Become a Contract Genealogist: Education and Career Roadmap

Learn how to become a contract genealogist. Research the education requirements, training information and experience required for starting a career in the genealogy field.

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Should I Become a Contract Genealogist?

Contract genealogists help people trace their family ancestry by researching personal and published sources of information. Those who work within the field spend much of their time tracking down historical records. Patience and a curiosity for uncovering the past are some of the keys to success in this field. Several hours are usually spent traveling to libraries and courthouses and also doing internet research. This work is typically performed part-time, and self-employed genealogists have to seek new jobs or assignments on their own time.

Career Requirements

Degree Level Not required, continuing education courses and/or certificate programs may be beneficial
Degree Fields Genealogy, family history
Certification Voluntary certification is offered though the Board for Certification of Genealogists
Experience Genealogists need to know how to conduct historical searches for family ancestry
Key Skills Research, writing and communication skills, detail-oriented, ability to utilize computer programs such as word processors, knowledge of business practices including accounting, marketing and advertising
Salary (2014) $26.86 per hour (Median hourly wage for historians)

Sources: Genealogy.com, a division of Ancestry.com, U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, Occupational Outlook Quarterly Online, North Carolina Museum of History, University of Washington, O*Net.

Step 1: Complete an Education Program in Genealogy

While it is possible to become a contract genealogist through research experience alone, receiving some formal education can be beneficial. Those that work within the field need to have strong research and writing skills which can be garnered through various educational programs. Schools offer everything from individual courses to certificates, as well as free online classes. These programs and courses provide students the opportunity to gain in-depth knowledge about genealogy research, writing skills and accounting and billing practices.

Success Tip:

  • Consider volunteering. Aspiring genealogists can volunteer at their local genealogical or historical society. This provides an opportunity to learn more about the in-depth research involved in tracking down historical information and network with other genealogists.

Step 2: Join a Professional Genealogy Association

Genealogists continue to grow professionally by learning and sharing information with others in their profession. National and local professional organizations offer conferences, seminars and other events where genealogists can meet fellow members and listen to speakers about topics relevant to the field. Contract genealogists can also use these opportunities to network and learn innovative ways to meet prospective clients.

Step 3: Participate in continuing education

Home study, online and video courses are available that may have similar offerings to in-person schooling. For individuals who have had some formal education, continual learning is always professionally beneficial. In addition to completing remote classes, subscribing to professional journals is a good way to learn about new topics in genealogy research. Continuing education also prepares individuals with the skills and knowledge necessary to become certified.

Step 4: Become Certified

Voluntary certification is an option for genealogists who wish to showcase knowledge and professionalism to their peers and potential clients. The Board for Certification of Genealogists (BCG) offers the Certified Genealogist (CG) designation to individuals who have demonstrated a certain level of knowledge and skill by submitting a portfolio that meets certain criteria. The organization requires that portfolios meet a genealogical proof standard, which consists of five elements, some of which include accurate source citations, a detailed analysis of information uncovered through research and a well-reasoned conclusion.

Success Tip:

  • Maintain a portfolio. Applicants need to submit a portfolio to obtain initial certification and to renew their certifications every five years. By continually building a portfolio of previous work, genealogists will be prepared to meet this requirement at any time.
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