Hiring a Professional Genealogist Part Two

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Thinking about hiring a professional genealogist? There is a lot to consider.

Obviously, if you consider hiring a professional I do hope you consider Global Genealogists, but the most important thing to me is just that you hire someone who is good—who has the skills, background, and record access to perform your research accurately and well. This doesn’t mean that they will always find the answers you seek immediately, of course, since the findings always depend on what the records have to say, but it does mean that they will adhere to industry standards and best practices. You should consider the following areas when choosing a professional.

Credentials. It can be very helpful to ask where the genealogist learned his or her skills. Did their only training come from watching a few free online lessons, or did they complete an in-depth, serious course of study? As in other professions, serious professional genealogists usually spend years honing their craft and knowledge in order to provide their clients the best possible service, often in formal education. In the genealogy field, such professionals are often part of professional organizations, have degrees in genealogy and family history, and may be active in genealogy education.

Perhaps surprisingly, the number of years that a person has been doing genealogy is not always a good indicator of their skill level. The extremely fragmented nature of genealogy records, and the many different areas of search and strategy, mean that training in each area is extremely helpful for obtaining pertinent experience. Many years of experience does suggest some skill, of course, but the skill levels vary widely among those with much experience, from extremely good to very poor. Some of the best professional genealogists in the world never got a degree in genealogy and learned everything hands-on; other researchers with decades of experience may barely be able to get past the census records.

Price and value. With genealogy, as in many other areas of life, you often get what you pay for. I have had many clients hire me after initially hiring someone else on the basis of price alone, only to find that the reason the work was so cheap was that the person had little skill or record access and could not produce any intelligent research.

Undoubtedly, a random person in China who doesn’t speak English will happily perform a Google search for your ancestor for ten dollars per hour, but this is not going to give you any useful information, nor will the presentation of the research be helpful or solid. This does not, of course, mean that price is unimportant, simply that there is often a reason the cheapest are the cheapest. I recommend considering the full value proposition of the genealogist: what they provide for the amount they charge.

Past clients. Does the genealogist have a number of past clients providing referrals or testimonials? If he or she does not have past satisfied clients, you may want to carefully consider why.

Personal service. No one wants to hire a faceless company, especially for something as personal as genealogy and family history. It is important that you know who is in charge of your case work, ideally by interacting with them directly.

Overall, professionals can be extremely helpful if used properly and if you make an informed decision on who to hire and how to have the work done. If you have further questions, you can contact us through email or phone via our website, www.globalgenealogists.com, and we will be happy to assist you.

Hiring a Professional Genealogist Part One

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When to hire a genealogist? Many genealogical researchers reach a point where they are simply stuck—on certain lines, or with their overall history. Others become concerned about the validity of the research they have or have access to, especially if obtained online. Still others are very interested in the story of their family, but cannot or do not want to try to do the research themselves. And people often seek services, such as large printed family trees or professionally written and bound archive-quality family history books, that they cannot do themselves. Whatever the reason, people around the world hire professionals to help them in all aspects of genealogy and family history.

When my clients hire me, some of the main reasons I have noticed are my training and experience, access to good records, and expertise in implementing basic and advanced methodologies in finding ancestor information. Full documentation and professionally researched and written reports also play a role.

It can, of course, be expensive to hire a professional genealogist. Perhaps surprisingly, then, one of the most important reasons to hire a professional is that doing so can save money and time. If you have little access to the record sources you need, especially to a top archive, your choices are to try to do the research yourself by traveling to the archives, by ordering the records you need, or by hiring someone there.
Travel, however, is both expensive and time consuming. Ordering the records can be helpful and is often cheaper than a plane ticket, but in addition to taking weeks or months to complete a single research step, many records are unavailable. By contrast, the right professional can perform the work you need quickly, thoroughly, and with no hassle to you. It is important, though, that you carefully consider who you hire.

How much information is online?

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I came upon a review for Ancestry.com this week that sparked my interest. The review, found here on the PC Magazine website, talks mainly about how Ancestry.com can be used to build family trees and store your data. There are a few lines from it that drew my attention. As the reviewer closed her story she stated, “There’s no need to dig around libraries and county halls anymore because Ancestry.com puts centuries of documents at your fingertips.”

So, is there still a need for the records at libraries and county halls? Yes!

Do the resources at Ancestry.com and other internet archives provide valuable resources that greatly help in researching your family? Yes!

Both the internet and physical libraries and archives are needed to find your family.

One of the first thing I try to teach people about doing research is that there are a wealth of records about their ancestors and most of them aren’t online. I always start researching my own family by looking at records online. These records are easily available and save my time at the archive. My basic search when doing online research, or my preliminary research, follows these steps:

1. Search public trees on Ancestry to see if other people are researching the same people. There is no need to start from scratch, but there is a great need to verify information.

