Tuesday’s Tip – Hiring a Professional Genealogist

Lorel asked me to write a short post about how researchers can best prepare to hire a professional genealogist to help them with their projects. What are some things that professionals would like potential clients to know and be prepared for ahead of time?

  • Be clear about what you wish the professional to do for you or locate. I think some potential clients are unsure how much is too much information to send a research professional. Usually, more is better and being clear about what you have and what you seek is helpful upon first contact. I think many professionals will respond by email or phone with additional questions so they make sure they understand what services you need. By providing as much information as possible up front, it will save time down the road.
  • Rome wasn’t built in a day. Depending on the research you wish to have done, it may be a day-long project or may require weeks or months to complete. Not all records are online or locally available (think Family History Library microfilm you have to order that can take weeks to arrive.) I’ve had a few clients come to me and say they want their family history researched and a book written in less than six months. Sometimes this is possible if the records are available, the client has information to provide, the client has a very large budget for the project, and my overall client load isn’t so heavy that I can’t dedicate the time to this client. Other times I’ve had to say that we can do a first ‘draft’ of a book and continue the project into the next year because (records will be difficult to get, you need more done than one person can do in this time frame or whatever the reason.) Being honest with my clients I’ve not had anyone walk away. Once I honestly explain what it will take for me to do the project we come to some agreement. These are the clients that stay with me beyond that first ‘draft’ of a book and want to go further. Honesty is always the best policy.
  • Provide copies of all records and research previously conducted on the person/family you wish to research. Professionals do not wish to waste your time or theirs, or your money. We are very clear in our contracts saying we need copies of all previous research, including negative results. Why? This is important so we do not duplicate work you have already done and have to charge you for it. If we have the information up front, we know what to look for moving forward.
  • Be open to answering our many questions. Sometimes a problem is complicated and we need to ask a lot of questions to fully understand the issue or brick wall or records that you may have submitted.
  • Listen to that voice in your head. Ever heard that little voice tell you that one document or photograph or letter might be important and you should tell the professional about it? Then you ignore the voice and don’t? Listen to that voice. Even if you think that one item may not be significant, in the overall picture it may be the one piece that solves the puzzle.
  • Need a project broken into more manageable (financially and strategically) pieces? Everyone has a limited amount of time and money they can spend on genealogical research. Sometimes we get ahead and are ready to hire a professional to do this large job for us and then we get hit with an unexpected expense. Talk to the professional you wish to hire and see if you can work out some arrangement to do the larger project in small pieces. Affordable pieces. Several times I’ve had clients come to me with this scenario. They want A done but cannot afford to do it all at once. For me personally, this is no problem. It is just a matter of figuring out what the client feels is most important and should be done now. Quote that time and expense out and move forward. When the client is able to come back for more of that project, great. Find a professional who will work with you because everyone of us has been in this situation whether we are talking about financing a genealogy project, a house project, or something else.

Need more suggestions on how to work with a professional? Stay tuned and next month we’ll have more tips.

Have you worked with a professional? What has your experience been? How did you approach the project? What tips do you have for those who have never hired a professional?

© 2013 Lorel Kapke, Sort Your Story


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