You can’t know everything about everything. Even the top professional genealogists (ProGens) hire other genealogists to do focused research for them. If you have never worked with Massachusetts records before it might be a good idea to have a Massachusetts researcher help you. He/she already knows what is available and will be able to find what you are looking for a lot faster and possibly even cheaper than you can. He/she probably has access to repositories that you don’t readily have access to. If you need to contact the Polish Archives for some records but you don’t speak a work of Polish there are people that can help you find the records and translate them.
Professional researchers aren’t cheap, however, there are some easy ways to limit the cost. You need to give the researcher a focused research goal. We have already talked about how important this is in your own research. It is just as important here. ProGens love to do research so if you give them an open ended research goal like, “My 4th great-grandfather was John Doe. I can’t seem to find out anything about him. Can you help?” the ProGen has just been given the green light to go off in as many directions as he/she can find. You work with ProGens the same way you do your own research, one small research goal at a time.
Before you enlist the help of a ProGen, you need to gather everything you have already done and get all of that research in an organized format. Again, this is the same thing that you do for yourself when working on a brick wall. You want to have all of your sources cited correctly. You need to write a narrative report that explains what you have already found and what you are still looking for. You need to provide copies of all the documents you have found. This will give the ProGen a good starting point so that he/she doesn’t duplicate what you have already done which of course will cost you more money.
The research question is, “Who were John Doe’ of Boston, MA’s parents?” I would give an outline of John’s life as well as all research I have already done that pertains to this research question specifically. I would present it in an organized format complete with copies of documents and sources. You ProGen will love you for it. Not only does it help you but it helps them. It is very frustrating to re-do research because the client didn’t have all their ducks in a row. If you don’t have sources, the ProGen will not just take your word for it.
Another way to limit the costs is to have the ProGen formulate a research plan but not do the actual research. Maybe you just don’t know what you should be checking next or just unfamiliar with what is available for that area and time period. A research plan might be all you need.
So where do you go to find a good ProGen?
All three of the above groups have directories where you can search for a ProGen but specialty or geographic area. This will help you find the person that is the best fit for your dilemma. A true professional will tell you if your research goal is outside of their areas of expertise and will give you some recommendations on who might be better suited for the job. All three of the above groups also have a code of ethics that their members must abide by. The BCG and APG have arbitration services if you think that one of their professionals has violated the code of ethics.
Asking for help from a ProGen is not admitting defeat.
Copyright © 2013 Michele Simmons Lewis