How to Hire a Genealogist

Marc McDermott
February 24, 2022

Have you hit a brick wall in your genealogy research, and have no idea how to overcome it? Do you want to surprise a loved one with a professionally created family history tree, book, or report? Or, are you simply interested in having someone research your family tree for you? It may be time to hire a genealogist. But how do you select the right person for the job? Read on to learn everything you need to know about finding the right researcher for your needs!

When should I hire a genealogist?

A professional genealogist is a researcher that specializes in family history. They have the knowledge and skills needed to locate hard-to-find records, develop a detailed research report, and create a final product to meet their clients’ needs. A professional genealogist should have extensive training in genealogical research, writing, and records analysis. Many often have certifications or qualifications that demonstrate their expertise in the field. 

There can be many reasons to hire a genealogist, including:

  • You have hit a brick wall in your research and are not sure how to proceed. A professional genealogist can conduct research and attempt to break the brick wall, or provide guidance and a personalized research plan, so that you can continue on your own.
  • You are researching a particular region, time period, or culture that you are not familiar with, and are seeking a researcher who specializes in those areas. For example, you may need someone who knows how to research Jewish families who migrated to the Great Lakes area in the late 19th century. 
  • You may be interested in understanding DNA results, and need help to unravel this newer, more complicated area of family history. More and more professionals are specializing in genetic genealogy.
  • You are seeking a special product such as a family tree scroll, detailed report, or coffee table book that can be shared with family. Many genealogists can provide customized products for you.
  • A local researcher is needed to visit libraries, cemeteries, archives, etc. in person. For example, you may need to hire an Italian researcher that lives near your family’s ancestral home in Italy, who can access documents held in local repositories for you. You may also be planning a visit to an ancestral home, and are seeking a local professional as a tour guide and research assistant.
  • You are seeking dual citizenship through ancestry and need to provide certain vital documents or data that a genealogist can locate for you.
  • Or, you are a casual hobbyist that would rather have a professional conduct research for you, so you can enjoy the final product without having to do the work!

How to hire a professional genealogist

Hiring a professional genealogist is not that different from hiring any other service provider. You want to make sure they get to know you, understand your needs, are good at communicating, and have the skills needed to provide the final results you are seeking. 

The best place to start is by visiting the Association of Professional Genealogists website and reading their helpful tips on how to hire a professional genealogist. APG has nearly 3,000 members, all of whom are professionals who must demonstrate their experience in genealogical research in order to join the Association. APG Members come from all over the world, and specialize in many different areas of research. Use the APG Directory to find an APG member by research specialties. Members have detailed profile pages that will include their experience, credentials, links to their business websites, and contact information. APG members are required to abide by the Association’s Code of Ethics, and APG will initiate a mediation process should a client file a complaint against a member. 

Many genealogists also find work through word-of-mouth. Ask around at your local historical or genealogical society, or in online genealogy groups. Are there any members that work professionally, or have any members hired a good genealogist that they are willing to refer? Your local library or archive may also have suggestions for professionals in your area. 

After reaching out to a potential genealogist, they should set up an initial consultation with you. The researcher will need to know as much information as you have about your problem and your goals- so be prepared to share family trees, notes, documents, or anything else you have pertaining to the question you would like the researcher to answer. After coming to an agreement on your research needs, the genealogist should present a contract stipulating the research goal, the number of hours agreed upon, the total cost of research, and the expected completion date. You can see an example of a typical genealogical contract here

How much does it cost to hire a genealogist?

Professional genealogists are typically self-employed unless you are working with a larger company such as Ancestry ProGenealogists or Legacy Family Tree Genealogists. Therefore, professionals set their own hourly rates. There are several things to consider when reviewing the cost of hiring a professional, including:

  • Not only are you paying for research time, you may also need to cover travel, repository fees (access fees, print costs, etc.), or other fees the researcher may incur while trying to find the documents you need. These should all be specified in the research contract.
  • If you are seeking a research report, book, or family tree, remember that you are not paying solely for research time- the genealogist also spends much of their time analyzing information, creating reports, and organizing resources. 
    • For example, a 10-hour research report may involve 5 hours of research and analysis, and 5 hours preparing the final product. Your researcher should provide regular updates on their progress and inform you ASAP if additional time may be needed.

Genealogy Pals provides a great overview of cost analysis when hiring a genealogist. They mention that a professional can cost on average about $65 per hour, based on survey results. Many professionals will ask for a minimum number of contracted hours, with a portion of the payment provided upfront. 

The important thing to remember is that you are paying a professional genealogist for their expertise. They have the specialized skills to locate and understand the records you need and are capable of providing professional results. A genealogist with a degree in history that has been doing research for over 20 years, may charge more than your local family historian that does research projects part-time. But will you receive the same quality product from both genealogists? It is critical to “do your research” to find the right genealogist for your needs. 

Is it worth it to hire a genealogist? 

The most important thing to remember when hiring a professional is that they cannot guarantee that they will solve your brick wall (and you should be wary of anyone who does guarantee it!). Sometimes there are problems that even a skilled expert cannot solve- but a genealogist should always guarantee to conduct “reasonably exhaustive research,” per the professional standards set by the Board for Certification of Genealogists. A professional genealogist should always present sufficient evidence to explain why they can or cannot answer your research question.

As Genealogy Pals states, “Instead of focusing on how much hiring a genealogist costs, focus on how much time they’re going to save you.” Hiring a genealogist can be a fantastic decision that can yield new and exciting information about your family tree, revealing facts and records that you never knew existed! Finding the right genealogist for your needs can provide peace of mind that your family tree is in capable hands.

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