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Can I Turn My Love of Genealogy into a Career?

Occasionally a job comes to my attention that I feel is a good fit for a genealogist, something my readers might be interested in, so I post it for anyone interested.  It is from the number of hits on those posts that I began to clue in that a large number of you are looking for jobs in the genealogy industry.  Clearly, there are many genealogists out there looking for jobs or there are many people looking to become genealogists, either way people are looking and I’m not sure what that says about the state of things in this industry?

I know I have a cross-section of readers, some make their living from genealogy, for some it’s a hobby and for others perhaps it has been a hobby and now they are considering it as a business, for others they have made the transition from hobbyist to professional. Some may do it as a side job to their “real” job while others earn a living at it.  Which category do you fall in to?

I fall somewhere in between. In my situation, it started out as a hobby. I left my “real” job to become a stay at home Mom and I saw an opportunity to take up interests I had never had time for prior like genealogy.  I didn’t need to replace my income, so making money was not my primary consideration. Blogging and writing was an interest, making money at it was a perk (I’m still waiting for that perk).

 I now make a few dollars here and there writing articles on genealogy and managing this website (emphasis on very few dollars).  I love writing about genealogy, sharing my knowledge and being part of this community. However, I would not consider it a career. Therefore, I don’t think I am the best person to answer these questions for my readers. Maybe you can help.  Do you make a living at genealogy? Did you turn your passion for genealogy into a business?

 I know some of you write, some of you do the lecture and conference thing, while others are consultants and trace or write family histories for others. Is there money to be made here?  Which area do you find the most lucrative?

 I’m not asking you to share your annual income.  However, please share with the rest of us, how you got there? On the other hand, are you on the road to there? Where do you concentrate your efforts? Is it in writing books, lecturing, consulting or do you do all of the above?

I’m curious, and I am sure so are many of my readers. So feel free to share..... Do you earn a living in genealogy and how? 

This is your opportunity, share your story, include your URL for a little free publicity, what do you think it takes to make it in this business. Tell us what you think of the industry; is there room for more of us?

What best advice would you give someone looking to turn his or her passion into a business?  

Can I turn my love of genealogy into a career? 


Linda Gartz said...

Hi Lynn,
I think this is a very pertinent question. I am in no way trying to become a professional genealogist. I'm trying to share historical family letters and diaries that I think tell a good story and/or with which others can identify -- find our common humanity. As a freelance writer & TV Producer, I know that taking any hobby or interest fto the level of professional is -- well -- a job - and it requires the dedication not only to the work of genealogy itself, but marketing oneself. To me the latter is the hardest part -- and one is never done. I'd love to hear from those who are making a living at this and how much time must be spent (we don't have to get into money) on marketing and the work itself to make a go of it. I think that would be instructive to those considering going pro.

Lynn Palermo said...

Thanks Linda for starting the conversation, it seems it's the elephant in the room, no one wants to discuss it. Perhaps many feel they would be giving away trade secrets, or don't want to encourage any competition. I however see it as an opportunity.

Mavis said...

Currently, I'm not doing anything with it to earn any monies. However, since resurrecting my research 2 years ago, I've realized this is my passion and from that aspect I would like to do more with it. You know how career experts are always saying you should follow your passion and not necessarily what you are good at. Do I want to rely on it as a means to support myself? At this point in life, I would have to say no. Would I like to do something with it to supplement my income? Yes.

Celia said...

Great question, Linda. As a retiree, I can't afford to get a genealogy certification, but I'm totally passionate about genealogy and research. As a relatively well-educated person, have learned a great deal about the pitfalls & possibilities in genealogy, particularly re online research. I teach 'introductory genealogy' courses for beginners at our local community courses, and have also been paid a 'reasonable' amount for helping individuals/friends/others who have found out I can help them move their research forward with correct sources/citations. Definitely this is not a "living", and I make less than $600/year. Still, it pays for some genealogy-related resources. A fabulous hobby, and one I truly am passionate about. Cheers.

Lynn Palermo said...