2. Make sure I have census records for every available census year. Many of these are available for free at www.familysearch.org.

3. Do a google search for my ancestor. I include the name and either a birth, marriage, or death date. I’m amazed at what I can find by doing this simple search, and it will often gather information from Rootsweb.

4. Search any other applicable databases on FamilySearch or Ancestry.com. Every family is different so the databases are different each time.

The important thing to remember is to verify information published online. Good research always goes back to the original source. That is why my online research is only my preliminary research. The research that solves my brick walls usually happens in archives in original documents. More and more original documents are being put online, and it is a most valuable tool. Just remember that there is more waiting to be searched than can be found through your computer.

Writing Your Own Family History: Part 1

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Passing on History

One of my favorite client requests is to create a family history book. It is fun to look past the dates and places and search for the stories that make the people come to life. Everyone wants to have a family history on their family, but the project is often too daunting a task to start. I am going to posting a series of tips and steps to help you write your own family history.

Where to begin? Most people who want to write a family history have already started gathering names, dates, and places. Many people already have this information in a genealogy program. If you don’t already, organize your information with one of the many genealogy programs. It doesn’t matter which one you use. Just find which one works best for you.

My next tip will cover why it is so important and how you can use any one of these programs to give you a jump start on writing your book.

Here are my top four programs.

PAF: Personal Ancestral File is a free program provided by FamilySearch. It is a great program for the beginner. Free downloads can be found here.

RootsMagic. This is usually my program of choice. It is similar to PAF, so there isn’t a steep learning curve if you are familiar with PAF. It has extra features that helps me stay organized better. There is also a free download for RootsMagic Essentials here. It has the core features of the full RootsMagic program.

Family Tree Maker. Produced by Ancestry.com, it’s biggest feature is that it syncs with Ancestry.com and it is easy to go back and forth from researching on Ancestry.com to imputing data into your tree. There isn’t a free download, but you can view more features here.

Legacy. I have the least experience with Legacy, mostly because I was introduced to it after the others. I have used it and it is a great program. It is the program of choice for many of my colleagues in the genealogy community, due to it’s advanced features. There is a free download of the standard version here.

So pick your program and start entering all of the research you have been gathering!

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Backup!

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This last week I had my reminder to back everything up. My main computer is a laptop and has worked great without any problems for three years. Last week the motherboard blew. The computer is completely dead and I can’t even turn it on.

Thankfully I had everything backed up in the cloud. Whenever I save anything to my cloud it gets backed up online. About 90% of all my files were backed up automatically. Many of my important files were backed up onto CD’s as well.

The important thing is to find a backup system that works well for you, and then use it. Finding what works best for you can take some time with dozens of cloud computing options available. Here are two review that I found helpful. First this one from USA Today just covers three of the top cloud storage options. The second one from Computer World covers five other services.

Whatever you chose, backup your information so if your computer fails you don’t lose everything.

Welcome Back!

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I took a brief break in posting the past few months. we moved houses and that is an adventure in itself. I love the first part of the summer with the great weather. Now that we are enjoying 100+ weather, I’m happy to stay inside at my computer.

London

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I’m in London, doing client research and attending/working at the “Who Do You Think You Are? LIVE!” genealogy conference. It has been phenomenal. As many of you may know, London is one of the best cities in the world for genealogy research. As one of the world’s capital cities and top transit hubs for the past thousand years, many of the people in dozens of countries around the world have had ancestors come through here and can trace records through here—even when those ancestors had nothing to do with the British Isles. One of our clients from Bolivia had ancestors from Spain, who we found by tracing their ship through London.

The records here are also phenomenal. As a major superpower for hundreds of years, Britain had a bureaucracy to match, and records exist here in profusion. Our London office can get to these records, many available nowhere else, and we like nothing better than to help our clients find their family members who came from or through this misty northern island.

Source Quality: Do Your Sources Hold Water?

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Have you ever played the children’s game “Telephone?” It is played by a large group of people. The first person whispers a phrase into the ear of a second person, who whispers it to a third person, and so on. The last person then speaks the phrase out loud. Invariably, after twenty or thirty people, the phrase and its meaning have changed dramatically or even beyond recognition—just in the process of a few minutes. The story of the game is from the trenches of World War I: a message sent down the trench line, “Send reinforcements, we’re going to advance” became “Send three and fourpence, we’re going to a dance.”

