FREQUENTLY ASKED QUESTIONS
How does a research project work? First, we discuss your project and define your research goal. I ask you to provide me with whatever information you can about your family to get me started, so that I don't reproduce information you already have. We discuss the scope of the project, the time frame involved and the costs, and I ask you to sign a contract and provide payment for the first phase of the research. With that payment, the signed contract, your family history information and a research goal in hand, I get to work. I report to you about my progress periodically, usually monthly or after expenses have reached a certain point. You are free to extend or end the project at any time.
What do you charge? The initial consultation is free. If you hire me, I charge a flat hourly rate plus reimbursement for expenses. Expenses can include certificate fees, copying, postage, microfilm rental, repository entry fees, and travel costs. I charge only the actual costs and provide receipts. Please contact me for the current hourly rate.
Can you promise to find the information I’m looking for before I sign a contract? No competent genealogist can guarantee that the information you seek will be found, at least for projects of any depth or complexity. I always expect to find information, and I usually do, but I want my clients to understand that they are paying for my time, knowledge and talent, not for guaranteed results. The records you seek may have been lost, destroyed or misplaced. Mistakes are surprisingly common in records, resulting in names, dates, locations, and other details that may remain hidden. And even the longest-standing family stories from the most trusted of relatives can have errors that take the research in the wrong direction. My job is to use my training, resources, skills and experience to conduct a thorough search and to think outside the box when records are absent.
Can you help me get started with my own family history research? Absolutely! I can help you determine how to get started and where to find the information you seek. I help clients create a research plan, so that they spend their time in the most productive (and hopefully, the least frustrating) way. I also provide guidance when clients get stuck. I have strategies and experience that can often open new avenues of research or find answers to perplexing questions.
What information do you need from me? The more you can tell me about your ancestors, the better. Names, dates, and locations are important pieces of the puzzle, and family stories, heirlooms and documents can help fill in the picture. I will give you a family history questionnaire and ask you to provide me with information with two goals in mind. First, I want to start off on a solid foundation, so if you have information, it will jumpstart the research and help the search to be more focused. Second, I don’t want to waste your time or money by searching for information you already have. But if you don’t have much information, don’t worry. I’ll use whatever you can give me and go from there.
What can a professional genealogist do for me that I can't do for myself? With the emergence of excellent genealogical websites and an explosion of genealogical information online, this is a valid question. Genealogy is a wonderful hobby, and there is a wealth of information available to help you learn how to go about delving into your family’s past. However, a professional brings critical skills and experience that few hobbyists have the time or resources to develop.
While any good researcher can collect evidence if they have enough time, money and resourcefulness, it takes training to know how to sift through and analyze the results in a meaningful way. Professional genealogists are guided by the Genealogical Proof Standard (GPS) to help determine whether or not we “prove” a statement of fact about the subjects of our research. Without such a standard, we might be swayed to believe something just because it appears repeatedly in print or online. Most amateurs mistakenly accept inaccurate information or fail to resolve critical discrepancies. Often, this results in a family tree stocked with people who are not actually related to them.
My own family is a good example. Hundreds of online family trees trace us back to kings and queens all over Europe, linking them to such notables as William the Conqueror, Richard the Lionheart, Charlemagne, even going all the way back to the Bible. Sources are cited. The problem is that the sources are not correct, and the conclusions have no basis in reality. Whole generations are skipped, and some of the women are said to have given birth even though they were already dead. Nonetheless, many, many people believe them to be true.
Unlike other areas of research, genealogy focuses on one individual at a time. Because the availability of records varies tremendously, the potential for finding accurate information is highly variable. In other kinds of research, a single inaccurate piece of information is unlikely to deal a mortal blow because a larger population is considered, but in genealogy, a single error can be deadly, causing the entire project to go astray. Even with high standards of research, our results must be considered a work in progress, because new or better information may surface, causing us to revise our conclusions. That is why professional genealogists are charged with doing a reasonably exhaustive search for all records that might answer each research question. When we find conflicting information, we try to resolve the conflicts so we present an accurate picture. We cite our sources and explain the process so that our clients and any future researchers will understand why we have reached our conclusions. That way, if more evidence appears later, the results can be added to the compiled evidence and re-evaluated. When time and financial constraints limit the project (and even when they don’t), a professional will suggest avenues for future research, should the client wish to take up the quest again at a later date.
Family history can be a fascinating adventure. I would be honored to be a part of your journey.