@Mavis, thanks for your comments,I think a lot of researchers feel the same way.
@Celia, I think you are like most working in the genealogy industry, they make enough to cover their own research expenses, probably only a small percentage are really "making a living at it" Thanks for sharing.

gsgenealogy said...

Hi Lynn,
I am a "transitional genealogist". One of the first things I did was to sign up for the Pro Gen Study Group Several people in the group are taking the NGS home study course as well. Which is what I will probably do when I can afford it. You can also join APG the Association for Professional Genealogy and they have a professional directory. The APG has an email discussion group and there is also the Transitional Genealogists Forum (although it is email intensive). You may want to see the video at:
Get Paid for Your Passion: Becoming a Professional Genealogist by Elissa Scalise Powell, CG. My biggest concern is paying taxes 4 times a year and how do you estimate them? Also, I will probably form an S Corp so my family's finances will be protected. Also look for local SBDC courses in your area.
These provide courses and a business mentor. I like the Pro Gen Study group because it is mentored by a Certified Genealogist who mentors us and is gracious to answer our questions. Many begin with Ancestry Expert but you don't have any copyrights with them for the client research report and they tend to change the agreement without informing you first. (that was the complaint on the Transitional Genealogist forum)
I have many more suggestions, I probably need to blog about it on my blog....

Jo said...

I turned my passion into my career and worked part-time for many years while building my business. I am now full-time self-employed and working towards accreditation. I echo GSGenealogy's comments. It has been pretty tough at times, but if you have a speciality or can find a niche market, it can be done. I specialise in Scottish records as I'm near Edinburgh where the records are held, so I have access to documents which are not available online. Good luck to everyone! Jo

Michael Hait said...

The first secret to successfully creating a career in genealogy is diversification. In other words, you can't *only* write (there aren't enough magazines in the market); or *only* lecture (there are only so many societies and conferences in any given area, so unless you have a LOT of frequent flyer miles...); or *only* do anything. You have to do a little of everything.

The second secret is to identify a niche, and become the expert. This means gaining education, gaining experience, and then getting known as an expert in that niche.

The third secret is a general secret to business: advertise!

Lynn Palermo said...

Thanks for your input, I agree wholeheartedly a career in genealogy must incorporate many possible revenue streams something you have managed to do quite well.

Leslie Brinkley Lawson said...

It is time for this conversation to happen within our community! Yes, I am a professional genealogist. It is a great part-time job. I hope to grow it into a full time job! But, it does allow me to continue education where I find interest, and it allows me the ability to travel to conferences and get those much needed tax write offs. I do forensic genealogy; looking for missing heirs. Most of my clients are attorneys. I need more of them! I do also lecture and have spoken at my state conferences and local societies for a number of years now. I'll be following all the blogs for further input. I haven't yet gotten to blogging.

David Fletcher said...

Hi. I have done my family tree & found it fascinating, I can no longer persue my other career, because of health problems, I would welcome any help, suggestions, ideas, advice, comments. I am old enough, & wise enough to realise that there is a huge difference from what I have done to what I would love to do, also I am not going to be a sucess overnight. If there is some way I could contact you or you could contact me more securely, I would be happy to read anything that you would like to tell me etc. I am going to risk putting my email on here, then I will hope & pray that you would be kind enough to reply. Thanking you in advance. David Fletcher. Leicestershire, U.K.

Anonymous said...

Read your information above and would like to talk with you. I have a daughter who is an internationally certified internet teacher working out of her home. She is very computer literate. Circumstances indicate she may need to change careers. I love genealogy research but not competent at it and wondered what she needs to know to consider becoming a fee paid genelogical researcher.

MJ Guerrero said...

Interesting, Jo! My 4th GreatGrandfather was a Scotsman. I thought, "how neat it would be to go to Scotland to research records!" I have been doing my own research, and obviously, about the business. I wish I could afford you, haha! Thanks for sharing! I'll keep you on my bookmarks!

S W said...

Leslie, What course do you recommend to become a professional genealogist? The NGS home study course is not longer offered? Thanks SW