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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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15 thoughts on “Careers in Genealogy – A 2012 Update

  1. You forgot the online genealogy sites themselves! They tend to be more location specific, but they do hire and it is way to turn your passion into a career. I’m living proof. 🙂

  2. I beat the Great Recession by jumping from the private sector to the public sector in 1987 but it caught my husband–we plunged from two wage-earners to one. Not as bad as some but still a definite change in lifestyle.

    You are so right about running your own business not being for the shy or timid. I am finding that out.. Genealogy is my passion. Since I have worked since I was 13, I could not image retiring and not working. So I started my own company and I am quickly learning how not to be shy or timid. I am a researcher who also speaks and writes and files and transcribes and….

  3. I’ll second what Anne wrote. For the first twelve years of my genealogy career, I did traditional client research but now for the last seven, I have been doing research on the genealogical sources themselves as an employee of one of the online genealogy sites.

  4. Fantastic summary! Seems like a nice buffet for individuals to scope out a niche. I also think the times of assembly line professional genealogy are over and has assumed a more jack of all trades atmosphere. Really, genealogy is such a multidisciplinary field and I think that your post reflects the evolving interests in the field.
    If I could, I would like to point out that those with a background in genealogy could work in most libraries and archives as an assistant, specialist, etc. Almost all libraries and/or archives now require an MLIS/MS/MA for a librarian or archivist position. There is a large genealogy and genealogy librarianship or archivy.

  5. Investigator..

    Some time lawyer will hired you to help him or her to find heirs.

    I have had people ask me ti help them find their biological parents.

  6. I adore Genealogy and my best friend and I have decided to give it a go as a business, so we are one of the Newbies! Finding that first client to get your ‘proof’ out there is definitely challenging, so we have offered, in your words, a “freemium” and waiting to see the response. I do blog, almost daily, and I really do enjoy it.

    My niche is photography, always has been, although I need a better camera at this point, I am working on a project of photographing all the headstones in all the cemeteries in my county! Whew! Taking the pictures is the easy bit, cataloging, and editing is the long process. Excel is my F.R.I.E.N.D!

  7. Ancestral tours! That’s another one. I haven’t personally escorted any of my research clients on ancestral tours, because my time in Latvia hasn’t matched up with their visits, but I have put together some self-guided tours for them. One of my clients just got home from Latvia, and her family had a great time!

    Another project that I’m working on, which fits across several of the categories there, is museum consulting. I have a diploma in museum studies, and am working together with the museum I did my internship at (a museum on Latvian emigration) to establish their genealogical centre. There are numerous museums across the world on emigration or immigration that can offer potential career paths for genealogists.

  8. Is there any sites to get FREE genealogy? Not trial bases but free. I did so much research with Rudi Ottery on our Brothertown Indian Tribe and when done she took it to print. I donated a copy to the Fond du Lac library it is called ” A Man Named Sampson “

  9. Recently I posted on my blog at ‘gophergenealogy’ an article I wrote three years ago. It is odd that it coincides with your posts of this week. In the process of gaining a college degree focused in family history and becoming accredited through ICAPGen I learned so much, but my entire life has been a process of preparation for work in the field of genealogy. Our collective experiences build on our abilities to contribute in our chosen field. Thank you for sharing this post about careers. For now I work as a researcher, speaker, writer, compiler, organizer and try to give back for all that I have gained.

  10. Great post Thomas. I love your definition of a ‘Franken-career’. I also think it would be boring to do just one thing.

    One of my favorite activities is guiding my ‘french-roots’ American clients who come to France to do research on their ancestors. I usually do some leg-work before they arrive, then we enjoy together visiting churches and going through beautiful dusty registers (often several hundred years old). I of course help there with transcribing and translating.

    I second your recommendation of APG and the ProGen program (I graduated from ProGen2). It was a fantastic experience.

  11. Kathy Wurth

    A little late in joining the conversation but I always enjoy your posts so much Thomas but I was “out of the country” last week doing my genealogy job. Like a lot of people I have had a passion for a couple things throughout my life, genealogy + travel. I’ve been working on genealogy since 1978 and in the past 6 years having been leading ancestral tours to Germany, Ireland and a few other places in Europe. Sounds exciting, which it is, but it takes a lot of luck (getting a good European partner), work (I still have another “real job” so I am on a computer about 16-17 hours a day) and organizational skills. But one of the main rewards is seeing the excitement and hearing the stories of when people come back from visiting their hometowns. Like a Christmas present!

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