Charging for (Genetic) Genealogy Services

wordcloudIn our culture and economy, we place a value on the goods and services that we create or offer. Since others may not have the time or ability to create those goods or services themselves, we sell what we create to others in order to earn money. As we improve upon those goods and services, it becomes increasingly hard for others to replicate them, and thus the value increases. Similarly, as the demand for those goods and services increases, the value increases.

Unfortunately, the services offered by genealogists, including genetic genealogists, are severely undervalued in our culture. One of the most common explanations is that genealogy is a hobby and therefore subscriptions and research services are an unnecessary expense, and/or that people only use “disposable income” for genealogy. (Don’t say that outloud at a genealogy conference!).

Quilting, raising horses, and gardening are also usually just hobbies, or start out as hobbies. However, it isn’t acceptable to walk up to a quilter and ask for a free quilt, to approach a horse owner and ask for free horseback riding lessons, or find a gardener to ask for free vegetables. It is perfectly acceptable and ethical to request compensation for quilts, horseback riding lessons, and zucchini.

Charging for Genetic Genealogy Services

Every day I receive requests asking questions both short and long about genetic genealogy. That makes sense, since that is my specialty (although I’ve been a genealogist for much longer than I’ve been using DNA). I enjoy helping others, especially my friends, whom I can then turn to for assistance or questions in the future.

Sometimes, however, there is pushback when genealogists request compensation for their services. There is an air of expectation, perhaps, that because this is a hobby, we are all expected to help each other without compensation.

Indeed, we should be gladly helping each other discover our heritage. But at the same time, there’s a reason you ask others for help; they’ve developed a specialty or skill that you want. Once again, in our economy, we pay others for their skills because we either don’t have the time or ability to develop them ourselves.

This is a difficult post to write without sounding greedy (which is perhaps another symptom of the problem!). Although it is often unspoken, even among many genealogy professionals there is a hesitation to charge proper rates for services, and sometimes there can even be an “appraisal” (this is the nicest synonym for “judgment” I could find!) of those that do request higher rates. Indeed, the only reason I feel like I can write this post without being excoriated is that I have donated countless thousands of hours to my profession. Through my blog (with 500+ free blog posts), thousands of (free) email responses, and other outlets, I have helped many thousands of people understand genetic genealogy. At the same time, however, it is both ethical and right that I offer paid services that help DNA test-takers; I have a specialty that I have worked incredibly hard for more than a decade to develop, and there is an enormous demand for that specialty.

It is the dream of MANY people to become full-time genealogists, or full-time genetic genealogists. To quit their non-genealogy day job and do what they really love, to practice a finely-honed craft that they have spent decades perfecting and developing. But the current atmosphere of “free” or “cheap” makes that dream nearly impossible.

Supply vs. Demand

I wouldn’t  walk up to CPAs and say “would you do my taxes for free please?” I also wouldn’t approach an attorney and say, “would you help me with this for $25/hour please?” The following table demonstrates that although professional genealogists are in very low supply despite very high demand (genealogy is reportedly one of the most common hobbies in the country), their rates remain very low:

Profession Average Hourly Rate # in the U.S.
Plumber $150 50,000
CPA $200 600,000
Attorney $425 (NY) 1,300,705 (U.S)
Professional Genealogist $25-100? 1,000?
Prof. Genetic Genealogist $50-75? 100?

(These are extremely rough numbers pulled randomly and quickly from various sources; don’t quote me on these!).

So let’s say there are 100 people serving a population of more than 3 million test-takers (and I think that’s being extremely generous). There is a very large demand for DNA interpretation and application services, and an incredibly small supply, but hourly rates are still relatively low. There are clearly artificial forces keeping these rates down, and in part it is likely the low hourly rates in the genealogy field as a whole.

Maybe genealogists are their own worst enemy.

Pro Bono Services

At the same time, it is important to remember that every service professional must offer pro bono services to those in need. Whether it is tax services, legal services, research services, or any other service, professionals have an ethical duty to offer their specialized services to people that need them but cannot properly afford them.

Genealogists, I would argue, are among the most giving and caring people I know, and most offer an incredible number of pro bono hours every year.

Indeed, one of the biggest areas where pro bono services are offered is in the realm of adoption. Adoptees have search angels and other specialists are experts and yet offer their services to adoptees for free. It is important to consider, however, these two points: (1) it is perfectly ethical and acceptable to request compensation from adoptees for assisting them with their search. (see the postscript below for the amount argument). And (2) it is important to remember that although adoptees are offered free services, that does NOT mean that all genealogical services should similarly be free.

The genealogy community must be careful about creating (it’s probably too late for this) fostering a general expectation of free or cheap services while still being sure to offer pro bono services. An expectation that all genealogy should be free or cheap devalues who we are and the highly specialized skills we have worked so hard to develop.


It is perfectly acceptable and ethical to charge decent hourly rates for genealogical services. Genealogists offer specialized services that, frankly, most people do not have the time, patience, or skill to develop.

The entire field and community will benefit when genealogical services are recognized as a service worthy of decent hourly rates.


P.S. – it goes without saying that a professional should charge a rate that is equivalent to their experience and education level, and with what they will be delivering to the client. But my argument is that ALL rates are too low, from beginner to expert. Attacking the hypothesis herein (i.e., that genealogists should charge more for their services) by asserting that some genealogists are not qualified to charge that much, or that you were burned once by a genealogist, is a strawman argument. You can make the same argument about CPAs and plumbers.


63 Responses

  1. Debbie Parker Wayne 22 June 2016 / 10:13 am

    Thank you for voicing what many of us are thinking, Blaine. When I accepted my first speaking engagement at an institute and learned the pay rate, my first thought was how much MORE I owed to Elizabeth Shown Mills, Tom Jones, Claire Bettag, Christine Rose, Ben Spratling, Ann Fleming, Kay Freilich, Helen Leary, Mark Lowe, and many more than I can name who taught me over the years at IGHR. These people at the top of our profession have given so much over the years, sometimes barely making more than the expenses they incurred to teach us.

    I know there is a line between charging enough to pay speakers and researchers what they are worth and keeping charges low enough that more people can afford to attend an event or hire a researcher. But I would hate to see the in-person events disappear completely because so many of us just cannot afford to attend and lose money. In many instances, the institutes and societies are not making a huge profit, either. (In some cases, not all.)

    My CPA has never understood why genealogists make so much less than the plumbers and mechanics she does the books for.

    Some of us are sorry that we are not independently wealthy and able to donate all of our time freely to others, but the “exposure” we get does not compensate for expenses. Gas money, wear and tear on our vehicle (or airfare costs), hotel rooms, more expense for meals eaten out, lost time during travel both to and from another city, hours spent updating handouts and Powerpoint slides, and more. It is difficult to explain this to someone who invites you to come speak on a subject you are passionate about. But the IRS makes demands on anyone who has a business. We all have a lot to consider when deciding which invitations to accept and what our rates should be.

    • Blaine Bettinger 22 June 2016 / 8:41 pm

      Thank you so much Debbie! You’re so right, so many speakers have given so much to be able to educate others at conference over the years.

      I love the feedback from your CPA, that makes perfect sense!!

      I don’t keep track of the hours I spend as a genetic genealogy educator. Part of me is glad I do not, because it would be a pretty depressing number, especially if it was the denominator for calculating income over the course of a year!

