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How to Hire A Genealogist

Genealogy is fun. But sometimes researchers find it necessary to hire a professional. Judy Rosella Edwards fills us in on the process.


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Tracing your own family is a pleasure, and sharing your hard work with family is a special thing. But sometimes the DIY – do-it-yourself -- method leads to frustration and it is time to call in more experienced research assistance. If that time comes, there are some tips that will help the process along.


Expect a detailed accounting of time spent on your research. Genealogists usually charge by the hour. They charge additional fees for duplicating documents and for travel. Before hiring a genealogist, ask what their travel rate is and determine how far they need to travel to a courthouse or other location in meeting your research needs.

The accounting needs to include the exact fee for processing vital records. Fees for birth certificates and other records a courthouse or other archive charges are the client's responsibility. Many vital record archives charge a higher fee for a "certified" document versus one that is needed for genealogy. Make it clear to your genealogist which type of vital record you need. If your genealogist doesn't ask, you should inquire about such fees up front. Fee amounts and whether there is a range of fees for each type of record varies widely from one town to another around the world.

Agree upfront how you will receive information. You can request a print document or digital information.

The Starting Point

Expect any genealogist to ask where you are, at this point, and to ask where you started. A good genealogist will do some quick verifying to make sure you are on the right track. The starting point is either you or your spouse.

Connecting the Dots

If there are missing individuals between generations, a genealogist will consider the last identifiable ancestor as the end point. Every individual within a family tree must be documented by name, birth date and date of death.

Why Are You Doing This Research?

This may seem like a rude question but it is not. I was once hired to research a client's long lost friend who turned out to be the mother of his child. The client did not know this child's name or any other information about him including his whereabouts - other than that the child had been given up for adoption.

That type of research is different than traditional genealogy. Researching adoptees is a specialty. It also brings ethical questions into the picture. What are the birth mother's wishes? How old is the child? Does the child want to be contacted? Does the child even know they were adopted? How do the adoptive parents feel about the child being contacted?

Such research requires a specific expertise and a kid glove approach. Be upfront with a genealogist if that is the kind of research you need done. Remember, the clock is ticking and it's your dime. It will take longer for a genealogist to regroup if they are unaware from the beginning that they need to conduct adoption research.

How to Provide Data

Nearly all genealogists use some sort of computer program to store genealogical data. If you are using Legacy, or some other database, offer to provide your genealogist with the data you already have.

How to Provide the Best Data to a Genealogist

Genealogists are sticklers about citing sources. Before offering your data to a genealogist, cite every source you possibly can. It will save time for your genealogist and money for you, if your data indicates where you have already searched and successfully found information. You don't want to pay a genealogist to repeat the work you have already done; although, as I mentioned earlier, genealogists will quickly verify information.


Genealogists need to know if you have a deadline in mind. One August noon hour, a client once came to the Family History Center where I was volunteering. He had a simple request. His wife's family migrated from Poland around 1900 and the family's name was changed. No one knows what the name was originally. His deadline was to research his wife's entire family in time to present her with a written family history in November. He was new to genealogy and needed a lot of assistance. Since this was a surprise, he could only do research during one lunch hour per week.

The deadline was impossible. Our team of volunteers did the best we could for him. But, knowing the deadline was critical, we were able to advise him as to what was realistic so that she would have her birthday surprise. It was far from complete, but it helped to be aware of the deadline.

If research is going to require an extended period of time, do not hesitate to request updates from your genealogist at regular intervals. It will give you peace of mind. It will also give the genealogist an opportunity to report to you, if he or she is not having a successful search.

You can request your genealogist provide you with monthly updates. The simplest method most genealogists use is a monthly invoice. The invoice is proof that research is ongoing and it offers you pro-rated fees as opposed to receiving one large bill at the conclusion of the research project.

What To Expect In Return

If you submit your data in a digital file, you can expect to receive an updated digital file in return, complete with cited sources. Genealogists provide clients with thorough reports about what research was done and what data was unearthed.

Printed family trees can be generated from nearly any genealogical software. If you do not know how to do this, ask your genealogist to print the family tree for you. If you would like to print the tree later, ask your genealogist to set up the print job and save it so that you can print when you are ready.

Genealogists usually mail vital records to clients. Ask your genealogist to scan birth, death, and marriage certificates if you are uncomfortable scanning. The original copies are special but, by scanning them, you can share them with your family and they will be print ready. You can import the scans into your genealogical software.


Hiring a genealogist is all about communication. A good relationship with your genealogist will result in a more thoroughly researched family tree.

Source Information: GenWeekly, New Providence, NJ, USA: Genealogy Today LLC, 2010.

The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of Genealogy Today LLC.

*Effective May 2010, GenWeekly articles that are more than five years old no longer require a subscription for full access.

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