Hiring a professional genealogist or family historian.

Are you thinking abuot hiring a professional to help you with your family history research? Wondering whether it is the right time to get some help? Then read my guide to hiring a professiona genealogist or family historian.

When or why should I hire a professional genealogist or family historian?

  • You do not have the time to invest in conducting the research yourself.
  • You do not know where or how to start.
  • You have ‘hit a brick wall’ in your research
  • You need specialised knowledge/records.
  • You need to take you research into the archives but do not live close by
  • You do not have the time and/or money to travel to examine records yourself
  • You have found records you are unable to read due to:
    •  the difficulties surrounding reading old handwriting generally
    • and/or they are in Latin
  • You may simply want a professional to look at the research conducted to date to validate it
  • Maybe you have inherited it from another family member and would like it checked for accuracy or to help ‘fill in’ any missing information.

What should I do before instructing a professional?

  • Make sure your research is in order
  • Provide clear instructions as to your research goal(s) to make the best of the professionals’ resources, time and your money – the more specific your research request the more value for money you will get

Do you want them to research a specific line or person?

Do you may have a theory you want to prove or disprove?

Do you want the professional to look at specific record to ‘fill in’ your research to date? Such as manorial records to discover more about any land holdings and how the land passed through the generations.

Do you have an ancestor who held a coat of arms and would like a professional to research the heraldry of the family?

Have you found evidence there was an inheritance dispute within the family? If so, you may want a professional to find out more in the Chancery/equity court records held at the National Archives.

Have you found evidence of a criminal ancestor? If so, you may want to instruct a professional to find out more about their case.

What will I need to provide to the professional genealogist/family historian?

This will depend on the research you are asking the professional to undertake. In general, provide:

  • as much information as you can about the research you have done so far
  • provide records (or copies)
  • provide access to an online tree you have built
  • complete a pedigree tree with the information you have to date and provide a copy

Once you find a professional, ask them what information they would like from you. If your research is specific i.e., a specific period, ancestor, they may not want ALL your research just what is relevant to the task in hand.

How do you choose one that is right for me?

What do you want the professional to do? Genealogy? Family history? What is the difference?

Put simply:

  • genealogy is the “bare bones”, the names and dates of our ancestors
  • family history is the stories behind those names and dates, developing the lives and personalities of our ancestors.

Consider the following questions:

  1. What is their background?
  2. What areas/time periods do they specialise in?
  3. Do they specialise in a specific records set? E.g., manorial records, chancery records, criminal records
  4. How many years of experience do they have?
  5. What qualifications do they have?
  6. What professional organisations are they a member of? Check with the professional organisation – websites will have a list of members
  7. Do they abide by a professional Code of Practice/Conduct?

The main professional bodies in the UK are:

NB A genealogist/family historian may state they are a member of SOG (Society of Genealogists www.sog.org.uk) this is not a professional body but “a charity with a unique purpose”, an archive for many unique family records.

You should also consider:

  • What their fee is and what is included
  • Will they provide a fixed fee or an hourly rate?
  • Are there any extra charges such as travel, copying, postage etc.
  • What are their payment terms – do they require a deposit/payment up front/a payment plan etc.
  • Ask for a copy of their terms and conditions before instructing them – this should be provided in any event and some genealogists provide a copy on the websites
  • What is their availability?
  • How long will it take them to complete the research?
  • Do they provide regular updates?
  • How will it be presented?

A professional researcher should always provide a fully referenced research report setting out in detail their research process and all their findings, whether positive or negative. The report should enable the reader to follow the methodology, records examined and reasoning of the researcher which have led to any conclusions.

Points to Remember:

  • You do not need to instruct a professional to complete a large project in one go
  • Research can always be broken down into smaller projects, which may make it more manageable and cost effective for both you and the professional.
  • It is not always possible to trace an ancestor or a family line back as far as expected
  • It is not always possible to find the expected information in a particular document
  • A professional researching will still expect to be paid where their search(es) results in a negative outcome and those negative outcomes should be included in their report.
  • Their report will often include suggestions/recommendations for further work.

Listen to my AGRA collegues in this episode of the AGRA podcasts from September 2021 talking about Commissioning Effective Research

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