By Roccie Hill
What Kind of Genealogy Jobs Exist?
The diversity of genealogy careers is as broad as those in medicine or the arts, and where you land much depends on your interests and specialties. Although most are genealogy research jobs, the type of research and your subsequent responsibilities presenting your findings differ widely. For example:
- If you love biology, you would do well to investigate the job requirements of DNA genealogists, who spend their days studying and using the latest techniques and ideas in personal genomics. Some of your time will be matching traditional genealogy findings with biochemistry findings, and analyzing the results for your clients.
- If law is your passion, doing heir searches for legal firms is a lucrative job in the field. Your time will be spent doing genealogical research, but with a view to finding the living who stand to inherit money or items. You will be paid by law firms who are in charge of the estate.
- If you enjoy being your own boss, start your own genealogy company. Although the financial rewards may be small at first, you make your own schedule, choose your clients and your projects. Business management and marketing skills are important in this kind of small business, and your willingness to network, speak at conferences, join genealogical societies, and write blogs/articles will be critical to your success.
- Are you a military veteran? If so, and if you have a passion for genealogical research, several companies, as well as different areas of the Department of Defense, are responsible for identifying missing service members and connecting their remains to their families.
- If you love writing, genealogical writers are key jobs in any larger genealogy company. Often, a client’s project will be divided up, and work will be assigned to researchers, DNA specialists, and report writers.
- Is your background Library Science? If so, public libraries look for talented librarians who also have genealogy skills. In addition, many private, state, and local genealogical libraries seek people in this rarified field.
- If your research methods are traditional and general, you will usually be asked for your specialties. In this case, you need to focus on a geographical area (e.g., Midwest US), a cultural area (e.g., Jewish genealogy), a religious area (e.g., Quaker records throughout history), a language (e.g., Germanic speaking peoples), or a time period/geography (e.g., 19th Century Texas). Clients desire someone who has base knowledge in the specific kind of research they will need to do.
What Kind of People Decide to Opt for Careers in Genealogy?
If I had a nickel for every time someone asked me how I became a genealogist, I wouldn’t need to work as one, but I would still want to. That is the key to all the people I have ever met who work in genealogist jobs: they do the work because they have a passion for it. Beyond that quality of deep enthusiasm, most of us also share a few basic traits:
- We love history: we are fascinated by the past, and by the relationships that individuals had to their families, their jobs, and their opportunities. We dig deep to uncover the cultural ‘why’ to human activity and movements, whether that is based on a family, a country, or an entire culture. Every new piece of information delights us.
- We are tenacious detectives: asking questions and devising potential theories as to why records show people making particular decisions, will keep us awake at night, and we love it. We dig deep and we seldom leave a brick wall unless we have exhausted all possibilities.
- We are meticulous and methodical: we design a plan of research and stick to it. Those in genealogist jobs understand that they must follow the rules of discovery and not run wild with random whims. We write down all of our sources as we use them; we follow our research plan even though the names of the 250 people buried in the Boot Hill Cemetery is momentarily fascinating. We watch our time, follow appropriate leads, and record all of our steps.
- We are collaborative: we pick up the phone and ask for advice. Many of us work alone with our dogs/cats/computers, but we know that the best plans of historical detective research arise from conversations with other genealogists. We welcome their thoughts and are not afraid to share ours.
How Do You Prepare for a Job in Genealogy?
Professional genealogists are a rapidly growing population, and as such, the ways to study and prepare for the job are also rapidly expanding. Here are a few:
- Academic study: one of the biggest misconceptions in the field of genealogy research jobs is that you don’t need to take a course or study for your degree. This is absolutely false. Every single time I have taken a class or series of classes, I have become aware of just how much I don’t know. To be successful, if you have the money and time, I highly suggest that getting your undergraduate degree is something you need to do. If this is not a possibility for you, a handful of colleges offer certificates in genealogy, and even more institutions and societies offer courses.
- Become certified: you are more valuable in the eyes of clients, and more employable, if you work toward and achieve either your CG (Certified Genealogist) from the Board for Certification of Genealogists or your AG (Accredited Genealogist) from the International Commission for the Accreditation of Professional Genealogists. These are both long processes, but it is a bit like passing the bar exam for a lawyer: once you have studied the body of information, you then need to demonstrate that you understand it. This is achieved by leaping one of these two hurdles.
- Make friends! Attend, Join, and Speak: We are still a small profession, and you will be amazed at how easy it is to connect with the leaders in the field. These are critical relationships for you to build, and you can do this by attending conferences, reading the latest news and books, joining local, state, and national societies in your chosen specialty, and offering to help others any way that is feasible for you.