Friday, March 22, 2013

Unexpected Lessons from Tom Jones - Part 2

While I learn something every time I listen to Tom Jones speak, the unexpected aspect came during the question and answer period at the end of his presentation on "Variables in Professional Genealogists' Approaches to Research" at the Association of Professional Genealogists (APG) Professional Management Conference (PMC). Here is some of the advice he shared.

[This is part two of my post on "Unexpected Lessons from Tom Jones." Lessons one through three can be found by reading part 1 of this post.]

The fourth lesson was on the importance of peer review of our work. The results of the research study highlighted in the presentation suggested that people were not very good at self-identifying their skill level. Tom stated that this was because they were not "objective." He believes that a third party evaluation is the only way to know for sure how advanced your genealogical skills are. The first option for peer review in genealogy comes through the credentialing organizations, The Board for Certification of Genealogists (BCG) and The International Commission for the Accreditation of Professional Genealogists (ICAPGen). These organizations have skilled genealogists giving impartial judgment on the work submitted to see if it meets current standards.

The second option for peer review is submitting your work to be considered by the editor of a genealogical journal. Tom said that writing articles for the NGS Quarterly  and being edited by Elizabeth Shown Mills was his doctoral in genealogy education. It taught him how to document his work and how to organize a proof argument. He says everybody could learn valuable lessons by being edited.

The fifth lesson came in response to a question from someone in the audience at the PMC. The individual said that he had believed that the apex of his genealogy education would be taking the Advanced Methodology and Evidence Analysis course from Elizabeth Shown Mills at the Institute of Genealogy and Historical Research at Samford University. After he took the course he realized that it was just the beginning. [I also took this course and realized the same thing.] In this course Elizabeth works very hard to change her student's mindset and the way they approach solving genealogical problems. The questioner now teaches at several of the genealogy institutes and therefore does not have to option to take additional courses, so asked what he should be doing to improve his level of understanding.

In response Tom gave a list of four suggestions for continual improvement of advanced genealogical skills:

1) Researching
2) Reading
3) Writing
4) Teaching

Tom stated that like in other advanced academic fields you continue learning by researching and writing. We need to continually be researching as experience is the best way to hone any skill.

We need to be reading and studying the top genealogical journals including the the NGS Quarterly, The American Genealogist, The Genealogist, the New York Genealogical and Biographical Record and The New England Historical and Genealogical Register. Tom says reading these journals teaches us how to think genealogically, how to use a variety of sources, how to document, and how to write. It does not matter if there is never an article on any of our ancestors, we learn from the substance of the article including the sources and methods used.

We need to write up our research findings. As mentioned above, writing articles can teach skills in documenting research and organizing findings. Writing also has been shown to identify holes in our research and point out where further investigation is needed. This is an essential part of the Genealogical Proof Standard.

And when we have developed skills and areas of expertise then we teach others. Tom says you learn best by teaching and that the learning curve never ends. He has been climbing it for many years and can still not see the top. He is continually learning and that is what keeps him going.

I continue to ponder on this advice and the importance of research, reading, writing and teaching as the best methods to gain advanced genealogical skills. I welcome your thoughts as well.


  1. Thanks for summarizing this for us Angela. I agree with Jones on his four points for continual improvement. The first three are why Universities provide sabbaticals to their faculty; the fourth is what faculty get paid for (along with the other three). I would probably add a fifth - interaction with one's peers and the conversation such interaction entails lets us continue to learn from one another.

  2. Hi Angela,

    I want to let you know that two of your posts are listed in today's Fab Finds post at

    Have a wonderful weekend!