Career as a Genealogist

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Peter Smith is a professional genealogist who works for a company based in London. He helps people trace their ancestors by compiling a family tree using a variety of search facilities and routes. Sometimes, he is asked to trace living relatives, such as a missing sister or brother.

How do clients contact you?

Our company advertises its services in relevant magazines and through its website. Customers contact us either by phone, mail or email. Many clients have already started work on their family trees, and we send them forms so they can fill in the information they already know.

How do you start to research?

Most people can give me the name of an ancestor, the place where they were born and a rough idea of their date of birth. I use this as a starting point. If I can find that person's birth certificate, it will give me the names of their parents and an idea of when they might have married.

Next, I look for the parents' marriage certificate. That can give me enough information to trace the birth certificate of each parent. I use similar techniques to work back through the generations.

What information sources do you use?

The government introduced the registration of birth, marriage and death in 1837, so people born after that date usually have birth, marriage and death certificates. Before that, I rely on parish registers that record the baptisms, marriages and funerals taking place in a particular church.

I use other records such as wills, land tax records, army and navy documents and apprenticeship documents. And census records are very detailed – giving names, ages, places of birth, occupations and the relationships of people living in a particular house.

How do you find the documents you need?

A lot of records are available on the internet, so a computer is an essential tool. Our company has an excellent library and good reference sources can be found in books and CD-ROMs, for instance. Sometimes, we use freelance researchers to look up necessary documents if they are located in different parts of the country.

What challenges do you face?

Old records can be difficult to use. People didn't always provide or record information accurately, so there can be lots of variations in the way names are spelt, for example. It's also important to be sure that I am looking at the right family, particularly if someone has a common surname.

How long does your research take?

Some people want a specific piece of information, which might take two or three weeks. Some research can take up to 10 weeks. Once I report back the results of my research, it's up to the client to decide whether they want to find out more.

Do you give clients other types of information?

Sometimes I research background information about a place such as a parish. Or an American or Australian wants to find out about a village over here. If the ancestor was a soldier, I might give the client information about their regiment.

What hours do you work?

I work a normal 36/37.5-hour week.

What skills do you need for a career as a genealogist?

Research is a step-by step process, and you need to be quite logical. You need an enquiring mind, and you must pay attention to detail, searching documents for every clue you can find.

Peter's route to his career as a genealogist

  • BA History.
  • Institute of Heraldic and Genealogical Studies Higher Certificate in Genealogy, Record Agent Assessment and Diploma in Genealogy – training while in present job.

Peter's genealogist tips

  • Try out researching your own family tree. You can use books from the library and information from the internet. It will help you decide whether you enjoy the work.
  • A history degree does help to show you are interested in the past and provides a useful foundation.

Genealogist related jobs

Salary of a genealogist

  • The fees of professional genealogists vary but are likely to be around £15-25 per hour for the time spent (including giving advice), plus the cost of materials used such as certified copies, search fees and photocopies, for instance.

Career as a genealogist

  • The Institute of Heraldic and Genealogical Studies offers a range of courses and qualifications for genealogists. Short courses in palaeography, local history and genealogy are organised by the Society of Genealogists, and by many local family history societies. You may also find other relevant lifelong learning courses in your area.
  • Many genealogists are self-employed. There are few opportunities for full-time work in this profession.

Modified: 16 June 2013

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