When to Hire a Professional Genealogist
More and more these days people are becoming interested in discovering their family history and where they come from. A professional genealogist can help you take a closer look at your roots. Whether you want to learn about your ancestry out of personal curiosity, prepare something special to share at your next family gathering, or compile the documentation necessary to apply for membership in a lineage society, there are plenty of resources that can help you in your journey, including a professional genealogist. What do these genealogists do, under what circumstances would you want to hire one, and how would you go about finding them?
A professional genealogist is a person who makes a living researching the history and lineage of families. Many hire out their services to individuals looking to trace their personal ancestry, but they work in many other positions as well. They might help historical foundations by tracing the descendants of famous figures, aid attorneys in finding the heirs to an estate, or even help legal agencies locate missing persons.
Different professional genealogists have different specializations, but generally, their expertise includes discovering people’s ancestries, searching records, testing DNA and interpreting the results, and deciphering handwritten documents or translating documents written in foreign languages. In addition to performing such research, they can also counsel others on the best ways to perform their own research.
There are no legal restrictions concerning who may call themselves a professional genealogist. No official licenses or certifications exist and there is no established code of conduct. Therefore, you should understand that anybody can bill themselves as a professional genealogist regardless of education or experience. You must use your own best judgment when determining whether you should procure a genealogist’s services. Some institutions and organizations do offer their own credentials with special requirements. If you can find an institution that you trust, then looking for a professional genealogist that they have certified is a good place to start.
Professional Genealogist Education
Just as there are no official requirements or certification for working as a professional genealogist, there is no official education or degree associated with the profession. Technically a person with no related education or experience can work as a professional genealogist, provided they can find clients willing to pay them.
While there is no standard professional genealogist education path, many universities do offer both programs and degrees in genealogical studies, usually at either the Associate or Bachelor’s Degree level. There are also countless independent courses, seminars, and conferences that provide basic and ongoing education and experience in the field. There are a number of ways a professional genealogist can learn their craft and a university degree is not everything.
It might set your mind at ease to know a genealogist you are thinking about hiring graduated from a respected university, but you should not immediately discount a genealogist who received their education from other sources. Most of the time, the best way to evaluate a professional genealogist is by their work and experience rather than their degrees or certifications. Referrals and glowing testimonials are usually a good sign that a genealogist knows their craft.
Reasons for Using a Professional
You may wonder why you would need to hire a professional genealogist in the first place. As mentioned earlier, there is a wide variety of resources available to help you discover your family history, and many of these are either free or charge only nominal fees far below what a professional would charge you. Besides, genealogical research is a very personal experience for some individuals, and they may feel they are missing part of the experience by having somebody else do it for them. That said, there are three particular scenarios in which hiring a professional is probably the best thing to do.
The most common circumstance is that you will encounter an obstacle that holds up your research or adversely impacts your enjoyment of the project. You may love combing through historical documents, but lose interest when you have to cross-reference thousands of tax records looking for a snippet of information. Maybe you enjoy spending time on your project in the evenings but do not have the time to fly out to a library across the country in search of a primary source document. In these cases, hiring a professional to solve one small problem will allow you to enjoy the rest of the project.
Similarly, sometimes you may find the documents you need but be unable to actually read them. Professional genealogists are experts in translating records from foreign languages or deciphering handwritten documents and can help you clear this roadblock.
Finally, you may be interested in joining a lineage society. These exclusive societies only admit members who can definitively prove that they are descended from certain historical individuals or groups. Lineage societies have demanding membership criteria and often will not be satisfied with personal research. A professional genealogist can help you prepare the documentation you need to gain entrance to such a society.
What Makes a Good Professional
While there is no official code of conduct by which genealogists must abide, you should expect anyone you hire to serve you in a professional manner and deliver on their promises. The Association of Professional Genealogists has its own code of ethics which you can use to evaluate genealogists.
The code maintains that genealogists should take a coherent and truthful approach to their work and present their research clearly. They must be honest about their credentials and upfront about all fees and payments. Genealogists must, of course, work within the scope of the law and respect copyright and privacy regulations. Finally, they should give credit to anybody who gives them assistance or information.
Its also important to consider the cost of hiring a genealogist. While a beginner profession may be cheaper in cost to someone who is more experienced.
Find a Professional
You can usually find a professional genealogist by searching local business directories or directories provided by organizations such as the Association of Professional Genealogists. If you require research of a very specific nature, you may find it helpful to search for genealogists by specialty or geographic region. If your family has deep roots in New England, you may look for a professional who lives and does research in that area. If your family is African-American, you may search for someone who specializes in African lineages.