Sure, you can hire a reasearcher to just have at your family tree! But, for many people, it’s more satisfying, and more financially feasible, to work with a genealogist to answer specific genealogy questions. This post suggests three things you might do before reaching out to hire.
First: Narrow Your Focus
I often hear people say, “I’d like to learn more about my family.” That’s a good reason to hire a genealogist but it’s a pretty broad, open-ended statement. Two parents. Four grandparents. Eight great-grandparents. Sixteen great-great-grandparents. Thirty-two great-great-great grandparents. If a genealogist spent one hour of time researching to learn a little bit about each one that would be sixty-two hours and that would just be the beginning. Multiply that by $35/hour, a good ballpark figure for what a genealogist might charge, and the initial cost would come out to a little over $2000. If you have the means, engaging the services of a researcher to compile a multi-line, multi-generational tree would be cool. The investment would likely prove to be a good one.
But, many of us are on a budget. If that’s the case, it’s important to narrow down the research goals and/or break large projects into smaller pieces before reaching out to hire. It’s also, quite frankly, a good way to test the waters before diving into a large-scale project.
Here’s a simple way to decide what to work on first:
Spend some time jotting down responses to the question “What would I like to know about my family?” My list looks something like this:
- Where was Louisa Porter born and why was she given up for adoption?
- Who were Amanda Vandawalker’s parents?
- What prompted two Bielby families, one in New York and one in Illinois, to say claim were related to an Archbishop of Canterbury?
Then, review that list and choose one thing to be the focus of your research project. You can always go back and work on the other things later. I’ll choose Amanda Vandawalker’s parents to use as an example.
Second: Write Down What You Know
Now, take a new piece of paper and write down what you know about the research subject you’ve chosen and also write down how you know it. If any of the information is drawn from a document, write down what it is and where it was found and make sure a copy is handy. Here’s what my summary might look like:
|What I Know||How I Know It|
|Amanda married Adam Casler.||My grandmother told me; Amanda and Adam appear together in census records.|
|Amanda and Adam had a daughter named Mary Jane Casler who married Charles Asa Bellinger.||My grandmother told me.|
|Amanda died in 1899 in Oswego as Mrs. Clemens.||Obituary found using Old Fulton NY Post Cards; I can get the exact reference.|
If you haven’t done any genealogy research on your own, this list may be short. If you have, in addition to listing sources that have relevant information, also list sources that you’ve checked that don’t. This gives a researcher a starting point. It’s also a good way to make sure the genealogist doesn’t unknowingly spend time looking for records and information that you already have. Of course, if you have a formal research log with complete citations, that would take the place of the quick, informal summary described above. And, sure. You can also do this exercise using a word processor or even working from an online family tree, if you’ve started to create one.
Third: Make Sure Family Sources Haven’t Been Overlooked
Finally, do your best to make sure you haven’t overlooked privately-held family sources. For example, is it possible a relative might have a family bible? Vital records? A diary? Copies of deeds? First-hand information? If so, consider making a call or writing a letter to see what else you can find on your own.
My Vandawalkers lived in Lewis and Oneida counties in upstate New York. There’s a good chance descendants still live in the area but I’ve never reached to see if anyone has family records. A good first step might be to ask my parents if they know of anyone with that surname.
Reach Out to Hire a Genealogist
Once you’ve completed the steps above, you’re ready to contact a genealogist. Choose someone you’d be comfortable working with–someone who has the right expertise for your project–then reach out to hire. Share your research goal and include the summary of documents and information you already have.
The genealogist will review the material, ask questions, if needed, and suggest a plan for moving forward with the research.
There are never any guarantees that research will uncover the answers you’re seeking–sometimes there just isn’t any information to be found–but there’s a good chance it might.