How to Start a Genealogy Business

8 Steps to Becoming a Professional Genealogist

Get Paid to Do Family Research. Mashabuba | Getty Images

The popularity of the show Who Do You Think You Are, and access to history records through sites like, has increased people's interest in researching their genealogy. The trouble is that researching the family tree is time consuming, challenging, and often confusing, especially if multiple generations recycles names. Many people get overwhelmed and stuck during the research and would happily pay someone to help gather and organize their family history. If you have knowledge and experience in researching family roots, then you can start a genealogy business from home.

What do Genealogists Do?

At its basic, genealogy is historical research. You start with a living person and get their life information such as when and where they were born, and lists of the relatives they know about. Then you'd begin to research online and offline sources of historical data, libraries, courthouses, church records, military records, census data, and more to figure out who your client's ancestors are.  

As you work, you'll compile a family tree, making sure to resolve any conflicting details (i.e. two people with the same name or a single person with different birth dates given). If DNA is taken, you might also analyze the data and compare to records to validate the paperwork. 

Pros of Starting a Genealogy Business

There are many great reasons to start a genealogy business including, you can:

  • Start with little investment. You'll need access to online databases and a family tree software, but they're fairly affordable.
  • Pursue your interest in people and history.
  • Feel good about helping people connect with their roots. 
  • Start part-time around another job, or added as a side-hustle

Cons of Starting a Genealogy Business

There are some downsides to starting a genealogy business you should consider, such as:

  • Research can be frustrating and tedious.
  • You can't limit your research sources to online. You need to visit and/or call libraries, churches and more to get records, or interview people. 
  • Online resources have led many people to do their own genealogical research, thereby reducing the need for professional help.
  • A genealogy business may not do well in tough economic times because it's not a necessity.

How to Start a ​Home Based Genealogy Business

If you're ready to take your interest in people and history and turn it into a genealogy business, here's how to get started:

1) Make sure you have what it takes to research family histories. Experience in researching your own family history is a start; however, you might want to consider getting additional education. There’s more to genealogy than filling in names and dates on a family tree. The National Genealogical Society offers online courses in research, documentation, and citation, plus conferences, resources and more. You can also get certified through places like Board for Certification of Genealogists, which sets you up as a professional and can allow you to charge more for your services.

2) Decide what sorts of services you want to offer. Along with working with individuals or families to trace their family roots, you can work for historical societies, do work as a probate or heir researcher, and more.

3) Create a business plan that outlines your business, what you offer and how your services will be different from your competition. This is also the time to determine your business structure, create a business name and get a business license.

4) Determine your prices. Things to consider are your overhead, such as home office expenses, subscriptions to genealogy databases, marketing, website etc, the value of your time, and your level of experience. You need to charge enough to cover your expenses and earn a profit, without asking for more than the market will pay.

5) Create your client profile worksheets. Before embarking on research, you want to learn as much as you can about the client, including the names and dates of ancestors they already know about. Plus you’ll want to collect information on areas the family lived in, immigration information, military service and religious affiliations.

6) Pull together your tools. You’ll need access to genealogy databases and a way to keep track of research. You’ll want to have easy access to Internet research of newspapers, state and national archives, immigration records, land deed documents and more.

If you’re working for local families or organizations, you may need you a car to visit the courthouse, historical archives and libraries, and a digital camera or portable scanner to copy documents. Finally, you'll need a draw up a contract that outlines your services and fees so the client is clear on what he'll get for his money.

7) Create your marketing plan and materials. Make business cards and branded family tree documents. Build a website that outlines your services and how to get in touch with you. Network with genealogy clubs, organizations and historical societies in your area. Offer to do a genealogy course through your local parks and rec or community college adult learning programs.

8) Look for ways to generate extra income such as offering consulting, freelance writing, speaking, writing books and more. Each of these options generate additional, sometimes passive income, as well as sets you up as an expert and markets your business.