professional genealogy

Hire a professional? Why on earth would I do that?

As I’m gearing up for my fifth year of teaching beginning genealogists, I’m starting to think about how to handle the annual questions. One that always comes up is “why should I pay to do genealogy?” They’re really asking two questions: when should I pay to access records and when should I pay to have someone help do my research.

I’ll just tackle the second part of that right now. And the answer is it depends. I’ve been doing research as an amateur for over ten years and as a professional for over four. I have a basic understanding of the records of many countries (side effect of teaching beginning genealogy). I still hire people to help with my research occasionally. Here are a few of my reasons why:

1) I don’t know the local records. I read. A lot. Which means that I can tell you when vital records were first recorded in three – possibly more – different countries. But that doesn’t mean I can tell you where the records for a specific Polish village are currently stored, since it’s changed governmental hands multiple times. If something is truly out of my range of expertise, it’s time to call in an expert.

2) I can’t get to the local records. Believe it or not, everything is still not online. I have a ton of experience working in Quebec. I know precisely where my great-grandfather was buried and when he was buried there. I’d love to find out what is on his tombstone, but there’s no way to do that from New England. A multi-hour drive to Quebec… or I can hire someone local.

3) I need a second set of eyes. When you first start out in genealogy, you tend to think in one direction – backwards – and through a certain set of records (census, vitals, etc). I do that far less often now, but early on, working with professional genealogists challenged me to think outside the box and to make new discoveries.

So my short answer – don’t discount hiring someone just because they don’t seem “worth it.” You’d be surprised.


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