When you are researching your ancestors there may be times when you need to use the services of a professional genealogist or a family history researcher. So how do you know where to find a good quality researcher? The best way is by using a Member of AGRA (Association of Genealogists and Researchers in Archives) for research in England and Wales.
As professional researchers can only work on the details that you provide, make sure this information is correct before approaching them. Online data is very useful but it is not always accurate: errors of transcription, omission and so on mean that it is important to double-check the information you use. This is particularly the case if you use online family trees, which may be unsourced.
Also, it is important for you to specify clearly what you want to find out. This enables the researcher to focus on the task and provide an assessment for the potential project.
Occasionally, research may reveal the need to look at records in another region. Here the researcher may use a colleague to look at these records, but this should only be with your agreement.
Many people think hiring a professional will be expensive but, in fact, this is not normally the case. Fees vary but usually the charges are on an hourly basis for analysis, research and report writing. In some cases fixed-price packages are available. Expect to receive an assessment of your project with details of where research will be carried out and an estimate of cost. It is normal to be asked for a deposit or payment in advance. You should expect the researcher not to exceed the financial limits agreed at the start of the project.
The report you receive from a professional genealogist should give details of the research you requested plus a description of the work carried out, including full references of any records consulted. Copies of relevant records are usually supplied. A conclusion and suggestions for further research should also be given.
It is not possible for a researcher to provide you with a guarantee of success. You will be paying for their time and expertise.
Generally, the researcher will retain the copyright of reports submitted to clients. That means you can use the contents in your own research but you cannot publish the reports themselves without permission of your genealogist.
How do you know if a researcher is qualified to carry out your project? In order to become an AGRA Member, a genealogist has to submit a combination of evidence of any recognised qualifications, examples of reports prepared for paying clients and undertake a research assignment, depending on the qualifications they hold. Candidates are interviewed by AGRA's Board of Assessors and the work submitted has to be to exacting standards before Membership is granted. All AGRA Members have undertaken to abide by a professional Code of Practice which puts clients' interests first.
Employing a professional genealogist should be considered in the same way as engaging the services of any professional person. If you choose your researcher carefully, give the right information at the beginning and agree a suitable fee, then a good relationship will follow. With luck, the information you are seeking will be found and maybe some additional facts that your genealogist has discovered during the course of the project.