How Do You Make Money in Genealogy? 2013 Update

How Do You Make Money In Genealogy?

[Editor’s Note: this is the fourth in a series of posts at Hack Genealogy entitled Genea-Opportunities 2013]

I am crazy or at least that’s what some people think when they realize I’m willing to share information on my income earned in the genealogy industry. Most readers know I don’t care what most people think – I’m too busy being successful, thank you. Sound smug? Not really, it is just a survival tactic and a way to keep focused. I have enough self-doubts and demons on a daily basis and I work hard to keep them at bay. I don’t need the cacophony of the Nattering Nabobs of Negativity adding to those voices in my head.

And I get the last laugh: I know that even those who don’t agree with how I share this info will scroll down to the end to see how well Thomas did this year. The old “measuring stick” syndrome. But don’t try to compare what I do with what you are doing or plan to do. I’m unique and I offer unique services. Yes you can replicate some of the projects and I hope they work for you, I really do. I just know that my skill set and my experience have me uniquely positioned. “Your results may vary” is just as true in business success as it is in car mileage.

So read below for the details of what I have been doing for the period January 1 through June 30, 2013 in terms of working in the genealogy industry, while I’m having the time of my life.

Project Management Update

I continue to thrive in my business mainly through my own OCD issues related to project management. As many readers know, in a previous work life I managed large information technology projects including 500 employee office moves. I have developed keen skills when it comes to breaking down a goal into processes and steps that can be tracked on a spreadsheet.

Each day, my project sheet is the first file I open on my computer. I go to the Common Projects tab – where I list recurring tasks such as “read genealogy blog posts” or “review e-mail” – and start setting up tasks for my day. I then review what I didn’t accomplish the day before.

Project management for me is simply reviewing and analyzing tasks, their due dates, their status and prioritizing what needs to be done in a given day. I’m serious when I say that I can’t survive a work day without my spreadsheet. It provides structure and focus. The print out is also good for hitting someone over the head after they contend that I don’t have a “real job” because I work at home and own my own business.  The truth is, my days are filled with mundane tasks instead of the oft-imagined sparkling life of lounging around watching Oprah and feasting on sea salted caramels all day.

The Numbers

Income producing activities:

  • Articles (writing for magazines and online or editing guides)
    290.5 hours
  • Client (consulting work)
    340.89 hours
  • Presentations (preparing and delivering)
    188.75 hours
  • Publishing (ebooks)
    25 hours

Total hours = 845.14; 32.51 hours per week

Administrative and overhead activities:

  • Admin (email and running the business)
    342 hours
  • Invoicing (you can’t get paid unless you send a bill!)
    18.75 hours
  • Marketing (gotta sell it!)
    54 hours
  • Travel (travel to and from locations for lectures)
    99.75 hours
  • Miscellaneous
    8.25 hours

Total hours = 522.75; 20.11 hours per week

Volunteer Work and What It’s Worth

One of my goals for 2013 has been to reduce the amount of time I spend on volunteer work. This has been a difficult decision, but a necessary one for me. In late 2012, I evaluated my work with various genealogy societies and not only was I feeling “burned out,” but I was getting cranky and resentful of the time spent on such activities.

I never want to “dread” working on volunteer projects; when I get to that point I know it is time to take a break. So I’ve let both ISGS and FGS know that I won’t be running for any open positions for 2014 and that I’ll be ending work on all projects by the end of 2013.

For the period January 1 – June 30, 2013:

Federation of Genealogical Societies (FGS)

I sit on the FGS Board as a Director and as Marketing and Public Relations chair, I handle publicity for various FGS projects. In addition, I made a commitment to assisting with the Preserve the Pensions fundraiser to preserve and digitize the War of 1812 pension rolls at the National Archives.

  • Marketing – 24.75 hours
  • Preserve the Pensions – 48.75 hours

Total: 73.50 hours
Rate is approximately 3 hours per week of volunteer work for FGS.

Illinois State Genealogical Society (ISGS)

I serve on the ISGS board, I am the ISGS webmaster and I assist with production of the monthly ISGS webinars. In addition I am the Publicity Chair and handle all publicity and marketing for various ISGS projects.

