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Selecting a Company

Selecting a professional genealogy company is an important decision, but it doesn’t have to be a hard decision if you understand these basic facts.

There are a lot of professional genealogists.
There are approximately 1500 members of the Association of Professional Genealogists (APG), the organization representing the vast majority of professionals.

Knowing your selection criteria in advance can greatly save you time by helping you quickly narrow potential companies.

There are very few companies with more than one genealogist.
Almost all professional genealogists work for themselves or with one other person. Despite the large number of genealogists, very few companies exist with multiple genealogists available to serve customer needs.

Whether a genealogist works independently or as part of a larger company doesn’t necessarily imply anything about his or her skill level. Company size, however, may impact the level and type of customer service you will receive – larger companies usually offer more professional and comprehensive services whereas independent genealogists usually offer more opportunity for you to be involved throughout the research process (if desired).

Most genealogists only work part-time.
The National Genealogical Society estimates that aside from librarians, archivists and publishers, those making a full time living from customer research number no more than a few dozen. This likely accounts for the fact that only about 20% of all genealogists have a website.

Part-time researchers often charge lower rates and can be a great option if you are on a very tight budget. However, their availability may be limited, their services may be limited in scope (don’t have the skills to research everything you need), and it can take longer to find/select one since most don’t have websites.

Most professional genealogists are specialists.
About 70% of genealogists have a specialized focus – on a time period, geographic region, record type, ethnicity, etc. Some specialists are willing to do other types of research as well, others are not.

If you have a particularly difficult and specific research question, specialists in the area of question can be a great resource since they may have the most directly related experience. If you are broadly seeking to learn about your family tree, however, “generalists” are often a better resource because they have experience in more areas required for broad research.

Professional genealogists hold a variety of credentials, but none are required to become a professional.
There are two organizations which offer genealogy-specific credentials – the Board for Certification of Genealogists (BCG) and the International Commission for the Accreditation of Professional Genealogists (ICAPGen). Genealogists applying for credentials through either organization submit work to be evaluated by a panel. Those who go through BCG become “certified”, while those who go through ICAPGen become “accredited”. The difference is the sponsoring organization and the testing process. Unlike in many professions, there is no required credential to become a genealogist!

Most certified/accredited genealogists are highly qualified, but many highly qualified genealogists are not certified/accredited. Certification/accreditation is just one criteria of many to consider, not a pre-requisite. It is a personal decision how much emphasis you want to place on it.

Fees range widely.
Almost all genealogists charge for their services by the hour because it is not possible to know in advance how long it will take to answer a research question. Typical rates range widely, from $20 per hour to over $100 per hour. In all cases, this fee covers the researcher’s time and is NOT a guarantee of results. (No genealogist can guarantee results due to the uncertain nature of historical records.) In addition, you will be responsible for any expenses that are incurred to locate and retrieve records (e.g., state government fees for procuring a death certificate).

Comparing fees is one of the most difficult aspects of selecting a company. Sometimes genealogists have lower fees because they are less experienced or only work part-time, but sometimes they are highly qualified and are simply offering a competitive rate! Conversely, a high fee doesn’t necessarily mean someone is the most highly skilled. You must balance the fee with your other criteria.

Ready to get started with professional genealogy?