How Much Does Genealogy Research Cost?

How Much Does Genealogy Cost in the U.S.?


How much does genealogy cost? You know it costs money to hire a professional. Have you considered how much it costs to do your own research?

Are you wondering how much a professional genealogist costs?

There are a lot of factors involved. I'll hit just the bare bones, first, and then suggest some ways to save when hiring someone or doing your own research.

First, the cost depends on exactly what you are hiring someone to do as well as their skill level. As with any service, where the person is physically located makes a difference. Genealogists, professional or not, like to help people but genealogy is a big commitment. If someone is charging for genealogy, they probably need to cover some or all of their living expenses with the money they earn. Those living expenses vary by where they live.

Tasks, skill level, cost of living---that's a lot of factors that work together. Genealogy is just like any other professional service, it just isn't as common as hiring a plumber or a lawyer. You won't find a comprehensive (and accurate) list of what you should pay. Finding a single marriage record has a lot more variation than drawing up a standard will---which is why...

Genealogy is mainly charged hourly. Understanding the minimum hours for any project will help you get started. A professional can't do much for you for less than 10 hours. Ten hours will not get you much (the easier the problem and the more skilled your professional, the more you get but if you're a genealogist with any skills, your problem is likely not "easy").

If you really need professional help, assume you'll need 20 hours of research, at least (options other than full-service "research" are discussed later in this post as that is a way to save money).

Genealogy just takes time. Later in the post I'll also point out some of the costs you're incurring to do your own research, don't forget to consider your time. You are spending a lot more than 20 hours!

So here is the bare-bones information on costs.

Professional genealogist for traditional research (i.e. not DNA work)

Average (not a highly sought specialty and an average project)

$35/hour to $60/hour, 20-40 hours of work = $700–$2400

possible to have a 10–20 hour project but that is a "small" project

Premium (for certain specialties or experience level)

$65+/hour = $1300 and up

Notes

Anything less than 10 hours is more a review, not a research project.

Beware of rates under $35/hour without an obvious explanation (i.e. new genealogist getting experience, remote area with little demand for research, "hobby job" where the person only takes a little side work). These are all good reasons to pay less.

Getting Copies of Records


Save on hiring a professional genealogist by ordering copies of records instead of getting research done. You can then use other options to save money.
This is not "research" and therefore may cost less. If you just need someone to get a copy of a record and you have all the details, don't worry about rates that are too low. In fact, look for help from the local library (if the library holds the record), local genealogy society, or a graduate student (in university towns---repositories are often at universities).

If your look-up requires some skill to find the record, you may still need to hire a "researcher" or at least someone with experience working in that repository or with that record type.

Remember, you are paying for someone's time so a look-up may cost the same as research because the person needs to earn that rate for ANY work they do.

Costs vary widely and may involve expenses like the cost of the record (common with vital records) and photocopy costs.

Records can be as little as $5 for a record or $50 for a record.

Notes

If ordering from the "official" repository has extra expenses for mail order, and you need several records, consider hiring a genealogist (local genealogy society or grad student) if their expenses will be less for their in-person visit.

Genetic Genealogy (DNA)

Rates for genetic genealogists are in the "premium" category

$65+/hour (usually $85/hour to $100/hour)

The number of hours needed varies but for full analysis, can be 50+ hours.

It's also important to realize that you may not need a "genetic genealogist" (at a premium rate) if you are mainly having a traditional genealogy project done and DNA results are just one part or option.

Genetic genealogy is a new field so some genealogists do not offer genetic genealogy services at all. Some can offer certain services but not others. Many genealogists can incorporate DNA in a genealogy project even if they aren't a DNA expert. This is something to discuss with a professional you are considering hiring.

Save on genetic genealogy (DNA) by taking advantage of consultations and reviews.Smaller consultations and reviews are more common in genetic genealogy than traditional research. Some are even less than 30 minutes (appropriate for asking one specific question, about $20-$50 flat rate).

These can be as little as two hours at the genetic genealogist's standard rate but some packages are also available starting at about $100 (flat-rate) for a small review, or more for a larger review.



