People hire professional genealogists for a wide variety of important projects. Over the course of the year, we may be asked to help someone finally start mapping their family tree, conduct research that’ll be published in a book, assist with finding a rightful heir, or help crack a particularly complex genealogical mystery. From basic research to decoding an entire lineage, a professional genealogy firm can help you efficiently tackle the most difficult historical family research. But many clients ask: what should we look for when hiring a genealogy researcher?

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Questions to ask before hiring a professional genealogical firm

Asking the right questions will help you quickly assess the two most important points in hiring a genealogist. First, you want to ensure that you’re hiring a professional that is experienced with research and communications related to genealogical matters. Second, it’s important to ensure that he or she possesses any specific expertise that may be required to complete your project such as the ability to speak a foreign language or contacts in other countries who can help gather important documents. Some questions to ask during your interview include:

  • How many years have you been conducting professional genealogical research?
  • What’s your educational background?
  • What specific genealogical training have you received?
  • What are your research specialties?
  • Can I review testimonials and/or speak with client references?
  • What kind of peer-reviewed accreditation or certifications do you hold?
  • Have you published books, scholarly pieces, articles, or online publications on the topic of genealogy?
  • May I view a sample genealogical report that you’ve developed? If possible, may I see an example that contains both a narrative and an explanation of your research methods?
  • Do you give lectures at genealogical conferences or teach classes to your peers or to the public?

How to evaluate their answers

Anyone can call themselves a professional genealogist today, particularly online. But just a bit of digging will help you quickly determine whether you’re speaking to someone who is well-qualified to help you. The best genealogists have years of experience; specialties that give them unique perspectives on certain projects; training and certifications that demonstrate their commitment; publications or speaking expertise that affirms their expertise; and a history of happy clients willing to speak on their behalf. Here’s a closer look at what to consider in each of these critical areas.

Experience: One of the most important areas to delve into is experience. Many of our researchers have more than thirty years of experience as full-time professional genealogical researchers. That experience shows in multiple ways. They have the ability to communicate findings in an interesting and concise way. Their methodological approach is sound, and they have insights and approaches that they apply to difficult problems based on years of experience that a novice wouldn’t have. Finally, they’re efficient and able to accomplish significantly more in the hours of research and writing that they dedicate to your project.

Education, genealogical training, and certifications: Many accomplished genealogists have graduated college; a significant percentage hold advanced degrees. This education helps develop sharply honed research skills. Some academic programs, such as the BA in Family History/Genealogy at Brigham Young University, offer dedicated academic training. Inquire about what specific genealogical training they’ve received. The best in the field attend ongoing professional training and conferences to learn new techniques and broaden their areas of expertise. It’s also helpful to look for membership and certifications in organizations such as the Board for Certification of Genealogists, the International Commission for the Accreditation of Professional Genealogists, and Association of Professional Genealogists. These organizations maintain stringent guidelines for members, typically including peer reviewed assessments of previous work prior to allowing them to join.

Expertise: It’s helpful as a client if you evaluate the project you have in mind, and determine any specific skills that might be helpful. For many clients just getting started, a generalist will do excellent work. But there are some instances where a more in-depth expertise is a helpful asset. Some examples might include the ability to speak French if your ancestors are from Quebec, experience conducting LDS family research projects, or a deep knowledge of Colonial New England family records and documents. The more specific your project, the more helpful unique expertise will be in getting the result you’re looking for.

Budget and project scope: Clients often have a specific budget range that they’d like to work within. In other cases, they have a well-defined project scope that they’d like to work on. A professional genealogist will offer both hourly rates and packages, and recommend an option that’s right for you. From a couple of hours of genealogical instruction to get you started on your journey to completing a major research initiative on your behalf, professional genealogists have the resources to help you achieve your goals.

When entrusting your family research to a professional, asking the right questions will ensure that you choose a professional that’s right for you. If you’re ready to get started with a family history research project, contact us today to set up a free initial consultation.