  • ISGS General – .5 hours
  • Education –  21.25 hours
  • Publications – 2.5 hours
  • Publicity – 44 hours
  • Website – 62 hours

Total: 130.25 hours
Rate is approximately 5 hours per week of volunteer work for ISGS.

Total volunteer time = 205.75 hours or 8 hours per week.

And Then There’s GeneaBloggers

I’m never sure how to categorize my work at GeneaBloggers in terms of 10 posts a week, adding new blogs, tagging post for Daily Blog Prompts.  I consider it marketing really – it is a way to promote myself and also serve as an evangelist for blogging and genealogy.

GeneaBloggers – 400 hours, 15.38 hours per week

Total Hours

The total numbers of hours I devoted to genealogy related income producing activities, business administrative activities and volunteer activities is 1,97164 hours. Over a 26 week period this translates to 75.83 hours a week.

Income Breakdown and Expenses

Here is what I was able to bring in during the first half of 2013:

  • Advertising –  $20.02
  • Affiliate Sales –  $808.56
  • Consulting – $15.311.62
  • Publishing Royalties – $2,300.57
  • Speaking Fees – $9,450.00
  • Web Admin – $243.84
  • Writing Fees – $837.75

Total Revenue before Expenses = $28,972.36

Total Expenses for the same period = $5,689.40

Net Results

A rough approximation is that for the first half of 2013, I earned $23,300.

As for an hourly wage, if you exclude volunteer work but include administrative and other hours, it is $13.40 per hour. Too low? Well I’m a happy guy so it suits me right now. Would I want that figure to be higher? You bet.

So What Does He Do?

Here is an idea of how I make the money listed above:

  • Advertising –  this income is a residual amount remaining from GeneaBloggers Radio advertising.
  • Affiliate Sales –  passive income mainly through the sale of the Flip-Pal® mobile scanner.
  • Consulting – I work with various clients including some genealogy vendors and some individuals to improve their marketing reach, develop blog content, act as social media agent, or even coach them through a transition and provide information about the genealogy industry.
  • Publishing Royalties – more passive income this includes book income and webinar CD sales as well as my editor’s royalty for the Legacy QuickGuides.
  • Speaking Fees – income is from speaking in person as well as via webinar for genealogy conferences and societies.
  • Writing Fees – income from articles published in genealogy magazines and online.

There Is No Magic Here

No magic or smoke and mirrors involved here.  Some considerations to keep in mind so you understand how I make this work:

  • Contrary to what you might think, I don’t get comped subscriptions to vendors like or Genealogybank.  I make it a point to pay for those services.
  • I share living expenses with my partner (he also works at home and amazingly there has not been a hatchet murder in this house . . . yet). Honestly, I could not do what I do if I lived on my own.
  • My mantra for 2013 has been PASSIVE INCOME and BEING AN ENTREPRENEUR. What does this mean? An example: with the Legacy QuickGuides, I could easily have charged an hourly rate for developing the concept, the contracts, the editing etc. But my entrepreneurial spirit and vision kicked in and I made this pitch: pay me a royalty on each and every copy sold.So what’s the incentive and where is the risk? The risk is easy: I could put 6 hours into a guide that sells only 10 copies resulting in a meager royalty. I won’t even begin to tell you what that would be in terms of an hourly rate. But some guides sell hundreds of copies so I make out pretty well on that effort.The incentive lies in my willingness to produce quality work with solid educational content for the genealogy market and in my ability to market the guides to my network. For me, the passive income model of “work once and get paid often” leaves me time for other projects, both work and personal.Will Thomas be spending his winters in a warm get-away living on those checks? No, but it sounds good. The truth is that passive income still has peaks and valleys, but the model is working more and more for me and has been key to a successful start in 2013.
  • I just recently was able to get reasonable health insurance ($200 per month) since my partner moved to a company that has a 21st century practice of providing domestic partner benefits. Prior to that he worked for a private, family-owned business. These so called “family companies” that are privately owned and want to dictate a specific value system to their employees are a big reason I run my own business. Don’t get me started.
  • After living in some of the most expensive cities in the world, I can get creative when it comes to living expenses (such as not having a car). I live comfortably, but there are no extravagances.  And I do have to make lots of choices and opt not to do things or go places because of the cost.  And I am fine with that.


