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Hiring a Professional Genealogist or Genealogical Record Searcher

Is it time to bring in a professional genealogist to your research? No matter which professional genealogist you partner with, here are some factors to keep in mind about hiring and working with a professional genealogist or genealogical record searcher.

If you are an established client with us, please also consult a further write-up on Hiring a Professional Genealogist to obtain a fuller understanding of the things one should know about hiring a professional in this field.

Costs Involved

You have the right to know how your money is being spent. Record searching is actually only a small part of the genealogical process. Here are a few of the steps a professional genealogist completes during a case:

  1. Creating a case file and documenting client’s known information analyzing client information.
  2. Establishing client goals or objectives.
  3. Determining available records that may provide one with the information we seek.
  4. Finding the location and availability of those records.
  5. Developing an initial research plan that correlates to the client’s objectives.
  1. Searching for and matching available records with appropriate repositories.
  2. Evaluating searched records.
  3. Establishing the quality of those findings and whether the information is direct vs. indirect, primary vs secondary vs. circumstantial.
  4. Reworking search plans based on new found information or evidence to bring one’s findings in full circle to meeting client’s objectives.
  5. Preparing comprehensive reports, charts, and documentation copies for clients.
Other Factors that Affect Time Spent

Starting material takes time for your genealogist to sift through. The material that you send should be as clear and concise as possible, without leaving anything out. The larger the material supplied the longer & more expensive the initial assessment will become.

The more surnames there are for your genealogist to research, the longer a project is going to take. With this stated however, knowing variant surnames is always of importance to know from the onset of the project.

Projects take more effort and time for your genealogist if the surname being researched is a common one.

If a person has a low social standing, records and evidence may be more difficult for your genealogist to find.

If a surname can be spelled a number of different ways, your genealogist will have to be thorough and pay attention to all of the different spellings.

Pedigrees, family group sheets, and other charts take time to review and prepare, both for the client and for the genealogist.

Locating the date or place of a specific event can be very time-consuming and multiple sources may have to be consulted for your genealogist to be thorough. If you have precise places for events and residency locations, all the better for the search.

Travel time and copying, along with archival and institution retrievals, can slow down a genealogist’s research efforts.*

Heavily detailed client reports with full source referencing and documentation will always incur significantly more time & expense for a client than a standard report without these items.

*GEN-FIND does not charge travel time between our office and standard work bases. Repositories that are not often consulted or those out of our regular work zone, will incur additional charges for clients.
Starting a Project with Us

First, your genealogist will have to review your submitted documentation and assess whether the research request is feasible or not to initiate a case file. With GEN-FIND, you’ll receive an evaluation and research plan after we have finished our free assessment, whereupon it will be up to the client to provide written approval of the plan before we proceed with the case file. A separate written contract may be requested of you for your signature before the research will begin.

If you choose to continue with the research plan after your genealogist’s evaluation, you may have to supply an advance retainer of which the client would be advised of by the genealogist or our firm. You will get a quote for how much that will be charged if you change your mind at a later date, your retainer will be refunded to you minus any consulting and research fees and out-of-pocket expenses to the date that the research file is canceled.

Finishing a Project with Us

If you follow through with your genealogist, you will get your results in a report. At GEN-FIND, we provide a report outlining which records and sources were searched, the order they were processed, and the priority your genealogist gave to those records. You also have the option between a detailed report or a summary report. Obviously, the latter will prove less expensive for the client.

GEN-FIND will also supply a family group chart for each appropriate family documented, as well as an ascendancy or descendancy chart for the key person searched, depending on your investigation type.

Lastly, you’ll get a covering letter that outlines:

  • a summary of the client’s known facts,and objectives at the beginning of the case
  • a summary of the latest investigation’s findings since the last reporting
  • comments explaining the sources we examined and the repositories we searched
  • suggestions for future investigations, if the client wishes to possibly continue on
  • and fee, expense, and budget details.
Canceling a Project with Us

Provided that your request is in writing, you may discontinue research at any time and receive a refund on your retainer for any prorated monies unspent. You will also receive a brief final summary report on results found to that date.

