Friday, 28 July 2017


As family history researchers we all like to do our own research.  It is hard to hand our tree over to someone else even if only to look something up or obtain a copy of a document.  Which is probably why if we have to, we tend to ask for copies from the Archive or Record Office rather than employ a researcher to do it for us. 

As a professional genealogist I do this too but only for single copies where I can give an exact reference or where it is too small a job for me to employ a fellow professional.  Otherwise I use the cheaper option and employ a pro.  Archive research hourly rates seem quite expensive to me certainly usually a fair bit more than I or my colleagues charge.  

I would like to think that archive staff have an extensive knowledge of their own records but sadly this is not always the case in these days of staff redundancies.  Archive staff sometimes don’t last long enough to even begin to know their collections.  Their only advantage is that they have access to the more usable under-layers of the online catalogue.  Which is not necessarily any help when it comes down to slogging through quarter sessions papers, muster rolls or workhouse minutes.

I know that professional genealogists have spent years learning their trade:

- learning about all the different kinds of records available both locally and nationally, the context in which they were created, and how to use them to find family members as we trace back generation by generation.

- learning how to apply logic, critical analysis and lateral thinking to a problem

- learning how to search the different databases effectively and cope with their individual foibles

- learning about online catalogues and their differences 

- familiarising ourselves with the different archives and libraries we visit in the course of our work, building relationships with staff and learning about their individual collections and cataloguing styles

- taking courses to improve and upgrade our skills and knowledge in areas such as Genetic Genealogy 

- learning how best to help our clients as cost effectively as possible

- learning how best to quote sources and label documents for clarity

- learning how to use family tree software, photograph documents, create websites and employ social media for genealogy

And learning how to read the different styles of handwriting encountered as we move from one period to the next.

So I feel comfortable asking them to research for me in an archive some distance away or in records I am not familiar with.  After all why get a dog and bark yourself?  

I know that they will carry out my task diligently and offer advice if I ask for it.  I know they will tell me of likely costs up front and that they will devise a suitable research plan and stick to it unless they find something which makes a different approach necessary.  I know that they will not make assumptions without facts to back them up and that they will probably work more hours on my project than they charge me for. 

So if I employ professional genealogists for my family history problems why don’t you?