National Genealogical Society

References for Researching

Becoming a Professional Genealogist

Your strong interest in family has led you to track down your ancestors.

Now family and friends are asking you to do the same for them which leads to the questions:

  • Are you ready to research for others?
  • Does that make you a professional genealogist?

The simple answer is that a professional genealogist is a person who is paid for their research work that is based on their training and qualifications.

While doing research for others is common for a working genealogist, it is not the only area of endeavor for them. Genealogists serve in many different positions. They are lecturers, teachers, archivists, librarians, writers, and tour coordinators to name a few different types of occupations.

Are You Ready to Become a Professional Genealogist?

As you think about becoming a professional, please realize that it can be a career. As such it is continuing journey where you gain genealogical experience and learn how to run your personal business.

Genealogical Skills:

Begin by doing a self assessment. Here are some of the questions to consider as you begin your assessment if you are ready to become a professional genealogist.
  • What are your genealogical skills?
    • Do you have knowledge of the area where you live?
    • Do you have knowledge about an area outside of your locality?
    • How do you access the records?
  • Do you have a genealogical specialty (such religious records, court records, publishing family histories, work in a specific repository or language)?
  • Are you a member of a genealogical society (local and/or national)?
  • How do you increase your genealogical learning?
    • Do you go to local conferences?
    • Do you go to national conferences?
    • Do you go to genealogical institutes?

Business Skills:

Business skills involves move than just hanging out a shingle. They include time and financial management, customer service, business writing and marketing. Here are some of the questions to consider as you assess if you are ready to run your own business.

  • What are your business skills?
    • Can you manage your time with your other commitments?
    • Do you know how to schedule your workload?
    • Do you consistently meet deadlines?
  • Have you developed a business plan?
  • Do you enjoy working with a variety of personalities?
  • How do you set your prices?
    • What are costs (expenses)?
    • What is profit?
    • How do you bill?
  • Do you have a standard contract for services?
  • Do you have a release for information?
  • What do you do for your customers (research only or research with a report)?
    • Do you know what goes into a report?
    • How are your writing skills?
  • How is your oral communication?
  • How do you expect to market your services?
  • Are you a member of a professional organization like Association of Professional Genealogists?

Improving Your Genealogical Skills

There are many different ways to improve your genealogical skills. Besides the paid for education, there are also free, independent programs to help you further your skills. Below are some of the different programs for United States sources.

For people who want to focus on various sources outside of the United States, here are some places for you to get further information.


In addition to the many NGS publications, there is a number of state and local genealogical societies publish newsletters, books and articles with information useful to research projects and general education.

Check with your local genealogical library for local and national publications.

Professional Organizations

If you are interested in becoming a professional genealogist, visit the website of the Association of Professional Genealogists (APG).

Credentialing Organizations

Two credentialing organizations evaluate and test applicants. For more information, visit the website of either.


The Board for Certification of Genealogists (BCG), based in the Washington, DC, area bestows Certified Genealogist® credentials on associates who meet its qualifications.


The International Commission for the Accreditation of Genealogists (ICAPGen), based in Orem, Utah, confers Accredited Genealogist credentials on members who comply with its requirements.

Improving Your Business Skills

For business practices, check your local libraries, community colleges, colleges, and universities for various courses for those interested in running their own business. Also the Small Business Administration has various resources available in their “Learning Center.”

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