Ancestor photosFew looking for self-employment ideas think of becoming a Genealogy Researcher. On the surface, it seems too simple of an idea to have any substantive career potential.

However, upon inspection, many are surprised with the opportunity that this unique career can offer to a trained professional.

The Opportunity

There is a tremendous demand for this work when you think about it. Many people are eager to explore their ancestry. We all have a natural curiosity about family members who came before us.

Realistically though, how many generations are we able to discover on our own? What skills, time, and tools are needed to unlock the mysteries of our family histories? What would it be worth to us to have a professional genealogist map our family tree? How far back might it go? How rewarding would it be to make those discoveries?

As you will learn, for many, unlocking their ancestral background is worth a great deal.

The Challenges

Becoming a Genealogy Researcher requires the same academic rigor and credentials as any other professional position. You must acquire the formal education, practical skills and industry certifications to establish your practice. You will want to support the industry by joining the National Genealogical Society and complete the work to earn your Genealogy Board Certification.

You’ll work with people from different cultures, religions and socioeconomic backgrounds.

You will run a practice that requires excellent marketing and communication skills. Your final work product is a written report that formally documents your clients family history.

You must have the research skills and natural curiosity, to find and link information from a number of sources. You’ll need an abundance of patience to sort, organize and analyze information.

You must be creative and tenacious to uncover the answers.

Time is money, so you must clearly package your services and bill your clients.

Education / Skills required

Researching your own family history tests whether you have the depth of interest and sustained commitment to become a qualified researcher. This exercise reveals the variety of skills, resourcefulness and personal temperament that a professional Genealogy Researcher must possess to be successful.

Genealogy education ranges from entry level through board certification. Well qualified genealogical researchers can attract high paying client engagements.

Colleges and universities offer formal genealogical research training programs and specialized degrees. The National Genealogical Society offers self-paced entry level courses to develop basic genealogical skills.

The National Genealogical Society and the Federation of Genealogical Societies host annual conferences to feature genealogical articles and presentations for their members.

Equipment / Tools required

This profession requires Internet access via a high speed line. It’s important to secure a computer setup that has sufficient memory, storage, word processing and database applications. You’ll need a reliable source of transportation to gather information from sources that are not available on-line. When traveling, access to a laptop computer is preferred. A quality printer is suggested.

To interact with new and existing clients, you will want to setup your website, email and social media connections.

You will want to subscribe to a number of public and private database resources. Depending on the clients’ requirements, you will need to gain access to information involving military service, church associations, property deeds, taxes, DNA, census, immigration, birth, marriage, death and many others.


Unlike many other self-employment ideas, a Genealogical Researcher can operate anywhere they have access to the Internet. As you build your practice, you may need formal office space. However, starting out, a quiet office space in your home is suitable.

Because much of the information is on-line, you have the flexibility to work from almost anywhere in the world. However, some client engagements may require that you have access to transportation sources that will allow you to visit remote locations.

Startup costs

Startup costs are relatively low compared with many other self-employment ideas. Budget approximately $2,500 for your computer hardware, software and printer. Education costs can vary, so you may want to factor in another $5,000. Outside of your home office expense, your monthly Internet connection and database subscriber fees run about $150.

Legal / Insurance issues

Your work product is a formal report that describes and certifies your clients ancestral history. As such, you are responsible for the accuracy and authenticity of the facts. Your research and resulting report will need to be fully annotated to include sources of information.

How to start

Start out by researching your family history. You’ll learn a great deal about the work, challenges and rewards.

Seek out respected, practicing Genealogical Researchers to draw on their knowledge, experience and recommendations.

Potential clients

Friends, relatives and business associates who know you and your passion to do this work is a great place to develop a base of clients and references. Once you develop a portfolio of engagements, you may want to expand to advertise in Genealogical reference services and on the search engines.


Established Genealogy Researchers charge by the hour for their services. Many offer research packages ranging from basic to complex. Depending on the type of service, hourly rates range from $50 to $80.

Further reading