When to Hire a Genealogist and How to Hire a Genealogist.

Whether you are just beginning to research your family history, or you have been working on your branches for years, there comes a time to hire a professional genealogist.

When to Hire a Genealogist:
  • When you want to find out more about your family and don’t know where to begin
  • When you are trying to find named or unknown heirs in a testate or intestate estate.
  • When you have hit a brick wall
  • When you have been looking at your brick wall for way too long.  It’s time for a new pair of eyes to give you a fresh perspective
  • When you don’t have time to devote to the details.  Sometimes the smallest of clues lead to the biggest results.
  • When you are looking for something specific
  • When you are writing your family history
  • If you are applying to a Society that is very specific about the documents needed to prove lineage.  It can be a very slow process and require a lot of legwork to tie up loose ends.
  • When you want to give the gift of a family tree to a loved one
  • When you just want someone to collaborate with.  We have made many friendships with our clients and they bounce ideas off of us long after our project is complete.

How to Hire a Genealogist:
  • Learn as much as you can about the process.  I hired my first professional about 6 months into my family research.  I was specifically looking for more information on my Irish relatives on the East Coast.  The woman I hired was extremely knowledgeable about the Irish and gave me a wealth of information, in addition to gathering documents that I was not familiar with.  I learned everything I could from her along the way and asked a lot of questions.  This knowledge has served me well with my clients of today.
  • Have a plan and communicate your goals to the genealogist before hiring them.  The genealogist can then assess what is needed to achieve your goals and provide a proposal for next steps.
  • Hire someone that is current and up to date on what is new in the world of genealogy.  Social Media has become a major tool for communicating with clients.  It can be very helpful to find someone with the following: Website, Facebook Page, Twitter Account, Blog.
  • Hire someone that knows how to retrieve a hard-to-get record.  Your families lived in many places.  You don’t necessarily need to hire someone that lives in one location.  There are several ways a professional genealogist can gather those documents from any geographical region.  An example would be a Civil War Pension Record, or a simple obituary.
  • Hire someone with access to many subscription databases.  There are several key websites out there that have a comprehensive collection of documents, such as newspapers, regional records, military records, etc.  For example, we belong to several newspaper websites.  Just recently, we found a marriage announcement from 1819 in upstate New York that helped our client prove lineage for the Mayflower Society.
  • Hire someone that is willing to do the legwork and physical research.  Online searches are not the only way to find documents and answers to your brick walls.
  • Ask lots of questions to ensure the genealogist can help you in your area of interest.
  • Be prepared to pay for document retrievals that are out of pocket expenses to the genealogist.
  • If travel is required to various locations to follow the family, then that may require additional expenses that need to be paid.
  • A good genealogist will even help you find someone local to a specific area and subcontract the work if that is needed to accomplish your goals.
  • If you need help outside of the US, there are tremendous records available online for specific countries.  However, there may come a time when you need to hire someone in that foreign country.  They should be able to help you find a genealogist in that area.
  • Look for an active Genealogist in the following areas:  Referral from someone who has previously hired a professional and had a good experience, Website of the Association of Professional Genealogists, Local Historical Society or Genealogical Society, Local Library, or the Website of the Board for Certification of Genealogists.  We have even had clients find us from a Google search and Angie's List

Other things to consider:
  • Is the genealogist responsive to your initial request for information?  This can be an indication of how they communicate in the future.  If you are looking to complete your research in a specific time frame, then communicate that in advance so they know your expectations.
  • Be realistic about results.  Even the most knowledgeable genealogist will hit a roadblock if a record does not exist.  Keep in mind that vital records before 1850 are rare, except for church records.  And even those are spotty based on the religion and church that kept the record.  A top-notch genealogist will think outside the box and put on their creative hat.  Examples of outside the box thinking include researching sponsors of the child’s baptism, or searching for divorce and probate records.  One of the hardest cases we have to date is a Switched at Birth story in Quebec.  We have found some key information on this case by individually flipping through pages of the church book one by one.  You cannot just rely on a search engine to help you find the exact name you are researching. 
  • If all you need is document retrieval, then someone local can be your best bet.   However, there are ways for a knowledgeable genealogist to gather what is needed.  This includes utilizing the inter-library system, and outsourcing a specific job to another genealogist in a specific area.  A good professional will have contacts all around the US, or know how to find someone quickly.
  • Ask the tough questions – how much do they estimate this project will cost, how long will this project take to complete, how will they provide the documents and recaps of all findings, etc.

And most importantly, find someone to have fun with.  Learn as much as you can and enjoy the process.
Ancestry Sisters hard at work