Why hire a professional genealogist? The commercials on TV say I can just do it myself.
You can do it yourself. In fact, the vast majority of professional genealogists start out researching their own family history. You can also do your own taxes, repair your own electronics, and represent yourself in court. I am a big believer of ‘you can do just about anything you put your mind to if you want it badly enough.’ So why do so many people hire others to do these things for them? I hire an accountant because I want to keep as much of my income as legally allowed and I know my accountant can do that far better than I can. I could take the time to learn all about the tax codes and all their loopholes and worksheets, but I just don’t have the time or, honestly, the talent for it. While compiling a family history doesn’t have quite the same penalty for mistakes, there are just as many details and techniques that most people don’t have the time to master. That’s where a professional genealogist comes in. A professional genealogist has already taken the time to learn about the history of that particular area, what records are available, and what information can be found where. A professional genealogist can help you sort through the many same name/age/area dilemmas that can easily have you wasting your valuable time traveling the wrong path.
Why can’t you guarantee results?
No professional genealogist will ever guarantee results because we just can’t. Our job is to find evidence of past events, people, and relationships — not to create it. Many record collections have been lost due to fire, water damage, mold, or sheer carelessness. Some records survive but are not legible due to faded ink or other interference. Some records may still be sitting in Great-Aunt Mabel’s attic, just waiting for someone to realize what treasures lie under the dust. Or maybe the record with the evidence we need was simply never created. After all, our ancestors knew what they knew and maybe they didn’t feel the need for a permanent record of that. Professional genealogists have many tricks up our sleeves to find such illusive information. We may be able to find indirect evidence where direct evidence has been lost, but we are still at the mercy of the records themselves.
How many hours will my project require?
That all depends on what question you want answered and the availability of records for those people in that place and at that time. It may take several hours to research poorly hand-written records that have not yet been indexed or to find relevant existing records when the area of concern has suffered severe record losses. Multiple pieces of indirect evidence may be necessary to substantiate conclusions where direct evidence is lacking or more research may be needed to resolve conflicts between different records. For obviously complex genealogy projects, the client may wish to keep costs under control by authorizing certain blocks of research time, in increments of anywhere from 5 to 20 hours. Simpler projects searching for information on more recent events or those that generated many records may be completed quickly, however the proper process must still be followed in order to provide reliable results. This is why I’ve established a minimum of 3 hours for any project. (A simple record search may provide a cheaper alternative if you know or have a good idea of what records you seek but be aware that the record search may be negative or the record may not contain the information actually sought.)
What process do you use?
Each research project has certain stages. First is the preparation stage that starts with a review of the genealogical information provided by the client. (Occasionally the answer is already there, just hiding.) From there, I’ll create a research plan that outlines the goals of the project and identifies likely sources for the information sought. The second stage is actually examining those collections for relevant records and taking notes or making copies as appropriate. The information is then analyzed in the third stage. What evidence was found? Did it answer the question? If it did, then I move on to the final stage, writing the report. If the answers weren’t there, or if the evidence merely provided more questions, I must go back to the second stage and create a new research plan or revise the old one and conduct more research until all potential sources are exhausted. Larger projects may be broken up into smaller sections capped with shorter progress reports depending on the number of hours authorized.
What repositories do you search?
My primary repository is the State Archives of North Carolina, where all surviving records generated by government officials in the state of North Carolina are required by law to be sent for preservation and research. This means I can research records from multiple counties from the same location, saving time and travel expenses. There are also several other repositories near Raleigh containing more valuable genealogical information. Please see the Research Locations page for a more detailed description.
If you’re based in Raleigh, why do you advertise research for Virginia?
I advertise for research in Virginia because I have experience there in researching my own family tree — like myself, three of my four grandparents were born and raised in Virginia. (The fourth was from North Carolina.) North Carolina was settled in large part by Virginians, some of whom may not even have been aware that they had crossed the line. Border county residents continued to cross over for business or social opportunities even after the line was firmly established just as they do today. I have found that a lot of other people are looking for families just like mine with connections to both sides of the border and I believe that offering this service will be a great benefit to my clients.
What will my report look like?
The format of your report will depend upon the goal and complexity of the project. Most lineage application projects don’t require a formal report, just an informal explanation of the names, dates, and citations to enter into an application form. A report for a simple or limited project may have just a citation and description of the findings. A more complex report will also include my comments on the sources and analysis of conflicting information as well as tables or charts where needed for clarification. This sample report, prepared as an assignment for Boston University’s Certificate in Genealogical Research course, is an example of a more complex report. Although the report was written for a fictitious client, the actual research and citations are real.
How will my report be delivered?
Unless other arrangements are made, I will send the report in a pdf format as an email attachment. Reports or projects involving a large number of images, such as lineage applications, will be uploaded to a file on DropBox and the link sent by email. Short reports can be printed and mailed upon request, but there may be an additional charge for large packages.
I want to hire you for my research project. How do we get started?
To begin, I need to know a little information about your project. Typically, I will need to know your goal, the name of your target individual, an approximate time and place where they lived, and a brief summary of the information you already have. For example, you might say that your 4X great-grandfather was Robert R. Boyd, he was born about 1805 in North Carolina and died about 1888 in Buncombe County, North Carolina, and that you want to know who his parents were. (If you actually would say that, please contact me; he’s my 4G brick wall!) This information will help me determine how I can best help. I do require a deposit up front of the full amount for projects under 10 hours. Deposits for projects expected to take longer than 10 hours can be determined on an individual basis. Payment can be made via Paypal or through regular mail by check or money order made out to ‘Crystal Burton.’ You will also need to send me copies or a summary of what you already know and where you’ve already searched so I don’t repeat research you’ve already done. Once I have both, I will put you on my research schedule.
What if I pay a deposit for 10 hours but you don’t use all that time?
If I find your answer in less time than expected, I will either refund the remaining deposit or I can apply that amount to a new project. (Genealogy – where the answer to one question always leads to two more questions!) If you do prefer a refund, it may take up to 30 days to process.
Do I have to follow the recommendations you make for future research?
Not at all. The ‘Future Recommendations’ section is a standard part of a professional genealogy report. It’s my way of pointing out where you could go from that point, to either continue researching a question that has not been fully answered or to point out potential research paths for new questions that might have come up during the project. It is entirely up to you, even if you choose to continue your research with me. You may decide to follow my recommendations or decide to go in a different direction. If you prefer something different, just let me know.
What if I’m not happy with the results?
While I will do my best to make sure that each and every client is happy with my work, I understand that it could happen. I do need to point out that there is a difference between being unhappy with my service and being unhappy with my findings. If anyone is unhappy with my service, I invite them to contact me so we can discuss it and hopefully resolve the issue. If we are unable to do that together, the client can contact the Association of Professional Genealogists. They provide a mediation service staffed by other professionals who know the industry and our specific ethical obligations. As a member, I have agreed to be bound by their decisions.
If the problem is in the substance of the research then the options are more limited. I still invite anyone to contact me with questions or concerns so that we can be sure it’s not a misunderstanding. Unfortunately, I can’t guarantee you’ll be happy with what I find. I can only go where the evidence leads me and sometimes it may lead me to things a client might not want to know about. Life isn’t always pretty for us and it wasn’t for our ancestors, either. As in many situations, when we ask a question in genealogy we should be sure we want to know the answer.