Title: : Out on a limb. James W. Petty, professional genealogist and president of Heirlines Family History and Genealogy.
Author: Heather Beers
Publication: Utah Business (Magazine/Journal)

When it comes to his 30-year career, James W. Petty admits it’s been nothing but dead ends. But that’s exactly what he loves about his job. As a professional genealogist and president of Heirlines Family History and Genealogy, Petty has traced the lives–and deaths–of thousands of individuals across state lines, country borders and vast oceans.

The Utah-based genealogist is passionate about his life’s work, a profession he chose long before genealogy became a national craze. Petty earned a bachelor’s degree in history from Brigham Young University, where courses in genealogy caught his eye. He stayed on to earn a second bachelor’s degree in genealogy and went to work for the LDS Church’s Family History Library.

After 10 years there, the historian within grew restless, and Petty says, “I didn’t want to be a librarian all my life, so I scared my wife, Mary, half to death and said, ‘I’m going to start my own business.'”

Turns out, she had no need to fear. Twenty years later, Heirlines continues to thrive. As a professional genealogy research organization, the company provides a variety of services. “We help people find their family trees; attorneys come to us for finding probate connections; we aid in lineage organization research [providing ancestral evidence that merits individuals’ induction into groups such as Daughters of the American Revolution]. We do all kinds of research,” says Petty. He has worked with high-profile clients including former U.S. President Jimmy Carter, actor Gregory Peck and Forrest Mars, founder of the Mars Candy Company.

Over the years, Petty has been among industry leaders working to set a standard of professionalism. “The Internet has made genealogical information widely available, but the trick is knowing what to do with the information, and which information is credible. There are thousands of hobbyists who put up their shingle out there, but we’re among a group that is trying to create an image of what a professional genealogist ought to be,” says Petty.


Along with his degree, Petty is certified and accredited with national and international genealogy organizations. He is eager to see more professionals in the field, and he has subsequently helped found a college devoted to genealogy education. The Heritage Genealogy College, in Salt Lake City, works in conjunction with Salt Lake Community College and is licensed by the state of Utah as a four-year bachelor of arts program.

These days, Petty divides his time among teaching at the college, heading Heirlines, diving into client research, lecturing nationwide and writing for industry publications such as National Genealogical Quarterly. “It’s been a lot of fun,” says Petty. “I’ve always loved puzzles; I love the intrigue of discovering history, finding information that has been lost.

“When people find their history, it’s like a light goes on in them, it gives them a different meaning–their accomplishments are not just their own; they’re suddenly connected to the accomplishments of those who went before them.”

Turning dead ends into new pathways–that’s what Petty keeps Petty lively and on his path.

Heather Beers is a Salt Lake City-based freelance writer and co-owner of Momentum Communications.

Citation Details

Title: : out on a limb.(People)(James W. Petty,professional genealogist and president of Heirlines Family History and Genealogy.)
Author: Heather Beers
Publication: Utah Business (Magazine/Journal)
Date: January 1, 2004
Publisher: Thomson Gale
Volume: 18    Issue: 1    Page: 42(1)