Since the initial publication of this blog post, I have joined the Association of Professional Genealogists. I have worked for individuals and one law firm that needed genealogical proof for relationships. I intend to earn my certification with the Board of Certified Genealogists and will attend workshops this summer to further that goal. Dann Norton, May 27, 2016
Originally published July 10, 2015
In my real job, I teach students how to write and I use family history as one of the topics. (This year, I found four distant cousins among my pupils, and three–who were fourth cousins to each other–had a connection to a famous ancestor and relative.) Everything I ever needed to know about life, I learned from tracing my family tree.
Genealogy can take on different avenues of knowledge, and I can help you in many ways. For example, maybe you want to know who all of your ancestors are—that’s a pedigree. For this we would start with you, add your parents, your grandparents, and so on until you didn’t know the answers. Then, we would look at census and vital records online to add more information. Eventually, we would need to write to the specific states and counties for copies of records to prove your descent.
Sometimes a person is only interested in one line of his or her ancestry. In this case, we don’t branch off into collateral families, but stick to one line and take it back as far as we can, or perhaps to a specific ancestor. This would be the type of research conducted for people wanting to join the Sons or Daughters of the American Revolution or similar lineage societies. The techniques would be the same, just focused on one family. Most lineage societies want certified copies of records, so that can add to the cost.
Another avenue to consider is tracking down all the descendants of a specific couple. For the 150th anniversary of the Billingsleys in Schuyler County, I tracked down all the descendants I could find. I’ll probably do it again for the 175th anniversary. This research can be exciting because it shows how far one couple’s influence can reach. Descendants will be all over the country, and the world, and sometimes famous!
A little bit of both? I love tracing my ancestors to the first immigrant in the United States—and in 30 years, I’ve tracked a lot of them down, but there are still many more to find. I also enjoy tracking down those long-lost cousins I never knew about. DNA genealogy can help out with this sometimes.
I was bitten by the genealogy bug at a very young age. I was lucky to have great-great-aunts who could tell me stories about their great-great-grandfathers. I have conducted all my own research, and only once or twice did I hire someone to find records for me. Hiring a genealogist is not a bad idea if you are interested in the information, but not looking forward to the research. Or, perhaps you cannot travel to the county where you ancestor lived, hiring a local genealogist would be beneficial.
If you hire a genealogist, what should you expect? First be specific about what you are wanting—a pedigree, a direct line to an important ancestor, all the cousins on your grandma’s side?
Next, figure out how much you can pay. Most genealogists work by the hour—find out the rate and multiply! When I help my students in class, I can usually get them back six to eight generations on one line of their family within a couple of hours of searching. At my current rate, a person should be able to get some good information for under $100. Give a deadline. If you need information within a few weeks or a month, research will be confined to online and local resources. If there’s more time, microfilm can be ordered or even traveling included. For the final product, I usually write a report of the findings, and include copies of any documents or newspaper clippings I was able to find. A client had 25 hours of research. That included a 27 page report, transcripts or copies of documents, and luckily, a connection to the Mayflower. (That doesn’t always happen!) I could continue working on this family for many more hours depending on which direction—up or down—of the family tree the client wants to move.
There is one more way I can help would-be genealogists. In a couple of hours, I can show someone how to look up information and get started on family history. It can be tricky, but it is not impossible. You will feel like Sherlock Holmes, looking at a handful of details about a person, then making the connection to someone on your family tree. (You’ll do the genealogy happy dance—sometimes in the privacy of your home, but more often than not, right in the middle of the library or archives!) I can show you how to get started with online sources, then where to write or travel for primary documents.
One word of caution: Sometimes genealogist can’t find anything, and sometimes genealogists unfamiliar with an area or family might mix some things up. I work very hard to get the facts straight. I recently read a professional genealogist’s report for a fellow researcher and told my friend to demand part of her money back. In the genealogist’s own report, she contradicted herself on the names of an uncle and nephew, whom she later referred to as a father and son. Furthermore, her lack of knowledge of Virginia probate laws caused a major mix up in the family report. That woman paid many thousands for that information, and later DNA studies proved almost half of it wrong. If I see a problem or a lack of credible information, I would let you know early!