Your request will be effective when it is received by our office. Any monies owing in excess of the retainer, up until we receive a written cancellation request, will be the client’s responsibility for payment to us.

What Information to Provide Us

Preferably, no more than two to three pages of information which must include:

  • specific definition of the ancestral/descendancy problem at-hand and your objectives
  • any biographical specifics known on each individual involved. These are details such as parentage; occupations; religious faiths; and the dates and places for birth, baptism, marriage, divorce, death, burial, along with immigration/emigration dates and places
  • known places and periods of residence, plus any other occupational or social associations belonged to
  • detailed notations of all previously searched sources (if any) and those results.

A fully completed series of family group sheets for the “problem” generation and an indication of the direct ancestor/descendants in that family would be particularly helpful.

Copies of any evidentiary documentation on the known search individuals may also prove helpful. Please do not send originals. They will not be returned and may in fact get lost in the mail if delivered via post.

Important Note: Time spent analyzing previous research is proportionate to the amount of material the client sends; but again, a hired researcher must be aware of all previous research efforts, ending with both positive and negative results.

How to Reduce Your Fees

To keep fees reasonable, please ensure that you convey your goals and objectives clearly to the genealogist. It will not be enough to assume that they will know what you want to be done and how much money you have to spend on your investigation.

Further, the longer your researcher has to analyze and outline the facts and information, the more time, and the more budget, your genealogist will need. Concise, clear, and comprehensive are the key attributes of any information submitted to us. The less time that the genealogist has to decipher the case at hand, the more that your money can be spent on actual research and reporting.

Lastly, we are happy to have direction on sources that a client wishes us to investigate, however, it is your responsibility to determine, with the genealogist’s guidance, whether those are right in meeting your objectives or not. You need to do this at the time of the approval of the research plan and not later in the project. Our genealogists are very familiar with the resources, what they contain and how best to access those resources. The more that they have to convince you thru added correspondence of this will not help with keeping your fees low. In the end, they will do as you direct them to do, though looking at sources that do not meet your objectives would be counterproductive for both parties.


GEN-FIND does not normally request a formal contract, except in the case of split-fee and contingency fee arrangements. A letter from the client and our letter of reply accepting the case is all that is needed in most cases. However, in circumstances where GEN-FIND feels that your interests and theirs would be better served by a formal contract between both parties, your researcher will request one of you.

If the client prefers to engage our services pursuant to a formal legal contract, then you have two choices: (1) use our standard legal contract; or (2) client to use their attorney to prepare a contract though the client is fully responsible for having that contract prepared for our signature, and the client is fully responsible for any fees & costs by their attorney and ourselves associated to doing that.

If you wish to use our standard contract, please click here to the template – GEN-FIND’s Standard Genealogical Research Contract. GEN-FIND will advise you as to what time & expense rate we can offer you as well as the retainer amount required for the contract.

Other Important Considerations

There are no guarantees of finding relevant ancestors, descendants, or extending the searched pedigree in either direction. Not every family or family member left good historical trails of their existence and movements.

Records that have not survived, indexes that have not been made, and vital statistics that were not registered can only be reported as negative search efforts.

Individuals and record holders that do not respond to search requests can only be reported as negative results.

Stories told by your family may distort the actual lineage. We’ve found that all families do it to some degree for various reasons and sometimes unwittingly. So, if no documented evidence is found to support some family claims, these have to be reported as negative results.

Incomplete or erroneous information provided by the client may cause research duplication or searches in the wrong locality.

20th/21st century events are difficult to research. Many states and countries have strict privacy laws regarding non-disclosure, particularly in Canada, so please be aware of these complications.

Population increases and frequent family movements in the 20th and 21st centuries usually mean a great deal of searching, for sometimes with little reward. Research on these events is often more time-consuming, more expensive for the client, and sometimes has negative results.

Please consult Notes on Professional Research for further information and caveats of conducting professional genealogical research.

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Get in Touch with Our Genealogist Firm

GEN-FIND offers genealogical knowledge, experience, and a worldwide resource network that achieves high-quality results. Contact our team of qualified genealogists for a free consultation. If you find a better-written price for the same quoted service, we will beat that price by 10%.