When to Hire a Professional Genealogist

by Myra Vanderpool Gormley

Some hobbyists successfully research their family trees without any professional assistance. However, most of us do not have the time, money or expertise to pursue personally all of the sources that might be available or needed to find our entangled roots and sprawling branches. As a result, the time may come when you will seek the assistance of a professional genealogist.

How do you know when? Since each research project is unique, it is impossible to say exactly when. However, you might need to hire a pro, if you:

  • Do not have time to do the research yourself
  • Do not have the necessary genealogical research skills
  • Do not have access to the records in a particular locality
  • Do not know what records exist that might offer a solution to your research problem
  • Cannot read the language in which the records are recorded
  • Have a reached a dead-end or brick wall
  • Need specific on-site research
  • Desire consultation on how to solve a research problem or extend a line
  • Need help writing, editing or publishing your genealogy
  • Want on-site photographs, videos and/or oral interviews with distant family members
  • Need help with adoption/birth parent research projects
  • Wish to locate living family members
  • Are not familiar with records pertaining to a particular ethnic group

Consider the fact that we all have 16 great-grandparents, and they all have families whose branches go every which way. These ancestors probably came from diverse geographical areas, time periods, and possibly belonged to a variety of ethnic groups. It is the rare genealogist who is able to do all this research without help.

Keep in mind that no one can tell you in advance how many hours of research will be required on any of your lines, or that they can find your ancestors quickly. Each family is unique. No ethical professional genealogist will guarantee to find your ancestors either. When you hire a professional genealogist you are paying for her or his time and expertise, not for positive results of a search. It takes just as much time to discover your ancestor is not mentioned in a particular record as it does to learn he is recorded there.

Once you have obtained names of professional who work in the area or category in which you need assistance, you may wish to contact several to find the one who best meets your needs and who has the time to accept the commission. Let the researcher know what you want and agree upon time limit, costs and when reports will be provided. In this country, anyone can call themselves a professional genealogist, but there are some organizations who test applicants and whose members agree to abide by a code of ethics. Moreover, some professional groups offer arbitration services to resolve any differences that might arise between the client and the professional.

To find a professional genealogist, contact the following organizations:

United States

Board for Certification of Genealogists
P.O. Box 14291
Washington, DC 20044

  • Current Certification Roster is available online
  • Screening process: Tests and certifies researchers in the U.S., Canada, Europe and British Isles Renewal of applications is required every five years. Certified researchers also agree to adhere to the Genealogists' Code of Ethics.
  • Six categories of certification: Certified Genealogist (CG); Certified American Lineage Specialist (CALS); Certified Genealogical Record Specialist (CGRS); Certified American Indian Lineage Specialist (CAILS); Certified Genealogical Instructor (CGI); Certified Genealogical Lecturer. As a public service, BCG offers arbitration assistance to genealogical consumers who use its certified associates.

Family History Library
35 North West Temple Street
Salt Lake City, UT 84150-1003

  • Roster available: Send SASE and identify the geographic or topical specialization needed.
    Salt Lake City, UT 84150-1003
  • Screening process: Tests for Accredited Genealogist (AG) status by the Genealogical Department of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (LDS): examinations in specialized areas such as: American Indian, Southern, United States, England, and Germany. These genealogists are not necessarily members of the LDS church, nor do they limit themselves to LDS clients. Accredited Genealogists sign an ethics agreement and agree to adhere to a code of conduct; they are required to renew their accreditation every five years.

Association of Professional Genealogists
P.O. Box 40393
Denver, CO 80204-0393

  • APG Directory of Professional Genealogists is available online
  • Screening process: No testing. Members must adhere to a professional genealogists' code. APG offers a confidential arbitration service for both clients and professionals when the professional is an APG member. The Board for Certification will serve as an arbiter when a certified professional is involved.


Australian Association of Genealogists and Record Agents
P. O. Box 268
Oakleigh, Victoria 3166, Australia

  • Roster: Send five International Reply Coupons
  • Screening process: Tests and certified in Australian and New Zealand records.


Genealogical Institue of the Maritimes
Universite de Moncton, Moncton
New Brunswick, E1A 3E9, Canada

  • Roster: Send SASE (with Canadian postage or two International Reply Coupons)
  • Screening process: Tests and certified for specialized research areas in Canada.


Association of Genealogists and Researchers in Archives
Hon. Secretary
31 Alexandra Grove
London N12 8HE, England

  • Roster: Send five International Reply Coupons
  • Screening process: Listing in roster is given only to those deemed competent by long experience, as recommended by their peers.


Chambre Syndicale des Genealogistes — Heraldistes de France
74, rue des Saints-Peres
75005 Paris, France

  • Roster: Send five International Reply Coupons


Association of Professional Genealogists in Ireland
c/o The Genealogical Office
30 Harlech Crescent
Clonskeagh, Dublin 14

  • Roster: Send two International Reply Coupons
  • Screening process: Membership is based on independent assessment and experience.

New Zealand

Genealogical Research Institute of New Zealand
P.O. Box 36-107 Moera
Lower Hutt 6330, New Zealand

  • Roster: Send large envelope and two International Reply Coupons
  • Screening process: Code of ethics.


Association of Scottish Genealogists and Record Agents
51/3 Mortonhall Road
Edinburgh EH9 2HN, Scotland

  • Roster: Send two International Reply Coupons
  • Screening Process: Code of practice

About the Author
Myra Vanderpool Gormley is a syndicated columnist and feature writer for the Los Angeles Times Syndicate. Additionally, she writes articles on the subject of genealogy for Colonial Homes magazine. She is the co-editor of Missing Links and RootsWeb Review, two weekly e-zine genealogy newsletters. A certified genealogist, she has written three books, Prima's Official Companion to Family Tree Maker, Family Diseases: Are You at Risk? and Cherokee Connections. In her spare time she searches for her own elusive ancestors.

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