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What You Should Know Before Hiring A Professional Genealogist

What You Should Know Before Hiring A Professional Genealogist by Sue P. Morgan, Copyright 1980, revised 1984, 1996

One of the questions most commonly asked the genealogist is, "If I were to pay you $300.00, how many generations would you be able to extend my pedigree?" You should be aware that no researcher can responsibly predict or predetermine the number of generations that can be proven before research is begun.

Each genealogical problem is unique. While some research problems are quite easy to solve, others may be difficult. For example, if the family lived in a geographical area during a time period when the records were well kept, chances of learning more about this family in a limited time are very good. The amount of information may be extensive.

On the other hand, some research problems are much more difficult. The ancestral family may have lived in a locality where the usual types of records were destroyed. Sometimes a court house was burned. Church and vital records may be lost or destroyed. As the westward expansion progressed, families moved, sometimes long distances, making it more difficult to locate records about them or determine where they moved.

In these cases, the research will move slower. More in depth research will be required in supplemental records to solve these more difficult problems.

Another situation the researcher can be plagued with is the fact that some major genealogical collections are not indexed. These must be searched, line by line, making the research process more tedious and time consuming.

Searching for very common surnames such as Smith, Baker, or Johnson will require more time than less common surnames because there would be numerous possibilities for ancestral connections to check out and analyze.

Locating families in large, densely populated cities can also be a factor dictating how much can be accomplished in a given time period. Records in very large cities such as New York or Chicago are massive. If they are unindexed, it will be like searching for a needle in a haystack--not impossible, but very time consuming.

An understanding of what the consumer is actually paying for when hiring a professional researcher will be helpful. There have been times when a consumer has felt "ripped off" because a certain amount of money was given to a researcher and "they didn't find one new thing for me"!

It is understandably disappointing when the research results are zero or minimal. If, however, the consumer is aware before hiring a genealogist, that the researcher is being paid for the TIME spent in searching the records--not necessarily the AMOUNT FOUND, misunderstandings will be averted.

What can I expect to receive for my money?

The consumer can, and should expect that a Professional is qualified by knowledge and experience to do research in the area or geographic location where your ancestors resided. He or she should be familiar with "Record Sources" and possess the necessary skills to locate and search the records that should solve your research problem.

While he/she cannot pre-guarantee how much, or exactly what, will be found, the researcher CAN guarantee to honestly use the allotted time to identify and search the records that normally should solve the problem. Most Professional researchers will tell you, up front, if they anticipate problems or difficulties with your research objectives.

A good researcher will also provide you with the following items at the conclusion of each research project:

1. RESEARCH REPORT: The report should outline in detail, what searches were made and an explanation of the results. It should explain to you the new findings and suggest searches which might be conducted in the future to continue your objectives.

2. RESEARCH CALENDER: The Research Calendar or Log is a form which lists all of the sources which were searched. The number of sources that can be searched during one research session will vary depending on the type of record. Was the record indexed or did it have to be read line by line? Printed sources take less time to read than do handwritten documents. Searching in unindexed records and those in densely populated areas will require more tedious and time consuming searchers.

3. COPIES OF ALL RESEARCH DOCUMENTS: Copies of pertinent documents should be included with the Report and Calendar for your records. These may include such documnts as deeds, probate records, birth, marriage and death records, church records, histories, census records, etc. A duplicate copy of everything will generally be kept by the researcher for future reference. You will be billed for all of the photo copies. However, the costs for duplicate copies are minimal when one considers the cost to replace the information should your records become lost or accidently destroyed.

In some cases, it is not possible for the researcher to make quality copies for you due to old and faded records, or poor microfilm copies of the original documents. In such a case, the researcher should make an extract of the important sections of the document for your records.

4. FAMILY GROUP SHEETS AND PEDIGREE CHARTS: As new information is found your researcher will prepare Family Group Records and Pedigree Charts showing the information about your ancestors. These will be updated after each research session with any corrections or new information that is found.

Researchers vary greatly in their methods of reporting and in what they provide their clients. If you hire a researcher who does not provide all of the above basics, you certainly can request them. Most Professional researchers are happy to provide you with copies of all of the documentation for your records.

Among the services your researcher may provide and for which you may be billed are:

Consultation time with you.

Analysis of your records.

Genealogical research.

Directing agents on special assignments.

