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Genealogist

Genealogists trace and chart family trees or lines of descent, using resources including:

  • birth, death and marriage certificates
  • old parish registers (for pre-1837 births, marriages and deaths)
  • military records
  • wills
  • immigration records and ship passenger lists
  • census returns (mainly from between 1841 and 1911).

Typical activities can include:

  • planning and undertaking research, much of it online
  • exploring microfilm and microfiche archives in libraries and records offices
  • arranging DNA tests
  • reporting findings to clients and suggesting other sources of information
  • compiling family trees, presentation-style packages and other genealogical reports
  • promoting services to potential clients via websites and blogs.

Employed genealogists usually work weekdays, from 9.00am to 5.00pm. Self-employed genealogists work flexible hours. Work is office or home based, but may involve visiting locations where records are held.

Annual income varies but may be from around £16,000 to £28,000 a year.

Genealogists need:

  • patience and attention to detail
  • an enquiring and methodical mind
  • good eyesight for deciphering faded documents
  • knowledge of social and local history sources
  • ability to use computers.

Demand for genealogical services has expanded in recent years, especially in the USA, but genealogy remains a very small field. Most genealogists are self-employed, although a few work for probate firms who trace heirs after a death or for the internet-based genealogical market. Local family history societies mostly employ voluntary unpaid staff.

There are no formal entry qualifications. It is usual to gain qualifications and experience in a related field such as archive work, historical research or library and information services. After developing genealogy as a hobby, it is sometimes possible to move into part-time paid employment or self-employment. Degrees and postgraduate qualifications in family history, community history and genealogy are available.

The Institute of Heraldic and Genealogical Studies (IHGS) offers courses and qualifications for genealogists. These can be studied as full-time, part-time or distance courses. Students awarded the Diploma can apply to join the Association of Genealogists and Researchers in Archives (AGRA) as qualified professional researchers.

There is no definite career structure. Progression may be from self-employment part time and then possibly to full time. Some may move into higher and adult education lecturing or into writing for the genealogical press.

What is the work like?

Genealogists trace and chart family trees or lines of descent. Although this is a hobby for many, some people work as professional genealogists.

The work may involve:

  • tracing the ancestors, missing relatives or heirs of a client
  • tracing the descendants of a historical character
  • charting the origins and geographical distribution of particular surnames
  • researching the history of a house
  • deciphering old handwritten documents and microfilm and transcribing them on a computer.

Genealogists search through a variety of public and private records, including:

  • birth, death and marriage certificates (available for England and Wales from 1837)
  • old parish registers (for pre-1837 births, marriages and deaths)
  • military records
  • wills
  • court records
  • original tax books
  • immigration records and ship passenger lists
  • census returns.

Population counts have been taken in England and Wales every ten years since1801, but censuses contained little or no information on individuals until 1841. Census information is kept confidential until 100 years after collection, although some websites already give access to the 1911 census.

Typical activities can include:

  • planning the research
  • undertaking research, much of it online
  • exploring microfilm and microfiche archives in, for example, local county records offices, local history libraries and the National Archives
  • interviewing relatives and photographing gravestones and old buildings
  • arranging DNA tests
  • following trails of enquiry, one discovery leading to another
  • researching aspects of social history, such as the kinds of jobs people did
  • reporting findings to clients and suggesting other paths of enquiry or sources of information
  • archiving materials
  • compiling genealogical reports, which may include family trees, charts, photographs, copies of documents and audiotapes of interviews
  • producing presentation-style packages
  • promoting services to potential clients via websites and blogs.

Genealogists may earn income from writing for the genealogical press and for books and online publishing.

Hours and environment

Employed genealogists usually work weekdays, from 9.00am to 5.00pm. Self-employed genealogists work flexible hours.

Work is office or home based, but may involve visiting locations where records are held. Many genealogists focus on a local area, but a driving licence is an advantage.

Salary and other benefits

These figures are only a guide, as actual rates of pay may vary, depending on the employer and where people live.

Most genealogists are self-employed, so income varies. Fees may be based on an hourly rate for time spent on research and advice, plus charges for searches and certified copies. Some give estimates for searching within a limited number of records, or for a set number of days of work. Some offer fixed-rate packages (such as tracking one line of ancestry).

Hourly rates are usually around £15 plus expenses, for both new and experienced genealogists, with additional charges for extras such as coloured diagrams of family trees.