So what does all this mean?  Well you can draw your own conclusions from the data, but for me this means:

  • I need to decrease my Administrative hours and work smarter. This could mean reducing work on non-income producing platforms such as GeneaBloggers. I need to convince myself of this, especially since I just started a new endeavor called Hack Genealogy!
  • I enjoy speaking but the travel is killing me. So far I’ve flown 30,000 miles the first seven months of 2013. I have some virtual education projects ready to be launched this Fall and I will be curtailing my in-person schedule starting in 2014.
  • I’m on track for earning over $50,000 in income in 2013 and I think this is within my grasp especially since the second half of 2012 was more profitable than the first half.

So How Do You Make Money In The Genealogy Industry?

Again, no pressure, no numbers asked. But I would love to know the breakdown of a typical day or week in terms of the type of work tasks performed, whether you have similar administrative burdens and also the expenses involved.

* * *

Disclosure statement: I have material connections with various genealogy vendors and organizations. To review the material connections I have in the genealogy industry, please see Disclosure Statements.

©2013, copyright Thomas MacEntee

About the Author

Thomas MacEntee
Genealogy educator and author Thomas MacEntee has been researching his family history for more than 40 years and is the creator of Abundant Genealogy, Genealogy Bargains, DNA Bargains, The Genealogy Do-Over and numerous other web-based genealogy and family history properties.

11 Comments on "How Do You Make Money in Genealogy? 2013 Update"

  1. Jeffrey Vaillant | 15 August 2013 at 11:54 am |

    Your candor is absolutely refreshing…..thank you very much.

  2. I think the hardest pill for me to swallow this year, has been to accept that my main career path is not and will probably never be genealogy. It’s not that I don’t love writing and speaking on genealogy, but it’s just that my heart has always belonged to teaching and in the end, I will always be a teacher first.

    Which is probably why I have no desire to ever take clients for research work. If I had to choose between doing someone else’s research or doing my own, 9 times out of 10 I would choose to do my own – regardless of the paycheck. Instead, I’d rather teach people how to do their own research and make those discoveries on their own.

    And at the same time, I’ve accepted the fact that my priorities will always be on teaching kids and that’s ok. It doesn’t mean I can’t still be a genealogy writer and speaker and involved in genealogy societies.

    Accepting my priorities (which will inevitably change as my career takes off and I start having a family), is what gave me the space to be excited about my multi-faceted career. Because at the end of the day, whether I’m teaching 6 year olds how to read in an elementary school or adults about genealogy in a library, it is still teaching all the same. And I feel excited and blessed to be able to do it.

    [Forgive the rambling post – I haven’t had my second cup of coffee yet]

  3. None of my income-producing activities are genealogy-related this year, so I have nothing to share.

    However, I’m wondering: Have you explored outsourcing some of the grunt work on GeneaBloggers on a site like MTurk? It seems like the tagging, etc. could be done for way less than $13.40/hour, so if that’s the value of your time right now, it would make sense to pay someone to do it.

    • Totally agree with this suggestion! You could also find a virtual assistant, like you can find on oDesk. I hired a VA for some of the migration work for my own website (Joomla -> WordPress) and it worked like a charm. Since he had done this before, he was able to do it more quickly, and at a lower rate than mine too, that was still very high for his part of the world (Pakistan). We were both very happy with the transaction. One of my friends joked that he probably hired somebody to do the work for him at the regular rate for his part of the world 🙂 I don’t care either way, I’m happy with the result and it’s good for the economy.

  4. As an accountant, I really like this post. I’m with Elyse, though. I don’t think I could be a professional genealogist. I like my own research too much. Working for yourself must be nice, though. I’ve been thinking a lot lately about getting out on my own in accounting.

