Many people have an interest in finding their own roots by researching their own heritage.
This research allows them to build a pedigree chart. This chart puts individuals in a greater picture that includes historical events, places, people, and even historical buildings.
The rich value of what can be uncovered through genealogical research is inspiring. This makes some amateur genealogists want to go pro.
Careers in genealogy are as varied as the skill sets that people bring to the profession. From forensic genealogy to historical building preservation, there is a place for every person who wants to find a niche in genealogy.
Careers can range from freelance work to full-time corporate careers.
- 7 Careers in Genealogy That Are Highly Rewarding
- What is the Average Salary of a Genealogist?
7 Careers in Genealogy That Are Highly Rewarding
Many different types of genealogical research can be done and for a myriad of reasons.
There is always genealogical work available for those who know where to look, how to look, and have the patience to keep looking until the work is done.
1. Genetic Genealogy
This type of genealogical research has become more popular in recent decades with the mainstream distribution of at-home DNA kits.
People have access to more information about their heritage than they ever have before. However, most of this mass-market DNA information is usually vague and generalized.
This is because, for genetic genealogy to be effective, it needs to be combined with good genealogical records.
A good genealogist can combine DNA evidence with the paper trail that they are establishing to confirm or deny certain hypotheses.
- DNA evidence can confirm or deny a hypothesis of family connections.
- DNA evidence can affirm a relationship between groups of people that have the same surname.
- DNA evidence can show migration patterns of various related people groups and even family groups.
- DNA evidence can point a genealogist to an ancestral homeland with some certainty.
However, this information is not enough unless it is combined with the skills of a genealogist who knows how to take that information and put it into concrete forms.
Photographs, birth records, census records, autographs, articles, historical documents, and more are the things needed to bring DNA genealogical research to life.
2. Forensic Genealogist
A forensic genealogist is a new player in the world of both genetic testing and genealogy.
The field officially launched in 2018 with the identification, trial, and conviction of the Golden State Killer, Joseph James DeAngelo. DeAngelo had terrorized citizens of California for 13 years, and never been apprehended or even suspected.
With the widespread voluntary adoption of at-home DNA testing, and these DNA test results being stored in massive databases such as GEDMatch, law enforcement saw an opportunity to solve a cold case.
They processed DNA from a rape kit around 40 years earlier and identified a dozen people with the same great-great-great-grandparents as the Golden State Killer.
Teaming up with genealogists, they constructed a huge family tree for all 12 people, eliminating suspects as they built the data.
Eventually, they narrowed it down to DeAngelo and a second suspect.
After further DNA testing using samples obtained outside of DeAngelo’s home, they were able to identify him as the killer and finally bring him to justice.
- Forensic genealogists are hired by law enforcement officials to use DNA results as a launchpad to building genealogical records that can be used to apprehend criminals.
- Forensic genealogists can be hired for various legal investigations and required to testify to their results in court.
- Forensic genealogists must be willing to overturn every single stone in their investigation so that the evidence is not questionable in court.
- Forensic genealogists can be hired by law offices to find family members in inheritance cases where there are no heirs.
- Forensic genealogists can be hired to locate family members when there is a case of unknown parentage.
There are many other types of cases that a forensic genealogist might be called in to collect and interpret genealogical data that can be used in a legal case.
The goal is always the same: to be completely thorough, accurate, and be confident of the work so that you can defend results in court through oral testimony or written deposition.
Forensic Genealogy Needs Experts
The newly formed field of forensic genealogy is suffering some growth pangs as many questions arise about the constitutionality of using the DNA of millions of Americans in forensic research without permission of any kind.
This may violate the Fourth Amendment of the US Constitution which prohibits unreasonable search and seizure.
This evidence being collected is a search and use of personal data without permission.
- Some argue that the voluntary submission of this DNA data is permission enough.
- Others argue that people are giving their DNA data away because they want to learn parentage, not because they want to solve cold cases or be used as evidence in a criminal conviction.
- Another complication is that forensic DNA testing has been used to accuse innocent people because it is not as precise as the public believes.