    • Aenigmatice 22 August 2018 / 2:43 pm

      But there is also another side of that argument. No doubt at all that a service someone offers should be properly compensated. Yet, if I pay for genetic services and find out later that a new medicine on the market was developed based upon research using my DNA data, shouldn’t I be entitled to receive some kind of compensation as well?

      • A scientist 10 December 2019 / 8:41 am

        No, and you’ll find that you sign away these rights on all websites that use your DNA information. You would never be able to prove that your specific DNA was somehow essential to the process, and it likely wouldn’t be. Every single court case that has made your argument in regard to drug development has failed unless the circumstances were truly exceptional. Now everyone involved in scientific research must sign forms agreeing that they will not be compensated for any idea, technology, or product that might result from whatever tissue or DNA they donated. And that is primarily because it depends on the specialized knowledge and expertise of the scientists rather than anything special about your particular sample.

        As for genealogical research, the impact of your individual family tree and DNA is also likely to be insignificant. There are millions of other people who have also been tested and have family trees. The only people that could possibly benefit would be the people related in the past 5 generations or so, which is likely no more than a few hundred people. Chances are you’ve benefited from some of their research but not paid them, so why should they owe you anything?

        Likewise, the genealogist doesn’t receive a personal benefit and researching your family line doesn’t somehow magically improve their skills or lead to new discoveries. If a plumber fixes your toilet, that doesn’t mean they are now even more skilled than they were before. Even if they had to develop a new technique to fix your toilet, they have the right to use it with future clients without paying you anything. It’s the same across all fields.

  2. Debbie Mieszala 22 June 2016 / 10:38 am

    Well done, Blaine. Many of us also have a passion to teach, but compensation for many events is not sufficient to cover the expenses involved. In the end, many pay from their own pockets to teach. Many clients do not know that the number of unbilled hours spent thinking about a client’s case while not actively working on it is high for most genealogists. The education that a professional has paid for in both money and in time is not quickly obtained. It has value and adds value to that researcher’s work product. I have always offered some pro bono work, and have determined that I spend too many billable hours on it. Are the people who we are volunteering for earning more money than we are each year? In most cases the answer is undoubtedly yes, because few could get by on what the average genealogist earns.

    • Blaine Bettinger 22 June 2016 / 8:47 pm

      Thank you Debbie! I couldn’t agree more. Frankly, the only reason I can teach as much as I do is because I have another job that supports me. What a sadly ironic situation!

  3. Ken Russell 22 June 2016 / 10:50 am

    My view is that many people who work from home or do not have highly polished professional offices are not valued for their services.
    My wife is an award winning cake decorator yet is often asked to make cakes at close to ingredient cost.
    I have not (yet) charged anything other than expenses for my genealogical work, as I want to build expertise before starting to charge. I also think this approach fosters low rates.

    • Blaine Bettinger 22 June 2016 / 8:49 pm

      I have a relative who is a cake decorator as well, an amazing one, and she doesn’t charge anywhere near what she should be charging! And she spends HOURS decorating the most beautiful cakes. Another incredibly undervalued skill.

  4. Gaye Tannenbaum 22 June 2016 / 11:02 am

    Some thoughts.

    1. If you need to fix a broken pipe you may need a plumber and when you need to file your taxes you may need a CPA, if you don’t have the time or skill set, but you really don’t NEED to have your family tree done. While I think most serious genealogists of the amateur persuasion would think nothing of spending lots of time and money building their trees, I really think that for the most part they want to do it themselves. Half the fun is in making the discoveries and connections yourself.

    2. When most people hire someone, they pretty much know what they are paying for. In your examples – they are paying someone for zucchini, riding lessons or a quilt – not “I’ll give you some help” or “I’ll take a look at it for you” or “I’ll see if I can find any information”. There’s no specific “product” or “service” (tax return completed). No one can say “Pay me $1500 and I’ll build you a completely documented family tree out to 10 generations” or “For $1000, I’ll connect all your 4th cousin DNA matches to your tree.”

    3. Further, if genealogists charged $100 per hour, how long would it take, on average, to complete a family tree out to even five generations? Twenty hours? Forty hours? Is it really worth $2000 or $4000 to most people for a five generation tree? Your committed amateurs would think nothing of spending $2000 for a week in Salt Lake City – but to have someone else do all the work? What’s the point? Where’s the fun of discovery? On the other hand, your non-genealogist aunt Mary isn’t going to pay that kind of money for a pretty piece of paper.

    I don’t think it’s a question of whether or not someone should charge a fair amount for good work, that’s a given.

    I don’t think the issue is “demand” so much as “product” and “price point”. The people who are willing to spend the money on genealogy are not the ones who want someone to do the work for them. The ones who want someone to do the work for them are not willing to spend the money. Just think of all the people who think an AncestryDNA test is too expensive while others (myself included) have bought a dozen or more DNA tests for family members (even back when DNA tests really were expensive!)

    Committed amateur genealogists don’t want a family tree. They want to LEARN how to do it themselves. They’ll pay for someone to retrieve a document or documents from a place they can’t get to, or for translation services. I don’t think they want someone to DO the analysis so much as teach them how to do it themselves.

    • Jan Stevens 22 June 2016 / 12:39 pm

      I think the point is that if they want to learn and ask questions and have these professionals teach them, they have to be willing to pay for that expertise. I think there is a demand for people wanting you to do it for them, they just don’t want to pay, which is different than what you are saying. If those people want to do it themselves and not pay, then the expectation should not be there that to approach professionals and expect free help. Really, your comment about demand doesn’t really make sense because what you are describing is demand. You say there is no demand because these people want to do it themselves. If this was true, the issue would be no work, not people not wanting to pay for the work.

  5. Roberta Estes 22 June 2016 / 11:07 am

    Blaine, when some of the “exclusive conferences” pay only a minimum stipend or honorarium to speakers with no travel or hotel reimbursement, with the implied assumption that you would of course be attending their conference anyway, it devalues the services and even the professionalism of the very speakers they depend on to make their conference successful. Most attendees would be utterly appalled if they knew how poorly speakers are “paid,” and I use the word paid word loosely. The only speakers who can really justify those conferences and the pitiful “pay” are those who have a book or something to sell or are trying to build business and aren’t already booked to the gills, which most of us are – or if they truly are already attending the conference anyway. This is a big part of why I don’t speak at conferences.

    I would also be amazed if there are 100 professional genetic genealogists – at least not people who are truly qualified. Which of course raises another question of qualifications and certification, but I’ll leave that until another day.

    Thanks for writing this article.

    • Blaine Bettinger 22 June 2016 / 8:52 pm

      Thank you Roberta! I agree, no way are there 100 professional genetic genealogists, and that just makes the issue even more important. Demand vastly outstrips supply.

      It’s too bad you don’t speak at conferences, you would be very popular. But I understand completely; the only reason I can do so is because I have a second job to support me. That combination is also the reason, however, that I haven’t taken a true vacation in a very long time!!

      • Peggy Deras 24 June 2016 / 12:15 am

        Why is there not an “Association of Professional Genetic Genealogists”? You should be developing one.

        I am reminded so much of my early years as a kitchen and bath designer. Those were the days when everyone who went to a cabinet store expected to get free design services along with their purchase of cabinets. Of course the design was not free. We spent countless hours discussing, traveling, measuring, drawing, discussing again, revising, finalizing, supervising…On and on. All of this time was built in to the cost of the cabinets they bought.

