We’ve talked about having a side gig before on this blog–particularly the problems in how we discuss them and the implications therein. Today I’m going to tell you about mine. It’s truly a side project, secondary to my main job, something I do primarily on weekends and during the summer. It’s turned into a nice little revenue stream, largely because it has next to no overhead. And I can do it because I had the time to develop it and because my primary job enables me not to worry about making ends meet.
I am a genealogical consultant.
Chief for me when I considered embarking on a side project was doing something that was enjoyable, made use of my skills, and made me some worthwhile money.
I had been prowling Mr. Money Mustache for weeks and I saw lots of posts about sites like Task Rabbit. If I needed the income to pay my bills, Task Rabbit might have been ok, but I did not want to be tethered to someone’s needs for unpredictable, low cash. I didn’t want to end up exploited or abused, as can happen with task jobs (there’s an episode of the Simpsons where Bart does tons of work for an old lady and gets a measly quarter). I didn’t want to put myself in odd situations. As a woman in 2017, that concern is often forefront in my mind.
As for my skills, my main job is in the humanities–long the butt of jokes about uselessness in the employment world. I spent some serious time thinking about what I like to do, particularly during the summers when my regular contract is up. I’m a skilled historian with a good handle not just on the American past but the sources that help us decipher it. Some summers ago, I mapped our family tree back to the 1680s–I was hooked. So I set myself up as a summertime genealogical consultant. I’m not certified as such, but I do have a Ph.D. in history. I frame what I do as both fact-digging and narrative-telling: people love stories, and I hate facts without context. I’m really good at this kind of work.
Humanities critics can suck it.
I looked into what professional genealogists charge, and numbers ranged as high as $80 an hour. That seemed more than my market could potentially bear, I figured, especially since I lack the appropriate credentialing. So I charge half of that, and people pay it. It never fails to amaze me that people barely blink that I’m charging $40 an hour, or $375 for a ten-hour chunk. They hand over their Ancestry credentials (so far all of my clients have an account) and I dig in. Rates are higher if I have to use my own account, which is currently dormant. I may increase them to $50 for new clients this spring, after I do more research.
I’ve had three clients so far. People call me in for a range of reasons. Some have family mysteries they want help with. I’ve teased out a family’s complicated moving patterns and offered interpretations grounded in general US history for them. I’ve helped decipher nineteenth-century language choices. I’ve located a rabbi who was ministering in Brooklyn–a lost link in a family chain–on behalf of another. Most recently, I worked with a client whose family stretched back to Puritan settlement in Massachusetts. Family branches fought on both sides of the Civil War, and one side was deeply entrenched in propagating slavery.
I pull no punches and hide no truths. If your past is dark, that’s what I’m going to tell you.
I love this gig.
I love it so much I’m doing some consulting–albeit rarely–during the academic year. People are often surprisingly vulnerable during the searching process; they’re sharing intimate parts of their family histories, their pain. It’s an honor to bear witness to them and to help people process their pasts.
Plus, they like to brag: my current client delights in telling her friends she’s meeting with her own personal genealogist. I only hope they book me, too.
My goal is to turn this little enterprise into something that yields at least $10k/year. I’ve made over $2k this year and I haven’t put much into marketing it. My goal was $1k, so I’m doing a smashing job. The three jobs I’ve had came through a single FB post on a local page: a woman who saw it told her friend who hired me, and she told two friends who hired me. Three of those setups a year would put me over the moon and close to goal. One of my current clients will join me for a presentation at the local library next spring that I hope will yield more clients.
If you’d like to work with me on tracing your family heritage, let me know! I’ll send you the link to my personal site and credentials once you check out as a non-bot non-threatening actually interested human. While there are some things–like sorting your family photos–I cannot do online, I can search and communicate with you easily by phone and by email. I can’t promise all the results you might want, but I’m a tenacious digger with a keen sense of seeing where clues lead. Want your own history detective? Hire me.