What Does a Professional Genealogist Do?

There are so many things a professional genealogist can do for you. Each one will have different skills and strengths. If you're looking for something really specific, consider starting with the member directory for the Association of Professional Genealogists. You can specify genealogy research related criteria to search for (locations, time periods, or other specifics about your ancestor) as well as having the option to find someone with "non-research specialties." Just scroll down the search options to see what you can choose from.

I've created this quick video to show you how to do it!
 

Because there are so many services a professional genealogist could offer, in this post, I'll just talk about the most common and what I offer that is a little different.

Most professional genealogists offer research about your ancestors. Some only offer specialty options (maybe research into a type of record, like court records or military records, or only DNA projects or only writing a family history). Today, many offer the option of including information from a DNA test, but not all. DNA is a specialty so even if they work with DNA, they may not specialize in using a tool or method that will help you/your project.

Genealogy "Research Specialties"

I specialize in the use of southern DNA. I don't specialize in adoption cases.
I know how to use tools for any group that has a similar genetic inheritance pattern to southerners (people that intermarried within a limited population, but not so limited to cause "endogamy"--- I also know what to ask you to help you determine if my specialty applies to your DNA results).

I'm not an expert in using tools and methods that are best for adoption cases. Genealogists that do specialize in adoption cases may also offer additional non-research services that are related.
Knowing what is unique about your genealogy problem or goal will help you find the best genealogist.

Specific vs. Non-specific Genealogy Projects 

After over a decade getting requests for genealogical help, I discovered there was another "specialty" I was best at offering. I call it "project management." This isn't the type of project management every genealogist should do (they should all be managing the project they are working on by making sure they stay on-budget, on-time, and are focusing on the project goal).

Example: Geographical Specialties

This is a variation of general project management. Some genealogy projects are extremely specific and you will be best served by a specialist. For example, I'm a southern specialist living in the south. You may need someone even more specialized. I once had someone come to me with their southern research problem. But what she really needed was someone who could access records, in-person, for one county in South Carolina. I didn't have access to those records and it would have been quite expensive (for the client) for me to travel to access them. I could have taken her project but I would have just ended up hiring one person to get the records for me. If that person could have done all the work, not just getting copies of records, why would she hire me?

Example: Project Management (for non-specific projects)

But often clients come to me and they want several generations researched or their ancestor just moved around a lot. This is the type of project management I discovered was one of my specialties. You don't want to find a genealogist in each location where you need to access records in-person. That's a lot of work.

For a project of this type, I was best at managing the project. I could find genealogists in other locations when they were needed or just hire someone to get copies of the records when a genealogist wasn't available. I could put together all those pieces from different locations and decide how best to "manage" the project. That was still staying on-budget, on-time, and focusing on the goal, but it required a lot more than just my own work.

It used to be this was how most genealogy would be done unless all research was in one location. Today, with online research and DNA, most genealogists specialize in only managing their own work. They may not need to work with other genealogists or know how to. You will see with large genealogy companies, they use a project manager because work is done by multiple people.

With my background in lineage society applications, I developed a specialty of project management for research involving multiple locations.

Which Type of Genealogy Research Project Do You Have?

So those are three types of services a genealogist can offer you, the use of DNA (including sub-specialties), location or topic-specific research, and project management which is for projects that are the opposite of location or topic-specific projects.

Non-Research Genealogy Projects

I also offer another type of service that is related but not offered by all genealogists. I offer paid consultations and reviews.

Actual research requires a lot of time. I would say a genealogist can't do "research" for less than a 10-hour minimum unless they are either doing some required tasks for free or are (inappropriately) skipping those tasks. Keep in mind, just getting a copy of a record is not "research" so that can be done in less time.

Not everyone wants to commit to a research project because of the amount of time it takes. Some people, me included, don't really want to give up the fun of doing the research themself. For my personal research, I often hire people to get copies of records for me but I rarely hire anyone to do research for me. It's not just that I'm capable of doing it myself, because it would be faster to hire someone else, it's because I want to do the research. It's fun.

Consultations and reviews are smaller projects that do not involve research. They are your chance to either ask questions and get more in-depth answers than from a free conversation, or I actually look over your research, i.e. review it, and provide feedback.

Conclusion

A professional genealogist can offer many different options. Most do not offer all options and some only offer one very specific type of research. Before you can find the right genealogist, you need to think about what makes your project unique.
There are four main options to consider.
  • Specialty research projects (find a specialist)
  • Non-specific research projects (find someone good at managing contractors or with employees in different location)
  • Research involving DNA results (you may need a DNA specialist if that is your primary focus)
  • Non-research (look-ups, consultations, reviews)
You project might neatly fit into one of these options or involve several. Narrowing down the focus of your project will help you find the best genealogist for you and your project.