As you’re doing your own family history, it’s easy to get stuck. When you get stuck it’s normal to wonder if you need to hire a professional. But when do you actually need to hire a genealogist?
Hire a genealogist when the need for genealogy answers outweighs the ability or availability to do things yourself or if there is a significant dead-end – and you need help. A genealogist can help advance research faster and easier for a fee. Here is what you need to know about hiring a genealogist.
Ready to see if hiring a genealogist is worth it? Let’s talk about what you need to know.
When to Hire a Professional Genealogist
Hiring a professional genealogist may need to be your next step if you’ve got the answers you need – and you don’t have the time, ability, or knowledge needed to find those answers on your own.
There’s nothing wrong with being crazy busy but still wanting answers. It just means you’re going to need help to get more done – and so hiring a genealogist may be the best use of your resources. At least for finding family history answers – I sure wouldn’t want to hire a genealogist to do non-family history things.
In any case, here are some of the common issues and times when people hire a genealogist, based on our research.
|Common Issue||Notes||Hire a Professional?|
|You’re interested in genealogy but you’re not sure where to start.||First decide on what you need to find – or decide if you want to learn how to do genealogy yourself.||Nope. Use free or low-cost resources (online or in-person) to help you focus on your next steps.|
|You took a DNA test and you’re not sure how to interpret the results.||Check with your testing company first for an explanation. Check the FAQs or give it time – they’re always adding more details to their results.||Maybe – like if your DNA results gave you some new information that gave you new, specific questions.|
|You took a DNA test and you’re looking to connect with living family members.||Most testing companies will let you message others who’ve also taken the tests. Reach out that way first to see if you can find your connections.||Maybe – if doing it yourself isn’t working, the connections aren’t clear, or you need help finding other relatives.|
|You’re fascinated by genealogy and want to find your own answers.||If you’re wanting to do your own research, it’s totally fine to go and learn how to do it!||No – unless you get stuck or want a private tutor.|
|You are fascinated with family history – but don’t have the time and/or ability to learn how to find what you’re looking for.||If you don’t have time or the research know-how, that’s okay. There are a lot of genealogists who do!||Yes – hire help! Just remember to first narrow your focus to a single question at a time – or you will get frustrated at a perceived lack of progress.|
|You’ve hit a research brick wall – and can’t figure out how to get to the answers behind it. Your budget is also dang limited.||It’s always great to have another set of eyes to look at what you may have missed.||Yes – start by asking a hobbyist-level genealogist to take a look for free. If they can’t help you solve it, then see if any genealogists are accepting pro bono cases.|
|You’ve hit a research brick wall and you want to get to the answers behind it – but your budget isn’t as limited.||Get a fresh set of eyes on that problem to solve it already.||Yes – hire a professional genealogist to help you find answers.|
|In your research, you run into unfamiliar regional or ethnic resources.||Different regions require different language skills and knowledge of records.||Yes – hire a professional who’s familiar with the required skills, language, and customs.|
|The information you need is in another language.||You don’t have to learn every language on Duo-lingo to be able to do genealogy, friend.||Yes – hire a translator or a genealogist who’s familiar with that language.|
|The records you need aren’t digitized – and they’re in another country (or an area you can’t readily get to).||You either need to up that travel budget and your musty record-reading skills or hire help.||Yes – hire a genealogist who lives in that country so that they can access the records on your behalf.|
|You’re interested in joining a lineage society and not sure how to get through the process.||You’re going to need proof of heritage and to know how to get through the application process.||Yes – a genealogist who specializes in that timeline or event could walk you through the whole thing.|
|You want to find living family members – but you’ve lost contact (through adoption, moving, the passage of time) and you don’t know how to find them.||After you’ve tried Googling that family member, go ahead and Google a good genealogist next.||Yes – you’re going to need help. This is a HUGE project.|
|You want your family history done for you – and all the names on your tree filled in.||That’s a lot of work and it’s going to take some time – but doable.||Yes – you’re probably going to need to hire a genealogist on retainer, though.|
Just be sure to have a clear idea of what your expectations are. For example, have a list of questions that you want to be answered. And make sure you’ve prioritized the order, too. And make sure you share that list with your genealogist – mind reading is still limited to science fiction, folks. So if you do have a question, be sure to share it with them – so they can focus on finding that answer first.
