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Archived Articles
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Hiring a Professional Genealogist
Posted 18 September 2013
By Ruth Burkholder, RMB Genealogical Services

As a professional genealogist [one who works for others for a fee] of course I hope you will hire me or one of my colleagues, but do you need to? or when do you need to? and who should you hire?

I am often asked, “What can you do for me? Can you get me a will, a record, an article?” And the answer is always “Maybe!” Because, first off, what is a “professional genealogist”? Certainly not the creator of wills, records or articles!

A professional genealogist is
  1. someone who is experienced in searching out items relevant to the request, in possibly more obscure places than the average researcher would look;

  2. someone who has learned the best ways to make use of technology and how to search online and to interpret what is found so that results apply to the search at hand;

  3. someone who has made contacts in all sorts of places and feels free to call on them for assistance;

  4. someone who is willing to admit that they don’t know everything there is about genealogy, but is willing to learn as they work;

  5. someone that others have trusted to help them do their research and have been pleased with the work done and the reports sent;

  6. someone who keeps their clients informed and involved in the research, asking about hiring or contacting others to help, and updating them as the search goes forward;

  7. someone who keeps confidential both the name of the party who has hired them, and the results of the search, unless permission is given for sharing.
Many ‘professionals’ will tout their genealogical education and certificates, which are definitely proof of learning, but if some of the other things are lacking, then be careful about entrusting your family to them.

Archives and museums contain millions of useful records that have not been microfilmed or digitized

Ask around; use the internet to see what you can find about the person you are considering asking to assist you; talk with that person or email them and see how you feel about the response you get to your approach. Decide if you want an assistant, or someone to do it all and report the results.

Once you have decided who you will hire, ask for a fee schedule. There are definitely different ways professional genealogists charge for their work:
  • Some people charge by the hour, others charge by a block of time.
  • Some ask for a deposit up front, especially the first time a request for assistance comes to them; others work on an “invoicing after the work is done” system;
  • Some charge for extras like copies and mileage, others include a basic amount in their set fee, and anything more is charged extra.
  • Some add a percentage to the amount charged when getting assistance from another researcher or facility, others pass on the cost as it comes to them but charge for the time taken to request the assistance and interpret the results.
As with everything else in this world, no two researchers are alike.

I hope that this article helps you to make an informed decision when it comes to choosing a professional genealogist.

Ruth Burkholder, RMB Genealogical Services
Stouffville ON Canada
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