  5. Thank you for this honest post!

    As the owner of a small but growing genealogy business, it is really helpful to see what kind of revenue things like affiliate schemes can bring. If a genealogy technology evangelist like yourself generates less than $1000 income from affiliates (Flip-pal), I will not even bother with it. My focus is on client work, which means my audience is less likely to buy than yours, and probably more likely to be annoyed.

    My own breakdown of my income is:
    Project manager at National Archives in The Hague (aka “day job” ) – about 60%
    Research for clients outside the Netherlands with Dutch ancestors – about 30%
    Research for Dutch clients – about 3%
    Record look-ups – about 2% (winding this down as I enjoy research more)
    Consultancy about heritage tourism – about 2% (just started doing this)
    Genealogy coaching – about 1% (just started doing this, service for Dutch genealogists who do their own research but need help breaking those brick walls)
    Non-genealogy related: web accessibility consultant – about 1%

    What’s interesting is that my genealogy business accounts for roughly 40% of my income, but only takes about 25% of my time. That tells me I’m on the right track 🙂

    Like yourself, I’m currently working on becoming a board-certified genealogist (same February deadline!), which leaves me little time to work on publications this year. I am working on creating quality content for my Dutch Genealogy website, as that is my main marketing channel. I’ve also just started building a mailing list there, that automatically sends a weekly email with all the new posts.

    After I submit my portfolio, I hope to use some of that content on my website for a book about Dutch Genealogy in English, and/or some shorter e-books. I also want to create a revised version about the internet genealogy book. I hope this will increase my passive income to the 5% mark within two years. Heritage tourism is also a growing sector in the Netherlands, so I’m also planning to market my knowledge about Dutch-Americans.

  6. Recently, my job was globalized (sent to Costa Rica). Just about everybody has asked me why I’m not setting up a genealogy business. I keep trying to explain that I’ve had the privilege of watching what goes on with a professional in my city. He works hard! Like you Thomas this person is always putting together a living from bits and pieces all over the place. It comes together for him but again he works at it constantly.

    Your post goes a long way toward explaining that unless you’re highly motivated with a real entrepreneurial spirit, genealogy is no way to easy riches. Congratulations on finding your way and here’s to your continued success. This article certainly explains that you’ve earned that success.

    As for me, genealogy is a hobby. It’s always been a hobby. Other than perhaps trying to earn enough to make it a self-supporting hobby, I can’t see it as a business I’d like to pursue. Thank you for the details of your business life. If I had any lingering doubts, your article helped me resolve them.

  7. Great article, love your candor, I’ll have to keep a copy of this to refer to again…Thanx

  8. WOW Thomas, Thank you so much for your blog it answered a lot of questions.

    Even if I had twice the energy and three times talent that you have (which I certainly don’t) I wouldn’t be happy with the result. I’m single and simply need a better income than what Genealogy can offer.

    I love research and genealogy only second to singing, but some of us just wouldn’t be able to make a living with our passions because we just don’t have the energy, skills, and talent, even though we love it!

    I envy you doing exactly what you love to do and finding a way to make it work for you.

  9. Wow! Thomas, I’m impressed with your ingenuity and go get-er spirit. I am 95% a genealogy hobbyist and 5% volunteer. I work my day job 40+ hours per week, plus 10 hours of commute time and when I get home I want to relax with my own genealogy, which also includes anyone in my family, extended family or friends.

    I love the idea of the project worksheet. I am going to set that up for work and home. I have multiple work projects (day job) and sometimes have trouble keeping track of and on track. I like the idea with starting the day with review of the project worksheet and outlining the day. This will also work with some of my genealogy projects.

    Keep up the good work!

  10. I also appreciate your candor! And I concur with Kerry, taking some of the Geneabloggers grunt work off your plate would open you up for other options. Have you thought about using some Geneabloggers members to assist with some of the work? It may be a marketing tool for you, but it is a community platform for us. I’m sure that there would be volunteers to help keep the site going. After all, it is marketing for us, too. Obviously you would need to have some sort of application process and carefully screen people, but even finding a couple of volunteers would be helpful.

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