Saturday, November 19, 2011

The Power of Conferences To Increase Your Genealogical Skills

As a former teacher and a life-long learner, I really enjoy the academic aspects of genealogy, including: understanding the fundamentals of DNA, becoming familiar with the historical periods our ancestors lived in, and learning more about methods of research. Genealogy conferences provide a great opportunity to sharpen our skills in these areas.
I just got back from the day and a half Family History Expo (Nov 11-12) in nearby Duluth, GA, sponsored by FamilySearch. I was really fortunate that they had four workshops devoted to German research to help me with my Kreis line. The presenter was Tamra Stansfield, a German Research Consultant at the Family History Library in UT, who is accredited in German Research though The International Commission for the Accreditation of Professional Genealogists (ICAPGen). I was able to attend three of the workshops:
1.    "Historical Events and Their Impact on German Research" -- good snapshot of major events in German history
2.    "Hansel and Gretel: Finding and Following the Trail Home to Our German Ancestors" -- summary of US and German record sources (I learned about the Evangelical Lutheran Church of American archives.)
3.    German Records Other Than Parish and Vital – including citizenship, city, and emigration records

I also took a workshop on DNA. I figure if I take enough classes on this subject, maybe, maybe, I'll understand it! I learned that over 1,000,000 people have been tested in the last 12 years since the test was first available. 

A great thing about conferences is that part of the registration fee covers a CD with the hand-outs for all the workshops. This gives you a chance to look over materials from workshops that you weren’t able to attend.

The exhibit area was only one room since it was a local event (much smaller than the exhibit area at the National Genealogical Society National Conference in May 2011 in Charleston, SC), but it had some great materials which I am adding to my genealogical library:
  1. a large colorful chart of “Kinship Connections” showing relationships back seven generations
  2.  a guide, Understanding Meyers Orts by Fay S. Dearden, a gazetteer for Germany that I learned at two conferences is absolutely essential for locating towns and places in the old German Empire. You can learn more about Meyers Orts from a FamilySearch wiki.
  3. Witter’s German-English Primer for Public Schools to learn how to decipher old German script that you find in German records.
Another thing that I love about attending conferences is that you often leave with a clarion call to action. My spur to action came from the presenter, Anna Swayne, of the DNA workshop, “The Power of DNA in Unlocking Family Relationships”, said that there are two paths people take after they get their DNA results: sit and wait for possible matches to contact you or be proactive and upload your results to different 3rd party databases. Well, I came home and immediately started scouring the internet to see how this can be done. In a future post I will discuss how this process works.

Categories: genealogy education, DNA

Saturday, November 5, 2011

How to Find a Professional Researcher and What are the Rules of the Game?

Before you begin looking for someone to work with you on a family history project, you need to be sure that you have all the information that you have gathered on this subject ready to give to the researcher. This will prevent such things as a researcher sending you a document that you already have. For more information on what to share with someone who will be working with you, please see this article from Ancestry Magazine called “Hiring a Professional Genealogist”. 

Now that you have your materials prepared, the next step is to actually find a researcher. Like other things in life, one of the best ways to find a person to perform a service for you is to ask friends and neighbors whom they would recommend. But in genealogy we often need to find someone in another state or even another country. Word of mouth may not be available here.

When I began looking for outside help, I used the internet to check if there was a local genealogy society in the town/area I was interested in. That is how I found Ellen Gammon (see 10/18/11 post). Another place to look for researcher listings is public library websites. And of course you can put a request on a message board or mailing list. The article, “When to Hire a Professional Genealogist” from, gives a great list of national and international organizations that provide names of researchers.

When you find a person that has expertise in your target area, you are ready to begin the contracting process. This will involve some back and forth communication. First, you need to have a scope of work. What exactly do you want the researcher to look for? What is the time frame in which you want the work accomplished? What is the format of the work: are you expecting just documents or do you want a report with an analysis of findings? This part of the process is covered in more depth in an article from called “Hiring a Professional Researcher” (see Step 5 “Make an Agreement”). 

All of this said, research is not cut and dried. Surprising things happen along the way that may affect the course of the search. It is important to understand that you and the researcher are engaged in a journey. When the researcher digs up a document, you will react to its contents. You may learn something that causes
you to turn the search in a new direction. I asked Tom Ankner, the NJ-based researcher I introduced in my 10/18/11 post, to visit Hollywood Cemetery in Newark, Essex, NJ to find the grave of Henrietta Hausmann Williams Kreis, Henry Kreis’ second wife. He found a surprise – a Charles Hanaman (variant of Hausmann) was buried in the same grave! Who was he? By reading tombstone, Tom saw that Charles was Henrietta’s brother. This led to new questions. Where was Henry buried? Why wasn’t he buried with Henrietta?

You need to find out what the researcher charges and decide the maximum amount you want to pay. Many factors go into how much a researcher charges such as the experience of the person, their professional credentials, the market rate, the work you want done, and many more. For more information on this topic and for tips on how to control costs, please see the “How Genealogists are Paid” section of “Hiring a Professional Researcher”. 

In conclusion, as a result of working with professional researchers, I have seen my ancestor knowledge grow by leaps and bounds. With careful preparation including time spent on choosing the “right” researcher for your project, having your background materials ready to share, having a scope of work, and being open to surprising twists and turns in the journey, I believe that you will profit much from this partnership.

Categories: genealogy professional, research terms