Become a Genealogist: Education and Career Roadmap

A genealogist studies an individual's or family's ancestry to trace kinship, lineage, and family history. Genealogists gather their information from such vital statistics as births, deaths and marriages as well as oral history and genetic tests. They must be skilled at multidisciplinary research and must use several computer programs.

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Should I Become a Genealogist?

Genealogists are skilled at multidisciplinary research and using computer programs. They can work as librarians, archivists and tour guides, or own their own business. Professional genealogists give lectures, write and teach. A genealogist can specialize in a certain type of research such as religious or court records, tracing family bloodlines, or working in a foreign language.

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Career Requirements

Degree Level No formal degree required, bachelor's degree available
Degree Fields Family history, genealogy, anthropology, history
Key Skills Computer, organizational, detail-oriented, historical knowledge
Experience Attend conferences and seminars for up-to-date training
Salary (2014) $55,870 per year (Median salary for all historians)

Source: U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics

Step 1: Trace Your Own Ancestry

Many people start their interest and careers in genealogy by documenting their own family history. They gather family diaries, photographs and personal records. They also talk to relatives, sometimes traveling considerable distances. Bit by bit, they piece together their lineage. Genealogists strive to not only discover pedigrees and lineages, but motivations, emotions, and sentiments behind past actions.

Step 2: Read Journals and Books

Many good journals and books are available for aspiring genealogists. They cover genealogical methodologies and provide community support for research. The American Society of Genealogists publishes a journal called The Genealogist. The Board for Certification of Genealogists (BCG) has recommended such journals as The American Genealogist, National Genealogical Society Quarterly and Genealogical Standards.

Step 3: Take Courses

No formal education is required to become a genealogist, although bachelor's degree programs in family history and genealogy do exist. However, these programs are rare. Instead, many colleges offer genealogy courses through the anthropology or history departments. Apart from a full degree program, many courses, seminars and conferences are offered by local and national genealogical societies. In these sessions, you'll learn how to compile genealogies, evaluate and analyze data, and use primary sources. The courses generally last from a few days to several weeks. Those interested in a full time career in genealogy are recommended to pursue a four-year degree or a professional certificate through an accredited university.

Step 4: Join Professional Associations

In addition to studying journals and books, aspiring genealogists often join genealogical associations such as The Association of Professional Genealogists. Membership in these associations can help you connect you with valuable resources, other professional genealogists, and job or research opportunities. Only members have access to conferences, lectures, seminars, and social events hosted by the associations. The Association of Professional Genealogists and the Board for Certification of Genealogists are popular and influential associations that welcome new members.

Step 5: Gain Experience and Consider Becoming Certified

Potential genealogists need to develop genealogical studies on their own, especially if they want to become credentialed as a Certified Genealogist (CG). The credentialing organization, BCG, requires examples of work compiled in a portfolio along with an application for certification. This certification is voluntary and can help expand employment opportunities for genealogists.

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