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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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Is Hiring a Genealogist Worth It? {+ alternatives}

Is it worth hiring a professional genealogist to build your family tree for you? This isn't a yes or no answer. In this post we'll quickly look at:

  • the different types of work you can hire a genealogist to do
  • how different projects are priced
  • when you need to hire help and what your alternatives are

In a nutshell, only you can decide if hiring a professional genealogist is worth it. The cost to pay someone to research your entire family tree, or any large portion, is quite high, thousands of dollars.

[If you are only interested in the cost, not determining if the cost is "worth it," see this post about how much a genealogist costs.]

But there are many other types of genealogy projects you can hire someone to handle including much more affordable "tasks" that aren't research. This post will give you a quick overview of the potential options if you want to hire a genealogist as well as what you have to do if you want to grow your family tree without hiring someone.

Quite honestly, hiring a genealogist to research your family for you is not financially reasonable for most Americans. Unless you consider yourself affluent, it's best to instead decide if it is worth it to hire a genealogist to help YOU build your family tree. Hiring professional assistance is worth it to many avid hobbyists. Even if hiring someone to do research for you, even a small project, is out of your budget, there are other options.

Is Paying for Genealogy Research Worth the Cost?

The real question is, how much money are you willing to pay to learn about your family history? The next question is, do you prefer the fun of doing the research yourself (but you need help)?

Even if you are willing to pay thousands of dollars to build your family tree, if you really enjoy doing genealogy, you should focus on the alternatives to paying someone to do it for you.

The good reasons people hire a professional researcher are:

  • You need someone to visit/research at a specific repository for you
  • You need someone to get genealogical records for you (not necessarily at one repository)
  • You need a specialty skill you don't want to learn or will take too long to learn (such as fluency in a foreign language or advanced genetic genealogy)
  • You prefer to pay for expertise versus doing the research yourself
  • You prefer to pay to get the research done faster than you can do yourself
  • You prefer to pay to have genealogy done for you (you don't especially enjoy the research, just the results)

It's time to hire a professional when the results they can get, that you can't, are worth the cost. That means "is it worth it?" depends on the exact project you are contemplating. This could be research needs or even other genealogical information or professional help.

Genealogy Research Project Vs. Other Genealogy Projects

Yes, there are research projects and other types of projects. And they are often priced differently (but not always). Unfortunately, the cost of hiring a pro has many variables.

Genealogists charge an hourly rate. You can never guarantee results with genealogical research so time constraints let the researcher know when to stop. This is why it's so hard to answer, "how much does it cost?"

But non-research projects are sometimes very fixed actions or tasks. These can be charged with a flat-fee, so you know the cost to hire upfront. Examples include:

  • Consultations and coaching (you are getting advice or feed-back during set sessions, these aren't research)
  • Trying to obtain a specific record (for example, getting copies of vital records. You pay the flat fee whether the record is found or not, the cost is for making the request, not a guarantee the record will be found).
  • Performing specific DNA analysis work on your DNA results
  • Writing or editing a family history book

Any genealogy work can be charged hourly but experienced professionals know clients don't like the variability of an hourly project, especially when expenses are charged on top of the research time. Flat-fee work just makes it easier for the client and especially makes it easier to decide if the outcome is "worth it."

RELATED: see this post for information on U.S. costs for genealogy projects.

Do You Need to Hire a Professional Genealogist?

There isn't a definitive answer to this question. Some people are able to successfully trace their family tree on their own. Others find that hiring the right person is the best way to get accurate and reliable information. Ultimately, the decision of whether or not to hire a professional genealogist depends on your individual circumstances and needs. BUT, there are times you should consider paying for specific types of help. Sometimes it just makes sense to hire a genealogist.

When Should I Hire a Genealogist?

Genealogy is not free. It's not even a cheap hobby in reality. You can start for free and do a lot for yourself but you will get and remain stuck if you try and do your research with no expenses.

The number one thing you should consider paying for in genealogy is access to records. You usually start this by paying for a subscription you can use at home.

Most genealogy records are not online!

The easy to use and most used records are. You can start with them but at some point, you will be better off paying to get records from a local repository instead of spending the same money for your online subscription.

RELATED: see this post about budgeting for genealogy because there isn't some magic point in time when you're done with online research

You may also find it more affordable to pay a professional to do some select research for you, even if they do it online. Online subscriptions can be expensive, especially when you don't know how to use them correctly. There are millions of records online, most don't come up when you search. You may need multiple subscriptions at some point, as well. A professional may already have all the needed subscriptions, it isn't an added expense on top of the research time you pay for.

