A few years ago whenever I was asked how I became a professional
genealogist, my answer was quick, yet honest: "I put an advertisement
in the Genealogical Helper and earned $400 the first year."
Fifteen years later I am embarrassed that I began my career with
such naiveté. Advertising research services and collecting
some money is not the way to become a professional genealogist.
My only excuse is that I didn't know any better.
When I started my business, I didn't question my qualifications.
After all, I had researched my own family for five years with
some impressive results. I had attended a couple of workshops
sponsored by the local genealogical society, and I had even used
microfilm from the Family History Library in Salt Lake City. I
felt like I "knew it all" and was ready to call myself a professional
Shortly after hanging out my shingle, I attended the National
Genealogical Society's annual conference. For the first time in
my life, I was surrounded by all types of passionate genealogists.
Some were rank beginners, many were seasoned researchers, and
a few were scholarly leaders in the field. The impact upon me,
as a professional genealogist, was tremendous. The more lectures
I attended, the more I realized what I did not know. I
gained respect for the vastness and complexity of genealogy and
was determined to become more involved in the field and develop
my own specialization.
Following the conference I prepared a list of steps or goals to become
a professional genealogist by any definition. Several years later,
the list remains a guide for success for anyone entering the field:
1. Join the
Association of Professional Genealogists
The Association of Professional Genealogists (APG) is an international membership
organization for all genealogists supporting high standards in the field of
genealogy. Their current membership of over 1,100 includes not only professional
researchers, but also librarians, archivists, writers, editors, columnists,
booksellers, geneticists, computer specialists, and publishers. They publish
a quarterly journal with articles ranging from communicating with clients, and
preparing lineage society applications, to home office tax concerns. APG welcomes
anyone contemplating the career of professional genealogist. Visit their Web
page for more information, and send a SASE to APG, PO Box 40393, Denver,
CO 80204-0393 for their pamphlet titled, "Are You Ready to Become a Professional?"
and Apply for Certification and/or Accreditation
The best way to measure yourself against standards established by the profession
is to apply for certification and/or accreditation. The Board for Certification
(BCG) grants certification to qualified applicants in six categories
Certified Genealogists (CG), Certified Genealogical Record Specialist (CGRS),
Certified American Lineage Specialist (CALS), Certified American Indian Lineage
Specialist (CAILS), Certified Genealogical Lecturer (CGL), and Certified Genealogical
Instructor (CGI). For more information, go to their Web
The Family History Library offers accreditation (AG) in specific geographical
areas to those who meet their criteria. For more information on accreditation,
contact the Family History Library, 35 North West Temple St., Salt Lake
City, UT 84150.
Certification and accreditation both require a demonstration of in-depth
knowledge of a variety of sources, and the ability to communicate effectively
through written reports.
Educational Seminars & Workshops
Genealogical education is continuous, whether it involves learning
that a new source has been discovered in a courthouse attic, or developing
research methodology to solve a particularly difficult problem. Attend
local workshops sponsored by genealogical societies, and as many state,
regional or national conferences as your budget will allow.
The National Genealogical Society
(NGS) and the Federation of Genealogical Societies
(FGS) each sponsor a national conference each year.
4. Subscribe to Genealogical Journals/Magazines and Read Every Page
We learn by researching, but we can also learn from someone else's research. Case studies are continually being published in the leading journals. Carefully read and study the articles, even if the research problem is in a different geographical area than you normally research. Believe me...you will learn something.
the Local Courthouses, Libraries, and Archives
We all know that no one knows where everything is located,
whether it be the courthouse or the library. And we all know that treasures
can be found in the most unusual places! The only way to find those
treasures is to spend time exploring card catalogs, archival inventories,
and bookshelves. As a professional, your discoveries, and consequent
knowledge of local records, will make you a hero with some clients and
colleagues. Your explorations are another form of continual education.
with Fellow Genealogists, Librarians, and Archivists
A professional genealogist cannot work in a vacuum. Share your ideas,
research problems, and discoveries with other professionals within the
field. We all benefit.
with the Local Genealogical Society
Involvement with the local genealogical society reaps rewards that
can never be measured. Even if you are stuffing envelopes with a couple
of other members, the conversation may turn to research problems that
will give you new ideas for your own research. The genealogical society
is another network that is critical to professional growth.
The local genealogical society is your training ground for writing
articles and lecturing. The base of your career will always be with
the local society. Nurture it.
a "Pet" Abstracting or Indexing Project
Abstracting or indexing a group of records is another form of education.
Your skills in interpreting handwriting will improve, as well as a deeper
understanding of the records. Publishing the results of your project
will enhance your professional credentials.
Regardless of how skilled you may be in genealogical research methodology,
you cannot be successful as a business person unless you give equal
attention to advertising, accounting, taxes, publicity, time management,
and correspondence. Learn the difference between billable and non-billable
time and the true meaning of overhead.
Researching Your Own Family History
We've come full circle. The desire to become a professional genealogist
began when we enjoyed researching our own family history. Don't stop!
We will spend more time on a problem within our own family history than
we will for a client for whom we must budget the time, thereby learning
about new sources or research techniques. But most of all, our own family
history is priceless and can should never be shelved.
All of the steps involved in becoming a professional genealogist have
a common theme education. Perhaps that is why the profession
is so attractive. There is always something to learn, something
to find, and something to share.