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FamilyTrackers Blog

11 October 2005

Genealogy Brick Walls - Professional Help Is Just a Click Away

Have you been stuck on your fourth great grandmother for over 10 years? Did you ever wish you could just go to the courthouse that has the information you need? Don't have the time or money to climb your family tree? Planning a trip to meet long-lost relatives?

Consider hiring a professional genealogist.

Sometimes we become a little smug about our research - particularly after years of intense experience; some of us don't think we need any help. Regardless, there are times when all of us could use the services of a good professional. When I was researching the Hinde family for a trip to England, we wanted to visit some of the churches and neighborhoods important to our family. There simply was not enough time to get the information that we needed before leaving on our trip. In addition, some of the information we needed was in the Metropolitan Police Archives in London - information that was not yet online. We searched the APG - Association of Professional Genealogists for someone in London who could help us.

We had a really good experience. The professional we hired was recommended by a distant relative in England and they appeared in the APG database of professional members who abide by strict ethical guidelines. Both of these facts made us more comfortable in sending 100 British Pounds to a person we had never met. After spending half a morning trying to get a bank to issue a cashier's check, I finally wired the money via Western Union from Clyde's Liquor Store. My wife still teases me about managing my banking business at the liquor store, but that is another funny story that must wait for another day.

The important thing is that we were under a time crunch, didn't have access to the information, and needed someone to go to a source on our behalf. Since we were new to this area of genealogy, we decided to hire the professional to do 10 hours of work for us for $100. That limited our exposure just in case things didn't work out.

In our case, there was never anything to worry about. The professional demonstrated qualities that are common among many who provide these services.

Asked questions and provided guidance: At the professional's request, I provided the information that we had relative to the story that was passed down to us about William Thomas Hinde, a report from Reunion that detailed the facts we had at that time, and various documents that proved the information in the report. This information allowed the professional to give us good advice about the best sources of additional information. Perhaps the Police Archives were not the best place to start. We identified several other basic references to include in the research as a result of this early discussion. This activity focused our research and leveraged our dollars - uh pounds - to maximize our chances for success.

Honesty: It goes without saying that you want to know the truth about your ancestry. Just the act of gathering additional information and giving candid feedback about our best course of action indicated to me that our researcher was honest. That proved to be true when we received results as well. Watch for signs of honesty as you make initial contacts. People who want to do only exactly what they are told are not really giving you the benefit of their expertise - you could hire a clerk to do that sort of work.

Accuracy: A good professional just has to be accurate. There is really no room for speculation in conclusions about your family. Of course you should get information about potential areas of further research. If conclusions are uncertain, the information you get should clearly line that out for you so that there is no confusion. Discussions about people should include full names, dates, and locations. Usage of words like 'she' or 'him' are sometimes confusing unless the professional is a very careful writer. It is also confusing to switch from a full name to an abbreviation like referring to William Thomas Hinde as Tom; now I wonder if there is a second person, or if the writer is referring to William Thomas Hinde. Ten years from now it will really be confusing.

Documentation: Your professional should expect to deliver all documentation that they found and used on your project. After just a few short years that will be all that you have to prove the conclusions that you make from this investment. If you only keep a letter from the professional outlining their efforts, you (or someone else) will have to do the research again. All conclusions are subject to your own questioning, "How do we know that is true?" and once you find that for one source, you have to ask again, "How did they know that is true?". Enough said. Get the documentation!

Experience: Please don't overlook this basic measure of quality. Professionals who have been in business for several years have stood the test of time and they are still in business. If you stick with trained professionals who are members of professional organizations like APG and you will find this one an easy question to answer before spending any money.

Pricing: I guess that I must include something about pricing. In terms of value, please consider how much it would cost you to travel to the location and get the information yourself. For anything other than across town, a professional is a bargain at almost any price. Also consider all of the other issues mentioned here; it doesn't matter how low the price if you don't get what you want. Most professionals are proud of their work and won't take your project at a price that won't allow them to give you a fair deal. There is tension between your ability to pay and the professional's ability to deliver at a certain price. Negotiate a deal that works for both of you even if you have to reduce the size of the project.

Professionals come in a variety of specialties based on geography, surnames, time periods, ethnic groups, events and special services like planning or genetics. There are some interesting new services like genealogy travel planning where the pro will do preliminary research, arrange for meetings with your relatives, and guide your group upon arrival. There are also services that cover wide geographic areas like those who live near the LDS Library in Salt Lake City, Utah. If your search covers a broad geographic area, you should consider ProGenealogists Family History Research Group.

Do your home work and expect to have a wonderful learning experience when you use a professional genealogist. That has been my experience and hope that yours is the same.


  • I would also like to recommend Legacy Tree Genealogy (http://legacy-tree.com). They are a team of professional genealogists who also work out of Salt Lake City, Utah.

    By Blogger Jessica Marie, at 8:32 AM  

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    Have you tried http://www.LocateFamily.com ? You can browse through over 700,000 family names and over 25 million individuals to find people from all religions, ethnic backgrounds, classes and origins from around the globe. Try it... it's completely FREE!

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