The Business of Genealogy

—Phillip W. McMullin

If genealogy as a proffession is truly to survive as a viable enterprise in the business world, understanding of the business must be brought out of the dark ages. Genealogists continually go to great lengths to find and exploit new record sources. Scholarly articles are written to defend this pedigree or explain that source, but even outstanding scholarship has a weak foundation if it only sells other scholars who have a strong interest. How much more research could be done if the end product was saleable to the general public — appreciated by the man in the street like a scholarly work is appreciated by the fellow scholar.

Can the end product of genealogical research be put in a saleable form? In the field of solid-state crystals, research continued off and on for forty years before it was discovered that their use in watches and calculators made them saleable. Only then could millions of dollars be spent in development; the state of the art increased exponentially. Let’s develop genealogy after isolating those areas that are saleable. Then, as we increase the market demand for our product, we can develop internal measures of excellence.

One of the measures which might be applied to the professional genealogist to evaluate his effectiveness might be the number of new names discovered on a pedigree or in pedigree family. This is certainly the ultimate objective — the reason for identifying ancestors by means of dates and places. Yet the vast variety of circumstances that confront the researcher would seem to make this measure impossible to apply. Indeed, this is true given a specific pedigree problem, but The Institute of Family Research, Inc., has kept track of this variable and found that after eighteen months its value in general could be expected to be a certain size.

The most obvious factor affecting the number of new ancstors and ancestor’s children found is the geographical area of the research. The genealogist is all too aware of the limitation of the records in his area, but seldom is able to compare this quantitatively to the limitations in other areas. Consider the above mentioned statistics of time versus new names:

North Eastern U.S.192957829
Southern U.S.113959452
Mid-Western U.S.84526531

These figures could be very misleading if one is not aware of the way in which they were variously arrived at. The category “RESEARCH HOURS” does not include time spent typing or bookkeeping for an account. One distinct influence especially in Germany is the fact that hours spent by agents is not included. The surprisingly low productivity of New England is influenced by the fact that names are not considered new unless they are not on file at the Genealogical Society (TIB and CFI). Bias is also itroduced by pedigrees that attribute their productivity to a unique locality within the larger area designation. In this case is Switzerland, where many new names were discoverable in Geneva in generations not possible outside the city.

The measure of hours versus names found are published with the hope that the professionals may be encouraged to keep records of such statistics. After ten years of record keeping the profession may have established a standard of expectation. In a business this is meaningful in the hiring and evaluation of the professional staff.

Another figure of significance in business is the number of clerical hours for each research hour that is needed in such tasks as typing and sending correspondence, typing pedigree charts, family group record forms, and research reports. The Institute has found twenty-three such clerical suport hours necessary for every hundred research hours. This fact helps in projecting clerical needs in advance of actual demand. Another valuable statistic would be the number of administrative hours (bookkeeping, selling, etc.) necessary to facilitate 100 hours of actual “library type” research.

Several other sets of statistics would be helpful as measures of an individual’s or firm’s strength. What is known in the area of accounting statistics? Larger industries publish statistics of gross sales, cost of sales, net profit, salaries. Certainly it is important to know such figures if quality people are to be attracted into the business of professional genealogy and investors consider the possible return on their investments.

Few fields offer a true opportunity for pioneering as does genealogy. We must all learn to operate a good profitable business and sell our product to the general public. This will greatly broaden the prospects of doing quality professional research.