        In 1994, I was a long-time Certified Kitchen Designer (CKD) and Certified Interior Designer in the State of California. I closed my store, moved my design business to my home office, and began charging per hour for straight design services. I developed a web site and started a blog, billing myself as the answer for those potential clients who wanted to pay a consultant to work for them, with their needs in mind. Not trying to sell them anything, but advising them how to wring the most from every dollar they spent. I had spent years getting requests to do this from potential clients. Now I did just that.

        My clients probably spent as much, or more, in total as the people who were getting “free design services”; but they got to understand the complete process and control every decision. There is no doubt in my mind that I provided them with way more for their money. This is the kind of business you need to develop if you want to charge what you are worth.

        I retired in 2012. At that time I was earning $125 per hour, $40 per hour for travel time, and actually charging for every minute of my working time. I posted all of this on a page of my web site called “Hiring Us”, so there was no misunderstanding from the start. I even posted my contract. Here is a link to my (now defunct) web site:

        I was one of the first CKDs to do this. As such, I didn’t have any idea whether I would be successful or not. I was. Remarkably so. I wished I had done it years earlier. I always had plenty of work to keep me busy and made a good living.

        I earned my CKD from the National Kitchen and Bath Assn. in 1987. Mine was #1294. By 1994 there were many more. That’s a far cry from “less than 100 Genetic Genealogists”.

        BTW. There is absolutely no reason to give away your time to adoptees. Let the Search Angels and amateurs do that if they wish.

        All this to say: You are undervaluing yourself Blaine. Make a plan. Set your price. Make it fair to yourself. Stick to it. Be the first. Others will follow.

        • Cindie 7 October 2019 / 11:45 am

          I like the way you think, Peggy. We need to take action and make the change happen. I have to say, I am a student learning the industry and this post really made me question if this was a viable business for me to take on. You helped me realize that I am going in the right direction. There will always be those who give away their work for whatever reason. We have to decide if that is how we will work of if we will set our prices and stand by them and the quality service we have to offer. I can pick and choose when to offer free help. Thanks for your comment!

  6. Anne Bettinger 22 June 2016 / 1:35 pm

    I agee completely with Gaye Tannenbaum. Having spent the better part of 25 years doing my own genealogy, I have also done a lot of pro bono work for other people, including strangers on the internet. I could ask for remuneration for my time even though I am not “a professional.” I am certainly qualified to be a professional from the work that I have done. However as Gaye put it so well, there’s no guarantee as to what you’re going to find so all you can do is charge by the hour. I went through this mental process years ago in trying to decide whether I wanted to become a professional or not and realized that there are just not enough people out there who are willing to spend thousands of dollars to find not very much information. Especially with a common surname. It takes hours and hours although I do have to say in the last 20 years more information is available today than ever before due to the internet. Unfortunately because it is way beyond tertiary information you have to go corroborate it somewhere else anyway. When I started you still had to go to the National Archives to look at censuses. You had to write to Social Security to get application information. You had to visit locations and go to court houses, cemeteries, and the like in order to get information. I did it the hard way. And it was a joy the entire time. I have fun doing other people’s research but it isn’t quite the same as my own. I don’t know what the answer is but I do believe it is a question of need vs. want as to why the prices are so low as well as no guarantees for what you will find. I’d love to have you help me with my genetic results, dear cousin, but like everybody else, can’t afford to pay the bill 🙂 [Unless of course that lunch we had could be used toward such help! :-)]

    • Blaine Bettinger 22 June 2016 / 8:54 pm

      You always have free DNA analysis services from me, dear cousin! You have provided me with reams of invaluable documentation and information that I cannot begin to pay back!

      • Anne Bettinger 22 June 2016 / 10:20 pm

        Be careful what you offer! 🙂 I may just take you up on that. :-p

  7. Leslie Lawson 22 June 2016 / 2:26 pm

    Blaine, Thank you for this blog post. I couldn’t agree with your analysis more. I feel a blog post coming on! (I’ll be linking to your post above.) I am thankful that I work with attorneys who understand that my rate is not negotiable. I have spent years honing these skills and I refuse to give them away. If people want to understand DNA better, I send them off to read blogs (starting with Roberta Estes). I also send them to this site to take a class in learning how to use the DNA information:
    But I won’t do it for them. Not for free.

    • Blaine Bettinger 22 June 2016 / 9:00 pm

      Thank you for the kind words Leslie! I look forward to reading your blog post.

      I definitely encourage people to learn on their own, and I have spent innumerable hours educating others for free though this blog, as one example. But there will always be people who are too busy to learn what they need to know to do a skill well; indeed, no one has mastered every skill in life, and that’s why we hire lawyers, CPAs, painters, plumbers, etc. We should never feel bad or guilty about requesting compensation for using a skill that others cannot or do not use.

  8. Deborah Krall 22 June 2016 / 6:34 pm

    First of all, I have been working on my family genealogies (I have five different trees I am working on) for about forty years plus off and on, depending on my circumstances. I decided recently that maybe I would become a ‘professional’ versus an ‘amateur’. I have been reading books and blogs, a member of few Facebook groups, attended a couple of lectures, and am teaching myself to analyze DNA results. I went to see how much it would cost to become “professional” and what it meant. It is extraordinarily expensive. The conferences, the membership fees to associations and societies, course fees, books and other media, Ancestry, FTdna,research costs, etc. are expensive, especially for someone on a fixed income. Yes, I have a B.A. in history, anthropology, and Native American Studies, and I am a experienced researcher, but to educate one self in the manner in which genealogists are suppose to be, and be accredited is prohibitive for those without the means and opportunities. Genealogy is expensive, and I know I keep using that word, but it truly is. Unless you are independently wealthy or have other income coming in on a regular basis, one should charge just like any other professional. You have money and time invested. You can not just give away all your work. Pro bono work is fine, but it should be a part of your work, and not all of it. You do not have to gouge people, but measure your work accordingly. I will probably never get my credentials for being a professional genealogist due to the expense, but I know that I am a lot more qualified than some of the “professional” genealogists that I have dealt with.

    • Blaine Bettinger 22 June 2016 / 9:02 pm

      Genealogy IS expensive! People vastly underestimate the amount of time, education, and experience it takes to become a professional. People also vastly underestimate the amount of time it takes to adequately research a genealogical question.

  9. Sara Brower 22 June 2016 / 6:34 pm

    As a Pharmacist I’ve heard it all before. What other licensed professional is so openly available for “free” professional consults during store hours. Just walk up and ask. We are now trying to get recognition and compensation for our time and expertise from insurers and the government. Not easy since pharmacists have a history of being wimpy when it comes to charging for services. We also are excoriated for things beyond our control such as drug prices, insurance restrictions, etc etc. etc. Yes, I try to help others, but as I am now on a limited income I am contemplating charging for my genealogical services because I have spent time and money in acquiring what others want me to give freely to them. BRAVO for your blog post!!!!!!

    • Blaine Bettinger 22 June 2016 / 9:03 pm

      Thank you Sara! I really appreciate the pharmacist angle, that is one I had no idea about previously.

  10. Joe Barrus 22 June 2016 / 7:11 pm

    I think what may be ovelooked here is the bigger picture of how our economy is changing and how that affects the perceived value of services. A shift toward a digitally driven economy has allowed us to lower barriers to entry into markets. Lower barriers means that scarcity now has a lesser impact on supply and price. Technology has created ease toward real time connectedness and access to information and knowledge and tools. Services that are primarily knowledge based, such as Genetic Genealogy, are the most affected.

