5 Questions to Ask a Professional Genealogist Before Hiring

By Rachel Christian

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Questions to ask professional genealogists

Hiring a professional genealogist can be a big investment, both personally and financially. Whether you’re looking for help with record retrieval, translation, or a full-blown research project, you’ll want to make sure your research dollars are well spent. Here are five questions to ask potential pros to make sure they are a good fit for your project.

Before you start looking…

Make sure you’ve got your research in order before you start contacting any professionals. This will make sure you make the best use of your expert’s time (and your research dollars!)

  • Interview family members to make sure you have all available information. Be sure to ask for any documents and photos as well. As always, take any unproven family stories with a grain of salt.
  • Fill out a pedigree chart with the information you already know. You can find a free, downloadable pedigree chart here.
  • If you have an online tree, make sure it is up to date and that your documents and photos are readily available.
  • Finally, make sure you have a specific research goal. Instead of a general question like “I want to learn more about my mother’s family,” Try and think of a specific line or person you want to research, or a theory you want to prove or disprove.

1. What is your background and what areas do you specialize in?

Ask your potential pro about their background and what their areas of expertise are. How many years of experience do they have? Do they have any degrees in family history research or related fields? What time periods, countries and languages are they well-versed in?

The Association of Professional Genealogists (APG) has an online directory where you can search for professionals by different criteria including research specialties, country and more.

Professional genealogists will often have a website or blog where you can learn more about them and their work. Pay attention to what kinds of projects this pro has completed in the past, and don’t be afraid to ask for references!

Tip: See if your pro has any memberships or credentials. There are two common certifications for professional genealogists; CG (Certified Genealogist) and AG (Accredited Genealogist).

2. What is your fee?

According to the APG’s website, “Most professional genealogists charge an hourly rate for research or similar work. Hourly rates can vary from $30 to $40 per hour to well over $200 per hour, based on experience, location, project type and uses, demand, time constraints, and other factors.” Ask your expert what they charge and what additional expenses their might be. Many genealogists charge extra for travel, photocopies, postage, etc.

3. What is your availability?

Ask your pro about their availability and what a realistic timeframe would be for your project. Some professional genealogists have a significant backlog, and projects can sometimes take months to complete. Tough research problems like common name ancestors, foreign research, and burned/lost records can affect your pro’s availability and your project’s timeline. When you ask for your expert’s availability, be prepared to adjust your expectations.

4. How often do you update clients on your progress?

Kathleen W. Hinckley, CG is the Executive Director for the APG. She recommends asking your pro what communication will look like during the course of your research project and setting clear expectations from the get-go: “The professional and the client should agree on milestones wherein the professional gives updates on progress regularly. That might be anything from weekly to monthly.”

The frequency of the communication depends on the project. Make sure you and your pro have the same expectations to avoid frustration in the future.

Tip: Hinckley recommends starting your search by sending out 3-4 initial inquiries to different professionals and paying attention to the responsiveness of each. Look for indications that this pro will be communicative and responsive down the road.

5. How is the final product delivered?

Ask your expert how they will be delivering the results of their research to you. The final product depends on your budget, though typical elements include a written report of the research, GEDCOM files, documents, citations, etc. Also be sure to ask your professional about copyright and publication rights.

Tip: The Genealogical Proof Standard is a set of criteria created by the Board of Certification for Genealogists (BCG) to provides a standard of excellence for genealogical work. This can be a helpful tool for evaluating the quality of genealogy research.

Key Takeaways

In order to hire the right professional genealogist for your project, make sure you have a clear, specific goal right from the start. Ask your professional about their experience, their availability and their fees, as well as communication standards and final delivery. With this information, you’ll be well-equipped to choose the right pro for your project.

Last updated: July 2020