This serves to affirm that DNA evidence on its own must be interpreted by expert genealogists who can use the DNA as a piece of a more in-depth and concrete trail of evidence.
If you are a genealogist who takes pride in precision, understands the needs of law enforcement, and understands the Constitution, then the field of forensic genealogy needs you.
There is great potential for genealogists in this new field.
3. Military Repatriation Specialist
The Defense POW/MIA Accounting Agency is a branch of the United States Department of Defense that identifies remains of unknown soldiers and then locates living relatives to claim the service members.
They are then buried with military honors and finally laid to rest with the full honor that they earned and deserve.
The DPAA is fulfilling our nation’s promise to bring our troops home.
- Genealogists are needed who can interpret DNA evidence collected from soldiers’ remains which are recovered both at home and abroad.
- These genealogists then use this evidence to construct family trees to locate living relatives.
- Military repatriation genealogists are responsible for allowing many families to finally lay their loved ones to rest.
- These genealogists give our nation’s troops the honor that they deserve, and peace of mind to families who have suffered decades of grief.
- Military repatriation genealogists report the highest job satisfaction. This comes from the devotion of their life to such an honorable cause.
In one ongoing repatriation project, soldiers who served on the USS Oklahoma which was attacked on December 7th, 1941 in Pearl Harbor.
14 Marines and 415 Sailors lost their lives when the ship sank.
Thanks to the efforts of the DPAA, 339 of those Sailors have been identified and laid to rest with full military honors. The work continues to this day.
4. Historic Preservationist
A historic preservationist is a genealogist who uses research skills and a thorough knowledge of history to identify, document and preserve historic buildings.
Buildings do not exist apart from the people who designed, built, used, and abandoned buildings.
The historic preservationist must be adept at researching people and buildings and putting them together to create a metanarrative that engages the public.
Often the historic preservationist works with an agency or non-profit that seeks to preserve historic buildings from demolition or repurposing that would destroy the historic value of a building, so the historic preservationist must appeal to the public for support.
This person must be able to speak well and engagingly and create a narrative that engages and delights hearers, drawing them to the preservation movement.
- Historic preservationists must have an ability to imagine uses for a historic building that honors the legacy but does not make it irrelevant to the community. Some buildings must be preserved but also used for public benefit, and the historic preservationist is key to keeping a building contextually useful.
- Historic preservationists must be willing to be key figures in meetings that involve the public and elected officials. The historic preservationists’ genealogical work will be key evidence and key deciding factors in the ultimate outcome of the building.
- These are people who can speak to elected officials, city workers, public activists, archaeologists, architects, and community planners and spread their enthusiasm for the project at hand. They are people who can help others understand why the preservation of history is important to the community.
- Jobs as historic preservationists are very competitive but rewarding to the diligent. Higher education is a must, as well as on-the-job training. An experienced historic preservationist can expect to be well-paid by national historic interests and cities in historic areas.
5. Heir Searcher
This is a more widely recognized field of genealogy.
Heir searchers are hired by legal offices, courts, and estate managers to find all possible estate heirs.
This is a fun field of work for people who have enjoyed discovering their own genealogy and is a way to enter the field professionally as a freelance genealogist.
Heir searchers construct family trees to find living relatives that have a stake in an estate and then provide concrete proof of relationship for all those involved.
They will be required to testify at court hearings, and may also need to present evidence as either oral testimony or a written affidavit.
- An heir searcher must be meticulous and leave no family tree leaf unturned.
- They must be able to testify truthfully that they searched every possible record and followed every possible family line to find the truth.
- They can be hired on a per-hour basis that is set based on experience. Experienced heir searchers can earn over $200 per hour.
- Heir searchers can also be hired on a contract that gives them a percentage of the estate upon completion of the estate. This can be extremely lucrative, but it can violate the disinterestedness needed to do a thorough job.
- Integrity is non-negotiable for an heir searcher. You must be willing to do a thorough and honest job no matter what is on the line in financial compensation for yourself.
Heir searchers often report that they feel like the family they are searching for has become their own.
The intriguing and valuable stories that they put together as they search for ancestors and living heirs.
They become woven into the story as a part of the final thread that brings it all together.
