What does it take to become a Professional Genealogist?


We get it. What you’re really asking is, “Why should I hire a professional genealogist when my good friend, or I, can do my own genealogy in my spare time?”

The truth is, it takes a lot more than enthusiasm or even time spent researching your own family history to be able to perform genealogy at the professional level. Here are just a few of the things it takes to become a professional genealogist.

It Takes Formal Training and Years of Experience

The most obvious difference between professional genealogists and amateur enthusiasts is formal training. We don’t mean to discount the efforts of those genealogy genealogistenthusiasts who spend their free time helping themselves and others research their families. But there is a big difference between someone who has taken years of professional classes and someone who (although earnest) hasn’t ever formally studied genealogy.

Our president, James Petty, received degrees in both in Genealogy Technology and History from Brigham Young University. He’s also received recognition or certification from over a dozen different genealogical organizations.

(You can read more about James Petty by clicking here.)

We don’t mention this to brag; we just think it’s a great example of the kind of lifelong, professional dedication it takes to help others with their genealogy in the way Heirlines strives to do.

It Takes a Wide Variety of Skills

genealogistA professional genealogist does a lot more than research his or her own family history. For example, here are some of the genealogical services we offer:

  • Personal family history reviews
  • Professional research analysis
  • Preparing copies of original documents
  • Court certifiable due diligence
  • Expert witness services
  • Evidence of Heir documentation
  • Professional teaching or speaking

That list is by no means comprehensive, but we think you get the point. There’s a lot more to professional genealogy than being really good at family history. It means you’re prepared to meaningfully apply genealogy research and analysis to a very broad set of situations.

It Takes Entrepreneurship

Let’s face it: there aren’t a lot of huge genealogy companies out there. (Heirlines is one of the leaders in the field of professional genealogy, and even our team is far smaller than what one would consider a “large” company.)

That means when you study genealogy, you have two options:
1. Try to find a job with an established genealogy group (or government agency)
2. Create your own genealogy company and help others discover their family histories
As you probably guessed, Heirlines chose the latter.

Managing a business takes a unique set of skills — skills many amateur genealogists simply don’t (and don’t need to) have.

For example, a professional genealogist must have the following business skills:

  • Time management
  • Customer service
  • Financial management
  • Business writing and excellent communication
  • Marketing and sales
  • Project management
  • Contract management

As any successful business owner will tell you, this list is only the start.

It Takes Time

Finally, the one resource the professional genealogists at Heirlines have that enthusiasts often lack is time.

This isn’t just time spent scouring (although, as professionals, we have far more time to dedicate to that than most enthusiasts). It’s also the time we’ve spent helping thousands of our past clients find millions of names from among billions of records. That cumulative experiences means we’ll find more accurate results much faster than enthusiasts.

It’s the time we spend attending professional genealogy conferences, continuing our education, and developing new skills so we can stay up-to-date with the latest in genealogical practices.

It’s the time spent walking our clients through what we’ve discovered in our research and explaining the historical significance of their ancestors’ lives.

It’s the time to make progress, every day, instead of sporadically (as many enthusiasts are forced to do).

As you can see, there’s a big difference between a professional genealogist and a hobbyist/enthusiast. If you’d like to learn more about what professional genealogy services Heirlines offers, visit our Services page or get in touch with us.  (click here to contact us)

genealogy lost

Is your genealogy lost in the jungle?


Genealogy lost? Maybe not

Records of daily life are the compass pointing you in the right direction.
genealogy lostIs your genealogy lost in the jungle? When you started doing your family history did you feel completely lost in a tangle of past research, not knowing what direction the previous researcher was going, or where they came from?

We recently experienced this problem when working with a new client on their family tree. They wanted us to begin with a 3rd great grandfather, Sven Strutz, who was supposedly born somewhere in Sweden in 1785. They knew the names of his children and grandchildren, but didn’t want us to pursue those people because they already “knew” that information. So there we were. “X” marked the spot on the pedigree “map” where the family line ended, but we didn’t know how the previous researchers got there, or where they were going. Jungle growth had covered up the genealogical trail.

Fortunately, we were able to discuss this situation with our client and explain the importance of discovering and uncovering this elusive trail of previous research which had been conducted years before through correspondence. We were now able with modern technology and new resources to confirm the earlier studies and add to it with a broader scope of information made up of newer available digital documents and microfilmed records.

Most importantly, at the conclusion of our research, we provided a written report summary of our findings with documentation of our research efforts including cited evidence that future generations of researchers could use to see our genealogical trail and where it was going.