To determine if you need a professional, you MUST know what you really want.

  • Do you want advice on what to do next?
  • Do you want a research plan with exact sources to get?
  • Do you want someone to get specific original records?
  • Are you interested in someone who knows about a variety of records or just specialty record types?
  • Do you want research performed to find specific information about your family?
  • Are you trying to trace a specific family line?
  • Do you want to find one specific ancestor?
  • Are you interested in receiving a research report or another type of "deliverable" (such as a tree or narrative history)?
  • Do you just want high-quality research done based on what the professional thinks will help you most (and fits your budget)?

Decide what your most pressing question or desire is.

  • Do you know what needs to be done to achieve this?
  • If so, can you do it yourself? (for example, you know you need to get a record from a specific courthouse and you can visit and get it yourself)
  • If you can do it yourself, would it be cheaper to pay someone else to do the specific work you need? (consider travel expenses, in particular to determine if a professional is worth it)
  • Would you prefer to pay someone to do it for you?
  • If can't do it yourself, can you afford to pay someone to do it for you?

You may not be able to sit down and answer all these questions at once. It may be necessary to look for a professional to hire and get quotes. You need to know the exact service you're interested in before you try and learn about costs.

Note: unlike other services, often you don't want to find a local professional near you. You want a researcher local to the records. You may also find it easier to find the right person geographically closer to the location of the research, even if they don't need local access to the records. This is not a hard and fast rule, just something very different from hiring other types of professionals.

Not every genealogist offers every type of service and some may offer a variety of services but everything is charged at the same hourly rate. Don't apply a quote (even in general) from one genealogist to another or from one type of work to another.

Alternatives to Hiring a Genealogist

There is basically one alternative, do it yourself. But the way you do this successfully is through education.

You don't need to go to college to learn to do genealogy. In fact, just getting a genealogy degree is not enough. It takes a lot of experience to become a great genealogist. You need to continually learn about a variety of genealogy topics and then apply them. This does take time so you still need to ask yourself "is it worth it?" You might decide you want to learn to bust your own brick wall for some of your family history research but prefer to hire a good genealogist to handle other parts.

If you need some general genealogy education (not specific topics such as "German research" or "using land records") posts on this blog, request our free Brick Wall Solution Roadmap, or buy our book Essential Skills for the Occasional Genealogist. It includes an email training series to help you learn as many general skills as possible (without overwhelming you all at once).

Also, you will never have enough time for your research---if you really love doing the research yourself. Sometimes "is it worth it" will result in you deciding to leave a project on the backburner until a specific time or point in your research. You can't work on everything at once and if you're reading this, I'd bet you can't afford to pay to have all your less interesting projects researched for you.


Hiring a genealogist may be the best choice for you or for some of your projects.

Professional genealogy is not cheap. There are lots of types of work needed when discovering your family's history. Working with a professional may be the best option for some projects or some types of work and not others.

Consider hiring a professional genealogist for tasks you can't do yourself or don't want to do yourself.

You need to know the specific research problem or task you want done before you can contact professionals to get quotes and decide for yourself if the help of a professional is worth it. If you can't afford to hire a professional, prefer not to so you can have the fun of making discoveries yourself, or just don't consider the cost worth it, focus on getting education that will allow you to complete your project or task yourself.

Bonus: Pros and Cons of Hiring

Pros:

  • Saves you time
  • (Potentially) expert research results

Cons:

  • the cost
  • difficult to find a researcher with the needed areas of expertise
  • not as much fun as doing it yourself

Knowing exactly what kind of project you need done is the best way to minimize the cons. There is not a consistent system to identify the skill level of genealogists, professional or not. This is in part due to the fact skill level varies depending on the individual's experience. If you hired me to do Turkish research, you'd be throwing your money away. I've never done Turkish research. That's pretty obvious since there is a language barrier involved. New professionals often don't realize they will struggle with an unfamiliar research topic that doesn't involve a different language. If you aren't that experienced yourself and bring a generic project to them, they will likely tell you they can handle it. If you bring a very specific project, they are more likely to recognize areas of research they don't have experience in.

Resources:

Association of Professional Genealogists (APG) - use the directory to search for genealogy professionals based on various criteria

See this post to learn more about searching the directory.

FamilySearch.org - a free repository of online records, make sure and checkout the card catalog for digitized Family History Library microfilm. Many records are available to use from home but are not searchable or indexed.

See our other posts about hiring a pro.