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How Do You Make Money In Genealogy? A 2012 Update


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

Call me Crazy, but I am going to tell you how I spent my time over the past six months and how much I made in income.  Crazy? Probably, but please don’t waste your time telling me in the comments how stupid it is to make this public.  I’m not doing this to “show off” or to solicit similar information from colleagues in the genealogy field. I feel this is important so that the genealogy community gets an understanding of what it takes to try to make a living in the genealogy business.

And here are the details of what I have been doing for the period January 1 through June 30, 2012 in terms of working in the genealogy industry, while having the time of my life.

My OCD – Project Management

Some of you may know that I was a project manager in a previous life. My job was to manage major information technology projects for a global law firm which included moving an entire London office of 100 people in a weekend, or upgrading 2,000 copies of Windows over six months.

My main management tool used to be Microsoft Project as well as Sharepoint server.  Now I use Microsoft Excel and I track EVERYTHING and have done so since January of this year.  I wanted to see where my time went especially when it came to volunteer work.

Don’t believe me? Take a look (click to enlarge):

Click to embiggen

My system works by placing the most frequent tasks in the Common Projects tab, each day copying them over to the Pending tab and coloring them yellow.  Once completed, time and date info is entered, the projects are colored green and moved to the Completed tab.  My day starts by looking at what is pending (yellow) and what I did the day before (green).  Red or pink are priority items that are crucial or overdue.

I just couldn’t stay focused without this system.  Yes, it takes discipline and yes it can be time consuming.  I would say now it only takes me 30 minutes a day to write down projects and keep them updated.  So there, now you know one of my secrets!

The Numbers

Income producing activities:

  • Articles (writing for magazines and online)
    42.5 hours
  • Client (consulting work)
    192 hours
  • Presentations
    325 hours

Total hours = 559.5; 21.5 hours per week

Administrative and overhead activities:

  • Admin (running the business)
    69 hours
  • Email (reading, responding and archiving emails)
    167 hours
  • Invoicing (you can’t get paid unless you send a bill!)
    15.5 hours
  • Marketing (gotta tell it so you can sell it)
    57.25 hours
  • Travel (travel to and from locations for lectures)
    50 hours

Total hours = 358.75; 13.8 hours per week

Volunteer Work and What It’s Worth

I do too much volunteer work.  That is so tough for me to say, but after looking at the numbers below and having my family tell me I do too much volunteer work, I’ve come to this conclusion: I do too much volunteer work.

For the period January 1 – June 30, 2012:

Federation of Genealogical Societies (FGS)

I sit on the FGS Board, I serve as National Co-Chair for the FGS 2012 Conference, I sit on the FGS Tech Committee, and I am currently transitioning FGS to a new website.

  • 2012 Conference – 41.45 hours; $1,450.75
  • Education – 10 hours; $350.00
  • Marketing – 43.25 hours; $1,513.75
  • Radio (including publicity) – 28.5 hours;  $997.50
  • RPAC – 10 hours; $350.00
  • Website – 51.25 hours; $1,793.75

Total: 184.85 hours valued at $6,455.75
Rate is approximately 7.1 hours per week of volunteer work for FGS

Genealogical Speakers Guild (GSG)

I serve on the Virtual Presentations sub-committee and I’ve produced several webinars for GSG this year.

Total: 10 hours valued at $350.00
Rate is approximately 25 minutes per week of volunteer work for GSG.

Illinois State Genealogical Society (ISGS)

I serve on the ISGS board, I am the ISGS webmaster and I assist with production of the monthly ISGS webinars.

  • ISGS General – 17.5 hours; $612.50
  • Education –  21.5 hours;  $752.50
  • Publicity – 20 hours; $700.00
  • Website – 71.25; $2,493.75

Total: 130.25 hours; $4,558.75
Rate is approximately 5 hours per week of volunteer work for ISGS.