Genealogy Research is like Treasure Island

Do you remember reading Treasure Island by Robert Louis Stevenson? It told of gold and silver buried on a deserted island that was identified with a treasure map. That map was illustrated with both clues and false leads. If fortunate in reading this guide, a person could be led directly to a chest of jewels and doubloons. But if the reader was not careful, a false lead could redirect them in the wrong direction and even into dangerous traps.

Genealogy research is very much like “Treasure Island.” Pedigree charts and family group sheets made by others are the treasure maps that we follow. But the information found on these charts, are the results of past research that first must be verified and documented or we may be led away from our treasure. When that happens, we have to retrace our steps on our “pedigree family maps” until we find out where the weakness in our information was, and begin again from that secure point.

And that is exactly what we did to find the treasure of family history for our Strutz client. On the Strutz family we located the children of Sven Strutz in Tolg Parish, Sweden. We learned that Sven was a cavalryman stationed in the parish much like a local policeman. But careful reconstruction of his family through parish records revealed two children born prior to his marriage to Christin Charlotte Pettersdatter (Eckdahl), implying a previous marriage. Now we are in search of the births of those two children and that first marriage, which along with military records, we hope will lead us to the origins of Sven Strutz.

Never be afraid to retrace your steps when following a pedigree family map. In doing so some of the landmarks revealed in the documents become familiar, and can spark new ideas and concepts about the genealogy research.

Picking Up the Trail After 30 Years

In another similar case, I was asked to pick up on a project I had researched thirty years ago. I didn’t remember the problem at all, and so was lost in a jungle of earlier research. By reviewing the reports from those early efforts I was able to get us out of the family tree maze and back on the trail quickly. In the many years since that earlier study, new abstracted publications have been added to library bookshelves, plus a whole new world of online digital records has come about, which greatly benefitted this new research effort; and clues began to appear in our hunt for ancestral treasure.

I formulated a new timeline for this colonial ancestor after discovering details about his first appearance in America, as being a militia soldier, and then in managing a tavern. These everyday clues were not primary birth, death, or marriage events, but they told us about his association with events of history, and how he related to people around him. Each piece of the puzzle drew us closer to learning about the origins of this ancestor and his family. Each clue on his family map led us closer to the treasure we were seeking. We now knew where we had been and had a clear direction for future research.

Out of the Jungle

To get out of the jungle, we must always remember that ancestors lived normal lives. That means they conducted business, raised families, suffered illnesses, participated in wars, and experienced calamities. Each of these aspects of life resulted in records being kept. As we study and search for the treasures found through our family group sheets and pedigree charts, we need to imagine what was happening in the lives of our ancestors and consider what types of records they may have recorded in the process.

Our ancestors were farmers, cattlemen, shoemakers, blacksmiths, tailors, carpenters, doctors, lawyers, ministers, and a host of other professions. Many jobs required some level of education, and ancestors may have belonged to guilds that monitored skilled training. Some occupations required licensing, recorded by the county clerk. Our ancestors were members of churches which were more than just religious institutions; they were also social centers in the community. They also joined other social groups such as lodges or societies of one sort or another. Ancestry is found in all of this ordinary living.

This day to day living of our ancestors resulted in records, which are the clues we need to identify and cite on our family maps. Then as we continue to explore and research our family tree in the future, they will help us find and uncover the precious information we are seeking.

The jungle of life surrounds all of us, but we must not be afraid to venture out with the modern tools available in genealogy today and follow our pedigree family maps. With them we must access and verify previous research and documentation, create timelines, and write summary reports of our research findings with cited evidence. And as we backtrack where and when we need to, clear the trails and uncover the hazards, we will find our treasure, our Ancestors.

James W. Petty, AG, CG, is the Board-Certified and Accredited Professional Genealogist, “Climbing the Family Tree Professionally, since 1969”. He is President of HEIRLINES Family History & Genealogy, Inc. (, the “Salt Lake City, Utah BBB Accredited Business” trusted professional genealogy research services firm, providing US and International genealogical and historical research for a world-wide clientele.

For Heirlines-Quality professional genealogy services, resources, and products including expert family tree research, LDS family history assistance, and answers to genealogy questions, please see Heirlines website, and blog For more genealogy and family history help and advice, please follow James W Petty, AG, CG and Heirlines Family History & Genealogy on Social Media: Facebook, Pinterest, Twitter, LinkedIn, Google+.

Heirlines: We professionally identify and document ancestry and kinship relationships and verify and certify the family tree with Certified Family Trees™ and Certified Forensic Genealogy Solutions™. We’re ready when you’re ready!

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