Top Ten Skills Every Genealogist Needs

Like me, perhaps you don’t match a Professional Genealogist’s academic qualifications and credentials  That doesn’t mean you can’t be a good, proficient amateur. Here’s a list of skills and abilities needed.

  • Research skills: The ability to find, analyze, and interpret historical records and documents.
  • Organizational skills: A method to keep track of findings, sources, and family connections (e.g., software, filing systems).
  • Ability to access records: Subscriptions or connections to genealogical databases, archives, and libraries.
  • Patience and persistence: Genealogy often involves solving puzzles and overcoming research obstacles.
  • Critical thinking: The capacity to evaluate conflicting information and draw reasonable conclusions.
  • DNA testing and analysis skills: The ability to use and interpret genetic genealogy tests.
  • Networking skills: The ability to connect with other researchers, distant relatives, and local historians who might share information or collaborate on research.
  • Knowledge of historical context: Understanding the social, economic, and political conditions of the time periods and locations being researched.
  • Technological proficiency: Familiarity with digital tools, online databases, and software programs used in modern genealogical research.
  • Writing and documentation skills: The ability to record findings, cite sources properly, and potentially write family histories or research reports.

Walking on water capability is not required!

How can you build those skills?

1. Attend presentations, conferences and webinars offered by companies, societies, archives and libraries.
2. Read books and magazines.
3. Subscribe to social media by searching for genealogy or family history.
4. Take advantage of Legacy Family Tree Webinars. Each new presentation is free for a week, after which it goes behind a paywall. There’s a library of high-quality past presentations and syllabus material. At $50US, it’s a bargain. Wait for a periodic sale to get 50% off.
5. Consider educational opportunities such as those offered by the University of Strathclyde, Pharos Tutors, or the International Institute of Genealogical Studies.


6 Replies to “Top Ten Skills Every Genealogist Needs”

  1. Thank you for this inclusive summary. I’m pleased to see the addition of skills-building to your list. As an active amateur genealogist since my retirement in 2009, I have acquired and applied most of the skills you cite in the first paragraph. I’m proud to say that I have published a family history (December 2023) and contribute to social media groups and genealogical journals. One addition to my routine is to freely assist others with their research, including two recent reports on family connections.

    I think the explanations, blogs, and educational videos provided by professional sites like Ancestry, FamilySearch, MyHeritage, and FamilyTree DNA could be mentioned. The Family Search Wiki is superb. FTDNA has been helpful. Finally, I subscribe to Legacy FamilyTree – absolutely the best value for money.

    Whether you are a beginner or an advanced amateur, I would recommend the Family Tree Magazine website. It has a bountiful collection of helps, guides, and books. A subscription to the site and digital magazine are great value.

    Amateurs can benefit from writing, writing, writing. Find examples on the web, and ask “skillful” friends to review your work. I find the free material provided by Writers’ Digest a useful addition to my toolkit. For a useful subscription site, try Author Learning Center. It has a great database of advice on writing, editing, publishing, and marketing.

  2. The ten top skills you list and the five ways of building those skills is a brilliant, creative piece of work. Would that I have all ten skills, but I do have enough to have stood me in good stead for years to write my own genealogical pieces for publication.

    Your advice and knowledge of the field of genealogy is just top notch, as far as I am concerned.

    Thank you for all that you do, John.

  3. May I suggest the addition of at least a basic knowledge (or failing that, the willingness to look up) current and historical geography? Just as one example, the discovery that one of your ancestor’s eight children was christened hundreds of miles away from their siblings might be a red flag….

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