Friday, January 6, 2012

Why We Need the American Society of Genealogists

The genealogy blogosphere has been hopping with discussions about citing sources, exclusivity, and gatekeepers. It has me somewhat baffled. There have been some implications (and outright statements) that the American Society of Genealogists' distinction of “Fellow” creates a privileged class full of gatekeepers who just want to keep the rest of us down.

Really? From their website:

“Election to the American Society of Genealogists is based on a candidate’s published genealogical scholarship. Emphasis is upon compiled genealogies and published works that demonstrate an ability to use primary source material; to evaluate and analyze data; to properly document evidence; and to reach sound, logical conclusions presented in a clear and proper manner.” [1]

I must have missed the part where they were endowed with super keeping out powers. Instead what I see is a recognition of those who have worked tirelessly to provide us with accessible examples of genealogical scholarship. I see those who have exposed fraudulent genealogies, such as those of Gustav Anjou.[2] I see those who have taught us how to not inadvertently create fraudulent genealogies ourselves. I see those who have given their time and effort, sometimes at great personal expense, to the pursuit of legitimized genealogical scholarship.These are the folks that have brought us past name collectors, past royal connection hunters, and past being ridiculed as the red headed stepchild of the historical community (or at least firmly on that path). These Fellows have brought genealogy to the point where the historical community is starting to take notice. Elizabeth Shown Mills in particular has been instrumental in this shift. See, for example, the added insight her work has shed on black slave owners in Louisiana here [3] and here [4]. This is genealogy affecting the way we understand history. Do you think anyone would have listened fifty years ago?

So I find myself baffled by the backlash. Do we expect, after writing and researching for only a few years that we deserve this same level of respect? Should we not expect to earn recognition as one of the genealogy community’s best researchers and teachers only over the course of a lifetime? A new generation of genealogists is coming up in the ranks (frankly there is always a new generation on their way up) and they—we—must expect to pay our dues in the traditional manner. Everything can’t always be me, me, me, and now, now, now.

This gives rise to the question of whether these awards and distinctions are worthwhile. I submit that they are, in fact, invaluable. At some point in our genealogy growth curve we all discover how much we don’t know. It’s my observation that we do this again and again. We grow, we plateau, and then something shows us—again—just how much we still have to learn. These somethings, these spurs to our growth, come from FASG’s, they come from scholarly journals, they come from Institutes (taught by CGs, AGs, and FASGs). We would stop growing without their examples of peer reviewed scholarship. The peer review process of scholarly journals, and the peer elected process of ASG’s Fellow distinction, gives us, as growing genealogists, a body of work we can trust and build upon.


[1] American Society of Genealogists, Current Fellows of the American Society of Genealogists ( : accessed 6 January 2012), specifically the first paragraph.

[2] Gordon L. Remington FASG, "Gustave We Hardly Knew Ye," Genealogical Journal, 19 (1991).

[3] Elizabeth Shown Mills, “Isle of Canes and Issues of Conscience: Master-Slave Sexual Dynamics and Slaveholding by Free People of Color, ” Between Two Worlds: A Special Issue of The Southern Quarterly: A Journal of the Arts in the South 43 (Winter 2006): 158–75, specifically beginning on page 162; digital image at Elizabeth Shown Mills, Historic Pathways ( : accessed 6 January 2012).

[4] Elizabeth Shown Mills, “Social and Family Patterns on the Colonial Louisiana Frontier,” Sociological Spectrum 2 (1982): 233–48; digital image at Elizabeth Shown Mills, Historic Pathways ( : accessed 6 January 2012).

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