Total volunteer time and value = 324.7 hours; valued at $11,364.50

And Then There’s GeneaBloggers

I’m never sure how to categorize my work at GeneaBloggers in terms of 10 posts a week, adding new blogs, tagging post for Daily Blog Prompts.  I consider it marketing really – it is a way to promote myself and also serve as an evangelist for blogging and genealogy.

GeneaBloggers – 353 hours, valued at $12,355.00.

Total Hours

The total numbers of hours I devoted to genealogy related income producing activities, business administrative activities and volunteer activities is 1,595.95 hours. Over a 26 week period this translates to 61.38 hours a week.

Income Breakdown and Expenses

Here is what I was able to bring in during the first half of 2012:

  • Advertising –  $213.91
  • Affiliate Sales –  $168.85
  • Consulting – $4,220.25
  • Publishing Royalties – $1,396.35
  • Research – $150.00
  • Speaking Fees – $5,355.00
  • Web Admin – $907.35
  • Writing Fees – $2,530.00

Total Income before Expenses = $14,941.71

Here are the expenses for the same period:

  • Books – $120.00
  • Computer – $695.71
  • Domain Names – $46.74
  • Electric – $76.00
  • Gas – $100.00
  • Internet – $240.00
  • Magazines – $10.63
  • Marketing – $354.53
  • Membership – $59.98
  • Mortgage + Condo Fee – $800.00
  • Phone – $290.00
  • Radio – $156.00
  • Research Subscriptions – $204.65
  • Software – $79.99
  • Webinar Hosting – $594.00
  • Website Hosting – $150.00
Total Expenses: $3,978.22
Note on expenses:  1) My office is 10% of the square footage of my condo so I took the periodic expenses for mortgage, condo association fee, electric and gas to calculate those totals; 2) The laptop expense should be spread over 2 -3 years but it occurred during this period.

Net Results

A rough approximation is that for the first half of 2012, I earned $11,104.85. Of course, out of that I haven’t yet taken taxes etc.  An exact income amount won’t be available until I calculate my federal and state income taxes for 2012.

Taking into account 559.5 hours spent on just earning income (does not include administrative work or volunteer work), my hourly rate is $19.87 per hour.  If you add in the 358.75 hours of administrative time, the hourly rate drops to $12.10.

So What Does He Do?

Here is an idea of how I make the money listed above:

  • Advertising –  this income is passive (in a way) and comes from website advertising as well as GeneaBloggers Radio advertising.
  • Affiliate Sales –  this income is mainly passive and through the sale of the Flip-Pal® mobile scanner.
  • Consulting – I work with various clients including some genealogy vendors and some individuals to improve their marketing reach, develop blog content, act as social media agent, or even coach them through a transition and provide information about the genealogy industry.
  • Publishing Royalties – this includes book income and webinar CD sales.
  • Research – this income is from client research for genealogy, something I don’t do very much of right now.
  • Speaking Fees – my main income is from speaking in person as well as via webinar for genealogy conferences and societies.
  • Web Admin – income derived from setting up and administering genealogy related blogs and websites for others.
  • Writing Fees – income from articles published in genealogy magazines and online.

No It Isn’t Magic

No magic or smoke and mirrors involved here.  Some considerations to keep in mind so you understand how I make this work:

  • There are in-kind benefits for some of the volunteer work. For example, I earn additional hotel room nights for conference publicity, etc.
  • Contrary to what you might think, I don’t get comped subscriptions to vendors like or Genealogybank.  I make it a point to pay for those services.
  • I share living expenses with my partner (who also works at home). I could not do this if I lived on my own. But the expenses are split evenly and I’m expected to pay my fair share every month.
  • Some of the income is passive such as publishing royalties. By this I mean there is an expense in terms of labor and hours spent initially, but I can earn income for many months from that published work or recorded CD.
  • I don’t have health insurance because I can’t afford it ($700 a month to start). I don’t want to get on my soapbox right now on this issue because literally it will make me sick.  So I’m careful and I pray a lot.
  • After living in some of the most expensive cities in the world, I can get creative when it comes to living expenses (such as not having a car). I live comfortably, but there are no extravagances.  And I do have to make lots of choices and opt not to do things or go places because of the cost.  And I am fine with that.


