How to Hire a Professional Genealogist

Finding and hiring a professional genealogist is not much different than hiring other professional service providers. You want to work with someone who gets to know you, understands your expectations, can meet your timeline and budget, and has the experience and expertise to help you achieve your goals.

  1. Identify your needs. Clearly defined goals and expectations are key to successful results. Whether you’re looking for someone to help you identify your great-grandfather’s place of origin, speak at your local society, write a family history narrative, or help you put together a research plan, it is crucial to identify up front exactly what you hope to achieve from the relationship.
  2. Create a short list of potential candidates. The directory of the Association of Professional Genealogists can be searched by specialty, geographic location, and name to identify members who may be able to meet your needs. Some genealogists have broad knowledge of multiple locations and time periods which may be helpful if you are looking for someone to research several generations of your family tree, while others specialize in a locality, time period, or specific research area (e.g., Native American, DNA, house histories) critical to your particular project. 
  3. Consider qualifications. Professional genealogists may demonstrate expertise and experience in a variety of ways. How many years of professional experience do they have? What is their level of training and education? Are they certified or accredited, or have a degree in family history or another relevant field? Do they specialize in a locality, time-period, or topic (e.g., DNA, foreign language skills, Southern colonial research) relevant to your research goals? Do they teach or publish in the field, especially in your specific area of interest? Does their directory listing, flyer, or website communicate clear writing and a passion for family history and working with clients?
  4. Ask about fees. Most professional genealogists charge an hourly rate for research or similar work. Hourly rates can vary from $30 to $40 per hour to well over $200 per hour, based on experience, location, project type and uses, demand, time constraints, and other factors. On top of the hourly rate, most genealogists will also charge for certain expenses, including photocopies, certain travel-related expenses, and postage. For some well-defined projects, a professional genealogist may quote a flat-rate rather than an hourly rate. A set fee is also common for speaking engagements and some types of writing and publishing projects. In most cases, expect to pay a retainer.
  5. Clarify availability. Many in-demand professionals are booked several months in advance. Some projects may also take several months or longer to complete based on travel, record availability, and other factors. If you need your work done within a specific time frame, ask up front if this can be met. Some genealogists offer a rush service—especially for record lookups—for a higher fee. 
  6. Request references or work samples. Viewing examples of previous work can help you evaluate what you can expect from the individual you hire. If the professional does not have a client report which they have received permission to share, ask if they have an example from their personal research or if they have had research published in a peer-reviewed journal. Don’t be afraid to ask for references from previous clients if you have any questions or concerns. 
  7. Determine who to hire. Do you feel the professional understands your research problem and goals? Can they meet your budget and time frame? Do they have professional experience with projects similar to yours, and familiarity with and access to necessary records? Are you comfortable with their background, skills, and education? Are they willing to work with you regarding your desired communication and involvement level?
  8. Set expectations. Before signing an agreement or sending a retainer, make sure you and your professional are on the same page regarding project goals, hours, fees, time frame, the final product(s), copyright and publication rights, and communication expectations.
  9. Get it in writing. It is reasonable to ask a professional  genealogist for a written agreement. At a minimum, make sure the goals, scope of work, and other expectations are spelled out. This could be in an email, a letter of agreement, a formal contract, or another document. A written agreement specifies expectations up front and provides a reference if questions or issues arise as the project progresses.
  10. Stay in contact. Most problems and missed expectations are avoided through clear communication between client and professional. If you have a question or concern at any point during your project, don’t be afraid to voice it with your professional. If an issue arises that you are unable to resolve directly with your professional, the Association of Professional Genealogists will accept and review complaints against members who are alleged to have violated our Code of Ethics and Professional Practices.

Every project is unique and specific results cannot be guaranteed.