    This shift has moved our economy toward a sharing economy. A sharing economy addresses the issue of supply. Crowdsourcing becomes a primary method of generating supply. Technology has allowed us to implement this model at scale. This is why we are seeing lots of disruption in services aspects of our economy (products too). Uber and Zipcar have disrupted the car services industry as an example. Even well established traditional services such as healthcare and education are being disrupted despite the desire to retain control through regulation, etc.

    Genealogy has for a long time been based in a sharing model. So it has a head start. Plus the price point for these services are low despite high demand because people will prioritize that spend much lower than other needs.. But the high availability of open source tools, open source information and open source services (like we are) will make it very difficult to offer proprietary services at any decent price point except in very narrow situations.

    So, my point is generally this. Get used to it! Adapt or die! There are still ways to monetize within the industry other than the traditional quid pro quo model. It certainly is an interesting economic and cultural transformation we all are experiencing now but nothing we can do to stop it now. The horse is not just out of the barn, but it’s already run itself around the track a bunch of times and even won a few races. But ultimately there are just too many viable and cheap alternative substitutes for supply that come out of crowdsourcing capabilities. Proprietary skills no longer can rely on it’s scarcity to drive up price.

    • Blaine Bettinger 22 June 2016 / 8:28 pm

      Actually, many services within our economy have become more highly valued as the economy changes, rather than less valued. Pointing at one or another and making predictions is just hyperbole without some evidence on which to base the prediction. Professional genealogy services – especially genetic genealogy services, for which there are no crowdsourced solutions yet – are in incredible demand. Not a single day goes by that I don’t receive multiple requests for assistance.

      I think you vastly overestimate the ease with which genealogy is performed. Not even the best access to all the subscription services –, Fold3, etc. – and all the free tools – GEDmatch, FamilySearch, etc. – enables sufficient genealogical access, discovery, and interpretation. It requires additional skills that computers and crowdsourcing have not yet achieved. Someday, genealogy or genetic genealogy may indeed lend itself well to technology and open source tools that enable easy and quick interpretation and application. Currently, however, it requires very specialized skills that only a handful of people understand and have developed.

      • Carolyn Lea, PhD 23 June 2016 / 12:34 pm

        Great response. We all know how well “crowd sourcing” or sharing works in this field – just look at Ancestry trees! Women having babies after they are dead, marrying a two year old before they are born (the families set it up for the next female child??), men marrying many women at the same time, starting with one family and confusing them with another, changing the name of a family to make it theirs, and tree after tree being shared without review and posted in another tree over and over).

        Many amateurs are not willing to do the time investment it takes to follow the Genealogical Proof Standard, to learn to evaluate the evidence, or even look for evidence beyond easy pickings such as census records, etc. And Ancestry Trees are not sources to be listed as proof!

  11. K. House 22 June 2016 / 8:58 pm

    Thank you, I have the same problem with charging for photo restoration.
    People forget that for you to be an expert you must have studied for a long time.
    I have up my passion of photography as people don’t realise the work and time that goes into a great photograph, just like the research of dna and genealogy.

    • Blaine Bettinger 22 June 2016 / 9:04 pm

      Another excellent example! Photo restoration is more than adjusting a few light or color levels, and the required expertise is really undervalued.

  12. Diahan Southard 22 June 2016 / 9:02 pm

    Well said, well said. I feel like one of the problems with our “product” as others have pointed out, is that in most cases it is just such a huge financial commitment for the client, and a huge time commitment for the genealogist. However, I have learned that I can tell people enough in a short amount of time to set them on the right course. Is there more I could do for them or more I could tell them? Of course. But I want to keep my price point low, which means I keep my involvement in the research low, but I am still able to provide key “Aha!” moments that if they don’t fully instruct, they completely inspire, providing people with the necessary confidence to keep going and not give up. I think we need to adapt our product to the market, and then demand we get paid for it.

    • Blaine Bettinger 22 June 2016 / 9:06 pm

      Those are excellent points! A range of products at different price points – but at price points that are fair to the expert’s skill level as well – would help entice clients of all different levels.

  13. Cate Pearce 22 June 2016 / 10:41 pm

    Thank you so much, Blaine, for this blog and the interesting responses. I agree that the number of hours required to produce a genealogy makes charging prohibitive and I agree that most people doing genealogy for a hobby want to do it themselves; however, I think the product, especially for genetic genealogists, is the provision of consultation services that guide the client towards appropriate strategies for doing it themselves. Doctors and lawyers charge for consultation – for advising the client about how to proceed in order to improve their present condition, but the lawyer doesn’t go to the county records to get the various documents the client may need; the doctor doesn’t do the shopping for the patient’s new dietary requirements. So the role of the professional genealogist is to point the client in the right direction, to help them to understand their results, to ask the right questions to help the client find the right path. I think Diahan Southard provides an inspiring professional model with her pay-for-view video tutorials and her concise consulting terms. Genetic genealogists need to be firmer about their own boundaries and make it clear to those they teach and interact with just how much they are prepared to do for free before it becomes appropriate to charge for consultation. Perhaps easier said than done, but doctors, lawyers, accountants are all faced with the similar situation of people asking for free advice.

  14. Michael Hait 22 June 2016 / 11:07 pm

    First, I agree completely with your assessment. Frankly, I am surprised that you felt the need to write it. I had hoped that the discussion had been settled. I actually wrote an almost identical post 5 years ago: . I wasn’t the only one either. I compiled a list of a few dozen similar-themed posts from other blogs as well:

    Second, I am a bit amazed at most of the comments posted here. Aside from the comments made by professional genealogists, the opinions expressed do not at all represent my experience as a full-time professional genealogist supporting a family for nearly a decade.

    Genealogy clients—even “committed amateur genealogists”—are more than willing to pay appropriate rates for professional genealogical research. They do not expect results that cannot be delivered for legitimate reasons. They understand that they are paying for the *time* of a qualified professional. They understand that it might take 20 hours for 5 generations or 100 hours for one generation. They do not expect anything for free. They are also quite patient—some waiting months for their research to reach the front of the waiting list.

    Finally, the number of “professional genealogists” is probably much higher than 1000. The Association of Professional Genealogists has somewhere in the ballpark of 3000 members and rising—the membership is international but fairly heavily US-dominated. There are also quite a few “professional genealogists” who are not members of APG. The quality of work produced by self-proclaimed professionals varies from the negative extreme to the positive one.

    Quality of work product is the most important attribute of any true professional.

  15. Kathleen A Baxter 23 June 2016 / 9:16 am

    I thank you for the post and the responses. I agree with what you are saying, but, as some point out, it is such a complex thing, genealogical research. I paid $1000. to a professional genealogist in the county where one of my worst brick walls resided–really, all I know of my gggrandparent is her name, and her parents’ first names on her death certificate. Not a lot more for her husband. I have no idea where or if they were married. I am not sure where she was born. Her children named different locations in censuses.
    The researcher found exactly nothing.
    I knew the odds of her finding nothing were pretty strong, but an experience like this makes you really question hiring someone to do research for you. Perhaps, as some suggest, hiring someone to consult with you about where and what you yourself can research in some ways makes more sense. But sometimes the people you consult with suggest only things you have done already–I have a Master’s Degree in Library Science and am the go to person for my researching relatives and friends. One person who was doing research for her client told me she could not see a match–her client and I had a strong DNA match. I told her that whether or not she saw it, the relationship was there! Good grief.
    Excellent, thought provoking post and responses.
    Thank you.

