There had been talk going back 10 years about whether, genealogical and family history practitioners should be willing to subject themselves to more rigorous scrutiny before claiming to be ‘professional’ (as opposed to just being people taking money).
In the history of developing professions a common theme is that appropriate education from accredited institutions is a pre-requisite. The past decade has seen the emergence of high-level education at post-graduate level in genealogical and family history studies. Pioneering institutions have provided the pre-requisite.
Remarkably, established bodies did not seize upon the presence of these enthusiastic and well-educated people coming into the community of practice. That undoubtedly created a feeling of dissatisfaction among some practitioners.
A symposium was organised at WDYTYA Glasgow in 2014 to discuss these matters. Panellists from a variety of backgrounds and organisations spoke of their experiences and were followed by a moderated debate among members of the audience. An online questionnaire relating to the issues debated was created and circulated among the genealogical and family history community. Results were posted online here to allow further comment.
The key outcome was the formation of a large representative body – the Interim Steering Group. For the most part members of that group were there in a personal capacity though among them were people who were members of APG and AGRA and people working at all the educational institutions. ASGRA and AGRA provided nominated representatives. RQG emerged over the course of the year as a result of the activities of this group and became a legal entity on the 31st December 2015. On the 9th March RQG launched its website and opened the door to applications for membership.
RQG is a legally constituted body. It is incorporated as a Company Limited by Guarantee and submits to the disciplines this status demands. In this it differs from some others that prefer, presumably, to operate as private members clubs.
RQG promotes the interests of members in all areas of practice from probate research to blogging and DNA studies; arms research to house history, archiving to writing and teaching – and also pedigree research.
RQG is not just for those keen on practising professionally but aims to foster links between everyone in the qualified community.
RQG aims to foster the spread of high-level education. It is actively committed to the improvement of practice and the raising of quality standards and will engage in initiatives towards that end.
RQG does not engage in any form of internal self-accreditation for its members (or credentialing as the Americans prefer). See below for more on this. All members (with the exception of five, as detailed in “Are all members of RQG qualified?” below) have come through a process of independent, transparent, external assessment provided by accredited bodies and external examiners. The exact nature of RQG members’ credentials is absolutely clear.
There are some groups of so-called professionals that try to blind the public to these shortcomings by setting up ‘accreditation’ schemes which act as entry mechanisms to their clubs. The important thing to understand about these schemes is that they are for self-accreditation. They are established by the members to allow in other members; they are wholly incestuous and serve to allow in people who closely resemble those already inside the guarded gates. They are smokescreens to disguise the inadequate reality.
In most cases the criteria used to establish the capabilities of entrants are undefined and unpublished. There is a lack of transparency and therefore an element of secrecy around membership. It is therefore impossible to make any judgement about the quality of club members because you simply cannot find out what knowledge or skills the club thinks their members need to possess to be a genealogist. It is also unclear how those who make the assessments against these undefined criteria have been trained to make their judgements – so the quality of the process is suspect. How can it be anything more than ‘good ol’ boys’ looking for ‘good ol’ boy’ clones.
In all reputable fields of professional practice, a high level of education in the appropriate discipline is a pre-requisite for acceptance as a practitioner. That education has to provide a breadth of exposure to all aspects of the field to produce a rounded graduate. Close scrutiny over a number of years and constant testing prepares the survivors for the rigours and diverse challenges that serious genealogy presents. Appropriate education inculcates analytical and critical thinking and systematic working – none of which can emerge from a self-accreditation scheme.
The UK is privileged in having appropriate education in the form of the IHGS Diploma and the Post-Graduate Diplomas from Dundee and Strathclyde Universities. What is particularly valuable about qualifications from such institutions is that they provide independent accreditation of capabilities. Independently accredited, properly educated people have been emerging from these institutions for the past decade or more. They are the future for professional genealogy – seek them out where you can. They are the real deal.
The Diploma level includes all the taught elements that the institutions offer. It seemed right that a practitioner claiming to be qualified should be fully informed on all those topics deemed relevant to genealogical and family history practice. In effect once people have learned all that the institutions can teach then it is reasonable to think of them as well-rounded genealogists and family researchers.
It is also a qualification that provides a defined level in the European Credit Transfer and Accumulation System. That makes it possible to determine comparability among qualifications offered anywhere in Europe and the rest of the world.
Technically, this means that we accept qualifications at at QCF Level 7/SCQF Level 11, or higher – this is detailed elsewhere on the site. Those with Masters degrees, have of course further demonstrated their ability to handle and manage large-scale research projects working largely independently.
RQG will certainly push for similar things to be done in other countries. There are institutions in several countries that could step up to this high-level of provision and together they could play an important part in improving levels of capability and quality within genealogical and family history practice.
It is worth noting that those gaining qualifications are from many parts of the world, not just the UK. Courses are offered online, as befits the 21st century, and students can be, and are, located anywhere in the world (that has broadband).
[Consider the case of someone claiming 30 years experience. If that was a couple of hours each weekend then they will have clocked up an equivalent of 18 months full-time work. How do we judge that?] It is important to note that those undertaking post-graduate level education are not inexperienced. They are all mature students and the courses are not for beginners. They subject themselves to two or three years of rigorous and highly practical study, including work with live ‘clients’. They get exposed to systematic working practices and are coached in and must demonstrate logical search/research skills and critical analysis capability. These are difficult things to acquire for those who have not been taught.
Many of those undertaking the post-graduate level courses are already highly experienced and often already in professional practice. They are simply people committed to improving their capabilities to the greatest extent possible, and to continuing to do so.
As well as that, in setting up the Register, the public discussion did note and make it clear that there would be some minor anomalies at the outset. In particular there is a Catch-22 in the fact that creators of courses that enable people to become qualified cannot take the courses themselves to become qualified. Also by setting up a proper company as the open, legal vehicle for the Register of Qualified Genealogist’s affairs those engaged in doing so (the ‘subscribers’) would legally become RQG members. Five people only, who helped set up the company, are subscribing members without a formal qualification and this number can never go up. As it happens all are distinguished members of the genealogical community.
All members then are required to adhere to our demanding Professional Code.
We do not apply additional internal tests as these are unlikely to add to what has already been publicly demonstrated and we wish to maintain an openness and transparency about the meaning of qualification.
The answer to the question is then that, like all other genealogical organisations, we do not ‘warrant’ anything in a legal sense – particularly since members operate commercially (those that do operate commercially) as independent traders. We do provide criteria for membership and a framework for professional behaviour that does offer great assurance.