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

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