From Hobby to Career: How to Get Hired as a Professional Genealogist
Looking to take your hobby to the next level? We share insider information on how to get hired as a professional genealogist.
Legacy Tree Genealogists is the highest-rated genealogy research firm in the industry, as well as one of Utah’s fastest-growing companies. We could not have gotten to this point without the work of a team of excellent researchers. It should be no surprise, then, that we frequently field questions about how to become part of that team. It isn’t easy, but it is worth it!
First things first, genealogy is a career. And like most careers, earning a position requires preparation and training. We’re a bit flexible about what that entails, but you must have some professional-level education and experience.
Most members of Legacy Tree’s core genealogist team have one or more of the following achievements under their belt:
- A university degree in genealogy, history, anthropology, genetics, or something directly comparable.
- A professional accreditation (AG) or certification (CG) in genealogical research
- A certificate in genealogy research (the most popular being the one offered through Boston University)
- Certificate of completion of the mentored ProGen Study Group
- Demonstrable experience with past client research, including samples of reports written for the clients (shared with permission, of course)
- Repeat attendance (or even presentation!) at advanced genealogy seminars. Think SLIG, IGHR, GenFed, and GRIP. The Professional Management Conference, or PMC, is also helpful.
Genealogy jobs these days are competitive, and the assignments from our clients can be tough. As a result, we look for candidates who have done more than just build and maintain online trees or work primarily on their family lineage. Hobbyists are great and frequently have built good skills over the years, but we’ve also found from trial and error that those who are self-taught often have blind spots and missing skills they’re not always aware of. It’s hard to know what you don’t know, and the best way to do that is to pursue formal education.
Keep in mind also that the job may not be what you expect, given your experience with the topic or the way it is presented in the media. For example, professional genealogy is heavy on writing and analysis, meaning that we prioritize looking for excellent writers as much as we look for good researchers. Think about the last time you wrote a research paper for school, complete with source citations, and a discussion of conflicting evidence, preceded by hours in front of a computer and in the library stacks researching. Did you enjoy that process? If not, this may not be the best career fit for you. If so, keep it up! All of our job postings require submission of a genealogical report you’ve written—and, we’re going to ask you how long it took you to put it together. Efficiency is key in a job structured by billable hours.
We also look for independent problem solvers. Everyone needs help from time to time, but Legacy Tree’s flexible work environment also means the most successful researchers are strongly self-directed. We don’t expect you to have all the answers, but we do look for researchers who know where to look. Knowing how to learn is one of the most important skills a professional genealogist should have.
By this point, you might be saying, “I’ve done all of these things, but I’m still not getting hired! What gives?”
Ultimately, while the industry is booming, we still have far more interested candidates than positions. Because Legacy Tree is a great place to work, our turnover tends to be low. This means that, at the end of the day, there are lots of qualified applicants without roles to fill—yet. This can be especially true if you work within a popular specialty. Realistically, Legacy Tree doesn’t have a need very often to hire researchers who specialize in post-1850 United States research, post-1837 England, or solving adoption mysteries. That’s not because we don’t get those kinds of cases from our clients—we certainly do—but because the skills involved in those research cases are often common enough that we can fill those needs with existing in-house staff. When we do hire U.S. or U.K. researchers, it’s usually for the tougher stuff—early Southern brick walls, colonial New Jersey research, and African American enslaved families.
So yes, absolutely keep your U.S. research skills sharp, but don’t let that be the only thing you do. A researcher who can tackle a Kansas ancestor born in 1910 one day and then identify the Lithuanian hometown of a Jewish family to Chicago the next is a valuable one.
In summary, to become a professional genealogist, Legacy Tree recommends you do the following:
- Hit the books and take classes
- Write, write, write! (and its corollary: read, read, read!)
- Be crazy efficient
- Get experience working for clients, even if it means doing pro bono work for your friends at first
- Broaden your skillset—learn a language and/or a new region to research
- Get to know the Genealogical Proof Standard
Interested parties may subscribe with their email at https://legacytree.com/apply to received a notification whenever a new opening is shared.
Other genealogy-related jobs may be found and shared in the following places:
- Genealogy Jobs Facebook group
- https://www.apgen.org/join (membership required)
- Job sites like Indeed.com
Our Recruiting Manager, Katy Barnes, and Director of Client Services, Elly Catmull, recently completed a Live Q&A: Working as a Professional Genealogist in which they answered questions about working at Legacy Tree Genealogists. You can view a replay of this broadcast on our YouTube channel–subscribe here.