As a paid researcher you will need to learn about sources that you did not use for your own family tree. Before setting up a business, do voluntary research (perhaps dealing with requests sent to your local Family History Society). This will alert you to some of the gaps in your knowledge. You can then decide what type of research commissions your business should accept. Make the most of any special interests or skills, and be aware of your weaknesses.
You could start by working as a record agent, dealing with simple requests that require minimal analysis and interpretation (eg, 'I want a copy of Document-X, which I know is at your local record office.') As you become familiar with more record series, you can offer a wider range of services.
In my opinion, these are the main requirements for a professional genealogist who does research in local archives or record offices:
- A very high degree of proficiency in using the holdings of those repositories.
- A thorough understanding of correct research techniques, genealogical proof standards, and the difference between primary and secondary sources (original records and derivative records).
- A clear understanding of privacy issues and professional ethics.
- An awareness of the traps involved in using indexes and interpreting handwriting.
- Good analytical skills.
- The ability to use lateral thinking.
- The ability to cite sources fully and accurately, regardless of whether results are positive or negative.
- Knowledge of the history of the area in which you specialise (dates of first settlement, local industries etc.)
- The ability to interpret and analyse the lives of individuals and families in the context of local, national and world events.
- Good communication skills, especially in reports and emails. (Clients do care about your grammar, spelling and punctuation!)
- Knowledge of accounting and small business management.
- A willingness to undertake professional development and on-going education. This includes attending seminars and conferences (for example, the Australasian Congress on Genealogy and Heraldry), listening to webinars and podcasts, reading reference books, journals, newsletters, Web sites and genealogy blogs, and doing whatever else is necessary to keep up with changes in your particular field. If you want a formal qualification, a good choice would be one of the Local, Family and Applied History 'distance education' courses offered by the University of New England (Armidale NSW).
Some potential clients ask about my formal qualifications and accreditation, but most employ me because of word-of-mouth referrals or the helpful content of my main Web site.
Do you agree with my ideas on what should be expected of a paid researcher? If not, why? I would love to hear your point of view. Whether you are a researcher or a client, please share your thoughts by leaving a comment below.
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