Earning Side Hustle Income with Genealogical Consulting

Tenacious J is the author of the blog Tenacious Feminist. Recently I got the chance to catch up with her to ask her a few questions about her unique side hustle: genealogical consulting.


Zach: What exactly is your side hustle?

J: I do genealogical consulting for clients. I help build family trees, solve family mysteries, get people through “stuck” spots in their own research, and provide contextualizing narratives.

Zach: How did you first come up with the idea to start doing freelance genealogy research?

J: I’d spent time on Mr. Money Mustache, reading about side jobs people were doing, prior to joining twitter and all of you in the PF-related blogosphere.

While I wanted to find some kind of route for additional income (particularly since I have time in the summer for such a thing), joining something like Fivrr and TaskRabbit just felt bleak to me.

I started contemplating what kind of skills I have that I could turn into a client-based operation that was worth my time. I have a PhD in history, teach it professionally, and I’d done my own family tree a couple of years prior.

I LOVE doing this kind of work—I lost a whole summer down various genealogy rabbit holes. Thinking about how I didn’t have many of my own mysteries left to pursue, I thought that I could combine my desire for a side hustle with my passion for genealogical digging. And here I am.

Zach: How did you land your first gig and how have you grown your client base?

J: I posted who I was and what I was offering on a town-based facebook group. Someone saw it and told her friend, who was my first client.

She had been working on her tree for years and I helped solve mysteries and provide contextualization as well as physically sort her materials into archivally-sound boxes. She had two friends who were also at stuck points in their trees who called me, and I was off.

Joining a state professional organization has brought me several clients, including a corporate client who does asset reclamation—this was a new side to the work I hadn’t even known was possible.

Zach: How much do you typically earn from doing freelance genealogy research?

J: I haven’t been at it long enough to say with confidence what an average is. I do most of my work in the summer when I’m on break, but I have some clients I work with on an ongoing manner as well.

My first contracts started in May or June of 2017, and I set myself a $1k goal for that summer. By the end of the year, I’d made double that. My goal for 2018 was $5k, and I *just* missed it. I have the same goal for this year.

Zach: What are your goals for the future with this side hustle? Is it something you want to only do on the side or would you consider doing it full time?

J: I’d like this hustle to consistently provide about $5-10k/year in extra cash. I really enjoy my day job—plus it has benefits, which my hustle does not, obviously—and thus I limit and space my clients so as to keep the work fun and prevent it from interfering with the time I need for my FT job.

Zach: What are your favorite aspects of this side hustle? What are your least favorite?

J: I love being a detective—digging into weird questions people have, sorting out family secrets, that kind of thing. I love the storytelling that goes into involved cases.

My pet peeve, in contrast, is when clients aren’t clear about what they want or what they already know, causing me to reinvent wheels—they’re expensive wheels and a waste of time.

Zach: Any advice for other people out there looking to start doing freelance genealogy research?

J: First, I’d say have experience before you put yourself out there—be familiar with the search engines, the research libraries, and the process of building trees and answering related questions.

Doing this work is often like doing a logic puzzle as there’s lots of deduction, and it’s also like doing a research paper as you need to cite everything and have evidence for all your claims. Being comfortable and skilled in those areas is a must.

My background as a history PhD has definitely helped grow my client base and gives speed to my work, but it’s hardly a requirement!

Zach: How can people get in contact with you if they’re interested in your services?

J: 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.

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