Thursday, January 17, 2013

Part Two: When Do I Need to Hire a Genealogist?

     Yesterday I talked about three real-life situations (names have been changed to protect the innocent) that might require the assistance of a professional genealogist. Here are the final three. See if any of them sound familiar.

Lopsided Branches
Cheri had a family tree which included almost no female lines. Mothers rarely had full biographical information and often had only a given name and no surname. An initial attempt to fill in the maternal lines showed her what many of us already know: women can be difficult to trace.
Once again I provided Cheri with an initial hour of free research. In that hour I checked the paternal lines to verify their foundational strength and discovered that the previous researcher had done nice work, but inexplicably ignored every maternal line. Next I created a list of her maternal lines in order of the least to the most effort required to extend that branch.
Cheri chose to take some one-on-one training with me to learn the basics of genealogical research then set out to find and document as many of her “grandmothers” as she could find. A few months later she contacted me with her list of brick walls and we have begun researching them for her. To date she has “evened out” more than half of her tree.

Unorganized Papers
Stephanie had dabbled in her family’s genealogy for years, and had acquired binders full of documents, but there was no organization or system to her collection and she couldn’t tell you what she knew and what she still needed to find. Well into her retirement, Stephanie worried that if she didn’t whip those documents into shape her family might simply throw out all of hard work.
Stephanie shipped the paperwork to me (for less than $25!) and emailed me a GEDCOM file of her tree. Organizing and arranging paperwork is great fun to me, and I spent a day sitting on my office floor sorting, organizing, and arranging her papers. I also wrote up a descending list of missing or conflicting items that required her attention and shipped everything back to her ready to go into new binders.
Note: I have also provided this service for local clients and we spend an afternoon organizing and arranging their papers. This is very useful because not only do they end up with copies of sources which they can now find and use, but they also learn the process and are better able to maintain their neat and tidy binders of documents.

Joining the Sons or Daughters of the American Revolution
(or the Sons of Union or Confederate Veterans of the Civil War or any other genealogical-based society)
Tim wanted to join the Sons of the American Revolution and had always heard that he had an ancestor who fought in that war but no one ever said which ancestor. Tim was not interested in building on or extending his family tree; he simply wanted to join the SAR.
After the initial hour of free consultation I was able to verify that Tim had several branches of his tree which included men and women who were of the proper age and location to qualify for membership. At his direction I began my search with his paternal direct line ancestors and discovered an ancestor who served in the Pennsylvania State Militia.
To meet the remaining criteria for membership I also provided Tim with the necessary pedigree and supporting documents to verify his relationship back to that soldier ancestor. Finally, after explaining the process for applying to the SAR, I put Tim in touch with a local chapter.
     It is true that some folks will never need or want to hire a professional genealogist. Some of you prefer to work this puzzle on your own, no matter how long it might take to get past each brick wall. I know, because I am one of them!
     But for those of you who wondered if your problem or difficulty is something that you can ask a professional to take on, I hope that this helped to answer your question. If you still are wondering, feel free to ask me. Send me an email at I will be happy to tell you if your situation is something which I can handle or, if necessary, I will refer you to a colleague. And remember, the first hour of research is always free.

Let History & Heritage shed some light on your family tree.


  1. I hired a profession group based on the recommendation of a highly respected genealogical association. After paying $1400 and waiting a year all I got were copies of what I had sent them and an article about the history of the area that anyone could get off the internet. My question is: what questions should I be asking a professional to avoid such a costly farce?

    1. Martha, I am so sorry that you had such an unpleasant experience. Let me reassure you, most professionals are NOT like the folks you had to deal with. Your question is a great one. Of course there are many blogs and articles out there which answer your question, but I have a few ideas of my own, too. I will pull them together and let my answer be the subject of my blog tomorrow.

      Best wishes,

  2. Kate;
    Thank you, I look forward to your suggestions.