You can make a career out of genealogy! How?
Hundreds, perhaps thousands, of people have turned their avocation into a vocation, either part-time or full-time. Indeed, there is a need for many people with skills and knowledge of family history research. Not only can you become a professional genealogist who researches family trees for other people, but there are many related positions available as well. In fact, for a few of these positions, you don’t even have to be a skilled genealogist.
I thought I would describe a number of the job positions that you can find that are related to family history research.
NOTE: I will point out that very few of these positions will provide riches. Sure, Alex Haley did well after writing a book about his ancestry. However, unless you have the writing skills and publishing credentials to match those of Alex Haley, you are quite likely to earn less. Probably much less.
Most people select a career in genealogy because they love it, not for the financial rewards. If you are still interested, read on.
Professional Genealogical Researcher
Becoming a professional genealogy researcher is probably the most obvious path to making a living in genealogy. If you enjoy researching your own family tree, if you believe you can find records, and if you have a strong detective instinct to find the truth at all times, you are a candidate to become a professional genealogist.
Some professional genealogists work for clients who hire them to research an entire family tree. However, it is more common to find employment researching local records about specific ancestors or lines for clients or other professional genealogists who live some distance away and do not have convenient access to records in your locality.
Most professional genealogists specialize in specific, narrow areas of expertise. You might become an expert in local records and history near where you live. Another common path to becoming a professional is to become an expert in one or a few ethnic groups, such as French-Canadians, Pennsylvania German immigrants, Hispanics, Black Americans, or other specialty areas. Of course, you can always become expert in both local records and an ethnic group or two.
Anyone can claim to be a professional genealogist, whether certified or not. However, most professionals do have certifications. Knowledgeable clients typically ask for a person’s credentials before hiring, whether it is for genealogy research, preparing income taxes, or performing brain surgery. Certified professionals generally are able to find more clients, which results in more income. If you are not yet certified, you probably won’t be happy with the income you can produce.
Board-certified genealogists, whether professionals or highly skilled hobbyists, must pass rigorous tests and subscribe to a code of ethics. I would suggest that you settle for nothing less than that. Most certifying organizations also offer an arbitration service, should a problem ever arise with the conduct or work of a certified member. Arbitration services help protect both the client and the researcher.
You will want to be listed on the Board for Certification (BCG) roster at https://bcgcertification.org/directory/ and in the Directory of Professional Genealogists (APG) at http://www.apgen.org/directory/. Many clients will first look in those directories when looking for a professional to hire.
Many professional genealogists live in either the Washington, D.C. area or near Salt Lake City, Utah. This is obviously because of the convenient access to records in those locations. However, the fact that many pros live in those areas also means there is more competition in each area. Becoming a professional in either Washington or in Salt Lake City is probably more difficult than in other areas. Also, not all records are available in those locations. A professional genealogist in Maine or Louisiana or Ohio or Texas or Nova Scotia may find more work as well as generate higher income than equally-skilled researchers in the two genealogy “hot spots.” After all, someone has to find local records that are unavailable elsewhere, and you typically have fewer competitors outside of Washington, D.C and Salt Lake City.
You can find two accrediting organizations in the United States as well as other certifying bodies in Canada, England, and elsewhere. There is no restriction as to residency. In many cases, professional genealogists who live in Canada, England, or elsewhere may obtain certification by a U.S. board, and those who reside in the U.S. may obtain certification in another country. In the U.S., both the Board for Certification of Genealogists (BCG) and the International Commission for the Accreditation of Professional Genealogists (ICAPGen) offer certifications.
You can find information about the Board for Certification of Genealogists (BCG) at http://www.bcgcertification.org while the International Commission for the Accreditation of Professional Genealogists, or ICAPGen, maintains its web site at http://www.icapgen.org.
Researcher for heir tracers and asset recovery firms
When a person dies, the person’s estate usually is divided up according to the instructions in that person’s will. When there is no will, the estate is divided up amongst the person’s heirs. In either situation, someone has to find the heirs. Some individuals lose touch with family members before their deaths, and the estates may go unclaimed.
Heir tracers try to find inheritors of these unclaimed funds. Heir tracers tend to do a lot of subcontracting since heirs frequently live some distance from the deceased, which results in losing contact. These “lost heirs” are the ones the heir tracer seeks. The heirs are usually unaware that they have inherited unclaimed funds, stocks, bonds, or real estate.
Heir tracers have similar skills to genealogists but typically work with twentieth and twenty-first century records. They may occasionally look at nineteenth century records as well.
Heir tracers typically get compensated by one of two methods: (1.) they may be hired by a law firm and will be paid a set fee, or (2.) they may “free lance” to find heirs on their own, without an employer, and then charge a percentage of the inherited property when the heir collects.
The problem with becoming an heir tracer is finding clients. There is no national registry or any other method of effective advertising. Most heir tracers get started by contacting local legal firms, probate offices, and local genealogy societies. Business usually is slow for the first few years until the new heir searcher is able to build both a reputation for high quality work and a personal network of people who can refer business.
Writer of family history articles and books
Have you become an expert in some areas of genealogy? Perhaps you are an expert in French-Canadian records or in using the Family History Library in Salt Lake City or in the use of genealogy software. Whatever your area of expertise, share it! If you can write, you can help others and also earn money in the process.
Genealogy magazines and a few web sites will pay for genealogy articles. Payment varies from $50 to $500 per article, depending upon the length of the article, the topic covered, and the reputation of the author. A handful of national experts will command even higher prices, but you won’t see those high prices when starting as a new author.
You could even start your own web site or blog. Many blog authors provide the information for free and then try to generate revenue by carrying banner ads or Google Ads. Typically, the ad-supported blogs generate very little revenue. A few web sites, such as Eastman’s Online Genealogy Newsletter, have provided private areas with articles available only to paid subscribers.