    • Dee Sager 23 June 2016 / 9:40 am

      OH! YES! I too have been burned by paying good money for research that gave nothing in return. It’s a bitter pill to swallow – especially when I finally gave in and paid a subscription to a Scotland website and there was the very info I was looking for. If I could find it, why couldn’t she? And WHY SHOULD I PAY SOMEONE, when they are only going to rip me off? Genealogy, for most of us, has been a “learn on the job” situation. Can you imagine the fiasco if an attorney was to learn on the job? Perhaps there is a reluctance to pay someone a proper fee for research, and the knowledge to do that research, because we can always find someone to do it for free or figure it out for one’s self. Or so we think . . . . Wish I could pay someone to find my grandfather. They only say they don’t know where else to look and walk away. The field of genealogy is so complex!

      • Lorrie 24 June 2016 / 8:18 pm

        We have a genealogy out to lunch bunch where we discuss different genealogy websites and strategies. Suggest reading materials and generally support each other in genealogy questions. This blog came up at our last luncheon. One of the things that was considered was the price of hiring a professional genealogist only to hear they found nothing. although the genealogist may not have found anything I believe a professional gives you the information of where they searched. This information gives you a location to continue to watch as websites are constantly dating with new information. You may find a hint that can lead you to find more information yourself. In the very least they can eliminate places to look. Genealogy is a challenging, frustrating, fun and rewarding adventure where even if you find nothing you have found something in the fact that you eliminated a source. I agree that the time spent in just obtaining the sources should be enough of a reason for charging a fee.

    • Cathy Roberts 26 June 2016 / 10:42 pm

      My first, and only, experience with hiring a genealogist was a bit better than yours – the woman DID find something, but what she found were things I’d already provided her. She “lost” the material for over a month in her car, and she apparently never attempted to even look for the what it was I expressly informed her that I wanted. Had she looked and found nothing, I’d have been irked, but I would have understood. But, her not looking at all, despite the fact that I’d plainly informed her of what I wanted to know just galled me. As I gained more experience with genealogy, I grappled for years with the question of going pro or staying non-paying. I enjoy the chase and the thrill of finding the information, no matter who is looking for it. I’m sure there’s thousands of hours of free research under my belt. The one thing I did know for certain was that if I did decide to go pro, that I would NOT be like that woman (who by the way, was a Board Certified Genealogist). I did go pro, but when I did, I did it without the intent of it being a full-time job for me, and that was mainly because I wanted to focus on specific areas and knew there was no way that the people living there could afford the going rates for a genealogist. For me, getting the product to the customer, and giving them my best effort, was more important than the dollars. I’m lucky in that I do have a few clients that are on-going, mainly because they want their trees down as far back as records make it possible to get them. But, I also have other clients who have to pick and choose what they want to know, and they can only afford to spend $100.00 per year for that. And what they want to know is going to take more than one hour to find. I also do point out to those clients that I am charging them less than the current average hourly rate, and why I’m charging them that. I’ve also had a few times when I’ve charged more to clients who can easily afford to pay more.

      I don’t feel that I’m shorting myself, or my fellow genealogists by the rates I charge, although I can understand how others might feel otherwise. I’m blessed in that I do have the ability and opportunity to have this as a part-time job, as opposed to a career, but even if I had to give up all of my clients tomorrow, I’d still be out there, working on someone’s genealogical problem (and hopefully teaching that person along the way, just as I do try to teach my current clients how to research their own families).

      I do think that the genetic genealogists have a harder time of it, and not because people wouldn’t necessarily shrink back from the idea of paying for their expertise, but because there is so much out there, available for free or donations, that can enable a person to do their own analysis of their DNA results. The problem then is how to convince those people that you (used generically) have a skill set/expertise that can help them far better than what they can accomplish on their own, or to ignore that section of the genetic genealogy population and instead focus your efforts on convincing those who order the latest kit for kicks that they should be paying someone to help them figure out what’s what with the results. Since some (most) of the people I run into who are like that are people who can’t even be bothered to post a tree anywhere, then that is probably the most daunting task of all.

  16. Dee Sager 23 June 2016 / 9:21 am

    LOL I read your article regarding charging and charging a proper amount for genetic genealogy work you do and then see the link to a free copy of your E book regarding the same subject. Now aren’t you a true genealogist: you give away as much as you charge for. I’m wondering – are we our own worst enemy?

    I’ve been a genealogist for over 25 years and yet, I don’t charge for the research I do for others. I volunteer because I love the craft. Also, so many people have freely helped me throughout the years while I was learning, that I feel a need to give back. But – I feel that “freely given” help to others may contribute to the general thinking pattern of “I shouldn’t HAVE to pay for genealogy help.” Have we “spoiled” these folks?

    Most of the folks I help are genuinely grateful and ask how they can help me. I just say, “pass it on. Help someone along the way every chance you get.” I have paid researchers for the same type of free research I do. I commend them for getting paid and yet, I still give it away. YUP! I’m my own worst enemy.

  17. Shelley Hayes 23 June 2016 / 9:58 am

    As a retired physician turned amateur genealogist, I want to say thank you for your blog. I use it to expand my thoughts and knowledge and very much appreciate the time and skill that it represents.
    Of course you should charge for your time! Amateurs need to understand the training and expertise that are required to become a professional. Perhaps the Association of Professional Genealogists needs better PR!

  18. Dave Dowell 23 June 2016 / 10:44 am

    This has been a very interesting discussion. I have enjoyed reading the various viewpoints.

    One factor that has not come up so far is gender. Among the general public I suspect that genealogy primarily is viewed women’s work and therefore undervalued. Perhaps I’m biased to think in this way because way back in the last century my dissertation was “The Relationship of Sex to Salary in a Female Dominated Profession.”

  19. Donna Baker 23 June 2016 / 10:59 am

    This needs to be said and said again. I have seen it in my career as a historical publisher. I am the editor-in-chief for a state history magazine. We do a subscription campaign every winter. Now and then we get an indignant response: “History is free to all. How dare you try to charge for it?” Believe me, the magazine would be so much less worth having if we didn’t have the paid staff, buy the rights to the best photos, and pay the freelance personnel. Even if we could write the magazine without paid staff, how would we print and ship it? The attitude is ridiculous.

    While genealogy is at its sweetest when done for your own family, someone has to teach the skills, write the books, create the standards, develop and support the software. Some need to be your extension into archives that are out of reach to you. When it comes to genetic genealogy, someone has to make sense of it for those of us who are putting our attention to other areas of knowledge.

    I realize that genealogy is purely a mission for some. Who among us does not find a hundred reasons a day to be grateful to the Latter Day Saints for what they have provided for free, due to the sense of mission? May it always be so. And because of those who are providing free resources on the one hand, and the worthy people who cannot afford to pay on the other, I agree about the pro bono ethic. Let’s call it a tithe. Giving back a portion of what a genealogy service provider accrues. But it is not a vow of poverty.

    I agree completely, Blaine, that people can devalue what they get too cheaply. And if only a handful of people can afford to become professionals with a sustainable income at genealogy, we hold back the field from becoming truly professionalized. We limit our progress toward excellence — the kind of progress that emerges from genealogy as a career. Where are our PhD programs? Too few and too far between, but if ever there was a field that could benefit greatly from expanded scholarship, it is genealogy.

