Saturday, June 22, 2013

Interested in Genealogy as a Profession?

This post is part of my continuing series of course reviews from the Institute of Genealogy and Historical Research (IGHR) at Samford University. Friends of mine have been invited to blog as guest authors and share their experiences in the courses at IGHR. Here is a review by Pamela Holland.

“Genealogy as a Profession” course at IGHR (Institute of Genealogy and Historical Research)

By Pamela Guye Holland

Taught by Elissa Scalise Powell, CG, CGL; Alvie Davidson, CG; Michael Hait, CG; Thomas W. Jones, Ph.D., CG, CGL, FASG, FUGA; J. Mark Lowe, CG, FUGA; David Rencher, CG, AG., FIGRS, FUGA; Judy Russell, J.D., CG, CGL; Benjamin B. Spratling, III, J. D.; Debbie Parker Wayne, CG, CGL.

As an aspiring professional genealogist I want to learn as much as I can about starting a business based on the work I love. When I saw “Genealogy as a Profession” offered at IGHR at Samford University this year I jumped at the chance and signed up. It turned out to be one of the best decisions I have ever made. The week long format of the class allowed me to thoroughly explore the genealogy profession and to hear from a wide variety of professionals. I left empowered and emboldened to start my own business.

Day one we jumped right into discovering what defines a professional genealogist and then delved into office setup, record keeping, business formation, contracts and setting fees. Our homework that night was to write a preliminary business plan. Taking the ideas we learned that day, setting them down on paper and creating a concrete plan was a wonderful exercise. My initial trepidation before starting the class was completely turned around and I felt like “I can do this!” Even better I had an actual plan I could start implementing as soon as I got home.

Next we studied marketing, client communications, ethics, research planning, evidence analysis and writing research reports. Elissa Scalise Powell has a wonderful method of “writing as you go” that makes creating reports part of the research process rather than a tedious chore left to the end. We learned about copyright issues both for our own work and for the things we want to include in our writing and publishing. Copyright is a complex issue every genealogist needs to be aware of but now I feel I understand it better and have the knowledge I need to make the right decisions.

The course was rounded out by investigating different ways to earn money and augment our skills. Some of the suggestions included DNA research, lecturing, publishing and heir, adoption and mineral right legal cases. We heard many times we cannot be just a “general researcher” but need to diversify as well as have a specialty or niche to attract clients. In this digital age the future of the genealogy profession is changing rapidly but this course taught me how to recognize potential new avenues for growth. I feel I now have a solid foundation to build my business on and I know the skills I need to acquire to be a successful professional genealogist.

Pamela Guye Holland completed the Boston University Genealogical Research Certificate program (OL10) in 2012 and is a member of ProGen19. She won first place in the 2012 Writing Contest sponsored by the Massachusetts Society of Genealogists (MSOG) for “It Started with a Cough: A Month of Mourning for the Ritter and Blackett Families Living in Boston Highlands, Massachusetts,” MASSOG 36 (Fall 2012): 83-92. Pam researches family roots found in New England, New York, Ohio and West Virginia with ties to England, Germany and Ireland. Pam serves on the boards of the Merrimack Valley chapter of MSOG and the Irish Ancestral Research Association (TIARA) and also volunteers for the New England Historic Genealogical Society (NEHGS). She can be found at

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