So what does all this mean?  Well you can draw your own conclusions from the data, but for me this means:

  • You’ve probably already figured out through back-engineering the numbers that the hourly rate I charge is $35.00. That includes consulting work. Yes this needs to go up and it likely will in 2013.
  • I need to learn how to say “No” when it comes to volunteer work and try to reduce those hours.  I expect a big drop off in volunteer hours once the FGS 2012 conference is over and once the new FGS website is finished.  Already I’ve turned down requests to be on committees and I don’t feel bad or selfish for doing this.  The plain fact is we need more volunteers in the genealogy societies and we need to stop dumping on the same people.  Also realize that there are many other volunteers for these societies who work just as many hours as I do, if not more.
  • I expect to increase my income in the 2nd half of 2012 and also reduce the number of admin hours.  I need better and smarter ways of working especially when it comes to email and marketing.  I’ve stopped doing GeneaBloggers Radio because it was taking up too much time.
  • I need to increase my royalty/passive income and I have plans to do this soon and it will be the main focus for me.

So How Do You Make Money In The Genealogy Industry?

Again, no pressure, no numbers asked. But I would love to know the breakdown of a typical day or week in terms of the type of work tasks performed, whether you have similar administrative burdens and also the expenses involved.

©2012, copyright Thomas MacEntee

25 thoughts on “How Do You Make Money In Genealogy? A 2012 Update

  1. Thanks for providing this realistic inside view of what it takes to make a living. I am curious to know how this pans out for people who make client research their primary job and how many volunteer hours they do.

  2. Thomas,
    Bravo for the honest and upfront post. I think it will do wonders to help everyone who is considering attempting even half of what you do!

    One thing that I might add, while volunteering does not provide a paycheck, volunteering in various organizations has helped me network and provide paying contacts that I wouldn’t have received had I not been volunteering. It is not why I volunteer, but it is a perk and benefit that those who hesitate to volunteer should keep in mind.

    Thanks Thomas for all you do for our community and may the odds be ever in your favor!

    Valerie Elkins

  3. This is extremely helpful information for a transitioning professional genealogist. I am also an Excel junkie and need to use it to track my time spent on genealogy endeavors, especially volunteering.

    I am curious with all the income-generating, volunteer and administrative activities you pursue, which are your favorites and least favorites? Are there certain tasks you begrudgingly have to make yourself do each week or month?

  4. An excellent post…unfortunately the numbers are very realistic. I also wore the PM hat for years, mostly in architecture and construction but also in research. We do tend to volunteer a lot, but then it does bring in monetary benefits in terms of networking and learning benefits as well as the altruistic benefits. I find I spend a lot of time researching background topics and tangential issues that I do not feel comfortable billing the client for but am also not willing to skip over. And thus $35/hr DOES become 19.87 or 12.10 or even [sigh] what my Dad used to call “a buck four eighty”

    And yet…who does not want to earn a living doing what they love every day? I could try to spend less time envisioning what that person in the 1700’s might have been doing, what their life was like, what may have led them to move from here to there…step up the research pace…boil it down to facts….but I don’t think so. Instead I am in search of little ways to tweak things that might have big results in the income department…a seismic shift. If I find the answer I will be sure to share it!

  5. Thank you soooo much! As I transition from stay-at-home mom to empty nester, I’ve been considering a genealogy career. This will help me immensely in my decision! You are a treasure! Hope you start up your Geneabloggers podcast sometime soon, I miss it!!!

  6. Deena – interesting question . . . for client work, I am getting turned off by doing the web admin (setting up websites and blogs) since most of the time is trying to manage expectations and convince a non-technical person that I know what I’m doing and how the technology works. It is frustrating work and I often spend more time than the contracted time agreed upon.

    As for admin tasks, I’ve gotten good at getting the stuff I dislike out of the way quickly – like invoicing. Article writing can be frustrating when I don’t have the creative muse next to me and I’ve hit a writer’s block. So I try to get the articles done weeks before the deadline and not wait until the last minute.