    Skilled providers of genealogical services owe it to the field to put a value on their work. It does not matter AT ALL that genealogy is not essential to survival. People who love golf buy great clubs, pay to use the course, buy golf carts. People who love to garden buy plants, soil, equipment. They build greenhouses. And those are hobbies with little left behind for future generations. Genealogy builds something of immeasurable value . . . if done well. The word “hobby” leaves me cold, in this pursuit. Those making it possible for genealogy to be done well deserve to be compensated. Some even deserve wealth for the services provided.

    It’s time to create a real genealogical economy. No apologies.

  20. Dave Dowell 23 June 2016 / 10:59 am

    Very few ethical professionals guarantee the desired outcome will result from their services. A plumber or a mechanic might be exceptions. Lawyers and physicians provide products and/or services but they are rarely in a position to guarantee the result desired by the client. If they were none of us would ever die or become incarcerated. Why should genealogists be held to a higher standard?

    • Retired Attorney 18 December 2016 / 1:38 am

      Genealogists, pharmacists and other professionals are not alone. Everyone who meets a doctor or lawyer at a social function seems to think it’s also OK to ask for free advice about their latest legal or health problems. Hey, folks, it’s a party. We’re off duty. It’s not fair to ask us to put on our professional hats and go to work, let alone expect us to do it for free, just because we’re in a nice restaurant or at someone’s backyard Labor Day cookout instead of in an office. And the worst offenders are often people with more money than they know what to do with, who could easily afford the service. The folks who work long hours for low wages and struggle to put food on the table wouldn’t dream of behaving this way.

  21. caith 23 June 2016 / 11:32 am

    Whether or not genealogist charge for their services should be contingent upon how “well off they are.” I am not a traditional genealogist but a well-versed genetic genealogy hobbyist; and, as such, I help newbies on a regular basis. I only ask that they pass it on when they have navigated the learning curse.

    But, if genealogist depend upon fee for services as a means of support, they should charge for services rendered.

  22. Lil Heselton 23 June 2016 / 11:38 am

    My perspective is from the “needing the research side. I have been “doing” genealogy for 35 years. I have taken courses, gone to conferences and follow blogs faithfully. So I am an amateur who has educated herself. Recently I have followed the DNA explosion. I have tried to learn the craft, but quite frankly am astounded by the amount of time and skill it requires to do even a simple DNA analysis. When I get to the point that I have what I consider enough material for someone to analyze, I will probably pay someone to do it for me. I know it will be expensive because I fully understand how time consuming the research is. But I believe your skills will allow you to do it faster and more accurately than I can do it myself. I think what I need from you, the professionals, is a clear understanding of minimum requirements for doing an analysis. (ie how many samples, how much information, how well developed a family tree, actually equals a possible outcome that makes both of us happy) . We need to know what to expect up front. Yes you should be paid as any other expert in any other field is paid. We all know and accept that we don’t pay the GP and the Specialist the same fee. Genetic Genealogy needs to allow the current boom to do the same for itself. You are the pioneers – who unfortunately are suffering the hardships for the future but like all pioneers you need to set your boundaries and establish your future.

  23. Jane Millar 23 June 2016 / 11:47 am

    While “professional” genealogists certainly have a right to charge for their services, credentialing professionals in this field is a serious problem. I took 2 free courses from one of the leading “schools” and can say, based on my limited experience, the courses were substandard to any college or university courses I have ever taken – and I’ve taken lots. In short, anyone could pass these courses with little effort. I also went to Salt Lake City with a “professional” group and, frankly, didn’t receive any useful help at all from them the week I was there. They didn’t seem to know any more than I did, and I am fairly ignorant. Next time I’ll go on my own. Of course, many “professionals” in law, medicine, education, etc. are incompetent. The best way to find ones who are worth hiring is to go through a highly reputable firm or institution and/or solicit recommendations from someone whose judgment you trust. Genealogy is an area with numerous amateurs, many of whom are highly competent, who voluntarily offer help to others. This makes it difficult for those who want to earn a living at it. Another issue is that genealogy is a knowledge field as is, for example, law. Knowledge is easily shared freely on the internet. So, for example, if I have medical symptoms, I can readily find lots of information that enable me to consider various diagnoses and treatments, but I must consult a bona fide physician for verificaton – if I think I may need a treatment other than, say, an over-the-counter drug for a minor problem. Pharmacists ARE being paid to offer certain advice to the clients of the store or firm that hires the pharmacist and should not be offering advice for which they are not qualified. I volunteer often to help others with their genealogy – strangers only if they are dna matches or tree matches (usually). I also help at no charge well heeled members of my retirement community who are financially better off than I edit and restore their photos, but I don’t edit or restore them myself – that is a service I expect them to pay for elsewhere since I don’t want to do it. In short, each of us must decide for ourselves, to what degree we will offer free services and at what point we will charge. But don’t blame others for choosing to stop where free ends and fee begins. That’s their right.

  24. Carolyn Lea, PhD 23 June 2016 / 12:17 pm

    Thank you so much for this blog. For several years now I have thought about becoming a professional genealogist. your blog highlights my fears – will I be able to support myself? I have excellent research skills and have done work for others. I once offered four hours of research at a church auction and worked on the family for two years. I brought cousins together and was invited to attend their family reunions! Yes, it feels good and I began to think of the family as my own but it cost me to do the work – which I still want to “finish” – not that there is ever a finish in this work!

    I have worked with another woman for five years now. Our families connect through marriage and if I could ever get back far enough I may be able to discover a direct relationship. I have watched her skills improve with my tutoring and have found and shared with her much on her family. We have become friends and talk on the phone, share gifts, etc. Again, that does not pay the bills – but I have a good friend to show for my efforts.

    I have always been curious and I have been a researcher all my life – I research everything from the meaning of life to products I might buy.

    I agree that for some of us – me – we enjoy the process of discovery. It is like a puzzle. But there may be times when we need a professional. It may be because the research is in another country or state or simply because we lack the skill level needed in some particular area. It may be, we have a brick wall that we have not been able to get past after 20 years.

    And paying a professional may be expensive but can also be much cheaper than travel and time to go around the country (or world) in search of a lead. Many people have helped me along the way – professionals speaking at conferences, those of you who are kind enough to do blogs, such as yourself, Roberta Estes, Judy Russell, and so many others. I have also been helped by Jewishgenners, and many librarians, especially the genealogy dept librarian in Savannah who came to know my family so well that she would send me news articles she came across while searching for others (one broke down a wall)! Genealogist are generous.

    However, as you state, for those of us that choose to follow our passion as a career and provide services for a fee, we should expect reasonable compensation for our skills and expertise. We pay and expend time and energy to develop these skills. No – we cannot guarantee that we will be able to locate your fifth cousin 3 times removed. And plumbers results – as well as lawyers – are mixed. You may be calling a different plumber in a week and you may lose your lawsuit. That does not mean research is a scam. What it does mean is choose who you ask to do your work carefully. It does not mean they have to be certified – I know a genealogist here that is not but she is recognized around the country, Billie Fogarty, now president of FGS. It just means you should ask about their expertise in the area you need work done and look for any information you can find on the researcher.

    As far as learning on the job – I hope so! Every situation can be different and a serious professional is constantly learning new skills, from workshops, lectures, courses, reading and of course research! I learn skills every time I do research and encounter new problems/questions/ etc. Our learning process is never complete, and the same is true of genealogy research in itself. There can always be another unfound record, family member or generation to uncover.

