Diving in Thumbs First: My Take on the Paid Genealogy Debate

Apparently, there’s a hullabaloo going on in the genealogy community about trying to make money as a genealoglist and as a genealogy blogger in particular.


The thread starts here and has proliferated widely. I’ll admit I have had trouble keeping up with the entire discussion — I’ve caught snippets here and there on geneabloggers.com, Facebook and Twitter.

Like many, I got started in genealogy by working on my own family research. Then, I went to library school and while there, learned that librarians could work for themselves doing research for hire. This appealed to me. I enjoy researching people and old things. I saw the light. I could do genealogy research for others and get paid. What could be better than doing something you love and earning money for the privilege?

I opened Bayside Research Services in the summer of ’09 and started blogging shortly after that. I’d never blogged before, but I knew it would be a good marketing tool. It has turned out to be so much more. I love the Geneabloggers community and hate to hear there’s strife right now.

For what it’s worth, I’m not currently trying to make money off this blog — I don’t host ads or affiliate links. This isn’t because I don’t want to. I just haven’t had the time to devote to this yet.

Also, I actually have two blogs. This one is more of a personal blog where I discuss everything from my personal genealogy projects to new technologies I’ve discovered. My company web site also is a blog and there I post sale information for the photo solutions company that I work with (Creative Memories) and I post updates about my research projects. That is where I actually try to make money — by connecting folks to my CM web site and by featuring my investigations and skills so that people will consider hiring me.

As others have mentioned in their posts on this subject, it is difficult to find a way to live solely off of genealogy research. I have yet to find the magic formula that will work for me and so I haven’t given up the “day-job.” That pays the bills and provides health insurance and other benefits. I love my day-job too, but if I had my druthers I would prefer to spend my days in archives, brick-and-mortar or online, researching days gone by. It may yet happen.

As to the kerfuffle currently going on, I’m not quite sure what the trouble is. There certainly is room for hobbyists and paid genealogy researchers alike. I know we have a lot to learn from each other and we certainly can help each other out. Many hobbyists must rely on paid genealogy researchers to help them bust through brick walls or access far-flung records. Paid researchers enjoy networking with hobbyists at national conferences and local historical society meetings. Let’s work together to continue to build our community.

I’ve also seen at least one comment from a hobbyist considering “going pro.” It’s a scary leap, starting a business, with accounting and other tasks a business owner must undertake. That’s where you can learn from your fellow genealogists. Also, I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, all genealogists are information professionals and if you are considering opening your own business, please look into the Association for Independent Information Professionals. There you will find not only several genealogists who are members, but professional accountants, marketers, business mavens and other types of researchers who are there to help. I can’t emphasize enough the value of this organization.

I also recommend picking up a copy of Mary Ellen Bates’ book, Building and Running a Successful Research Business: A Guide for the Independent Information Professional, Second Edition. It’s a step-by-step guide for setting up everything from your stationery to an LLC.


7 thoughts on “Diving in Thumbs First: My Take on the Paid Genealogy Debate

  1. Great post and thanks for the AIIP mention – I believe not enough genealogists see themselves as belonging in this field of information professionals.

  2. I’m with you Missy. I don’t get what all the fuss is about. Paid vs not paid – it’s a personal choice and neither is “right” or “wrong” Neither choice is better than the other.

    Making $ from doing something you love doesn’t negate the value. Neither does doing it for free.

  3. Great post! I was somewhat taken aback by the hullabaloo myself. The original post had over 70 comments and tripled the traffic to my blog. There seems to be a lot of pent up frustration out there from genealogists for hire.

    I’m a bit disturbed by the mindset I have seen in some comments on this topic around the geneasphere – for example, various commenters display an egocentric approach rather than having the customers best interests at heart.

    Detailed market analysis will determine what the customer needs or wants vs what the genealogist for hire THINKS the market wants. Armed with that knowledge they will be a lot further ahead on their path towards success.

    • baysideresearch says:

      Thanks, Joan. I completely agree. By the way, I enjoyed and agree with the sentiment behind your original post, which took on a life of its own in the comments and ensuing brouhaha (I love using these words).

  4. Judy Webster says:

    CORRECTION without typo (I shouldn’t have done this before coffee, and WordPress doesn’t warn me like Blogger does):

    Great article and great comments! Thanks for the tip re the Bates book. As a relatively new member of the great Geneabloggers community, and having done personal research since 1974 and paid research since 1986, I do have some thoughts on the topics currently being discussed, so I will be adding my ten cents worth. Watch for it on my Genealogy Leftovers blog sometime on the Easter weekend.

  5. […] “Diving in Thumbs First: My Take on the Paid Genealogy Debate,” Bayside Blog […]

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