Carl wasn’t comfortable researching his family once his tree expanded outside of the United States.
Mary had an Irish great grandmother who seemed to magically appear in the United States. Her death certificate told her maiden name but there were no other records for her life in Ireland.
David had seen and admired his wife’s family tree and was ready to start working on creating his own. But he had no idea where to start or how to go about building his family tree properly.
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.
Stephanie had dabbled in her family’s genealogy for years, 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.
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.
Each of these are examples of clients with whom I worked over the past year. Each one illustrates a situation when you should hire a professional genealogist/family historian.
But I like my list because it provides some very real examples of the kinds of situations that I believe are most common out there in the genealogical world. Let’s look at these examples a little more closely and I will explain what you might expect a professional genealogist to do for you in each scenario. Because this list is rather extensive, I will make this a multi-part blog so that your eyes don’t fall out reading it all in one day!
Carl wasn’t comfortable researching his family once his tree expanded outside of the United States. His New England family crossed the border from Canada and ended up in Massachusetts in the early 1900s. Although some of the records were in English, he quickly became uncomfortable trying to work in French while puzzling through a different monetary system, understanding unfamiliar land measurements found on deeds, reading an unfamiliar style of handwriting, and generally working in a geographical area that was unfamiliar to him.
We discussed where he wished to begin and what he hoped to find. Carl sent me a GEDCOM file of his well-sourced family tree and I spent my typical hour of free research looking at what he had, determining the strength of his foundation, briefly scouting out the documents available and possible avenues of research, and estimating the amount of time and number of documents that might have to be purchased.
We worked backwards in chunks, first developing this branch and then that branch until I had traced his family back to England and France. Carl was happy to have his family’s history traced to the era of Louis XIV and ended the research at that point.
If you have traced your family beyond the borders of the United States and are uncomfortable working with documents in another language, or are uncomfortable dealing with a “foreign” world even if the documents are in English, this might be the time to hire a professional.
The Dreaded Brick Wall
Mary had an Irish great grandmother who seemed to magically appear in the United States. Her death certificate told her maiden name but there were no other records for her life in Ireland. Mary’s research was further complicated by the fact that in each census in which great grandmother appeared she had a different age. And then she discovered that great grandmother’s maiden name was very common. Finally she ran into one of the great annoyances regarding Irish research: very few documents are available online.
Mary provided me with access to her Ancestry.com family tree and added a lot of family lore to the mix. Once again I provided a free hour of research while I reviewed her foundation and determined the scope of the project, including an estimate of the length of time and costs involved. We worked out a payment plan (necessary due to her financial constraints) which meant that it took nearly a year to finally find her great grandmother in County Kerry. She is currently contacting living family members and arranging a trip to Ireland later this spring.
If you have a brick wall that you can’t seem to get past, even with the help of people from places like the Rootsonomy Research Group, and have followed all of the steps that I (and others) have outlined for how to work on breaking down your brick walls and still find that pesky thing standing, maybe it is time to hire a professional to help you knock down that wall so you can continue in your research.Just Getting Started
David had seen and admired his wife’s family tree and was ready to start working on creating his own. But he had no idea where to start or how to go about building his family tree properly. He knew there were online databases, both free and for-fee, but did not know which ones were most useful to him. His parents were still living and could potentially provide information, but he did not know what to ask them.
When David came to me we discussed his goals and plans. It quickly became apparent that he wanted to do the work himself, learning about his family and learning the art and science of family history. Ultimately he decided to work one-on-one with me, meeting weekly via the phone (Skype is a great tool for this as well as a number of online meeting sites) for five weeks while he took a personalized “Genealogy 101” class.
David learned how to use various programs and databases to search for documents, how to critically analyze documents, and how to create a system for organizing and using each source to its fullest extent, among other subjects. Each lesson was based on his strengths and weaknesses as well as the area and time period in which he was working. At the end of the five weeks David was confident about his skills and had mapped out a plan for developing his own sturdy family tree. We will have one final meeting in the spring where he can ask any questions that have arisen, or work out a way to get past his first brick walls.
If you are ready to get started on your family tree but aren’t quite sure what to do and where to go, this is a good time to hire a professional genealogist. For a relatively small investment in time and money you can learn how to work like a professional from a professional.
Tomorrow I will talk about the last three situations that might warrant hiring a professional genealogist. Thanks to my buddy Jim, owner of our partner firm, Rootsonomy, for suggesting this topic!
 “Hiring a Professional” http://www.apgen.org/articles/hire.html, accessed 16 January 2013.
|History & Heritage can help you bridge the gaps in your family tree |
so that you can move on to the next adventure.