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
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?