Katrina Fahy ’13 only graduated a year ago, but she’s already found a way to put her history background to good use: she is now working for the New England Historic Genealogical Society in Boston. One Thing after Another recently asked her about her job.
Q: What is your job title?
A: I am a Researcher in the Research Services at the New England Historic Genealogical Society in Boston. Our staff consists of nine individuals, a secretary, and a department head. I conduct research on peoples’ ancestry and family trees.
Q: On an “average” day, what exactly do you do?
A: My department fields research requests from clients from all over the US. If an individual has a research request, they contact either my manager or our secretary, describe what they would like us to do, explain how many hours they would like to pay for, and submit any information they already have. That information is placed into a case file, and these cases are then distributed to each of the researchers by our boss based on our interests/areas of expertise. Our caseload is kept in our individual logs. We are expected to do 100 billable hours of research a month, which basically means that even though we are given time to read cases, attend meetings, etc., we are expected to bring in 100 hours of revenue to NEHGS each month.
My department has weekly meetings every Monday in which we go over our logs to discuss which cases we have finished and which cases we plan on completing within the week. After that, I work through my log.
My particular specialty is lineage applications, but I also get to work on general research requests. When I open a new case, I look through the information that the client has provided to me, to ensure that I do not duplicate the research that the client already has. I then search through our library for books and publications that may aid a clients’ research, for there are often books and collections of vital records that are not available on search engines such as Ancestry.com. I also search through various NEHGS databases, as well as our manuscript and microfilm collection in order to answer a clients’ research question. While conducting research, I also compile a research report, which documents the various sources I searched and what I uncovered about my client’s ancestry. When I reach the maximum authorized research hours, I write up a conclusion, photocopy all documents I have found, and make suggestions for further research, which may include tapping into additional NEHGS resources or ordering microfilms and records from other historical societies. More often than not, clients will come back with a continued research request, and I can pick up where I left off with the client.
I really do not have an “average day,” as every case brings new challenges and research. For example, I recently worked with a client to determine which Mary Rickard married a man named Timothy Morton (there were two women by that name living in Plymouth, MA during the late 17th and early 18th centuries, one of whom was a descendant of Mayflower passenger Francis Cooke, and another who was not) so the client could apply to the General Society of Mayflower Descendants. For this case, I used various land and probate records to determine that a previously accepted application to the Mayflower Society was incorrect, and was able to determine which Mary Rickard actually married Timothy Morton in 1712, and which was married to a man named Jabez Eddy. I am also currently working with a client who would like to take his family back to its immigrant ancestor in order to eventually write a genealogy for his family. In this case, we have traced his ancestry back to Ireland and are currently using Irish church records to continue following his ancestry backwards.
Q: Do you have a sense of what skills, experiences, or personal traits were most important in getting you the job, or what would you look for if you had to hire your replacement?
A: I honestly think a liberal arts background provides one with the best skills and education to conduct genealogical research. New England is the region in the United States with the most complete account of birth, marriage, and death records since its founding; in other regions, you will more often than not have to use more secondary sources, such as land and probate records, in order to prove a lineage. You are often required to think outside of the box and use the information provided to make genealogical connections, which I think a liberal arts education really helps you to do.
Strong writing skills are definitely required, as you have to provide detailed research reports describing where you looked, why you looked there, and what you found. You also must be able to clearly state and explain your findings, because clients may not completely understand why something is or is not important unless you explicitly state it.
I think that my internship with the New Hampshire Historical Society helped me secure this position. At the NH Historical Society, I conducted basic genealogical work on the quilt makers in the Society’s collection, which gave me an idea of what kind of records New Hampshire held and how to access these records from various databases, which gave me an understanding of genealogy.
Q: Do you have a sense of what kinds of professional development you would need to move up in your organization or a similar one?
At NEHGS, an advanced degree is not always required to move up or change departments, but it really depends on your personal career goals and where you would like to see yourself in the future. Moving from Research Services to the Membership Services Department really does not require additional education, but graduate work would be preferred for a move from Research Services up to Archives or a Staff Genealogist position. My company does offer to pay for a portion of your education, so they do encourage continuing your studies. Personally, I plan on continuing my education in order to move up both at NEHGS and any other opportunities that may require an MA or some graduate work.