I never really thought I could get a paid job as a genealogist, other than perhaps doing some ad hoc work for people’s personal projects – definitely not something that I could rely on as a steady income stream. Genealogy had always been my pastime; I’d been interested in it from an early age and started researching in earnest in my mid-teens. I just never thought it could be more than a hobby, especially being in Australia, where it simply isn’t as popular as in other places.
So, I did the usual track of entering university after high school and completed a double degree. I then did an Honours degree, and then a doctorate. None of which had the slightest genealogical leanings. It was about halfway through my Ph.D. when I saw a post on Facebook that someone had shared to one of the Australian Genealogy groups there, talking about getting paid to do family history research and calling out to all “armchair genealogists.” Naturally, the link was soon clicked, and I was taken to Family Wise Ltd.’s web page. I’ll admit I was initially disappointed to see that it was a British company – I was expecting something a little closer to home, it being shared on an Australian site and all, but I read through the website, learning about the business and the industry of probate genealogy. I was then off on the trail of an Australian company that did the same thing but was soon stymied by the fact that most Australian intestacies are handled by government departments. So, I went back to my doctoral research for a few weeks, but the idea that the opportunity to turn my hobby into a career was sparked and I thought “stuff it, I’ll send them an email anyway – they can only say no.” They didn’t. The response from Kirsty, the Managing Director, was swift and encouraging. With most research conducted online my being on the other side of the planet wouldn’t hamper me working with Family Wise at all. Following a few emails back and forth, the world unfortunately intervened and communication came to a standstill. I understood Kirsty was a busy lady (and am even more keenly aware of just how busy she is, now that we share an office) and I had signed up to do a Ph.D. after all, which gave me plenty of things to focus on. So, the light went out on the dream of working as a paid genealogist for a while, though not completely.
Roll on about eighteen months or so, and the doctoral studies were winding up. The thesis had been written, and was in the hands of examiners, papers had been published in journals, and I contemplated life in either academia or the hydrocarbon industry. I didn’t find the appeal in either. My own family history research had kept me sane in the interludes of study and thesis-writing, so I again considered doing It for a living. I emailed Family Wise and said, “remember me?”
The universe wasn’t getting in the way this time, and I got a job: as a subcontractor for the company, researching the family trees of those names published by the U.K. Government on the unclaimed estates list and sending notes back to the office for actioning. I wasn’t, as I had hoped, able to give up my day job, as the income was commission based, which meant I had to wait for the estates I’d worked on to be fully resolved and be paid out – which takes months. It was not a steady income stream, but it was work I enjoyed immensely.
As my tenure at university was drawing to a close, and I finally got to don the cap and gown, I thought I would take some time off from work and study to travel – the other of my passions. A long stretch of travelling had been on the cards for a while, and the idea of a working holiday had been floating around my head for a number of years. Family Wise being in the U.K., if I could land a position with them, with a steady income, and a few days off here and there to mosey around the Isles and Europe I’d be one happy camper. I broached the subject with Kirsty and just like that I had a job lined up in the UK, possibly before I had even organised my Visa! I thus began my working holiday and career as a paid genealogist, moving from the bustle of Melbourne to the Wiltshire countryside. Given the current global situation, the holiday part of my plan has stalled, but there’s still plenty of work to do. I’m thoroughly enjoying the whole experience, and so glad I took the opportunity when I could. I guess the moral of the story is not to give up. Even if it’s eighteen months after the last time you were in touch, it can’t hurt to send another email…
– Toban Wild, Senior Case Manager