Don’t want to write? You can also find a need for editors, copy editors, designers, marketers, and others who are necessary to publishing projects.
Lecture on genealogical topics
This subject is related to the “writer of family history articles and books” mentioned earlier. If you develop expertise in a genealogy-related topic, and if you are comfortable standing in front of a crowd and giving speeches, you can become a genealogy lecturer. Obviously, these won’t be in-person lectures as long as the pandemic is still raging worldwide but some of the better-known lecturers can find work even when delivering online, remote presentations. Whatever your area of expertise, share it!
Beginning lecturers usually give their talks for free although they may charge for travel expenses. Once your reputation starts to grow, you can command prices of $50 to $200 per lecture, or perhaps $500 to $1500 for a day-long series of lectures. A few nationally-recognized experts command higher prices, but you won’t see those prices in your first few years of lecturing. Also keep in mind that most lecturers are invited to speak AFTER they have become well-known writers. If someone has seen your writing, they may seek you out as a speaker.
Assistance may be found at the Genealogical Speakers Guild at http://www.genealogicalspeakersguild.org/. Once you become an accomplished speaker, you will want to be listed in the directory of speakers that is available at the same web site.
Software developer who writes genealogy software
Are you a programmer? Do you enjoy researching family history? If you can answer “Yes” to both of those questions, you have an opportunity awaiting you!
Today’s marketplace already has many Windows, Macintosh, Android, or Apple iOS genealogy programs, so competition can be stiff. Anyone who can develop genealogy programs that run “in the cloud” on web servers probably can command a premium payment.
The future appears to be bright for online genealogy programs, online and cloud data storage, online data matching, handheld computing, and other twenty-first century technologies. Do you know what LAMP refers to or the differences between MySQL and PostgreSQL? If so, you could be the next entrepreneur to launch a multi-million dollar genealogy product. The future appears to be in cloud-based genealogy applications, not in free-standing programs that are to be installed in a desktop or laptop computer.
To become a successful genealogy software developer, you don’t even need to be a highly-skilled genealogist. You will, however, need to know all the basics and have an appreciation of the many ways in which people wish to use genealogy software. You also need to be willing to learn a lot more about genealogy.
Provider of genealogy information online (building databases)
As an individual, you can transcribe records or create scanned images of original records and place them online. Users seeking that information are usually willing to pay a reasonable fee to access your records. The web server software required to collect credit card payments is widely available for free.
Of course, you could “move up” and create huge databases to compete with Ancestry.com, MyHeritage.com, FindMyPast and other commercial database services. Creating large databases usually means hiring employees, including programmers, data acquisition experts, customer support, and others. However, it has been done before several times, and several genealogists have become wealthy in the process. You could be the next millionaire!
Scan old genealogy books and records
One “cottage industry” that appears to be doing well these days is the scanning of old, out-of-copyright books as well as public domain records, then selling the information on CD-ROM disks or online. You can spend hours scanning one out-of-copyright book and then sell many copies of it at rather low prices per copy. Selling 1,000 copies of a CD at $5 per disk can result in some attractive profits.
To become a successful merchant selling old genealogy and history books on CD or online, you don’t even need to be a highly-skilled genealogist.
To see a few hundred of these “books on CD,” go to http://www.eBay.com and search on “genealogy CD.” I did exactly that when preparing this article, and eBay returned a list of more than 2,600 genealogy CDs. Most all of the providers of these disks appeared to be private individuals, not large corporations. You could do the same.
To see what is perhaps the largest and best-known provider of historical books on CD, look at http://www.archivecdbooksusa.com. (That website is not being updated anymore but continues in operation by listing its dealers, many of which still have an inventory of CD disks and also are adding new volumes as well.)
Like almost everything else, the technology of republishing out-of-copyright genealogy books is changing rapidly. Many years ago, most old books were republished on paper. In past few years, that has changed as books have typically been republished on CD-ROM disks. Now the wave of the future is online: most republished genealogy books are now available “in the cloud.” If you want to be competitive, you probably should do the same. Of course, there is nothing wrong with offering the same books in all three media: on paper, on CD, and online! Plan your business accordingly.
Teach genealogy classes
Many community colleges offer genealogy courses, as do a variety of other facilities. If you have education credentials and are also a genealogy expert, you can teach. You need to be familiar with developing lesson plans and with developing courses. Most educational facilities will be very interested in your education credentials before making a job offer.
Archivist, librarian, or society administrator
Not everyone has to be a genealogy researcher. You can find employment at many libraries, archives, societies, book publishers, and elsewhere. Archivists and librarians typically have to possess very specialized education and job skills. Administrative positions typically are less demanding. Don’t overlook “side interests” or hobbies that can help you in what might appear to be a non-genealogy job. One expert genealogist I know found employment and financial success as the director of member services at a large genealogy society with a paid staff. She was a very effective director of member services because she understood what benefits members typically seek, and she was able to design membership campaigns to meet the needs of genealogists.
More than one genealogist has created a successful and rewarding career by selling books, CDs, software, blank forms to record your findings, t-shirts, bumper stickers, and other tools of the trade that appeal to genealogists. You can become a merchant serving the genealogy community. Nowadays, that means developing a web site.
How much money can you make with these genealogy-related careers? There is no simple answer. It all depends on where you live, what kind of skills you have, and how you market those skills. Whatever the income, it certainly beats a 9-to-5 job down at the local factory!
Here are some organizations that can help:
Association of Professional Genealogists – http://www.apgen.org
Board for Certification of Genealogists – http://www.bcgcertification.org/
The Family History Library – http://www.familysearch.org
Genealogical Speakers Guild – http://www.genealogicalspeakersguild.org/
National Genealogical Society – http://www.ngsgenealogy.org