Should I hire a professional genealogist?

24 Jan

Let’s face it; genealogy is a time-consuming activity.  Perhaps you are one who has tried searching for your family history.  Maybe you’re the only one in the family who has even cared to ask the questions, and you don’t know where to start.  Or, you’ve started and enjoyed it, but you have hit the proverbial “brick wall.”  Now what?

Brick walls.  We all have them.  You also have a busy life; do you put it all on hold while you tromp around to archives and cemeteries, and do you let the dust bunnies gather while you sit for hours looking online?  Hiring a professional genealogist may be your answer.

Many hobbyists worry that they cannot afford to hire someone to do all that digging.  It’s cheaper and more entertaining to do it yourself, you say.  Entertaining, yes….but cheaper, maybe not.  First of all, travel is costly.  Hiring a professional genealogist is usually cheaper than the money you spend going to all those far-flung places where your ancestors landed, only to find that the archives are closed that day, along with the church, the library, and wherever else you wanted to go.  Hiring someone in the area is cheaper than plane fare, hotel fees, car rentals, parking, and meals in some distant town.  They know the area, too, which puts them at an advantage.  Also, professionals already have those expensive subscriptions your wish to all the fee-based websites you wish you had access to but don’t.  They have already paid for the training you have not had time, money, and/or inclination to receive.   Also, who is paying the bills while you spend hours on the computer looking for dead relatives?  That is, if you can even find the bills under the piles of papers that your genealogy habit has created.

Professionals know where things are.  Do you know which agency in your state keeps the birth, marriage, and death certificates?  Maybe it is the health department for the births and deaths, but the marriages are at the courthouse after such-and-such a date, but in the state archives otherwise.  Or, maybe you know where these records are in your state–after all, you’ve been doing this on your own for a while–but your ancestors did not stay put.  They moved to another state with different ways of keeping records and different laws for various things.  What about those pesky court records, tax records, land records?  Believe me, most are not online.  They are in dusty back rooms in busy courthouses far from home.  If you are just beginning to search your family history, do you even know what’s available?  Professionals know of possibilities that may not have occurred to you.

Professionals are organized people.  Some are laughing now as they read this while looking at all those client files on the desk, but yes…they are experienced and have systems for keeping track of all the details.  They have the temperament for this kind of work, or they wouldn’t be doing it.  Do you have the patience, time, and organizational skills?  Maybe you just want to know the story of your ancestors without spending nights and weekends doing all the work yourself.

Maybe you just got that online subscription as a gift, and you are thoroughly enjoying it while the house falls down around you.  What about the family tree you found online with the same ancestors as yours?  Can you trust them?  Professional genealogists will supply you with all the sources they used in your project so that you know it is documented.  They rely on data, not Aunt Maybelle’s intuition.

Well, maybe you say you don’t care about documentation.  You should.  Perhaps Grandpa wasn’t really the son of John Smith; he was John Smith’s second wife’s young cousin being raised by J. C. Smith and his wife, Mary.  Or was she Polly?  Maybe she was both because Polly was a nickname for Mary.  Fine.  Now, is that  J.C. Smith a direct ancestor of yours?  Maybe…or maybe not.

That’s not to say that family trees online are not accurate.  Some are the result of many years of hard work by a diligent researcher, one who cares a great deal about the accuracy of his or her own pedigree.  That person put it online, but then some distant cousin snagged the information and merged it with their own tangled mess of misspelled names and simply wrong birthdates.  Now what?

A good starting place for finding a professional is on the website of the Association of Professional Genealogists , or see a list of genealogists at the Board for Certification of Genealogists .  Also, most state and local genealogical societies have websites nowadays, and many of them maintain lists of professionals in their areas, often with a statement of each genealogist’s special interests.  I hope you will at least consider the possibility that you do not have to do every bit of research on your own to still have fun with your family history.  A professional is likely to ask you for a specific goal for starters, so you can hand over the gnarly brick wall ancestor while you tackle some other part of your tree.  Or, you can simply have a life among the living while a professional helps to solve the puzzles of the past.

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Posted by on Thursday, January 24, 2013 in Genealogy, Online Resources, Professional Genealogy


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