So, you’re thinking about hiring a genealogist? Here’s one simple tip that will go a long way toward making sure that you get a good return on your investment: choose a genealogist who knows how to write a quality report.
Let me explain what I mean by that.
There are No Guarantees
First, it’s important to understand there are no guarantees when it comes to genealogy research results. In other words, there are no guarantees that even the best of genealogists will be able to figure out who your fourth-great-grandparents were. Or where in Ireland your great-grandmother was born. Or when and where your grandparents married. Anyone who promises a specific research result has either done the research already or is over promising. Sometimes key information goes unrecorded and sometimes recorded information gets lost. Although I never like to say never, there simply may not be a way to find good answers to your research questions.
It’s All About the Search
So, to avoid frustration and disappointment, don’t hire someone to find answers. Instead, hire someone to search for answers. There’s a subtle, but very important, difference. A genealogist has no control over what information can be found. But, a genealogist does have control over how a search is conducted and how a report is written.
When you hire a genealogist, you are not paying for a specific result. You are paying for the time, effort, and expertise it takes to conduct a search and report back on it. If you want to get your money’s worth, look for a genealogist who can carry out a well-planned, meticulous search, and provide a carefully-written report to document it.
The Value is in the Report
No matter how a search turns out, it’s the report that determines whether or not you’ve gotten value for your dollars. Here’s why:
Let’s say you hire someone to look into your Irish ancestry and three weeks later you’re floating on air when you learn that your great-great grandmother was born in Carrick-on-Shannon in Leitrim County. Time to book a flight! Right? Well, maybe. How do you know the baptismal record you now have in your hands is for your ancestor? Answer? The report. That document should provide very specific details about how the genealogist arrived at the conclusion that your ancestor was born in that particular place. The record, itself, might be interesting, but the value is in the well-reasoned argument that convincingly connects it to your family tree.
And, on the flip side, what if word comes back that ten hours of research has uncovered no leads in the search for your great-grandmother’s birth place? Has your money been wasted? Not if the search has been carefully documented. Knowing what records have been checked, what information was found (or not found), what the results suggest, and what the next research steps might be, is a valuable way to move forward.
If you’re not familiar with genealogy reports, take a look at the high-quality samples available on the Board for Certification of Genealogists website (Genealogical Work Samples) or The International Commission for the Accreditation of Professional Genealogists website (Samples). A good report generally states the research question, summarizes starting information, lists sources that were consulted, details information that was found (or not found), analyzes that information as it relates to the research question, and suggests ideas for further research.
How to Choose a Capable Genealogist
How can you know that the researcher you hire will carry out meaningful research and provide a quality report? One way is to hire a certified (Board for Certification of Genealogists) or an accredited (The International Commission for the Accreditation of Professional Genealogists) genealogist. Researchers who have earned the right to put CG® or AG® after their names have demonstrated their ability to perform at a professional level and agreed to adhere to a Code of Ethics (BCG) or Professional Standards (ICAPGen). The reports they author should be of the highest quality.
That said, there are many capable genealogists who aren’t credentialed. One indication that a person is striving to produce quality work is evidence of participation in one or more of the educational programs available within the genealogy community. These include university degree programs, certificate programs, and institutes. (See the National Genealogical Society’s page on Becoming a Professional Genealogist for a sample list.)
And, finally, you can learn a lot about a researcher’s skills by reviewing work samples to see if they meet your idea of what a finished product should be.
When you’re browsing Genlighten’s network of researchers, check the profile pages to learn about providers’ education and research experience. And, click on the “Portfolio” tabs to see if they’ve uploaded sample reports. If not, feel free to use the “Ask A Question First” button to ask that they do.
A Note on Copyright
One last, but important, thing. When you hire a genealogist, you should expect to pay for the time that it takes to craft the final report. But, unless you agree beforehand that the report will be a “work for hire,” the genealogist will hold the copyright. (For a detailed explanation, see Copyright and the genealogy report by Judy G. Russell on The Legal Genealogist.) So, before you go ahead with a project, make sure to work out the details. For example, you might ask whether or not you will have permission to copy and share the final report.
So, what can you do to make sure that the money you spend for genealogy research services will be well spent? Hire a genealogist who has demonstrated the ability to write a high-quality report. A researcher who has the ability to do that will likely have all of the other skills necessary for a successful outcome to your project–whether or not your research question is answered.
P.S. I created the blog post image from a report that I wrote for a ProGen assignment. I don’t consider myself a report-writing expert, but I’m learning!