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
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
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
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
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
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
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.
Directing agents on special assignments.
Search fees for libraries, courthouses, etc.
Costs for Birth, Marriage and Death Records.
Responding to correspondence.
Writing Biographies and Family Histories.
Long Distance Phone calls.
Travel expenses and field research.
Genealogical Forms and Supplies.
Clerical, book keeping and typing.
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
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
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.
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
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
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.
9.Information in Family Bibles.
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
Copyright © 1996 by Genealogical Services. All rights reserved.
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