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 genealogist 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 courthouses, libraries, and other repositories which hold records in the areas in which you plan to research for others?
- 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 lesser-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?
Working as a professional genealogist isn’t all 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 work with clients who may have unrealistic expectations?
- 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?
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 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 belong to any professional associations such as the Association of Professional Genealogists?
- Do you take advantage of professional networking opportunities offered through conferences, mailing lists, and Facebook groups?
How Do I Prepare?
Education is Essential: Invest in Your Career
Conferences and Seminars
Have you attended more than one national or regional genealogy conference, such as . . .
- APG Professional Management Conference (PMC)
- Association of Genealogists and Researchers in Archives Conference
- Australasian Congress on Genealogy and Heraldry
- Federation of Genealogical Societies Annual Conference
- International Conference on Jewish Genealogy
- International Genetic Genealogy Conference
- International German Genealogy Conference
- National Genealogical Society Family History Conference
- RootsTech / RootsTech International
- Southern California Genealogy Jamboree
If you are not able to attend in person, have you taken advantage of live-streamed sessions or purchased recordings?
Have you attended a week-long genealogical institute such as . . .
- Forensic Genealogy Institute (FGI)
- Genealogical Institute on Federal Records (Gen-Fed)
- Genealogical Research Institute of Pittsburgh (GRIP)
- Institute of Genealogy and Historical Research (IGHR)
- Salt Lake Institute of Genealogy (SLIG)
Online Courses and Webinars
Are you taking advantage of the many learning opportunities available online? Some of the courses and webinars useful for professionals and aspiring professionals include:
- Boston University’s Certificate Program in Genealogical Research
- BYU-Idaho: Certificate or BYU-Idaho: Associate Degree in Family History (Online)
- Legacy Family Tree Webinars
- National Genealogical Society: Continuing Genealogical Studies
- National Institute for Genealogical Studies
- ProGen Study Group
- University of Strathclyde: Online Genealogy Courses and Degree Programs
The Association of Professional Genealogists hosts an ongoing series of webinars for its members focused on the business of professional genealogy. The live webinars are available free to the public. Recordings are available to members of APG in our Members Only library. Examples of past webinars include:
- 20 Essential Tips for Genealogical Speakers
- Accounting Tips, Tricks, and Hacks: What the Solo Genealogy Pro Needs to Know
- The Art of Client Management: From Soup to Nuts
- “Careers in Genealogy” series (Forensic Genealogist, House Historian, Lineage Specialist, Personal Historian, and more)
- Conducting Genealogy Research Tours for Profit
- Genetic Genealogy for Professionals: DNA Client Expectations, Client Contracts, Research Reports, Surprising Results
- Marketing to Attract Your Ideal Clients
- Transitioning to a Full-Time Genealogy Career
- Writing a Genealogy Business Plan
Local organizations, universities, and community colleges often host classes about genealogy, history, and business.
Read Regularly: A Professional’s Bookshelf
Do you subscribe to and/or regularly read one or more of the following publications?
- Association of Professional Genealogists Quarterly (APGQ)
- The American Genealogist (TAG)
- The Genealogists Magazine
- The Journal of Genealogy and Family History
- National Genealogical Society Quarterly (NGSQ)
- New England Historical and Genealogical Register
- New York Genealogical and Biographical Record
- OnBoard, the newsletter of the Board for Certification of Genealogists
Do you also read historical periodicals and books from the regions and localities in which you specialize? Books found on many professional genealogists’ bookshelves include:
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.