  7. Thank you for an informative article.

    I retired and have “reinvented” my life. My re-invention includes tutoring, running an all-volunteer math charity, and genealogy. Folks think my rates for tutoring mathematics are high [drive to and from child’s house and prep time, in addition to time with child] and so I understand the “real” income/hour well.

    I spend hours every day on genealogy and am becoming a better researcher, not yet ready to go “prime time”, but blogging does put me out there and is making wonderful connections in the genealogy community. Some day I figure out how I will transition to a more professional genealogist.

    These articles are very helpful for me.

  8. Thanks for sharing, Thomas. I am curious to know about time spent for reading, improving genea-skills, education, etc. Do you account for reading the $120 worth of books that your purchased?

    I agree that we need more volunteers. Any thoughts on how to get more society members to raise their hands?

    I, too, miss GeneaBloggers Radio!

  9. What a great series of posts. I totally agree with all that has been said. My perspective in working in the genealogy field is based on my time and circumstances. Blogging is one of the things that I enjoy most. Writing is fun and something I sould probably take more seriously. Due to health concerns and having a large family I am currently doing what I am comfortable with. Thank you for all of your volunteer efforts and especially GeneaBloggers.

  10. Thomas, thanks for putting this out there. It is interesting to see that breakdown. It makes me cherish even more all the “free” webinars I am able to attend!

    One thing I didn’t see on your expense lists was travel. How much do you spend traveling, or are your travel expenses fully absorbed by the fees you charge for speaking engagements? (Or are they included in some other expense and I just didn’t realize it?)

  11. Beth – good question – I didn’t break out education time and reading and I should be tracking that. I do commit 1 hour each day to reading either online or genealogy related books.

  12. Thomas, kudos to you for opening an area of your life many would be reluctant to do. I, too, have wondered about what to charge – particularly in the area of speaking, for I am just not interested in client work. I did many things for free while I was getting my feet wet. Then, a good friend told me that if I didn’t think my time and expertise wasn’t worth anything, no one else would either.

    I do many of the local genealogy societies, but most of their rates are a straight $50, plus gas. It gives me the opportunity to try out new lectures, and perhaps network. But, as many years as I’ve been doing this, I know I’m worth more now.

    Thank you for these posts! Once again, I have learned from you…

  13. A quick analyis, you undervalue yourself and do too much that does not generate revenue stream. Been there done that, then took a long hard look and made changes. I remember the Ah Ha moment and the acceptance that a big objective of the business was to survive and generate income. All the freebie stuff was because the business “could,” but was not “the” business. Always hard choices to make.

  14. This is an extremely helpful post as I transition (or try to transition) from amateur to paid professional genealogist. I always assumed this would be a part time job for me, and if I focus on research for others, it seems I am correct in that assumption. It also highlights the need to keep up with technology, which I am NOT very good at. Time to take another Excel class maybe?

  15. Reading your list of activities has made my head spin and led to further exhaustion! How you ever find the time and energy is beyond me…

    So, how do I make money with genealogy??? Since 2003 I have not earned one red cent. I have applied to NEH twice for independent scholar fellowships and been turned down twice. I have regrouped…started writing a blog at my archivist friend’s urging, and changed the angle on my project which will eventually become a family history memoir…or an historical narrative. I used to pay for memberships to historical and genealogical societies…but found it got me nowhere but with too many journals to read. To date I have not been able to attend any conferences because of time and $$$. I work full-time as a Deli Manager to earn a living…which I hope changes someday…when we relocate to an area where there are more research and job opportunities.

  16. Thank you, Thomas, for what you do and for being so candid. This has been a very interesting discussion

    I’m a librarian and recently decided to start my own research business. Not genealogy per se, but historic research with a focus on the business market. A friend of mine does a lot of networking–the chamber of commerce, BNI, a women’s network, etc.–and has invited me to a number of events. She’s introduced me to other business people who seem rather intrigued with what I do. Last week I had coffee with someone I networked with, and the woman hired me on the spot! I’ve noticed people in the business market don’t seem to be put off by a reasonable hourly rate. I am pretty outgoing and like talking with people so this approach seems to be working for me, at least so far.

