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I'm Jennifer, and I'm an Occasional Genealogist... sort of. For over ten years I've been a professional genealogist. I started researching my own family nearly 30 years ago. Like many of you, I started as an Occasional Genealogist. I had to squeeze research in while in school and while working full-time. Then I got my first genealogy job and for awhile, it was genealogy all the time. Now I have two kids. I do other people's genealogy constantly but my own? Coming up with ways to do great genealogy, despite all the interruptions, is now mandatory.
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How Much Does It Cost To Hire A Genealogist?

image representing cost to grow a family tree

You've been doing your own genealogy but you've hit a brick wall. Maybe it's an ancestor you can't identify, maybe you want specific information about your family and just can't find it. When you get stuck, you might think you have to give-up or hire a pro. Those aren't your only options!

When you start to wonder about hiring a professional genealogist, the first thing you'll ask yourself is "how much to hire a genealogy?" Once you've gathered that information, you'll be ready to move on to other questions about hiring a genealogist or doing the research yourself.

Paying someone to build your family tree is certainly the fastest option. Once you know the cost, you can decide if it's worth it to hire a professional. If it's not, there are other choices to continue your family history research.

This post will briefly explain how genealogy is charged before giving you ball park figures. Finally we'll look at how different kinds of genealogy projects can cost less than a genealogy research project.

How much does a genealogist cost?

text what does it cost to hire a genealogist over image of piggy bank and stacks of coins

Let's start with the basics...

How much does it cost to hire a professional genealogist?

The cost of hiring a professional genealogist is not a simple answer. Genealogy is complex, after all, it's made up of people who are each unique. That means each genealogy project is unique and that is reflected in the variability of the costs you'll find.

every project is unique that means the cost of every project is unique

Genealogists charge an hourly rate. The cost of your project WILL depend on how long it takes the professional to do the research. More complex projects take longer and therefore cost more.

However, some genealogists sell blocks of hours to make the cost easier to understand (instead of telling you it'll cost $65 per hour and take 15 to 20 hours, they might offer you options of a $1000 project or a $2000 project---fewer choices for you and you know what you're paying up front). No matter if you are quoted an hourly rate or a flat-fee, you are being charged an hourly fee. Genealogy results are never guaranteed so professionals need time constraints to know when to stop the project. Otherwise they could be looking for a record that doesn't exist forever.

It's important to understand the above information applies to research. Sometimes you can get a specialist to get copies of records, do a specific task with your DNA results, or do another type of project like writing a family history book. For tasks that have a specific outcome that will happen (i.e. the person will go to the archives and request a record for you, regardless if it is found), you might be charged a flat-fee for the task instead of an hourly rate.

Understanding the different types of genealogical work means you can better understand the costs.

Costs of Different Genealogy Projects

In general, genealogists in the U.S. usually charge between $50 per hour to over $200 per hour. The amount is partly based on experience and partly based on their cost of living. With the economy facing so much inflation and variability, you should expect hourly rates to be closer to $100/hour. However, there are professionals that charge less. At this time, it's more likely rates are going up. For years, the minimum for a professional (someone committed to running a genealogy business, not just making a little money on the side helping friends) has been $35 per hour. As costs of living increase, this becomes a more and more unreasonable rate, unfortunately.

research projects are charged hourly even if you pay a flat fee other projects can be hourly or a falt-fee

Also, remember, you aren't just paying for a person's time. Genealogy businesses have expenses such as paying for online subscriptions, mileage, costs of photocopies, repository fees, etc. These may be reflected in your hourly fee or package cost or charged as additional "expenses."

Note that people specializing in DNA analysis can often charge on the higher end of the scale so if that is what you want and need, expect to be looking at rates of $100 per hour or more.

Genealogy Research Project Cost

Full-scale research usually takes between 20 and 40 hours. That means the cost is several thousand dollars. DNA projects in particular tend to require a larger number of hours.

a research project usually takes a minimum of 20 hours there are other types of genealogy services, though

When considering how much time your project will take, you are obviously paying for research time. But travel time can be charged for some projects. You should always expect to pay a professional for the time to write up your results and correctly cite any sources used for a research project (other types of projects might not involve written results or sources that need to be cited but beware of any "professional" that does research and does NOT charge for their time creating citations---this is a key part of genealogical analysis as well as necessary when someone gets you a copy of a record. A professional should know this and have determined how they will be compensated for the time citing sources takes).

