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The Pros and Cons of Hiring a Professional Genealogist

By Jan Edwards


“Gosh, I have searched high and low; I have looked far and wide, and I just can’t find it! I’ve been looking for 40 years,” or even better with the new wave of online researchers, “I have looked all day, it must be a brickwall.” Does that mean the documentation is just not available yet, possibly does not exist anymore, or is it the inexperience of the researcher?

When should a person hire a professional genealogist? Does it mean by hiring a professional researcher they will find the documentation required to locate “the objective?” Are you willing to pay a professional for the hard, costly work it takes with the possibility that they may not be able to locate the “desired objective” either?

So here are my Pros on hiring a Pro:

  • Professionals usually specialize in one area; they know the history and the type of records not online that are available. They understand in-depth type research that has not been indexed or available by simply typing in a name. They understand the geography and government changes.

  • You can’t read the foreign language.

  • Maybe you don’t have time or even desire to do the research but have great interest in knowing your family.

  • You do not have the skills to locate the record and do not want to develop them.

  • You just want to get it done.

  • You have lots of money and want to help the professional genealogist by putting money back into the economy.

  • You want faster results.

There is a great FamilySearch Research Wiki Article on Hiring a Professional.

So here are my Cons to hiring a Pro:

  • Just because you hire a Pro does not mean your objective can and will be met.

  • It is expensive.

  • You miss out on the fun.

  • You do not learn how to research future brickwalls.

  • The skill of the Pro you hire may not be as good as you had hoped. For example, just because a person has a Master’s Degree in teaching doesn’t always mean that person is a better teacher than someone with only a Bachelor’s Degree.

  • You really are not ready to hire a Pro. Many want to go further back on lines they did not do the research on but found on an online tree. Those trees are not proven and documented. You set yourself and the Pro up for failure. Most clients do not want to hire a Pro to verify the tree you found before they tackle the brickwall.

  • Why is everyone in such a hurry?

I know many professional genealogists! They are amazing researchers that do fantastic work. Their reports are time consuming but most of them are works of art. They always give more than you pay for, always.

Here is one of my favorite assigned cases I have done while working as a “PRO:”

"Dear … I have been researching my family for 40 years. I have hired 3 professional researchers, and they have not met my objective. I am willing to hire and pay you for 5 hours if you meet the objective. I, however, am not willing to pay anything if after that 5 hours you have not found what I want."

Sheesh! I’m serious this is a case I was given! I had 5 hours looking to locate an objective that they had searched 40 years for and had 3 professionals search as well. I took it on knowing I was not going to get paid a cent, but the challenge of locating something “not found” was just too tempting.

I went back two generations from the objective and found an error. They had bad information. I quickly pointed it out and they got angry. Did I mention they refused to pay?

So here are my thoughts on that:

  • If you want and need to hire a Professional that is fantastic.

  • But do yourself and them a favor by being prepared.

  • Know exactly what the objective is.

  • Share any and all documentation you have so that they do not have to RE-LOOK up everything only to have you say “Oh, I already have that”.

  • Don’t waste your money and their time on having them research what you already have.

  • Do as much of the footwork as you can, unless of course you just want them to do it each generation, but be prepared to pay for each generation.

  • Do not grab someone else’s tree because you think it is yours and hope for success.

Hiring a PROFESSIONAL? You bet if you are ready and willing to do what it takes and cost to do so! There seriously is nothing better than the work of someone who knows how and what they are doing.

Will I hire a Pro? No, I have become the researcher I am because of the hard lines, the brickwalls, the old time research and records that I have had to learn from. I’m not in a hurry. I savor and enjoy each and every “HUNT” I am on, but hiring a Pro for you may be just want you need!

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