Otherwise, it’s easy to get frustrated by a perceived lack of progress – even if your genealogist is finding loads of cool things.
Now, if you don’t have a super-specific question – and you’re just working with a genealogist on retainer to get your family tree done? That’s fine, too. Just be sure that you’ve got that set as an expectation for everyone involved – so that you (and your genealogist) can avoid feeling frustrated.
What Kind of Genealogist Should I Hire?
The fun (but frustrating) thing about genealogists is that there are so many specialties. And genealogists can pick and choose specialties based on what interests them. So from a mathematical standpoint, there are practically an infinite number of combinations of specialties (okay, probably not infinite – but it’s a really big number that I don’t feel like calculating at the moment, thanks!).
In any case, it can be confusing to know which genealogist you should hire. Should I, as a ginger-haired gal with ancestry from Ireland and Sweden, hire an immigration specialist? Or do I hire a genealogist who specializes in Sweden and Finland? Or do I hire an Irish-based genealogist? There are too many options!!
First, know that those regional specialties are important – but they aren’t as important as the research types of specialties. So let’s look at that first.
|Genealogy or Research Specialty||Notes|
|Research||These genealogists know how to find records. They may have a geographical or ethnic area of expertise for finding those records (think a specific state, region of the USA, British Isles, Jewish records, African American records, etc).|
|Genetic||All genealogists have a basic understanding of DNA and genetics – but some know way more! If you need a genetic genealogist, look for one with a more in-depth understanding of this field of research.|
|Forensic||If you need to find a living person, forensic genealogists are who you want. They are awesome at tracking down living people using both DNA and genealogy records. Forensic genealogists can help with finding a biological family member or solving probate or inheritance issues.|
|Writing Specialist||These research professionals specialize in helping you (or doing it for you) through the process of interviewing family and writing down those valuable life stories. Or they could interview you and write your story.|
So as you identify your question, that should help you determine what kind of research specialist you need. Then, if you need a subspecialty by area or ethnic region, you can further specialize that way.
Once you know what kind of specialist you need, you can find them that way. And if you can, see if you can interview a couple of specialists. That way you can find (and work with) a genealogist who you trust and you can work well together.
Whew – that was a lot all at once. But it’s easier to do it this way than by first starting by region. So do it this way – trust us!
Okay, so now that you know what kind of specialist you need – how much will it cost to hire them to help you?
What Does Hiring a Genealogist Cost?
Hiring a genealogist can cost anywhere from free to $150+ per hour, depending on what level the genealogist you’re wanting to hire is at.
For example, you might be able to ask another hobbyist-level genealogist to check out your research really quickly – and odds are, they wouldn’t charge you much (or at all). Hiring a professional or specialized genealogist, on the other hand, may cost more.
On the other hand, some professional genealogists will occasionally offer pro bono work – and then they’d help you find answers for free.
If you need free help, keep reading – we’ll cover that next. Or if you’d rather save a lot of time and hire a professional genealogist to start, we’ll cover what that costs in a moment, too.
Or if you’d like to skip over to our article where we do a cost analysis of hiring a genealogist (with quotes), you can do that, too.
When Should I ask a Hobbyist or Pro Bono Genealogist for Help?
There are definitely times when you ought to ask a hobbyist or a pro bono genealogist for help. Here is when they would be a fantastic resource for you.
- You’re just starting out your genealogy journey and you need help getting started – or to be pointed in the right direction.
- You want some basic and/or free help with your genealogy.
- You need a fresh set of eyes on your genealogy brick walls – but you’ve got budget restraints that prevent you from hiring a professional.
- You need a few quick suggestions on where to take your research next.
As a beginner genealogist, you’re going to feel overwhelmed. But don’t – because genealogists are a generally friendly sort who love to help beginners out. So don’t hesitate to ask for help. Even if you accidentally ask a professional instead of a hobbyist for help, odds are they’ll at least give you a few quick pointers – though they may then pitch their services to you.