There are lots of options to reduce the number of hours needed, spread the cost out, or to find tasks you can have done for less (instead of hiring someone to do full-scale research).

Cost for Record Retrieval or Record Copy Services

At popular repositories (like the National Archives, state archives, or universities) it is often possible to find people willing to get copies of records for a flat-fee or lower hourly-rate. This does not require the expertise of doing research so is a good option for hobbyists and graduate students to make some extra money with a simple task. Keep in mind, it still takes time to get copies of records so lower cost options are usually only reasonable for someone who is already researching at that repository. The more people researching at a repository, the more likely you can find someone who offers a lower cost option just to copy records.

Other Genealogy Services and Options

The cost of a genealogy research project or DNA analysis can sometimes be spread out into monthly payments or across multiple projects. This doesn't make the hourly cost less, but it can make the project fit your budget. Another advantage of this is allowing you to make adjustments to your research goals between projects.

The best way to reduce the cost is knowing exactly what you need. Remember, for research you're always paying an hourly rate even if you actually purchase a flat-fee package. The professional must know when to stop working on your project and it might not be when they achieve your goal. If you ask a professional researcher to trace your family tree, even part of it, that's very open ended. You will either pay for the minimum required hours and not achieve your goal or you will start with a large project.

Compare this to if you hire a researcher to find the father of one ancestor, or research a date and place of death, or look for a marriage record. Those are very specific projects and an experienced genealogist will be able to use the information you provide to determine if that is likely a simple project. Often when newer genealogists get stuck, a specific project of this type is fairly simple for an experienced professional.

save by creating a specific project goal

This leads to another question, though...

Is it worth it to hire a genealogist?

Only you can decide if it is worth it to hire a genealogist. If you've got a brick wall you truly can't bust, hiring a professional might be the best option.

To best manage your budget, make sure you consider what you really need.

  • Do you need someone to get specific records?
  • Could you hire a genealogist to research at their local repositories?
  • What is the exact research or task you need help with (not "research the family tree" but "find the father," or "find the marriage date," etc.)?
  • Are you interested in a (paid) consultation instead of having the research done for you?
not all records are online you may need to pay someone to get records for you

Consider the APG member directory which allows you to search by a variety of criteria including location, specialties, language skills, and more. A directory listing gives the professional a chance to describe the services provided and what they consider their local repositories. Check-out this post, it will show you how you can use the directory to find someone based on various criteria.

When should I hire a genealogist?

Hiring a professional to do the research for you is NEVER the only option. Trust me, I could never afford to hire a professional. Doing all the research myself, and learning how to do it, lead to me becoming a professional genealogist. You can gain the experience and knowledge if that's the route you prefer to take. But there are some times you need to hire someone and some situations where hiring a professional researcher or specialist is best.

  • Sometimes you have to pay to get local records. Not all records are online.
  • It might be more affordable to pay someone to visit a repository to do research for you (whether getting specific records or doing open-ended research into a specific problem). Your travel expenses can be much more than hiring a researcher.
  • You might need very specialized skills such as fluency in a foreign language or DNA analysis.
  • You may also have a problem that is difficult and you need a specialist in researching that time/place/topic so you are sure all the necessary research has been done.

If you haven't been researching very long, this last option is unlikely. This is usually the "time to hire" case for an experienced (and tenacious) hobbyist. If you don't have a lot of experience, you need to decide if the cost is worth the expertise or if you'd prefer to take the slower but cheaper route of learning to do more advanced research yourself.

Alternatives to Hiring a Professional

The #1 alternative to hiring a professional genealogist is getting genealogy education. You also need experience. Just experience isn't enough but neither is just education.

the #1 alternative to hiring a genealogist is getting education and experience yourself

If you're impatient, because getting enough education and experience does take time, consider consultations, especially if you can find a genealogist that will support you as you do the research yourself. This allows you to learn about your exact problem. A series of consultations (or "coaching") will cost more than a one-time consultation but can be well worth the money if you want faster results but prefer to get them yourself.

If you haven't been doing genealogy very long, hiring a professional is not your only option. If you enjoy doing the research, start with genealogy education or coaching instead of genealogical research. The cost to hire a genealogist can be very steep and discovering your ancestry for yourself can be very rewarding. With education, time, and practice, you can learn the skills and gain the experience needed to DIY your family tree, no matter how challenging it may seem now.

What to learn so you can continue researching your family history (instead of hiring)

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