Search fees for libraries, courthouses, etc.

Costs for Birth, Marriage and Death Records.

Preparing correspondence.

Responding to correspondence.

Writing reports.

Writing Biographies and Family Histories.

Agent Fees.

Long Distance Phone calls.

Travel expenses and field research.



Copy costs.

Genealogical Forms and Supplies.

Clerical, book keeping and typing.

Computer services.

How much will it cost?

Cost is a very important consideration for you and one which you will need to be very clear on before hiring a professional to work on your ancestry.

Fees vary considerably from researcher to researcher on a per hour basis--anywhere from $10.00 per hour to $95.00 per hour. The "average" fee currently ranges somewhere between $20.00 to $40.00 per hour for the Professional in the United States. Some researchers prefer to charge a flat daily fee such as $150.00 to $300.00 per day for their services.

Many professionals will require a minimum retainer, (usually $350.00-$500.00) for a research project. The reason for this is to give your researcher a good block of time in order to provide the best possible results. Small retainers usually allow for only a search or two and progress is slower in terms of results. Genealogical research is a science requiring good analysis skills and mental concentration. Your results will be more productive if you can allocate more time to a larger project than to allocate the same hours to many small projects. Many starts and stops are difficult for your researcher since each time he or she works on your ancestry, it takes time to mentally gear back up to the previous point of concentration.

Some researchers require their "retainer" in advance. This is usually a good plan for both parties. You will know at the time of payment exactly what your researcher will spend. He or she will have on hand the funds necessary to cover expenses such as agent fees, certificates, travel and etc.

If, however, you have arranged to pay the researcher "after" the completion of a project, be sure you have both agreed upon and understand the amount to be spent for each research session. Most people cannot afford open ended research. Be certain you both have the same understanding on the amount you will be paying. You may wish to put this in writing,(in a letter)so there are no misunderstandings.

Your researcher should not go over the amount you have authorized to be spent on a given project without permission from you in advance. Some clients will pre-authorize the researcher to go over the budget an EXTRA hour or two, (say, $50.00-$75.00) if the researcher is finding good information and it would be inconvenient to stop before finishing that record.

It has been my observation over many years of hiring professional researchers, that they are very anxious to successfully meet the research objectives. This is a matter of determination and pride for the researcher. In fact, I have many times known the researcher to work more hours than you are billed in order to accomplish the goal he or she has set for himself.

In summary:

1.What you are going to pay your researcher is very important to you. This is also very important to your researcher since this is his or her occupation.

2.Payment should be made promptly if you have agreed to pay after completion of each project.

3.You will both need to have a clear understanding before beginning the research exactly what amount you will pay or be charged later. This will help both parties avoid misunderstandings or problems down the road.

What will the researcher need to know when beginning my work?

Everything! Yes, the Genealogist needs to know everything you know in order to do the best possible job for you. You may think you don't have much information. But, you may be surprised to learn you have more helpful records right in your home than you are aware. Or, perhaps Mom, Dad, Grandmother or another family member has information or records. The following is a check list of some of the types of records you might have at home which can be very helpful to your researcher:

1.Pedigree Charts, completed as far back as you can.

2.Family Group Sheets.

3.Names of spouses and children of the ancestor you are researching.

4.Names of the brothers and sisters of the ancestor and their spouses if you know this.

5.Birth, Marriage and Death Certificates.

6.Obituaries, funeral cards, etc.

7.Diaries, Journals.

8.Old Letters.

9.Information in Family Bibles.

10.Family Histories.

11.Family Traditions and Stories.

12.Known places of residence of the ancestor during his lifetime. This is very important!

13.Copies of research you or others may have already done.

14.Names, addresses and phone numbers of living relatives who may have information on the family. Your researcher will be happy to make phone calls.

15.Perhaps what you know will be very scanty, but try to provide copies of everything you have. This will give your researcher a better foundation upon which to build. And, it will save time, money and avoid costly duplication of searches already completed.

NOTE: Provide "copies" of your family information or documents. It is not a good idea to give your original documents to anyone as they could be lost or inadvertently destroyed. Replacement may be very costly or even impossible.

Good luck in your quest for finding your ancestors. Remember that "GOOD RESEARCHERS MAY COST MORE, BUT BAD RESEARCHERS COST MOST!"

Copyright 1996 by Genealogical Services. All rights reserved.

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