Many people have asked over the years, “What is a professional genealogist?” Sometimes, that question is followed up by another similar one, “What does it take to become a professional genealogist?” Here are my thoughts.
There are different types of genealogy professionals. Each have a type of education and experience. Some persons may fall into more than one category. I am going to give them each a title, explain a bit about them, and give some real-life examples. Perhaps this information will help you decide what type of professional genealogist you would like to become!
The Professional Genealogist Comes in Many Varieties
The Accredited Genealogist – ICAPGenSM is a professional credentialing organization that tests an individual’s competence in genealogical research and they test internationally. The steps for accreditation include three levels and require a 90% grade or higher on each, to pass.
Level 1 is the submission of a 4 generation client research report. Level 2 is an open book, written exam on handwriting, document recognition, knowledge of internet sources, and test of general knowledge. Level 3 is also a written exam on research planning, a research report, and personal review.
Fees are required for submission and yearly maintenance.
If you would like to learn more about the accreditation process, see this webinar from Family Tree Webinars titled “Thinking About Becoming an Accredited Genealogist.” You can also learn more at the ICAPGen website. [Note: Read to the end to see how you can save on the webinars you want to watch!]
One of my dear friends, Peggy Clemens Lauritzen, is an Accredited Genealogist. She spends a great deal of time serving as the Family History Director for her local Family History Center, writes a terrific blog, and is an internationally known genealogy and family history speaker.
Accredited Genealogists may also work in the field of client research, in a library or archive, for a law office, as a private-eye, and many more areas!
The Certified Genealogist – A Certified Genealogist has been certified by the Board for Certification of Genealogists. I can speak a little more to this type of genealogist because this is the path to professionalism that I have chosen.
The Board for Certification of Genealogists certifies applicants “who successfully demonstrate their ability to meet research and ethical standards. Credentials are available for two certification categories: a core research category and an optional teaching category.” 
The certification portfolio is made up of 7 components.
- A signed copy of the Genealogist’s Code of Ethics
- A list or resume of all genealogically related activities that helped you prepare for certification
- Document work provided to you by the BCG. This includes a handwritten document that you will transcribe, abstract, and create a research statement and plan for.
- Document work provided from yourself. The same requirements as #3 are applied to this document. Transcription, abstraction, and creation of research statement and plan.
- Research report prepared for another person
- A case study of conflicting, indirect, or negative evidence
- A kinship determination project
Fees are required for submission and yearly maintenance.
If you would like to learn more about certification, watch this webinar titled “Thinking About Becoming a Board-certified Genealogist?”
Judy Russell, aka The Legal Genealogist, is a Certified Genealogist. In fact, it seems many of the ‘familiar names’ in our field are certified persons. You may also recognize the names of Thomas Jones, Elizabeth Shown-Mills, and Elissa Scalise Powell. There are so many certified genealogists that I call my friends, I can’t possibly name them all!
Many of these genealogy professionals will take clients, do speaking engagements, work in libraries, archives, and other jobs similar to those that an Accredited Genealogist would. I should note that in some cases, certain jobs in the field will require a certification or accreditation.
The Degreed Genealogist – I have created this title. [By this I mean, I haven’t typically heard someone use this term as a title. As in, “So-in-so is a “Degreed Genealogist” or the initials DG appearing after someone’s name.] This group consists of very educated genealogy professionals who are not certified or accredited as we have just talked about. These persons have degrees from universities. Such degrees might include, but are not limited to, a Masters (MA) in History or Library Science (MLS), a PhD. in genetics or even technology and applied sciences. Basically, they may have any university or college degree in just about any field of study. Whether their degree directly relates to the field of genealogy or family history, these persons have a passion for the work.
A great example of this type of genealogy professional are the trio of genealogists appearing on the hit show, Genealogy Roadshow. Josh Taylor, Kenyatta Berry, and Mary M. Tedesco each hold degrees from universities. They have also cultivated a love and extensive experience in the field of genealogy and family history work.
Additionally, my readers have reminded me of some additional programs of study included, but not limited too, University of Strathclyde degree in Genealogical, Paleography, and Heraldic Studies, and the Family History – Genealogy Bachelors at Brigham Young University. There are likely several others I am missing, these are just a
The Certification Program Genealogist – This title is also created by me. This type of professional genealogist may not have a college degree, certification, or accreditation. Instead, they have cultivated their extensive knowledge base with lots of personal study and have gone a step further and completed a certificate program.
I myself am a certificate holder of the National Genealogical Society American Genealogy Home Study Course. This online, graded course does not mean I am “certified.” That title is reserved for those who are endorsed by the Board for Certification of Genealogists. Instead, I used this program as a way to prepare for the certification process. [Watch this helpful webinar titled, “Educational Preparation for Certification: Many Paths to the Same Goal,” to learn about the many options available for preparation.]
Thomas MacEntee of Abundant Genealogy is another example of a genealogy professional who holds a certificate. He completed The Genealogy Research Program from Boston University and ProGen.
Many professional genealogists have taken this option because it is typically less expensive in the long run, quicker, and specialized. A person may work in many of the same ways as other professionals do such as client work, blogging, teaching, and working in libraries and archives. They may also use this option as a preparation or stepping stone for accreditation or certification.
Certificate programs include: GRIP, The Genealogy Research Program from Boston University, The National Institute for Genealogical Studies, ProGen, and the Certificate for Family History Research from Brigham Young University – Idaho, just to name a few.
The I’ve-Been-Doing-This-Forever Genealogist – Another made-up title, but this is an accurate way to describe some of the professionals in the field. There really are those who are self-taught and really experienced. They too have a place in our community. Though they may or may not have any sort of formal genealogy education. They are sometimes wonderful speakers and often the right person to talk to when you can’t find that long-lost record in the boonies of some county courthouse!
I typically find these types of professionals quietly sitting behind a desk in the history or genealogy department of a local library. They are also quick to offer their services to anyone in need. They are often the first mentors of the rest of us, as was my dear friend Maureen Brady of Illinois. (You can find her blog at https://chitownroots.com/!)
The Business Genealogist – Last, but certainly not least, are what I call the Business Genealogist’s. They are those that do not necessarily have a degree, certification, accreditation, or have even participated in a certificate program, but they are highly successful having creating their own niche in genealogy and family history.
These are people like Lisa Louise Cooke of The Genealogy Gems Podcast and Thomas MacEntee of Abundant Genealogy. Both happen to be tech guru’s! Lisa excels at Google and Thomas is the man-of-the-hour when it comes to writing e-books, blogging, and affiliate marketing. But, they are also passionate about genealogy and family history. They can really motivate and inspire people in their lectures, writings, and podcasts.
Lisa is completely self-taught and though Thomas has a Bachelor’s in Art History, neither have business degrees.
It is my opinion that this type of genealogy professional is a little more difficult to achieve. Often these persons will spend years and years, lots of money, sweat and tears, building a genealogy company for the masses. But, if you are particularly gifted in the business side of things, this might be right up your alley!
Whatever you decide is the right route for you, becoming a genealogy professional is attainable. Set your goal today to be the genealogy professional you have always dreamed of. [Special thanks to new friend, Carolyn, who gave me this great idea to blog about!]
Save Big on Suggested Webinars
I have given you links to three Family Tree Webinars in this article. If you do not have a membership, they are each $9.99 to download. HOWEVER, if you purchase the monthly membership for only $9.95, you can watch them and as many others as you wish for a whole month! Family Tree Webinars have over 500 genealogy and family history lectures to choose from.