Like the game “Telephone,” historical information can become unreliable very quickly. Thus, one of the most important concepts in genealogy research is that of source quality: how reliable is the information you find? As discussed earlier, source quality is critical for any genealogist who wants to know that his or her family tree is more than just fiction. To back up the names, dates, and other information you have or find, you should always seek to have real documents, tight logical reasoning, waterproof critical analysis, and solid, trustworthy sources. Without this background foundation, your research may be completely wrong no matter how much effort you spend.

Researchers distinguish between different qualities of sources and records, depending on how trustworthy the source of the record is. Since sources can provide conflicting information, it is important to be clear on what the different sources are and how much weight to give to any source.
Firsthand accounts by people who experienced events or facts and wrote them down immediately are, in general, clearly the best, since these are from people who have actual knowledge. As the source becomes removed from the actual event or facts, either in time or people, the information becomes less trustworthy. The two most important and trustworthy levels are primary and secondary sources.

Primary sources.

Primary sources are eyewitness accounts created during the time period that you are searching. Naturally, these aren’t foolproof—like modern eyewitness accounts, the source and his or her perspective may be biased, incomplete, uncertain, wrong, or lying. Just think about witness testimonies given on any courtroom television show. Do the witnesses always know and tell the pure, unvarnished truth? Historical witnesses can be the same.

It is thus important to always consider whether and how primary source material may have it wrong. Despite these limitations, primary sources are the best thing we have to go on for facts and events from long ago.

Primary sources can be found in many different types of record types, such as legal documents, census records, journals, and newspapers, among many others. Books can also be primary sources if they were firsthand accounts written during the time of the book’s study.

Secondary sources.

A secondary source is created by someone who did not have firsthand knowledge. The author did not experience the events or facts in question. Thus, for example, most history books are secondary sources, as they are typically written long after the facts have transpired and by historians who were born much later.

Source types together.

Primary and secondary sources can both be found in the same document, depending on which information is referred to. For example, a death certificate typically provides information about the person who died—the decedent—and his or her parents. This information is often provided by someone who knew the decedent personally but did not personally know the decedent’s parents. Thus, the information about the decedent would be primary source material, but information about the parents, such as their names and places of birth, would be secondary. The information about the person who died is very likely to be correct, but the information about the parents would need to be considered carefully to determine how likely it is to be correct, since the information was given by someone who did not have firsthand knowledge.

Get Organized, Get Started

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Organize Your Genealogy Papers

Photo by ImageAfter

“First comes thought; then organization of that thought, into ideas and plans; then transformation of those plans into reality. The beginning, as you will observe, is in your imagination.”
-Napoleon Hill

FALL 2007, PROVO, UTAH

I though I was going to go crazy. What else could I do?

My research was almost complete. I had nearly finished the book I was writing, and it was on the verge of academic publication. I had found fantastic amounts of information on the paternal line, the goal of the project. My family had never before been able to get much on this fifth-great-grandfather, but I had been able to find the right town records that showed he was born in 1743 in Connecticut. He fought in the Revolutionary war, and helped found the town. The information surrounding his life was the capstone of my research and the detailed and lengthy family history book I was planning to publish.

Now all I had to do was check a couple of facts in the story and edit the references, and it would be ready to go. But that would be easy, because I already had found that information. All I had to do was get it and insert it.

Right?

But when I went to look for it, the information I had previously found was not on my flash drive or in my online storage folders, where I keep copies of everything. I looked on my computer, where I keep backups of nearly all of my data. Nothing. I looked through my backup CDs, other computers, my paper files for the research. I reviewed my old flash drives and even moved back into floppy disks. I knew that I had saved it somewhere. I checked again. And again. And again.

Ultimately, I never did find that data. I had to go back and redo the research, and find it all again.

If only my story was unique.

This has only happened to me once, but it has also happened to every researcher I know. The more experienced researchers reading this are nodding their heads and smiling ruefully, having learned this lesson the hard way. If this hasn’t happened to you yet, it will, and it will cause untold hours and days of headaches and hassles, with the possibility of permanently losing information that may not be re-found or re-researched, even in original sources. But you can avoid it all, and make your research far more efficient to boot, if you will just read and apply this chapter. You will have to think about your needs and preferences—how you like to set things up—but I can promise this small investment of time and energy will save you far more later on.
The problem is easy to avoid, and with technology, it is getting easier. All you need to do is spend a few minutes at the beginning starting intelligently and planning how you will get organized.

First, consider your needs. You probably will need to be able to share your research with family members and others that might find it to be of interest. You need to be able to quickly access your findings and conclusions. Just as important, you need to be able to quickly go back and see what areas your research has already covered, even if you didn’t find anything. Otherwise, you are likely to redo the work time and again.

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