We're talking about using a
professional genealogist in your quest to know about your family history.
Last week, we discussed what a professional genealogist is, how to find
one and how to evaluate their individual qualifications.
This time, it's time to think about how much all of this expertise is
going to cost.
Many professional genealogists charge by the hour and also bill for
out-of-pocket expenses such as photocopies, telephone calls, travel and
any records fees. In the United States, hourly rates will be somewhere in
the $15 to $100 an hour range. The average is between $25 and $60 in this
You'll find that fees vary among professionals, depending upon
credentials, experience and specialty. Highly skilled experts who work on
unusually difficult research problems may charge higher rates. You always
ask what they charge, what services are provided and what qualifications
they possess. If you contact a multi-staffed research company, you should
request the credentials of the specific individual who will be assigned to
Each of our family histories - or pedigree - is different. It is not
possible to guarantee that a specific sum of money will result in tracing
a certain number of ancestors or even that your family may be traced back
a given number of years. What you pay for covers the amount of time spent
by the skilled professional who will be handling the project, not the
amount of information found.
You may be asked to prepay all charges - which automatically sets the
limit on the amount of research to be done. You may agree to send a
specified sum at regular intervals. A professional genealogist might ask
for a retainer to begin research, then will bill you for additional costs.
Be clear about authorizing research to be billed later. Unlimited research
can become more expensive than anticipated. The most common way of working
with a professional genealogist is to send a retainer and then to renew
this when reports are received.
There are cases where several family members share the cost of research.
This is an easy way to make research more affordable and allow it to
proceed more rapidly. If you work with your entire family, you can buy a
greater range of service - maybe even to compile a family history in
addition to tracing the ancestral lines only.
You should reach an agreement with the professional genealogist about
costs and the frequency of reports - before the work begins. Discuss the
ownership of research materials and the copyright the professional has to
the research reports. Many professionals might use selected examples from
client work in their teaching activities. Some professionals may use the
findings in a database that will serve future clients. Others may publish
their work on the family to provide an instructive example in textbooks,
journal essays or even in lectures.
How do you define a researchers work?
Usually, you begin with an analysis of the problem and a survey of
published sources. The initial survey allows an estimate of probably
research success and will help demonstrate the prospective researcher's
services. This early survey may produce a considerable amount of
information - or very little - depending upon the individual family.
The professional will need all of the information already known on the
specific genealogical problem. You'll need to give the professional
photocopies of documents such as birth, marriage, death, etc., records.
(Copies, not the originals!) The professional will examine this
information and may find clues that have been thus far overlooked.
It is important to let the researcher know what is wanted. Do you want
information on one or two ancestral families? Do you want research on all
of your families? Do you only need a few specific records copied or
translated? Is there a deadline for the needed information? Allow plenty
of time for the researcher to work.
We'll finish this next week - when we learn about examining results and
resolving differences...and even concluding the work on your family.