The following is a Plus Edition article written by and copyright by Dick Eastman.
Genealogy research is a fascinating endeavor. After all, your family tree is a puzzle that needs to be solved. In fact, you are literally finding out where you came from. I strongly recommend that anyone with an interest in ancestry do their own research. Indeed, it is fun and challenging.
As author of this newsletter, I sometimes field questions from genealogy newcomers — questions like how they can hire someone to research their family tree for a fee. I typically respond with still another question and a comment: “Would you pay someone to play a round of golf for you? While that might complete the objective, you will miss out on the entire experience.”
Despite my rather cavalier remark, I will suggest that professional genealogists can be your best friends and assistants after you have started your own genealogy research. Yes, you should do the basics yourself. You should start with yourself and then find information about your parents, your grandparents, your great-grandparents, and so on, as far back as you can possibly go on your own. Researching your own family tree is fun and can be inexpensive. However, when you do hit a “stone wall” and cannot go back any further, it may be time to call in the professionals.
For instance, you may exhaust all the resources that you know of. At that point, you may wish to hire an expert who has years of experience in the same area to see if he or she can find information that eludes you.
Even when you do know where to look next, you may find it impossible to travel to a distant records repository to look at some record that has not yet been put on the web, on microfilm, or even in a printed book. You will find it far cheaper to pay a professional researcher who lives in that area to look at records for you and to make photocopies. That usually will beat the costs of traveling there yourself with all the expenses of airfare, hotels, and meals. The professional may also notice things that you missed on that document or possibly on other documents in the same repository.
Another good use of a professional’s time is when you simply need advice from an expert. Paying for a few hours’ consulting time from someone who is an expert in the geographic area or the ethnic group you are researching may provide an education, enhance your genealogy experiences, and point you in the right direction to continue your search.
All professional genealogists are not created alike. Almost all of them are specialists of some sort. A person who is expert in New England research or in Jewish research may not be as competent in the records of Pennsylvania German immigrants or Alabama Civil War veterans. You need to find a person with the expertise that you seek.
Professional genealogists may do research for hire based on their knowledge of, and access to, resources for a particular area of expertise. Researchers specialize in many different areas, including:
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