    And be prepared to pay for their skills. There are clients with neither the time or inclination to do the work themselves, or to produce a lovely bound volume for their families to treasure. You can dictate how many hours you are willing to pay for. But know that research can often be a slow, trudging process and may require researchers to travel to archives, etc. to glean the information you need. Everything is NOT online.

  25. Emily Aulicino 23 June 2016 / 2:53 pm

    Blaine, I feel like the last person to receive your blog as so many of our genealogist and genetic genealogists have already echoed my sentiments on the subject and my praise to you!

    I have recently increased my charges for speaking, a second time in 10 years, mostly to the urging of my fellow speakers. Currently, I do offer a bit cheaper price to small genealogical societies and then more for larger ones, seminars and conferences. I also ask for travel expenses and hotels if needed, although I am willing to stay with a non-smoking family. If I have family in the area, I stay with them to save the organization some money. All of this doesn’t turn a profit given the time needed to create a presentation or even alter one.

    HOWEVER, a major issue with me is that the big-name conferences (with one exception) do not pay enough to cover expenses. All of us who speak know which conferences those are. You just know they are making money on the fees they charge to attend. AND…I really doubt most of us would go if we weren’t speaking as most of us are seasoned genealogists who may need further knowledge in some areas, but we also can network to get the help we need. We have the desire to education, and the big societies have the control over our income.

    Although I do have a book which I can sell at conferences, that will dwindle over time. It also costs me to get the books to the conference and home and often I have to pay for a table to use for selling them. Some times I am required to give a percentage of my sales to the organization…up to 20%! Not much profit there, but again a desire to educate.

    I am retired and do not speak to support myself, but to cover my expenses would be very nice. I think we should expect that to happen. All of us give our time freely to many clients and organizations. For example, I started and run the DNA interest group at my local society, speak there often, organize other speakers, write DNA articles for their bulletin, etc. I travel internationally at my expense to speak and help DNA test. All of that is thousands of hours and thousands of dollars.

    I’m a retired teacher and the same public view relates to teachers as to genealogists: Well, if you didn’t want to give so much time you shouldn’t have been a teacher; after all you don’t work in the summer and you are paid every month.

    We all know that the rest of the world respects teachers more than the US. We also all know, that as genealogists and genetic genealogists we are basically teachers. I’m seeing little difference in the public attitude in many cases. The words may not be spoken as when parents made the comments to teachers, but you get the impression the belief is there.

    I praise you for blogging about this and to all those who replied. Our voices need to be heard; we need to support each other; and we need to share this blog with not only the public, but the organizers of the conferences and seminars.

    Thank you!

    • Barbara Taylor 3 August 2016 / 1:59 pm

      Blaine, I appreciate you taking the time to write this. It needed to be said and applies to to many different types of work, not just genealogists.


  26. Jim Yates 23 June 2016 / 4:17 pm

    Part of the problem is that professional genealogists love their work.
    Plumbers, electricians, and accounting are not fun trades/professions.

  27. Judy Webster 23 June 2016 / 6:13 pm

    Thank you, Blaine, for your excellent post. I’ve been doing family history for 40 years and working as a professional genealogist for 30 years, during which time I have developed skills in particular types of research. I constantly struggle to find the right balance in areas such as charging realistic fees for my services, limiting the time that I spend on providing “freebies”, etc.

  28. Bobbi 2 July 2016 / 3:07 pm

    The genealogy group I belong to was approached to see if they knew of a speaker that could give a presentation on DNA. I was recommended. All I asked was that I be reimbursed for train fare (perhaps $20). I never got the go ahead to do the presentation. Their loss.

  29. Ken Waters 24 August 2016 / 3:59 pm

    I concur with Peggy’s question “Why is there not an “Association of Professional Genetic Genealogists”?

    I have been inspiring to learn everything I can on this new burgeoning field with the eventual hope to becoming a professional in the field (after I’ve retired from my current profession). I’ve been reading many (probably too many) of the various mailing lists and social media groups in the subject and feel I’ve learned a lot from them. I’ve also attended several conferences and am always one of the first to show up at ANY that relate to the DNA/genetic specialization, particularly dealing with advanced tools for atDNA analysis.

    All that said, I have been searching for any sort of “certification” of genetic genealogists to include approved training options. I suspect none exists because this is such a new field. I’ve quickly learned who some of those 100 (or less?) experts are in the field and hope to continue to learn from them until something more formalized becomes available.

    Mesa, AZ

  30. Karin Borgerson 27 August 2016 / 3:38 pm

    Are there others of you who would be interested in doing the work to develop a professional certification for genetic genealogists? I would be very interested in being part of such an effort.

    A bit about me: I’m relatively new to genealogy and genetic genealogy compared to many of you (just attended my first conference–really enjoyed your presentations at the Northwest Genealogy Conference last weekend, Blaine!) but I’m starting a serious exploration into what it would take to go pro.

    I also have background related to standard-setting and recognition for a profession. For the last several years I have worked for a US Department of Education-recognized higher-ed accreditor responsible for setting standards and assuring quality in professional education for midwives. My organization collaborates closely with the organization that issues the professional credential and the professional association(s).

    I would be very interested in bringing this body of knowledge into genetic genealogy if there is a core group of people interested in collaborating on this!

    Karin Borgerson
    Seattle, WA

  31. Allie Thompson 17 September 2016 / 11:36 am

    I am just “returning” to genealogy after a three plus decades “sabatical.” Oh, the changes!! Internet searches, DNA, wonderful webinars, etc. are making this go-around so much easier – especially for a 75 year old. I am currently having fun learning about all these new tools, but I am realistic enough to know that I will never be able to do a lot of the “in the trenches” digging. I plan to do what I can with my resources and budget for professional help when I reach that part of my search. I certainly don’t expect someone who has spent time learning a language, learning to maneuver through all the different archives efficiently, learning the new science – learning, learning, learning – to go an do my work for me for nothing. I appreciate all the FREE help I have received so far from you bloggers, recorded seminars, etc. THANK YOU!!!

  32. Darla 25 September 2016 / 2:12 pm

    Loved your article. It rang very true to me and my experience with my practice at Elevated Health Solutions, where one of my services I offer is genetic interpretations (helping those with health-relevant mutations.) My practice is fairly new, and I always feel I should be charging less. For each and every client I have had for this service, I have lowered the price of my interpretation to what the client can afford. I feel that this is important in the beginning of ones practice, in order to establish a repuatation and pay it forward essentially. This, I believe brings more positive energy into a practice, which eventually leads to more clients. I don’t charge an hourly rate. I currently just charge a one time rate, and at times when I add up how many hours I put into a clients report, I end up technically earning lower than minimum wage at times. I’m so glad that I found this article, and all you helpful commenters. Looking at how low the number of genetic practitioners in the US is, it helps me understand why people have a hard time finding someone like me and the rest of us out there who is trained to do this professionally. If any of you have any feedback or advice on how to promote myself or what was successful to all of you, I’d love to hear it.
    You can reply to me here or at my business email at [email protected]

  33. Alan P S D Mayer 13 April 2017 / 11:32 pm

    Excellent article – and, as usual, a divergent comment –
    I’m interested in the cost / expense for the facial re-construction forensics science pictures such as “The French connection” case.
    “The code of a killer” series on TV discusses the cost of basic DNA testing of 5000 people to find one offender circa 1983, 1984 at questionable expense to the taxpayer of the time, but was subsequently approved. Could the expense be justified for 1, 10, 100, 1000 offenders at the time ??? Where does one draw the line ?!?!?!
    Media articles relating to the French homicides suggest that the cost of the dna test[s] was $3500. How much does it cost to make the computer generated facial re-constructions ??? Is this data available, or is it still subject to privacy ???
    Taking into consideration wages to qualified employees, rents, PCR analysis machines, etc, etc, etc, what is the true cost of parabon snapshot to the USA taxpayer ??? Can it be justified for 1, 10, 100, 1000 offenders ??? Then there’s the subsequent police, court, jail costs as well.
    Yes, maybe genetic genealogists are a rare breed, and should charge accordingly, at least to cover their own costs, but at what point do people say that they simply can’t afford it, and will someone else provide a similar service for free ???