  17. Thomas – this is a great and detailed synopsis of the reality of how time and money work out in a genealogy related career. Thanks for sharing with the rest of us without holding any punches. Excel is a fabulous tool for tracking so much – I too prefer it to MS PM although only took that college course two years ago ;-).

    Keep up the phenomenal work you do and don’t loose your child-like passion for seeing the fun in it all (with adult interludes of course when we need a real giggle).
    – Eric / Founder

  18. Long story short: My professional perspective is derived from the fact that I am a near-death experience survivor. I believe these ancestral family members WANT to be found, appreciated, recognized, etc.

    50% of my time is pro bono.

    Caveat: ’tis I who decides how, when, where & for whom the pro bono is administered{:>)

    1) @ the Mesa, Arizona Regional FHC tactfully teaching the staff & patrons how to use the ScanPro2000 miracle machine &

    2) cracking European genealogy research cases there and on a FEW of FamilySearch’s Facebook Communities: “Germany/Prussia Genealogy Research”

    Since 2009, my blog/brag/URL/website is SEOd for the keyword “german genealogist” This position was developed by my webmaster, Paul Andrew Johnson Everyone cannot be #1, but I have consistently been there since 2009.

    This organic position has developed Lynell & me several “smaller retainer” clients, a few medium-sized clients, but TWO huge clients that we would NOT have found any other way!

    One is now @ $33,000; the other from South Africa is @ $20,000. Both are successful businessmen who just simply cannot read that old German handwriting & also have no clue about where to go, even if they could decipher it!

    FACT: Most people have THOUSANDS of $ worth of research to be done. If you want to be profitable AND serve your clients, cease & desist asking for a few hundred $, when a few thousand is often more appropriate.

    Please don’t try to tell me this is greed. All our clients know they get from us TWICE that for which they paid. Why? That is what most of us genealogists do anyway, is it not?

    Hourly rate? I don’t have one. Why not? It’s that principle of “a buck four eighty.” I’m a genealogy fool.

    I’d rather crack a case than watch TV. If you knew how to shoot 3-pointers with a 80+% rate, you’d be shootin’ ’em, too. Where much is given, much is required.

    On, I have 103+ endearing endorsements. Investment companies have now 5 times paid me $200/hr to consult with them about the online genealogy industry. Where’d they find me? My website? Nope.

    “Karl, we’re going to have to clone you!” HR manager, Mike Moran. Yes, I was THE very 1st person they handpicked for the short-lived but highly successful paid expert Research Line. Yes, I also served as THE primary European research consultant for, i.e. the one who spoke German with German natives about where to go to solve their research dilemmas!

    When those entities were disbanded (tearfully to a great team), Lynell & I opted to create Best decision we ever made… We are enthusiastically mentoring a friend with{:>)

  19. I can’t believe you disclosed all of that but I am glad you did. It was very eyeopening. I only do a little paid work here and there. Most of what I do is for myself or gratis. I made my money working part time as an ER nurse 🙂 I think there is so much more to a real genealogy business than most people know.

  20. Very sobering. I’m not a professional genealogist, but I have toyed with the idea now and then (when work was slow). But I don’t think I could do all of the things you do without going insane. I just love the research, discovery and connecting the dots. Guess I’ll keep my day job 🙂 Thanks for revealing the reality of being a professional genealogist.

  21. Pingback: Genea-Musings: How Do I Make Money in Genealogy? |
  22. Tom , you are one of the most generous people out there . We learn so much from you . Thank you for all you have done in all these years to help us get out there too . There is no doubt that you give many of us that shot of confidence . I have been lucky on $20.00 an hour – only research offline reading films , courthouse stuff, newspapers for folks and I help many locals at my library . I sort of spend my volunteer time out of my overflow energy and not my reserve energy . Only huge investment was I need to keep changing my glasses !

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