Wondering what a professional genealogist does all day?
Well, wonder no more! I can’t speak for other professional genealogists, but this is what a typical day might look like for me.
First things first
I start my working day anywhere between 7am and 10am in the morning; although I have a ‘model’ day for my working day, there are days where I am up and raring to go at 5 or 6am. Other days I’m still groggy at approaching 9am, or on certain days where I have to run errands outside out of the house before I start my work day. Once I’m at my computer though, my routine is fairly standard.
First things first, I check my paper planner (yes, I’m old school) for what I have planned for that day, and any deadlines I need to be aware of. If it’s a day where I have Zoom appointments to discuss either possible new work or ongoing work, then I make sure I schedule in time to prepare for those.
Usually I’m dividing my time between “traditional” genealogy work and genetic genealogy work. For traditional genealogy work (e.g. family tree building, particular branch investigations) I keep an Excel log of what I need to do, what records I’m expecting to find, what records I still need to try and find and what records I’m still waiting on to arrive (these are usually birth, marriage or death certificates from the GRO, or probate records). I’ll usually spend the morning doing my research, and updating my log as I go. At lunchtime I’ll go and check my mailbox for certificates that have arrived and update my log accordingly (fun fact, I share this mailbox with a neighbour, and I’m convinced they must wonder what I’m up to with all the brown enveloped official looking letters that I get!).
A lot of professional genealogists write up their research as they go. I am not one of them! I find that if I try to transcribe my findings as I go, then I break my own flow, and it takes me longer to actually do the research. In addition, I’m naturally flagging by about 2.30/3pm (this is what happens when you wake up most days at 5am!), and so that’s when it feels better to give my ‘research’ brain a bit of a rest and type up my findings and the new records that have arrived that day. Because a couple of hours of research generations a ton of records to type up, this actually takes me the longest time, though I usually try to wrap up by 4.30-5pm.
Genetic genealogy days
Genetic genealogy research days tend to look a little different. I could be doing initial analysis of DNA matches, looking to identify groups of matches who are related to each other, or I’ve already done that and I’ve moved on to investigating those matches and trying to identify them and build out family trees for them, or verifying the family tree that they have provided. Or, I might be investigating links between different groups of matches, or trying to identify descendants of DNA-confirmed common ancestors between matches to interpret how my client fits into that family.
I usually take notes as I go, or do a form of mind map and do ‘WATO’ trees as needed for my notes, and once I’ve drawn a conclusion (or confirmed that I cannot draw one, which does happen), I then write my report up. Although my reports all take roughly the same format, these reports are very different than my ‘traditional’ genealogy reports, and I write them up in an uninterrupted period of a couple of hours as they require more of me than simply typing up census records! I have to write as clearly as possible, assuming the reader knows nothing about DNA, to explain my findings.
Not mentioned in all this is the time I spend doing routine website updates, planning and writing content (like this!), keeping up with my own professional development, making sure I take courses and webinars I want to take, accounts work and other admin, all that fun(?!) stuff that comes with running a business. I also spend time each week doing routine checks of DNA matches of more dormant DNA cases I still work on (usually my investigative/pro-bono cases) to see if any new potentially key DNA matches have occurred, or if a DNA match we need to hear from has checked in at all. Even though I try and keep really strict office hours for my own health, it’s not unusual that I’ll wake up with a sudden idea and have to go and write it down and brainstorm it then and there, so you don’t always switch off!
Hopefully this post was interesting for you to read; if you have any burning questions about being a professional genealogist, please let me know in the comments and I’ll do my best to answer you!
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