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Are You Ready to  Become a Professional Genealogist?

Have you wondered about taking your passion for family history research to the next step? How do you know if you are ready? What is required?

It can be enjoyable to work as a professional genealogist either part-time or full-time, but it is also a career that may be more demanding than expected. To call yourself a professional you need to have achieved a certain level of skill and experience. You must be ready to commit to continually improving your proficiency and experience through ongoing training and practice. You also need to learn how to run a small business, which requires its own set of skills and knowledge.

Genealogical Skills and Knowledge

As a professional, you will be expected to have skills, experience, and knowledge in a wide variety of areas.

  • Have you researched in the archives, courthouses, libraries, and other repositories which hold records in the areas in which you plan to research for clients?
  • Are you familiar with the nuances of a wide variety of record types pertinent to your locality or area of specialty—not just vital and census records, but also court records, land records, and other seldom-used record types?
  • Are you conversant with the historical laws in your area(s) of focus, or do you know how to find them?
  • If you plan to incorporate DNA into your business, do you understand the ins and outs of chromosomes, centiMorgans, SNPs, shared matches, and triangulation?
  • Do you subscribe to a variety of online databases?
  • Do you understand and follow the Genealogical Proof Standard in your work?
  • If you are asked to speak on a particular topic, do you know it well enough to not only present prepared material but also knowledgeably answer a variety of questions on the subject?
  • Do you write reports for clients, articles for professional journals or blogs?

Business Skills

Working as a professional genealogist involves more than delving into family history. You also need to have strong time management, communication, and organizational skills.

  • Have you prepared a realistic business plan including market analysis and a list of products and services that you will offer?
  • Have you considered how you will manage this time with your other commitments?
  • Can you negotiate with clients, work with clients who may have unrealistic expectations, know why and how to possibly turn down a client?
  • Do you have a marketing strategy? How will you advertise your services?
  • Have you thought through the financial aspects of running a business? Setting fees? Banking? Accounting? Tax considerations? Protecting personal assets while running a business?
  • Have you considered how you will protect yourself with legal contracts and insurance policies?

Connections and Networking

Professionals can work in isolation, but active involvement in the community is vital for growth and effectiveness.

  • Are you a member of APG? APG members enjoy many ways to network with fellow professionals. Visit our chapters or special interest group pages to learn more, and join APG at
  • Are you a member of a genealogical society in your locality or area of interest?
  • If yes, do you attend meetings? Do you actively participate as an officer or committee member, or by helping to organize events and activities?  
  • Do you take advantage of professional networking opportunities offered through conferences, mailing lists, and Facebook groups?


Attending a genealogy conference, whether virtually or online, offers educational and networking opportunities.

  • Most upcoming conferences are listed on ConferenceKeeper’s website:
  • APG’s annual Professional Management Conference is held each fall, and focuses on the needs of genealogical professionals. For more information, visit


Continuing education is an important part of any genealogical career, and for APG members, documenting at least 12 hours annually is required for membership.

A comprehensive list of educational resources is available in the APG Quarterly article “Developing Your Skills through Continuing Education”.  To read the article, go to

The Association of Professional Genealogists also hosts an ongoing series of webinars for its members focused on the business of professional genealogy. Some of these live webinars are available free to the public. Recordings of past webinars are available in our Members Only library. Examples include:

  • “Client Reports: Do’s, Don’ts, and Maybes,” presented by Thomas W. Jones, Ph.D., CG, CGL, FASG
  • “Lessons Learned My First Year in Business,” presented by Dawn Carlile
  • “Transitioning to a Full-Time Genealogy Career”, presented by George G. Morgan

Read Regularly: A Professional’s Bookshelf

Do you subscribe to and/or regularly read one or more of the academic journals focused on genealogy? A sampling is listed below.

Reference books found on many professional genealogists’ bookshelves include:

Anderson, Robert Charles. Elements of Genealogical Analysis: How to Maximize Your Research. Boston: New England Historic Genealogical Society, 2014.

Bettinger, Blaine T., and Debbie Parker Wayne. Genetic Genealogy in Practice. Arlington, Virginia: National Genealogical Society, 2016.

Board for Certification of Genealogists. Genealogy Standards. Second edition. Nashville, Tennessee: Ancestry, 2019.

Curran, Joan F., Madilyn Coen Crane, and John H. Wray. Numbering Your Genealogy: Basic Systems, Complex Families, and International Kin. NGS Special Publication No. 97. Revised edition of Special Publication No. 64. Arlington, Virginia: National Genealogical Society, 2008.

Elder, Diana. Research Like a Pro: A Genealogist’s Guide. Highland, Utah: Family Locket Books, 2018.

Jones, Thomas W. Mastering Genealogical Documentation. Arlington, Virginia: National Genealogical Society, 2017.

_____. Mastering Genealogical Proof. Arlington, Virginia: National Genealogical Society, 2013.

Merriman, Brenda Dougall. Genealogical Standards of Evidence: A Guide for Family Historians. Toronto: Dundurn Press, 2010.

Mills, Elizabeth Shown. Evidence Explained: Citing History Sources from Artifacts to Cyberspace. Third edition. Baltimore: Genealogical Publishing Company, 2015.

_____, editor. Professional Genealogy: Preparation, Practice & Standards. Baltimore: Genealogical Publishing Company, 2018.

_____, editor. Professional Genealogy: A Manual for Researchers, Writers, Editors, Lecturers and Librarians. Baltimore: Genealogical Publishing Company, 2001.