What to Know When Hiring a Professional Genealogist

Credentials

Credentials held by Professional Genealogists are earned either through Academic Programs and Institutes or through an Accrediting or Certifying body. Many of these credentials appeared in the last 20 years and have grown into the reputation they now have. However, not all Professional Genealogists hold credentials. Some may have an impressive amount of experience and knowledge and do adhere to Genealogical Standards and the Code of Ethics established by the Board of Certification for Genealogists (BCG). They might also be part of the Association for Professional Genealogists (APG) and adhere to the above mentioned as well as the Code of Ethics and Professional Practice.

In Canada:

National Institute for Genealogical Studies (NIGS). The postnominals delivered and which can be found following the full name of the Professional Genealogists are: PLCGS

In USA:

Boston University (BU). The postnominals delivered and which can be found following the full name of the Professional Genealogists are: BU CPE

Brigham Young University (BYU). The postnominals delivered and which can be found following the full name of the Professional Genealogists are: BA BYU

In UK:

The Institute of Heraldic and Genealogical Studies (IHGS). The postnominals delivered and which can be found following the full name of the Professional Genealogists are: (L.H.G.), (F.H.G.)

University of Strathclyde. The postnominals delivered and which can be found following the full name of the Professional Genealogists are: PG Certificate, PG Diploma and MSc

The following Institute is both a Accreditation body and an Academic Program dispenser in the Specialisation of Forensic Genealogy:

Council for the Advancement of Forensic Genealogical (CAFG). The postnominals delivered and which can be found following the full name of the Professional Genealogists are: (FGCSM)

The two main bodies for Worldwide Accreditation and Certification are the following:

Accreditation: The International Commission for Accreditation of Professional Genealogists (ICAPGen). The postnominals delivered and which can be found following the full name of the Professional Genealogists are: AG

Certification: Board for Certification of Genealogists (BCG).The postnominals delivered and which can be found following the full name of the Professional Genealogists are: CG and/or CGL

The two following bodies are not really recognised worldwide, but are recognised in Canada and/or the French genealogical world:

One body for Canadian Certification, concentrated for the Maritimes: Genealogical Institute of the Maritimes. The postnominals delivered and which can be found following the full name of the Professional Genealogists are: GRS (C) and/or CG (C).

One body for Attestation in Quebec Genealogy: Bureau Québécoise d’Attestation de Compétence en Généalogie (BQACG). The postnominals delivered and which can be found following the full name of the Professional Genealogists are: (GFA), (GRA) and/or (MGA).

Accessing the profiles of Members of Professional Associations is also a way to discover more about Professional Genealogists and who are Professional Genealogists. The Association for Professional Genealogists (APG) is one great place to begin searching for the Professional Genealogist who will help you in your quest.

Before Approaching a Professional Genealogist

Before contacting a Professional Genealogist, you must prepare your request by reflecting on some points. The clarity of your request will be the starting point to communicate your needs to the Professional Genealogist. If you do not know precisely what you want, the Professional Genealogist will be unable to guess.