6. Ancestral Citizenship Reclamation Specialist
People are living in the United States today that may have a claim to a second citizenship and do not know it.
This is because their parents or grandparents may have migrated from a country and lost their citizenship through various circumstances.
Here is a list of countries that may provide citizenship based on genealogical evidence.
- United Kingdom
The most common citizenship reclamation efforts are on behalf of Ashkenazi Jews whose German citizenship was revoked by Hitler and the Nazi party in 1935 when they enacted the Nuremberg Laws.
Now, the heirs of people who had their German citizenship revoked by the Nazi party can reclaim their ancestral citizenship rights without relinquishing their current citizenship in their home country.
Each nation has its own laws and steps to go through for reclaiming citizenship.
A citizen reclamation genealogist builds a pedigree chart, including all proof documents needed to prove that the person is entitled to citizenship in a certain nation.
This genealogical work helps displaced families to reclaim rights of citizenship that were either lost through family migration or stripped away by hostile government actions.
This is a way of helping to bring healing to many families who have lost generations of heritage that were built in one country before being expelled to find a new life elsewhere.
German citizenship is especially sought after because as an EU member nation, this citizenship allows people to get an EU passport and travel, live, and study in any of the 27 EU member nations without restrictions.
7. Academic Historian
This is for the well-educated history-buff genealogist who has a heart for teaching.
Historians can be hired by educational institutions of all levels, non-profit organizations, civic organizations, educational museums and parks, and some corporations that specialize in historical fields.
Historians must be well-rounded in every aspect of history, but they always have a niche of history in which they are experts.
This makes them a highly-sought voice when it comes to that particular subject.
For instance, someone who is an expert on the history of Black athletes in Major League Baseball will be sought after by anyone interested in that particular subject or those that involve it in some way.
- Historians can form their own companies and work on freelance projects in their field of expertise.
- Historians can speak in lecture circuits at libraries, civic organizations, and universities.
- Historians can be involved in the production of historical documentaries.
- Historians can write or ghost-write historical books, magazine articles, and informative blogs for various organizations and municipalities. Historians allow us to get to know the people who have shaped our lives through engaging and accurate biographies.
- A well-degreed historian may find work teaching college or university classes in the given subject area.
What is the Average Salary of a Genealogist?
This question is determined by the kind of genealogical research you do, and who hires you.
If you start a genealogy business on your own, you can decide how much you get paid.
Most genealogists get paid by the hour.
You can go anywhere from $25 an hour if you are just starting, to well over $200 an hour for expertise that is worth the money.
An average hourly wage for an experienced genealogist for hire is around $90.
If you choose to work for a genealogical research company, you will do a specialized job for a lower amount of pay.
For instance, a major ancestry research company will pay someone a much higher salary for engineering software that sells its research platform to the public than it will for digital preservation specialists.
- A person who can work as a digital preservation specialist for an ancestral records platform company may bring in only $20,000 a year.
- That same skill set, at an expert level, can work for the US National Archives and bring in over $100,000 a year.
- Historian salaries vary widely depending on how they employ their time. A New York Times best-selling biography will set a historian up for life. Teaching at a local college may require a second job to pay the bills.
- As with any career, the pay scale is determined by experience, expertise, and the number of people in the field who can do the same job.
- According to Indeed, the average pay for an archivist is about $66,000 per year.
- According to Indeed, the average pay for a historian is about $82,000 per year.
- A person who wants to make more money should consider working freelance. This allows you to set your own wages and work on specialized projects in your niche.
- As with any career field, the more you become an expert, the more you are reliable and trustworthy, the higher you will be paid. Do every job with precision and dedication and you will be rewarded with higher pay over time.
For those who have an insatiable curiosity coupled with a love of history and an indomitable will to succeed, the field of genealogy is a great option.
This is a perfect career for the investigative perfectionist who has already achieved everything possible in researching their own genealogy and wants to do more.
The field of genealogy is one that never gets old.
There is a new story around every corner, on every new page, photo, signature, and tax document.
The field of genealogy offers a wide variety of careers for the person who takes pride in putting all of the pieces together and using their skills to make someone else’s life better.