Monday, August 18, 2014

To Hire or Not To Hire, That is the Question

A comment was made in one of the Facebook genealogy groups where the following comment was made:
"...please don't waste money on hired researchers - you'll get a much better service from the helpers on here, most of whom are better experienced and qualified than those who charge for their services"
Being both a genealogy researcher available for hire and also a client1 I have a problem with that comment.

As someone that has paid a researcher to do work for me, there is nothing like having the knowledge of a local expert to find those records you just wouldn't even have a clue about. Many records and resources have never been digitized or catalogued and unless you live in the area that the family you are tracing also resided then you won't know about that little known book in the local archive that has the answers.

Yes, there are bad researchers that just feed back to you what you've already found2. However, there are also those great researchers that start with what you have told them and find those hidden gems that solve that intractable problem you have posed.

As for getting "much better service" that I personally believe is false. Many of the great paid researchers are busy with contracts and they don't have time to answer questions on Facebook, that is assuming they are on Facebook at all. Certainly places like Facebook and other online forums can help but you are depending on the good nature of people to help and also on serendipity in order to get a timely answer. Is the right person in that group and did they even see your question?

When do I think is the right time to hire a researcher? Since a genealogy researcher isn't an inexpensive proposition these are the questions I feel you need to ask yourself first:
  1. Have you exhausted what you can find going through your personal records, interviewing living relatives (if you are lucky to still have them), and looking through free sites like or even at a library and using their access to Ancestry or other paid sites?
  2. Have you sat down with a friend and talked through the problem. Often we are so close to the problem that it is a "can't see the forest due to the trees" issue3. Sometimes our own prejudices and assumptions can cloud the issue too.
  3. Can you summarize the problem in a sentence or two? Sometimes there appears to be so many problems that you don't know where to even start. Being able to clearly and coherently express what you want a hired genealogist to work on is critical to getting your money's worth.
  4. Are you so frustrated with not finding the answers that you hate sitting down to what was once a fun hobby? If so, a contracted researcher can take the specific burden off your shoulders and possibly provide a fresh set of eyes, knowledge, and perspective for that specific question. Doing your family tree should be a fun, enjoyable, and sometimes challenging hobby. Not something to dread.

With apologizes to Shakespeare, "To hire or not to hire, that is the question." And I feel the answer, like many things in life is "it depends."

What are your thoughts on this matter? Have you hired someone to help you with your research? Were you happy with the results? Did you personally feel it was worth the money?

1. I feel like I'm in a bad Hair Club for Men ad.
2. Yes, I have had that experience myself.
3. This happened to a friend in a conference research room and once it was talked through the answer was almost self-evident.


  1. I totally agree with you Ken. The person who posted that may have had a bad experience and some people who "answer" don't necessarily have the RIGHT answer.
    I am at the point where I am thinking of hiring a researcher in Scotland. So, how can you know who to hire, and if they are reliable?
    How do I know how much I should be paying? I don't like surprises :-)

  2. Dianne, isn't that always the problem ... finding someone that you can trust to do your work. I take two different approaches:
    1. Ask friends and acquaintances if they know of anyone they can recommend (drop me an e-mail or send me a private message on Facebook and I can give you a recommendation).
    2. Check with the historical societies and archives to see if they have a list of people they can recommend.

    Then get references and quotes. I always suggest initially setting a time limit (in hours) with a report of what has been done in the first X hours. For example, if you initially set the limit at 10 hours, ask for a summary report at the 5 hour mark. You can quickly determine from that if they are giving you the same old stuff you have already told them about or if they are truly finding new information and making any headway in solving your problem.

    As for how much to pay ... that is hard to say. I've dealt with one researcher in England that charged £15 per hour (was great to work with and knew the area) and I have also seen packages for £500 that are supposedly all inclusive (I always have my doubts about those).

  3. I hired a researcher in Ireland and one in Scotland. I found them through local family history societies of which I was a member. They both gave an estimate and pretty much that was what what I paid. The findings came by mail (I.e. "package") and the other sent results by email. I was quite satisfied with both.