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.

Seriously?

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.

Entrepreneurial Follow Friday

Most of my fellow genealogists/historians are trying to make a go of this as a business. Below are the tweeps I follow for business advice and resources, especially for small business owners:

@SmallBizBee: posts links to helpful marketing and other strategies

@BootstrapMD: focused on Maryland/Mid-Atlantic small businesses

@mdchamber: The Maryland Chamber of Commerce; advocacy group that posts helpful info regarding laws and other matters affecting Maryland businesses

@AIIP: The Association of Independent Information Professionals; wonderful professional organization — great support and information available from other members

@mtechumd:  Maryland Technology Enterprise Institute; runs dozens of events throughout the year for Maryland entrepreneurs

@smallbiztrends: posts helpful links and does regular Q&A sessions over Twitter on various topics. [late addition: missed this one on my first pass!]

I’m curious to know who else my fellow genealogists may be following along these lines. Post comments here and I’ll do a round-up at a later date.