  • Set your goals. What questions do you want answered? Be precise. Avoid the “everything about all my Ancestors”. You need to start somewhere and that person should be you, before moving on to the next generation. Make sure you have all the information needed for one generation before moving on to the next, especially relationship information. Know what you want: “when was my great-grandfather born?”, “Did my Great-great-grandmother remarry?”, “How many siblings did my grandfather have?”, etc.
  • Set your budget. Determine how much you are willing to invest in your project and communicate this to the Professional Genealogist. Since you will be paying for hours of Research and not for final product, you must take in consideration that certain records can be very difficult to find or even impossible if they did not survive or where never created for your Ancestor.
  • Prepare a summary of all the information you have for each individual and add the source citation (where did you get the document) for supporting documents. Be prepared to share all the information you have. The more you share with the Professional Genealogist, the better chance that previous research will not be repeated and will also allow the Professional Genealogist to determine which records and resources to use, which is part of establishing a research plan.
  • Set your Time limit. If you wish to have Genealogical Research done in order to prepare a souvenir for a special family event or a cherished family member, you must determine when is your deadline. Therefore, plan to hire a Professional Genealogist several months or even a year in advance. Some Genealogists are quite in demand and may not be available immediately to begin your research. You might need to wait a few weeks or months before they can begin the work.
  • Prepare questions you would like to ask regarding the experience or the research plan the Professional Genealogist will formulate from your request and the information you provide.
  • Be prepared to pay a retainer or the total amount of the contracted hours upfront. Additional expenses will be expected and billed as well.
  • Be prepared to pay for the hours of research and not for the outcome of the research. There may little or no answers to your questions, or the conclusions reached with the evidence provided might not be what you expected or wished for.
  • As for when you hire any other Professional, you will be signing a contract or a letter of agreement for the services. The contract or letter of agreement should include the legal details of the service.
  • Be prepared that the research will only begin once you have signed the contract, provided all the information and documents and paid the retainer. The Professional Genealogist will need all of this to begin the analysis of your request in order to establish the research plan before beginning the research.
  • Research can be long and it can sometimes take years to find a record or a piece of information. Although some may be found quickly, patience is a virtue that you will need, as will the Professional Genealogist.
  • A Professional Genealogist will always suggest that you begin your research with you and work backwards on your ancestral line. This will allow you to follow YOUR Ancestors and not someone else’s line, which happens quite frequently when only surnames are taken in consideration and not the relationships between individuals.
  • A Professional Genealogist will ask a lot of questions. Do not be frighten or deterred by these questions as their goal is to help the Genealogist understand what you really want and provide the Professional Genealogists with the tools needed to provide the service, analyse your request and establish an appropriate research plan.
  • A Professional Genealogist will ask you to collect all the information and documents you can from family and friends, and even ask that you order some records yourself. Records created after 1921 are for most still under the Privacy Laws and the only people authorised, most of the time, to access the information and get a copy are next of kin (immediate family members). Have copies of those documents ready to send when they are requested. Never send the original records, since they will not be returned and they are extremely important documents for your files.
  • A Professional Genealogist will suggest how many contracted hours you should begin with once you provide your goals. Those hours will also include the analysis, communicating with you or for you, short distance travel, reporting, etc.
  • A Professional Genealogist will be upfront on their rate and fees.
  • A Professional Genealogist will always tell you if you should seek the help of another Professional or if they are uncomfortable dealing with your request.
  • A Professional Genealogist will always maintain confidential the information about their clients, the research contracts and the findings, unless otherwise authorised to disclose any of the information.
  • A Professional Genealogist will always let you know if any new finding could be of interest which can lead to extra hours of research. They will not take any new initiative without your consent.
  • A Professional Genealogist will always return the advance payments which was in excess to the hours and additional expenses incurred.
  • A Professional Genealogist will always guarantee truthfulness, accuracy and legality in their research and reporting. A Professional Genealogist will never give you any guarantee as to what could or will be found. Some questions can sometimes never be answered due to missing records.
  • A Professional Genealogist will always provide you with a research report at the end of the contracted hours. Even though a coloured chart may be part of the delivery package, the report is the essence of the scope of the research. The research report should include the following:
    • The goal or goals
    • Formulation of work plan
    • Written report of findings, including negative findings and negative research
    • Recommendations for future research
    • Copies of documents found and complete source citations
    • Transcripts, abstracts or extracts only for documents for which photocopies are not authorized under copyright or contract rights.
  • A Professional Genealogist will always provide you with an invoice.
  • Do not expect a conversation or a meeting of several hours before you hire a Professional Genealogist. As for any other Professional, they have a schedule and clients for which they dedicate their office hours. If you need time to decide, you may contact them when you reached your decision.
  • Do not expect any guarantee regarding proof required for a membership to any group (First Nations, UEL, SAR, DAR, Metis Ancestry, Huguenot Society, Mayflower Society, Heraldry Society, and so much more). Research is like a flowing river where information leads to evidence and evidence to conclusions. A Professional Genealogist will never begin by a conclusion and try to find evidence.
  • Do not expect any guarantee regarding what will be found or in how much time. Some records have not survived, not been created for certain individuals or have been misplaced. This information is not available until an exhaustive research has been done.
  • Do not expect a Professional Genealogist to break a law in order to gather information or help you on your quest.
  • A Professional Genealogist will not tolerate any disrespect, violence of any kind, bullying or threats. Nor should you expect this sort of behaviour from a Professional Genealogist.