  34. Pam Camacho 10 July 2018 / 10:30 pm

    This is a great blog article, thank you. The first half especially is so on point. However, I do beg to differ that adoptees or any clients are expecting free work, we cannot assume that. Sure there a a few that might or even a client that may stiff you, that happened to me once the spring after my TBI, because with my impaired judgement forgot to send him the forms and contract agreement, I usually do but maybe led him to believe it was pro bono as I used to give an hour free when I first started. He returned messaged me years later after that. I was floored that he took advantage of me that as he ran an adoptee group on fb. I found newspaper articles and do so much research even finding accomplished aunts and uncles, not just his two birth parents. Not easy to do just six months after a brain injury either and all that work sent the into a relapse visually.

    I’ve been helping folks for 25 years, the last 5 is the only time I’ve done it for pay. I was told I didn’t charge enough and rates were way too low. So many folks gave me extra at first as they told me my work went above and beyond, I think it’s that I take on ancestry projects where I can learn more. African American or Macedonian/Greek, Polish, Jewish…. I’m addicted and loved the challenge!

    My problem is now that I’ve raised my rates even a a bit more due to my TBI and how hard it is on my brain AND because so many are getting free DNA help to solve adoption cases…. Is it worth it anymore to attempt to run a business ? I invested a lot in getting to Jamboree this year, so I hope I can find clients soon. I sure wish there were marketing or business classes for us genealogists! If you know of any, please point in me in that direction.


    P.S. I do love your book, easy to understand. I’m not ready to use all the programs you and so many genetic genealogists use, but I’ve mastered the basics now and have been using DNA testing to help me solve 5 cases during the last year. And yes, I did a few pro bono or half price as I was learning. ; )

  35. Pam Camacho 10 July 2018 / 10:42 pm

    This is a great blog article, thank you. It is so on point and likely most relevant since DNA became such a huge boon to their cases. However, I do beg to differ that all adoptees or any clients are expecting free work, we cannot assume that. Nor that everyone offers it for free. Sure there a few adoptees that might or even a client that may stiff you. That happened to me once the spring after my TBI, because with my impaired judgement forgot to send him the forms and contract agreement, I usually do but maybe led him to believe it was pro bono as I used to give an hour free when I first started. He returned messaged me years later after that. I was floored that he took advantage of me that as he ran an adoptee group on fb. I found newspaper articles and do so much research even finding accomplished aunts and uncles, not just his two birth parents. Not easy to do just six months after a brain injury either and all that work sent the into a relapse visually.

    I’ve been helping folks for 25 years, the last 5 is the only time I’ve done it for pay. I was told I didn’t charge enough and rates were way too low. So many folks gave me extra at first as they told me my work went above and beyond, I think it’s that I take on ancestry projects where I can learn more. African American or Macedonian/Greek, Polish, Jewish…. I’m addicted and loved the challenge!

    My problem is now that I’ve raised my rates even a a bit more due to my TBI and how hard it is on my brain AND because so many are getting free DNA help to solve adoption cases…. Is it worth it anymore to attempt to run a business ? I invested a lot in getting to Jamboree this year, so I hope I can find clients soon. I sure wish there were marketing or business classes for us genealogists! If you know of any, please point in me in that direction.


    P.S. I do love your book, easy to understand. I’m not ready to use all the programs you and so many genetic genealogists use, but I’ve mastered the basics now and have been using DNA testing to help me solve 5 cases during the last year. And yes, I did a few pro bono or half price as I was learning. ; )

  36. Charlene Ada Bugg 26 August 2018 / 9:11 pm

    So I haven’t taken any genealogy courses but I find a lot of ancestors, cousins, etc. Tons of people write to me on asking for information about their ancestors. How can I legally charge and for what and for how much? To begin with, should I ask them to write me at my e-mail address? It just doesn’t seem right that I do all this work for free.

  37. Kevin Harper 11 January 2019 / 7:17 am

    Hey Blaine, great article. I do see how the genetic genealogy works, does give a complete description too. Take a look at this website which consists of popular at-home base DNA kits which are a great trend in the market.

  38. Hannah Hunt 21 May 2019 / 5:39 pm

    This really resonates with me. I got into genetic genealogy two years ago by accident when an acquaintance told me he was adopted and I felt the urge to volunteer to help him identify his biological family. He took a DNA test and within a week I had identified both of his biological parents using nothing closer than a 3rd cousin. And I was hooked. I had found something I was very good at, which I really really enjoyed.

    I found other people to help in the two big facebook groups, and as of this writing I’ve solved about 10 cases and partially solved two others. I’ve been working on one very challenging case in my spare time for over a year. I haven’t solved that msytery yet (there are lots of challenges including endogamy, related parents, going back into slave history, etc). But in working on that case, I found two DNA matches of my “client” who were adopted, and I solved their cases for them!

    I have never asked for money, and nobody has ever offered it to me. In all but two cases the people were strangers to me. After I solved their cases I didn’t get a thank you card, or a gift card, nothing. In fact they no longer keep in touch with me even though during the period when I was researching their family trees, we were in daily contact and it was fairly intimate in the sense that they revealed their family secrets to me.

    I’m not resentful about this, because I volunteered and I enjoyed it. However, that was then, this is now.

    The cases that have come to me have been perfectly ordered. I started out with a fairly easy case and they have become more difficult. I’ve learned, and added tools to my toolkit, and am keeping my head above water – just!

    My most recent case is for a friend who knows I am interested in genetic genealogy. She recently got a free DNA kit, took the test and found out her father on paper is not her biological father. I have identified her biological father (the son of a Nobel laureate – you can’t make this stuff up!) … and just did a 12 page writeup, complete with custom charts, footnotes, etc. for her.

    She didn’t offer to pay me and I didn’t ask. Although she did offer to take me to dinner. Which will work out to maybe 50 cents an hour – if *I* get to pick the restaurant 🙂

    I’ve enjoyed working for free so far but … I realize that I do have a skill, and it is valuable, and people want answers … but they don’t offer to pay me. It’s very time consuming, and I have other hobbies I enjoy, and a living to earn.

    So, I’m starting to think that it’s time to start charging for the work.

    Part of my hesitation is wondering whether people would want to pay me for what I give them for free. Part of it is, I’m not a “professional” – not a member of any genealogical society, etc.

    But I know I’m good. I’m precise, and careful, and I kick the tires – hard – on any conclusions I reach, and document them with narrative and graphs.

    Well, I’ll stop there. I’m not sure what to do going forward…. but it felt good to write it out!

Comments are closed.