Friday, March 29, 2013

Taking on Paid Clients

H. V. asks:
”A friend of mine wants to pay me to do some research for him but I am not sure if I should.  I have been doing my own research for about 15 years so I think I have enough experience but  I don’t know if doing paid research is different than doing regular research.”

There are so many things I want to say to you but there is no way I could get it all in a single blog post so I am going to have to nutshell it a bit. 

Before taking on paid clients you really need to evaluate where you are in your education and your knowledge.  When you take on a totally unfamiliar family you will find that it isn’t nearly as easy.  You will be leaving the comfort zone of the locations and records that you are used to.  I would definitely stick to research projects in geographic areas that are very familiar to you.  I would also take on a few pro bono clients first to get your feet wet.  Treat them exactly like you would a paid client.  This will give you valuable experience.  Remember one thing.  Pro bono clients are just as important as paid clients and they deserve the same respect and quality of research. 

You also have to evaluate the research project itself.  Has the client given you a reasonable research goal for your talents?  A research goal of “Who were John Doe’s parents?” is a lot different than, “I want you to research my Doe line back to the Mayflower.”  You need to put serious limits on what you will agree to do and then expand those limits as you get more comfortable,

When you take on paid clients you really need to have some support and resources.  I highly recommend membership in the Association of Professional Genealogist (APG).  I also recommend you join the Transitional Genealogists Forum (TGF) mailing list.   This very active list is just for researchers making the transition from hobbyist to professional.  There are many long time professionals on the list that are willing to answer any questions that you have. 

I suggest you read the APG's Code of Ethics whether or not you decide to join the APG.  Also read the Board for Certification of Genealogists (BCG) Code of Ethics and the International Commission for the Accreditation of Professional Genealogist (ICAPGen) Code of Ethics.  A professional genealogist is expected to act professionally.

Continuing education becomes essential once you are taking on clients (whether paid or pro bono).  Your clients expect you to be the most knowledgeable person around.  That is why they chose you in the first place.  You need to belong to national, state and local genealogical societies which will help keep you informed with what is going on in the world of genealogy and they will also lead you to continuing education opportunities.

On a practical note, how are you going to present your research to your client?  Do you know how to write a research report?  I highly recommend:

The jump from hobbyist to professional is a big one and it can be a bit scary.  Take some time to evaluate your readiness.

Copyright © 2013 Michele Simmons Lewis


  1. As a professional genealogist myself, I agree with the points you have made here. Doing family history research as a business is very enjoyable, but it involves a lot of non-billable hours and expenses (including, as you said, continuing education). There is obviously a lot of interest in this topic, because How to Become a Paid Genealogy Researcher is the most popular post on my 'Genealogy Leftovers' blog!

  2. Thanks so much for posting, Judy! I am glad you also wrote on the subject because it will give my readers another viewpoint/perspective.


    1. Yes, it is good to 'get the big picture' by reading about different people's experiences in different parts of the world. After 27 years as a professional researcher specialising in just one Archives office, I am still learning new problem-solving techniques. There are so many untapped resources at the Archives! Whenever I have a bit of time to spare, I take random dips into their catalogue and order original records that I have never seen. It is a great way to discover more sources that are useful for family history. I just wish I had time to index them all! (There are already 51,000 names from archival records on my Web site.)

  3. 51,000? That would be a pretty big indexing project!

    1. It is actually a number of smaller indexes. The biggest project in terms of numbers was an index to 9,000 applicants for the old age pension, but it was relatively easy because the original records were legible and in good condition. Indexing hospital admission registers, on the other hand, was extremely slow and difficult. The indexes include many people who were born in countries other than Australia - mainly Britain, Europe, New Zealand, the USA and Canada, but there are also a few from various other parts of the world. The names are on my Web site,