Now What?: Hiring a Pro for Overseas Research

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 Q. I’m at the point where I need to get some records from archives in Europe, but I don’t know the language and can’t really afford to travel there. How would I go about hiring someone to do the work for me? I’m worried about the expense.

A. First, check whether the records you need are available on microfilm through the Family History Library. Search the library catalog with the name of the country and/or town of origin, and explore the records in your search results. If you find a promising microfilm, you can order it for $5.50 for viewing through your FamilySearch Center.

Also see if one of FamilySearch’s foreign letter-writing guides (click a country on this page) can be of help in composing your request.

Hiring a professional researcher who specializes in the geographic area you’re researching can be a money-saving move because you can avoid many of the problems you’d experience if you tried to go it alone—language problems, not knowing which archives to look in, lack of familiarity with record-keeping quirks, and more. The cost, of course, depends on the scope of the project, where the research will take place and whom you hire.
You can cut costs by doing research stateside to narrow as much as possible where your ancestors lived, what records are available and where the records are located. You’ll want to provide the researcher with a summary of your research and photocopies of any pertinent records or resources to check.

Before you decide to work with a pro, he or she should write up a project proposal that estimates the costs involved. To help control unexpected costs, you can ask to OK expenditures up to a certain amount and be able to approve additional ones. Make sure you ask for (and check) references and get a signed service contract.

Where to look for a professional researcher? You have lots of options. The Association for Professional Genealogists website has an online member directory that helps you find researchers by geographic or other area of specialty. You also can check with ethnic genealogical societies, such as the Federation of East European Family History Societies; members may provide professional research services or be able to offer recommendations. And you’ll find a plethora of professional genealogy firms by googling “professional genealogist.”

You also can find research help—for big research projects or small, record-retrieval tasks in faraway repositories—through services such as Genlighten and Genealogy Freelancers.  
Researching immigrant ancestors? Check out Family Tree Magazine‘s downloadable guides to overseas research as well as our Passport to Europe CD.