  • Annual income varies but may be from around £16,000 a year.
  • Genealogists may earn up to £28,000.
  • Part-time lecturing may bring income up to £40,000 or more.

Skills and personal qualities

A genealogist should have:

  • patience and attention to detail
  • an enquiring and methodical mind
  • good eyesight for deciphering faded documents
  • knowledge of social and local history sources
  • a good memory
  • ability to use computers for research and for creating documents.

Interests

It is important to be interested in:

  • social and local history
  • research, both in person and on the internet.

Getting in

Demand for genealogical services has expanded in recent years, especially in the USA. However, genealogy remains a very small field. The Internet has made it easier for freelancers to market their services throughout the world and most genealogists are self-employed. Most do not rely on genealogy for their sole income. They often operate in a specific geographical area. Local family history societies employ some voluntary unpaid staff.

In the main there are three types of employers:

  • companies that provide a service to people who want to trace their family history
  • companies that conduct probate research, looking for heirs and aiming to prove their right to inheritances when someone has died
  • some local county records offices offering a genealogical research or copy service.

Job vacancies seldom arise. Vacancies which are advertised in Family Tree Magazine and Genealogists' Magazine draw a competitive number of applicants. Internet providers that put information online for the genealogical market occasionally advertise for genealogists and researchers. Societies already employing volunteers may occasionally get funding to employ a part-time worker.

Entry routes

There are no formal entry qualifications, but a sound knowledge of social and local history sources is needed. Some knowledge of Latin is helpful, as well as palaeography (the study of ancient writing), to decipher and date documents.

Before undertaking paid genealogy work, it helps to gain qualifications and experience in a related field such as:

  • archive assistant
  • records administration
  • historical research
  • library or information services.

After developing genealogy as a hobby, it is sometimes possible to move into part-time paid employment or self-employment.

Degrees and postgraduate qualifications in family history, community history and genealogy are available, but won't necessarily guarantee work in this specific field. For a degree course, students usually need at least five GCSEs (A*-C) and two A levels, or equivalent qualifications.

Training

There are short interest courses in palaeography, local history and genealogy, organised by the Society of Genealogists, local family history societies, the Workers' Educational Association (WEA) and university extramural departments. These are rarely adequate for professional work but give an introduction to relevant topics.

Working with an established genealogist as an apprentice is of great benefit. These opportunities are extremely rare, may not be advertised and will usually be unpaid.

The Institute of Heraldic and Genealogical Studies (IHGS) offers a range of courses and qualifications for genealogists. These can be studied as full-time, part-time or distance courses. IHGS qualifications include:

  • Certificate and Higher Certificate in Genealogy, involving three practical assessments, open to those with the right level of practical experience
  • Diploma in Genealogy, comprising three assignments including a genealogical research project and portfolio submission.

Students awarded the Diploma can apply to join the Association of Genealogists and Researchers in Archives (AGRA) as qualified professional researchers. With five full years of research experience and an approved thesis or dissertation, it is possible to progress to Licentiateship of the IHGS, awarded by the Court of Trustees. Most people work through all these qualifications.

University Campus Suffolk offers a degree in family, local and community history. This lasts three years full time or between four and a half and nine years part time and includes genealogical research methodology. An online course in genealogy is available at the University of Strathclyde.

Getting on

Genealogy has no definite career structure. Progression may be from genealogy as a leisure interest to self-employment part time and then possibly to full time. There are occasional openings with one of the few specialist companies.

Some may move into higher and adult education lecturing. Others write for the genealogical press, books and online resources.

Further information

The Association of Genealogists and Researchers in Archives (AGRA), 29 Badgers Close, Horsham, West Sussex RH12 5RU. Website: www.agra.org.uk

Creative & Cultural Skills, Lafone House, The Leathermarket, Weston Street, London SE1 3HN. 020 7015 1800. Websites: www.ccskills.org.uk and http://www.creative-choices.co.uk/industry-insight/inside/cultural-heritage

The Federation of Family History Societies, PO Box 8857, Lutterworth LE17 9BJ. 01455 203133. Website: www.ffhs.org.uk

Institute of Heraldic and Genealogical Studies (IHGS), 79-82 Northgate, Canterbury, Kent CT1 1BA. 01227 768664. Website: www.ihgs.ac.uk

The Society of Genealogists, 14 Charterhouse Buildings, Goswell Road, London EC1M 7BA. 020 7251 8799. Website: www.sog.org.uk

Contains public sector information licensed under the Open Government Licence v1.0.

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