Careers in Genealogy – “Off the Chart” Thinking

careers in genealogy

[Editor's Note: this is the second in a week-long series of posts at GeneaBloggers entitled Genea-Opportunities (Let's Make Lots of Money).]

I Can Haz Genea-Cheeseburger?

Now that we’ve discussed whether or not you can or should make money from a genealogy blog and the impact that professional genealogy has had on the genealogy blogging community, let’s discuss whether or not you can actually make a living in the genealogy industry.

The fact that there is an industry should tell you “yes,” but not many folks realize the wide variety of “careers” available in the genealogy business.

Traditional and Non-Traditional Genealogy Careers

As a young child, the common question from older family members was: “What do you want to do when you grow up?” Little did I know that at close to age 50 I’d be asking myself that same question. A layoff and a recession of epic proportions will do that to a person.

A career in genealogy can mean different things to different people. Some look to the more traditional researcher and writer position. Others have gone out to the far fringes of the genealogy frontier to create their own unique careers.  Here’s a look:

  • Researcher: This is probably the most traditional of genealogy careers – someone who performs research for a variety of clients, both personal and institutional.
  • Author: Someone who writes about various aspects of genealogy and family history, from magazine articles to 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.
  • Curator: I don’t mean curator in the traditional museum and art sense. To me, a curator is someone like 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. Dick provides a valuable service which has value and a service for which readers are willing to pay. There is plenty of room for these types of “curators” in various areas of genealogy.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • Technologist: Someone who can take various forms of technology and set it up for those in the genealogy field. This could be something as simple as a blog or a website or as complicated as programming and administering large databases for researchers to use.

Is the One Career/One Focus Model Valid?

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.


Did I miss anything in terms of possible careers? Is there something you are pursuing right now or have plans to pursue that isn’t on the list above? Let me know your thoughts!

©2011, copyright Thomas MacEntee

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