Careers in Genealogy – A 2012 Update

careers in genealogy

[Editor's Note: this is the second in a week-long series of posts at GeneaBloggers entitled Genea-Opportunities - 2012 Update.]

Genealogy – You Do What For a Living?

Yesterday we discussed the ways in which I and others are making money (or not making money) from a genealogy blog. As a continuation of that topic, let’s discuss whether or not you can actually make a living in the genealogy industry.

Since I started my own genealogy business over four years ago, I’ve become more comfortable with discussing what I do when I am in social situations especially when meeting new people.  Many assume that my job entails researching family history for paying clients. I explain to them that for many genealogists that is the main business focus, but that the genealogy industry actually can and does support a variety of different types of work and positions.

Diversity and Flexibility = Success

If there is one thing I’ve learned since I was laid off from my six-figure income a year job in the technology field: you have to diversify the type of work you are willing to do and you have to be flexible.  That has been the key to my success especially in 2012.

In addition, you have to go out and look for opportunities . . . they don’t always come knocking on your door.  And what if you can’t find them?  Well then just make them. What do I mean Here’s an example: Let’s say I’ve developed a skill and I don’t see a demand for it.  It may be a matter of vendors and individual not realizing what that skill can accomplish and how it can help them. So, yes, I am not above making a pitch via email or in person at a genealogy conference.  That is how I’ve secured consulting work from vendors and individuals.  I also work on the freemium concept where I am willing to do one or two quick projects for free to prove my abilities and to see the results.  In most cases, it leads to income generating opportunities.

Running your own business is not for the shy or timid.  And I had to learn that right away or I would have lost the roof over my head.  There is something to be said about that survival instinct kicking in.

Current Genealogy Careers

Not much has changed since I first took a look at possible careers in genealogy over 15 months ago. Here’s an updated look:

  • Researcher: The most traditional of genealogy careers – someone who performs research for a variety of clients, both personal and institutional. The majority of researchers work for themselves although there are commercial outfits such as ProGenealogists and others that hire researchers either as employees or contractors/consultants.
  • Author: Someone who writes about various aspects of genealogy and family history, from magazine articles to books. There are more and more venues for this type of service and they range from traditional print media such as Family Tree Magazine as well as online websites such as Archive.com’s Expert Series. In addition, many genealogists are harnessing the power of self-publishing and print-on-demand platforms to publish their own e-books.
  • Educator: With almost any industry or field, people who are new will want to learn how to perform certain tasks. Thus the need for educators to teach us how to do everything from basic research, to citing sources, to using technology for genealogy purposes. The opportunities include in-person presentations as a speaker for societies, conferences and the like. Also, the growth of webinars has offered genealogy educators a way to not only deliver more content from the comfort of their home, but some venues also offer royalties on sales of recorded webinars.
  • Curator: Last year I spoke of the power of the “curator” and the concept of a curator seems to have gained traction.  Again, one of the most notable genealogy curators is Dick Eastman of Eastman’s Online Genealogy Newsletter who scours a variety of sources and picks the articles and items that are important to the genealogy industry. I also said back then that “there is plenty of room for these types of “curators” in various areas of genealogy.” And I’m happy to see many folks have jumped in to fill that void.
  • Archivist: Many repositories have staff with a genealogy background who work to preserve artifacts, documents and the like so that researchers can better understand them and have access to them. Also, I’ve seen a growth in the area of “personal archivists” where a genealogist with archival training is hired to catalog and preserve a collection.  In most cases, these collections were accumulated by a genealogist who has passed away and luckily the child or grandchild understands the value of all that work and wants to make sure it is preserved for posterity.
  • Librarian: There are quite a few genealogists with their library science degrees and backgrounds who work for genealogical libraries as well as other types of libraries. Since the airing of Who Do You Think You Are? and other genealogy-related television shows, more and more librarians are seeing patrons ask about genealogy resources and how to research their family history.
  • Analyst: With any growing industry (the genealogy industry in my opinion is growing), there is a need for people to analyze various data points including demographics, buying habits, etc. Those who can consolidate and analyze this data can serve non-genealogy companies and individuals who need to learn more about the genealogy industry. This has become the main focus of my genealogy business and I’ll have more about this in Thursday’s post when I actually discuss my earnings for the first half of 2012 and the break down among different types of work.
  • Marketer: Another growth area in the genealogy industry especially when it comes to social media. There are many genealogy companies and even professional genealogists who either want to have their social media presence set up for them to run. And there are some who actually want to hire a social media “agent” to administer their online presence for them. It helps to have an understanding of the genealogy and family history industry to do this effectively. In 2012, I am doing this more and more for genealogy vendors and there is a demand for this service.
  • Retailer: Just look at any genealogy conference or expo and you’ll see booksellers, craftspeople selling their handmade goods related to family history, and more. Genealogists and family historians want to buy products related to their field and their passion. I have to say that being a genealogy retailer is a tough business – too tough for me and folks like Leland Meitzler of Family Roots Publishing have my greatest admiration. Also, there are some websites that make it easy for almost anyone to sell items online such as Zazzle and CafePress.

My Genealogy Franken-career

Here is what I said back in April 2011 and it still holds true:

In the 21st century we are seeing a move towards many people having to “hobble together” a career based on various interests and components. The days when you walked into an office and someone hired you for a job with a specific title are gone. More and more we see not only people working from home offices or even coffee shops, but the ombudsman concept seems to work for many: someone who handles many disparate work tasks but tethered to a common concept, mission, passion or ideal.

For me, I realized when I got laid off during the Great Recession that I was going to have to have a Franken-career if I were to survive. This means being part researcher, part education, part writer etc. I could not survive on writing alone because at this point I don’t think the genealogy and family history industry can support many authors.  I can earn a few thousand dollars a year from writing articles and books but that alone won’t pay the bills.

So then, what does one call oneself when your career is made up of parts? Whatever you want to. If education is your strength, then you are an educator who just happens to also write and speak about your focus area.  The key for me has been to name myself and not let other people do the naming for me.  This is my career, my image, my reputation and I take time to make sure it is in my true image as I see myself.

Conclusion

I’d love to hear from readers as to their own career paths in the genealogy industry as well as the types of work they have found or hope to find. Also, anyone with what might be crazy and off-the-wall career ideas should chime in as well!

©2012, copyright Thomas MacEntee

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