly to support a body serving the specific area of genealogical writing. I joined in 2014.
In five and a half years of membership I had minimal involvement in the organisation, but I got the impression that most other members weren’t any more active. I did try to recruit a few members in my circle and one colleague joined. In the hope of encouraging some others to consider membership, I wrote an article for CONNECT – the online newsletter for AGI and ASGRA. These are the organisations that provide credentials for Irish and Scottish professional genealogists.
The article was about ISFHWE and a similar organisation which supports lecturers, the Genealogical Speakers Guild. I requested permission to use the symbols of both organisations as illustrations, seeing as I was trying to expand their membership. The then President of the Guild (of which I was not a member) readily agreed; the President of ISFHWE declined. Today I’m using it as a memorial of a dead society, without permission from anyone, as no one has the authority to stop me.
I have every sympathy for people who are trying to keep voluntary organisations going. Everywhere in the world, and in all types of pursuits, clubs and societies are run by a small band of people who find it hard to motivate others to get involved. I’m sure those running ISFHWE found it difficult in recent times. According to a comment I read just last night on the ISFHWE Facebook group, the organisation ‘struggled to remain viable, but just couldn’t thrive financially’. Was that the only, or main, reason for it to stop functioning?
As a member, I’m left wondering. There was no rumour, no hint, no discussion about disbanding. On 23 May I received the ISFHWE online quarterly newsletter, Columns, by email with the subject line declaring ‘Final Issue’. The email itself informed me that the issue included messages ‘regarding information on the dissolution of our Society’. That’s how I heard of it! The website (which was to disappear yesterday) had a notice on its homepage last night stating: The board members and staff regretfully announce that, as of 15 April 2020, the International Society of Family History Writers and Editors no longer exists as an active society. Looking at the Facebook group, I found a post, dated 18 May, saying ‘Fellow ISFHWE members – our Society is closing down’.
I’m baffled, and I don’t believe I’m the only one. There was some talk a while ago about needing to increase the annual membership subscription. This seemed like a reasonable idea, as the existing fee was small anyway. If finances were the only concerns they could have been addressed through consultation with members. Presumably there were other considerations, but if I were in charge of an organisation that was in danger of disbanding I would feel it incumbent on me to inform the membership of the possibility and provide the opportunity to turn things around.
There were approximately 140 members listed on the website last night. If they were told that there was a crisis and that a recruitment drive was needed to save the society, I’m sure at least some would have responded. They might have had ideas on how to make the organisation more vibrant. They might have decided to volunteer to help in practical terms.
One thing I would have suggested would have been to restructure the board of directors. The organisation had five officers but the rest of the board was made up of six regional representatives. Five of those regions were in the USA. The sixth represented the entire world outside the United States. From my time as a member I gathered that some of those regional seats were regularly uncontested. If they were not tied to geographical locations there might have been people from other regions willing to serve.
But it’s gone now – consigned to history – the only organisation of which I was a member that was dissolved without the members being informed. On 23 May I was told that the funeral had taken place, rather than being warned that the death was imminent. Do I sound tetchy? Certainly I’m sad, and I’m aggrieved that I wasn’t given the chance to help.
I would like to acknowledge the volunteerism that made ISFHWE work for over three decades and to thank Mark Beasley and Tina Sansone, two of the people who were helpful to me during the few years I was a member.
Gorry has done a service to the genealogical community.
That was one of a number of complimentary remarks in a review of my book in the latest (September 2019) edition of the Association of Professional Genealogists Quarterly. A copy of the review was sent to me the other day by Mary Penner, CG, the APGQ managing editor.
Almost a year on from the Facebook launch of the book, Credentials for Genealogists: Proof of the Professional, its subject has been back on my radar again in recent weeks, and having a bit of an impact in different parts of the world. Just over a week ago I addressed an event run by the Association of Scottish Genealogists and Researchers in Archives (ASGRA) at The Dome in New Register House, Edinburgh: a wonderful and extraordinary room in which to lecture. The ASGRA Professional Day was an information seminar for Scottish genealogists thinking of transitioning to professional research, or already in the early stages of a career.
My topic at the event was ‘The Importance of Accreditation’ and I emphasised my opposition to the creation of career barriers in the field of genealogy. What I mean by this is the attempt from some quarters to limit access to the profession to people completing courses on the subject. As I said on the day, there are many routes to becoming a fully functioning genealogist and restricting most of those routes would be detrimental to the profession. Ultimately, receiving accreditation (or credentials) is what proves the genealogist’s ability. Accreditation is not a ‘barrier’, as it is not mandatory; rather it is enabling to the accredited professional as it guarantees their all-round ability.
Some time ago I was asked by the editor of the Australian heritage quarterly, Traces, to write about how to become a professional genealogist. Lo and behold, on the same day as the APGQ review arrived I also received a copy of my article, ‘Turning Genealogy into a Career’, published in the latest issue (No. 8) of Traces. While it concentrated on Australasia, much of what I said in it might relate to anywhere in the world. One such thing was:
People who have not been in a formal education setting for years, or decades, may find it daunting to sign up for a course that involves essays or exams … Learning may be at a different pace, in a different format and without the formality of a certificate or diploma course.
The review of my book in the APGQ was by Paul K. Graham, who holds both the American credentials – Accredited Genealogist (issued by ICAPGen) and Certified Genealogist (issued by the Board for Certification of Genealogists). To be honest, I was not expecting APG to appreciate the forceful opinions I expressed in the book about recent trends in the profession, which included criticism of APG’s open membership policy.
Months ago my forceful opinions elicited social media comments about the book such as:
From what I've read so far he doesn't pull any punches
Whew, that was a challenging read!
My aim was not to shock or offend, but rather to make people in the profession pay attention to how fragmented it has become. This was appreciated by Stuart A. Raymond in his review in the June 2019 edition of the Genealogists’ Magazine, the quarterly journal of the Society of Genealogists (London). He wrote:
This book ought to be read by all professional genealogists, and would be useful for anyone seeking to employ one.
Paul K. Graham’s review in the APGQ nodded gently at the forcefulness of my views but also understood my aims:
The book creates starting points for conversation through untempered opinions and is an enjoyable read.
As someone credentialed by two organizations, I found much to agree with, a good amount to disagree with, and even more food for thought.
His final comment was:
[Gorry] advocates strongly for the value of credentialing in our field, but without sugarcoating problematic issues. Those who wish to understand professional genealogy today will find Credentials for Genealogists: Proof of the Professional a must-read text.
I’m grateful for the impartiality of Graham’s review and for APGQ ’s editorial openness to my ‘untempered opinions’.
My book, Credentials for Genealogists: Proof of the Professional, is available to purchase online (see the link from my website: https://bit.ly/2ztcI3t).
I'm a genealogist by profession, with credentials from AGI. I also dabble in local history and the history of Irish golfers, and I'm always writing something!