Have you wondered about hiring a professional genealogist but not known how to start? Your questions could range from “How do I find a professional?” to “How do I prepare for a consultation?” In this article, I’ll share some insights from my work as a professional genealogist.
Why Hire A Professional Genealogist
– You have a brick wall genealogy problem that you can’t break down.
– You don’t read the language of the records for your ancestors.
– You want to finally publish that big book of genealogy and need to verify your research.
– You need help using DNA to solve a family mystery.
– You want to do the research yourself but would like expert coaching.
– You are finally visiting your ancestor’s homeland, but don’t know what repositories would be best to visit.
– You want to join a lineage society like the Daughters of the American Revolution (DAR) or the Mayflower Society.
If you recognized any of those scenarios, you might want to consider hiring a professional genealogist. In the long run, a professional can save you time, energy, and money. Here are ways you could get the help you need.
Dealing with Documents
Considering the cost of travel to an archive or repository as well as the hotel, food, and transportation – you could well exceed what you’d pay a professional to research onsite for you.
A professional genealogist who works regularly with documents in another language could translate a lengthy will for you. Even if you’re working in your own language, you might need help reading the old handwriting or transcribing and abstracting an involved record such as an estate file or court case.
Organizing and Analysis
Perhaps you have acquired a thick folder of documents relating to an ancestor. Despite years of research, you still haven’t made connections. A professional genealogist can organize the previous research and give you suggestions for moving forward.
If you have inherited boxes of genealogy and feel paralyzed about what to do with the family group sheets, documents, and photos, you might need help in getting organized.
Getting your DNA results is exciting, but once you have looked at your ethnicity results and your closest matches, what’s next? Perhaps your family has a long-standing mystery that could be solved with DNA, but you need help organizing the matches and understanding the methodology.
A consultation with a DNA expert could get you started. A professional genealogist who works with DNA regularly could save you a lot of time and energy in finding the answer to your conundrum.
Learning About Family
You may have spent many years researching a family line and have come up against a brick wall. A professional genealogist can analyze previous research then approach the problem with new eyes and their lens of experience.
Maybe you want to discover your Revolutionary War ancestor so you can join a lineage society like DAR or SAR. Someone proficient in the rules for the society could make a difference in a successful application.
Perhaps you’d like to leave a legacy for your descendants and need assistance writing a documented family history – either as a book or series of reports.
The field of forensic genealogy may be unfamiliar to you. It entails research in locating heirs, immigration and citizenship, land issues involving title, oil, gas, and mineral royalties, genetic genealogy, etc. Forensic research involves searching for living people and this type of research is often hired by attorneys, estates, courts, etc.
Locating a Professional Genealogist
Once you’ve decided to seek professional help, how do you find the right person? Several websites have profiles of professional genealogists with their specialties and information listed. The Association of Professional Genealogist’s directory lists almost two thousand people. You can search by name, credential, research specialty, research locality, language, place of residence, and repositories.
You will want to be sure you feel comfortable with the genealogist’s level of education and experience. Have they completed a program such as the Boston University Genealogical Programs Certificate or the Bachelor’s Degree in Family History from Brigham Young University? Many excellent genealogists bypass formal programs and learn by creating their own educational programs. They attend institutes and conferences. View webinars. Read books. Most of all, they gain experience through a variety of research projects.
Three United States credentialing bodies provide a professional genealogy credential through rigorous procedures. Hiring a credentialed genealogist has benefits besides knowing that an individual has met a level of proficiency in their research. One benefit to both the researcher and the client is the mediation and arbitration service provided in the case of a dispute over the service or payment. Additionally, credentialed genealogists sign a code of ethics and require proof of continuing education for each 5 year renewal period.
The credentialing bodies in the U.S. list their members in a directory which gives you the opportunity to find a researcher that will fit your needs.
The Board for the Certification of Genealogists (BCG) website contains a directory of board-certified genealogists. You can search by name, address, education, specialties, services, and whether the professional accepts clients. The Certified Genealogist’s profile will list contact information and specific specialties.
Tips for Working with a Professional Genealogist
After you have discovered some possible professionals that you’d like to work with – look at their websites for public reviews or testimonials. Contact them with a brief email about your research needs and what types of services you would like to hire them to perform. Ask for work samples to get an idea of the type of report you’ll receive. You can ask for references from past clients as well. If possible, set up a phone call to discuss your project and any concerns.
Before the phone call, refresh your memory of the research you’ve conducted and be ready to answer questions. If you and the professional decide to proceed, you will need to locate and organize all records that pertain to the project. Writing up a clear summary of previous research can help the professional to get a jump start on the project.
Share your family tree – whether an online tree or a GEDcom from your database. If DNA is involved, be prepared to share your DNA testing website login information.
Finally, be open to whatever results you may receive. Realize that even if the professional genealogist did not break down your brick wall in 20 hours, you will receive valuable research and suggestions for moving forward with the project. Very seldom does the research come to a complete halt. Often there is more to be done – especially now with DNA evidence added to the possibilities.
What to Expect from a Professional Genealogist
Expect good communication from the professional and in return respond to emails or phone calls while your project is in the research phase. Often the professional will need additional information from you as the project advances.
When the project is complete you should receive the following:
– A research log documenting all searches, positive and negative
– A written report detailing and analyzing the research
– Suggestions for future research
– Physical or digital copies of new documents located
– A follow-up call or meeting to answer your questions about the research project
To watch my RootsTech 2021 video about hiring a professional genealogist, see below.
If you’re ready to advance your research, I encourage you to seek out professional help. Your family history is worth it!
Good luck in all your genealogical endeavors!