Becoming a Professional

Becoming a Professional Genealogist

Many family history devotees will daydream at one time or another about starting a career as a professional genealogist. The desire to become a professional genealogist is an extension of the pleasure we experience with the excitement and highs of finding our own ancestors. Your strong interest in family and your success in tracking down your ancestors have probably prompted others to ask you for help.

Now family and friends are asking you to do the same for them, which leads to the following key 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 research that is based on his or her 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, editors, and research trip consultants to name a few different types of occupations.

Are You Ready to Become a Professional Genealogist?

As you think about becoming a professional, consider that it can be a wonderful career but one that may be more demanding than expected. As such it is a lifelong journey where you must commit to continuous learning, and where you accept the responsibility of gaining greater genealogical experience over time through varied assignments, additional training, and practice. You must also learn how to run your personal business.

Genealogical Skills

Begin by doing a self-evaluation.  Here are some of the questions to consider as you begin to assess whether you are ready to become a professional genealogist.

  • What are your genealogical skills?
    • Do you have good knowledge of the resources in the area where you live?
    • Do you have specific expertise about an area outside of your locality?
    • How do you access the records? Do you regularly use records that are not online?
    • Do you have experience working in libraries and archives with collections relevant to genealogical and historical research?
  • Do you have a genealogical specialty (such as using religious records, court records, military records, publishing family histories, or working in a specific repository or language)?
  • Are you a member of a genealogical society (local, state, and/or national) and regularly attend its meetings? Do you actively participate by acting as an officer, giving classes, or organizing field trips or other activities?
  • How do you increase your genealogical learning?
    • Do you go to local conferences or lectures?
    • Do you go to national conferences?
    • Do you go to genealogical institutes?
    • Do you take online genealogy courses?
    • Do you regularly read genealogy related books, magazines, and journals?
    • Do you subscribe to at least one recognized scholarly journal in this field (e.g., National Genealogical Society Quarterly, NYG&B Record, New England Historic Genealogical Society Journal, American Society of Genealogists, The American Genealogist)?
    • Do you have experience assessing a client’s research problem and analyzing their work to date?
    • Can you prepare a solid client proposal with a clear objective, a reasonable scope of work with a fair price, and timeframe to complete the work?
    • Can you write a well-documented research report?
    • Do you thoroughly understand and follow the Genealogical Proof Standard?

Business Skills

Business skills involve more 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 realistic business plan that allows you to support yourself on the income generated?
  • Do you enjoy working with a variety of personalities?
  • Can you work with clients who may have unrealistic expectations?
  • How do you set your prices?
    • What are costs (expenses)?
    • What is profit?
    • How do you bill?
    • Will you do your own bookkeeping? Will you need an accountant to help you set up your business and your bookkeeping?
  • Do you have a standard contract for services?
  • Do you have a release for information?
  • Have you considered the consequences of confidentiality and liability?
  • Will you use an attorney to review your contract language?
  • 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?
  • Will you join a professional organization for support?

Improving Your Genealogical Skills

There are many different ways to improve your genealogical skills. The National Genealogical Society has a variety of personalized learning options available to help you learn and grow.

NGS Family History Conference

  • More than 150 lectures by leading experts every year in May.

NGS Genealogy Courses – online and self-paced

For more information about becoming a professional genealogist, visit the Association of Professional Genealogists website

For more information on certification and genealogical credentials, there are two credentialing organizations that evaluate and test applicants. For more information, visit the website of either.


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


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

Revised August 2018