Additional Notes:

Large genealogical companies cost more per hour. The skills of the genealogists are not necessarily better (they may or may not have a specialist for the area you want, but they will find someone to do your project). Large companies are more efficient in many cases so you may get results faster as they have more resources---that's what the extra money is paying for.

Hiring a professional genealogist. What if genealogy results are not found? A: That's still a result! See the post to learn more.With all genealogists, you are paying for the genealogist's time, not results. Genealogy results can never be guaranteed. NOT finding a record or information is actually a type of result.

Now you know all the places not to look next time you approach this problem, and that is necessary information.

The best way to think of paying a genealogist is you are paying for expertise. Beware paying too little as you might not be getting any expertise, just the person's time.

Expertise does not mean an answer will be found. You may not have allotted enough time to find an answer. Very skilled genealogists can often find an answer even when no record provides it. That usually takes 100+ hours of work, over time.

Experienced researchers know you may not be able to pay for 100s of hours. They will do their best on your project but they still need to make a living. That means not giving away 100s of hours of time, either.

Use what they did do as a place to continue your own research instead of thinking you got "no result."

How much does a genealogist cost in the U.S.?

It varies a lot but for a skilled genealogist performing actual research (not just making copies of records), a small project costs at least several hundred dollars. Complex and large projects cost thousands of dollars.

If you can't afford full research, decide if a look-up is in your budget. You may also want to save up to get expert help on one very specific problem that is beyond your skills.

Don't forget to look for options with fewer hours such as a consultation or a review. Also, be active with your local genealogy society where you might get the chance to "ask the expert" in-person for free or for a nominal charge when the society holds an event.

With all of these "small" choices, you need to have your existing work organized. It won't take a small number of hours to help you if the professional can't even tell what you've already done (or what you're asking---be clear and concise).

One final note when thinking about paying for a professional. Genealogy is not free. That is a common misconception. If you need expert help, make sure you consider what you are currently paying for genealogy.

Subscription websites cost money, ordering records costs money, driving to repositories costs money. If you need expert help, it may be more affordable than you think when you compare it to what you're paying to repeatedly be unsuccessful.

If you are just now interested in your family history, you can see why the cost drives many people to do their own research. That's probably how most professionals got started (this one did).
Professional genealogy services are not mandatory. You can do everything yourself. Even doing the research yourself is not free and it takes a lot of time.

Consider if you
  • prefer paying someone to get results,
  • prefer doing the research yourself but need help,
  • just need a copy of a record, or
  • just need a question answered/information (i.e. need education or a consultation).

Each situation can have a different cost.

Professional genealogy services are not cheap but even DIY genealogy is not free. Look for services that fit your specific needs, there is no one-size-fits-all solution to genealogy.
What does it cost to get professional genealogy help? Is a DIY solution cheaper?

Now that I've given you some general information, I'll tell you about the cost of my professional genealogy services.

I'm an experienced genealogists so my rate is higher on the scale, but I've found a way to offer something besides "hourly" work. I still charge hourly but I use interns and contractors to do simpler work, work that doesn't require my level of expertise and that means you pay a lower hourly rate for those portions.

If you want a full-research project, I offer two starter packages (one for traditional research and one if DNA is involved) which are "flat-fee" instead of being a set number of hours. I've designed them to include enough hours to start a project even if I need to find a contractor in a specialty (thus saving you the headache of doing that, it's not as easy as it should be!). If your project is simpler, you'll get more hours of research since an intern (or contractor) can handle it. I still oversee all work to make sure it meets my standards of quality so you get peace of mind without paying my expert rate for something simple.

I also offer a "Premium Consultation" which can be tailored to many smaller needs, not just a consultation. If you love doing your own research but need some professional advice, this is for you. It is also a "budget-friendly" option if a full-research project is beyond your current budget.

To get details specific to your needs, fill out my contact form and tell me what you're looking for. If I can't help you I may be able to make suggestions of what you can do instead.
Visit the homepage to learn more about me and my specialties.