In the last several years, the study of genealogy, tracing family histories, has become one of the most popular hobbies in the United States. More and more people are becoming interested in their family backgrounds.Many genealogy hobbyists take their interest one step further and become self-employed genealogists, helping others to fill out the leaves of their family trees.
Genealogists are also employed in historical societies and libraries with special genealogy rooms. The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints in Salt Lake City, for example, has a huge repository of family information in a subterranean library and maintains an extensive database of genealogical records. The church employs genealogists all over the world, including many who have been accredited through its own program on a list of freelance researchers. You can request information from the Accreditation Program of the Family History Library at the address listed in the Appendix.
Other genealogists find work teaching their skills in adult education classes, editing genealogy magazines, or writing books or newspaper genealogy columns.
How to Get Started
The National Genealogy Society makes the following suggestions for beginners:
- Question older family members. Encourage them to talk about their childhoods and relatives and listen carefully for clues they might inadvertently drop. Learn good interviewing techniques so you ask questions that elicit the most productive answers. Use a tape recorder or video recorder and try to verify each fact through a separate source.
- Visit your local library. Become familiar with historical and genealogical publications and contact local historical societies and the state library and archives in your state capital. Seek out any specialty ethnic or religious libraries and visit cemeteries.
- Visit courthouses. Cultivate friendships with busy court clerks. Ask to see source records such as wills, deeds, marriage books, and birth and death certificates.
- Enter into correspondence. Contact other individuals or societies involved with the same families or regions. Contact foreign embassies in Washington, D.C. Restrict yourself to asking only one question in each letter or e-mail you send. Include the information you have already uncovered. Include a self-addressed, stamped envelope to encourage replies.
- Use the Internet. Members of the National Genealogical Society can participate in a special computer interest section that encourages the use of computers in research, record management, and data sharing.
- Keep painstaking records. Use printed family group sheets or pedigree charts. Develop a well-organized filing system so you’ll be able to easily find your information. Keep separate records for each family you research. Special software packages are available to help you keep track of all of your records, and websites such as Anecestry.com and Genealogy.com offer extensive resources for your search.
- Contact the National Genealogical Society. The organization offers publications such as Genealogy 101: How to Trace Your Family’s History and Heritage and Planting Your Family Tree Online: How to Create Your Own Family History Website. The society also offers a home study course and online courses.
Although most genealogists are not formally trained, specializing in genealogy is possible through some university history and library science programs. Board certification is also an option. For information on certification requirements and procedures, contact
the Board for Certification of Genealogists. The address is listed in the Appendix.