In any case, don’t be afraid to ask. Because as a beginner, it’s hard to know the scope of the question you’re asking. That’s normal – and you’ll learn as you go. In fact, all of us are learning as we go. So don’t feel bad asking – it’s much better to ask than to keep wondering.
Oh – and a quick note about asking more experienced genealogists for help. There are a lot of very experienced genealogists out there who are more than happy to help. Some of them are as knowledgeable as the professionals – even if they didn’t take the extra steps and hassles of getting certified. So if you manage to befriend that level of a genealogist? That’s amazing – and they’re generally super trustworthy resources to have.
Now, if you don’t know where to find a hobbyist or a pro bono genealogist – don’t worry. One of the best places to find these genealogists is at a local FamilySearch family history library. Check out our post on where to find those right here.
What Does Hiring a Professional Genealogist Cost?
While the traditional answer of what a professional genealogist charge is between $25-$120 per hour, our research came up with a different fee range.
Our research found that professional genealogists (whether an individual or a team) charge anywhere between $40-$150 per hour. On average, an individual genealogist charges $65 per hour while a team of professional genealogists costs $129 hourly.
There’s a good-sized range that’s due to a lot of factors. Some of those factors include:
- Level of Expertise
- The physical location of the genealogist
- Nature of the project
- and more (that we detail in our dedicated article on this very subject!).
To see all of the data that we found on what a genealogist costs, make sure you read our full guide (with quotes) on it right here.
Hiring a Professional Doesn’t Always Guarantee Success
While we’d love to say that hiring a professional always guaranteed results, that just wouldn’t be true. Because there will be times when, despite a professional’s best efforts, some answers remain elusive. Here are a few times when success may just not be possible.
- The evidence you’re wanting (to give you an answer) doesn’t exist anymore.
- There’s an unexpected complication or answer you didn’t expect.
- The answer is “nothing.”
In these kinds of instances, it’s okay to take one of several approaches.
- Hire another genealogist for a second opinion.
- Know that you did your best – and so did your professional genealogist. That answer simply isn’t obtainable at this time.
- Wait and see if some new or future technology is able to unlock that answer for you.
This isn’t to say that hiring a professional was the wrong answer. In fact, it was definitely the right call – hiring a professional has given you the answer that there isn’t an answer at this time. And while that doesn’t answer your burning question, it can give you peace of mind that you’ve literally done everything possible through a thorough investigation.
In that case, you don’t have to give up on finding that answer. You may just need to give things time. Some new technology could be developed in the future that could unlock the ability to find answers.
For example, think of all of the people in the 1950s who dreamed of finding a biological family – and never dreamed that DNA sequencing could be used to help them find their answers. Your answers could still come – but it may take time, technological advancements that are as yet still a dream, and more time.
Where to Find a Professional Genealogist to Hire
Ready to find your professional genealogist? Here are a few places to get you started.
- Use the Association of Professional Genealogists (APG) directory – click here to go there now.
- Ancestry.com’s ProGenealogists Team – click here to go to their site.
- Legacy Tree Genealogists – click here to go to this Utah-based genealogy firm’s site.
- Trace.com’s Genealogy firm – click here to visit their website.
- If you’re in the Salt Lake City area, there are professionals who work at the Family History Library. Click here to read about them on the Family Search Wiki site.
- Do a Google search (or use a search engine of your choice) to look for “genealogy research firm near me” or “genealogist near me” – or a similar such search.
Or if you’d rather work with your Genealogy Pals – that’s an option, too. We’d sure love to help you with your genealogy. Just use our contact us page and let us know how we can help.
Can you hire someone to find your ancestry? Genealogists of all levels can be consulted or hired to help you find out about your family history. The fastest and easiest way to find answers (without doing the work yourself) is to hire a professional genealogist.
How does one become a genealogist? Genealogists start as hobbyist-level enthusiasts – and some then opt to further refine their knowledge and skill by attending research courses, webinars, and conferences. Professional genealogists have further credentials and certificates. For more information on genealogy-related education, read our post on genealogy education here.
Where is a family history center near me? Family history centers and libraries can be found all over the world. The largest one is located in Salt Lake City, Utah. Use our post to find local, free, and nearby genealogy centers that you can visit any time.