Hiring a Professional Genealogist - Why Would I Want to Do That?
- A few weeks ago, at the National Genealogical Society (NGS) annual conference in Kansas City a woman approached an Ancestry.com executive and rather angrily demanded to know why Ancestry was trying to put her out of business. She declared that Ancestry was making it so easy for anyone to do their genealogy that professionals soon would have no clients.
My experience has, in fact, been just the opposite. As Ancestry grows - so does my research firm. Ancestry pours so many marketing dollars into increasing the interest of the general population in the idea of family history, that I can't help but benefit as a private family researcher.
While Ancestry - and for that matter FamilySearch, Footnote, and FindMyPast - clearly has a goal of making family history records accessible to the masses through their online databases, I have to disagree with this woman about the nature of our profession for two major reasons.
Let me explain the first with an example - I find doing my taxes fairly simple with all of the tools now available both online and offline. Plus, I get a twisted satisfaction out of knowing that I am the only one of my father's eight children/children-in-law that doesn't call on my dad, the accountant, to do my taxes for me.
However, there are still thousands of people who don't want to bother (or trust that they will likely get better, faster results) and so hire an accountant or tax preparation service.
Genealogy isn't so very different. Everyone has a family. And, at some point or other in their life, most everyone wonders about their roots. There are those (like me) who take that wonder into a full-blown obsession and spend hours every day immersed in census records and passenger lists, search engines and databases, naturalization indexes and pension files trying to puzzle together the great mystery that is the family of man. Many of them take great pride in knowing they did it themselves.
However, there will always be those with too little time, too little patience, or too little understanding of the genealogy research process and proof standard to engage in, or even embark upon, this route themselves. They don't want to bother (or trust that they will likely get better, faster results) and so hire a professional genealogist or research service to do it for them.
The second major reason professional genealogists will not be put out of business any time soon by any (or all) of the online genealogy companies - much of genealogy research still can not be done online only - and even that which can, can't be done with only one subscription to one site.
I have subscriptions to Ancestry.com (World Deluxe), GenealogyBank, Footnote, FindMyPast, WorldVitalRecords, and Genealogy.com. Occasionally, I use the pay-per-view services on ScotlandsPeople, FamilyHistoryOnline, and Origins. I frequently use free resources like FamilySearch.org, RootsWeb, USGenWeb county pages, Whitepages.com, CyndisList, and smart Google searches to locate obscure local archives who have digitized minor databases and put them online. But even with all of that there are still records that are only available on film at the Family History Library or in original form at the local archives.
Even with all of the digitization efforts going on - FamilySearch has their Scanstone Project, Ancestry.com recently announced their collaboration with NARA - it will be a minimum of six to ten years before just the microfilmed collections of those two organizations alone are all digitized. That's not to mention all of the unfilmed records that rest in national, regional, and local archives and history centers around the world.
There are those who are happy to travel around the world researching their own family history in dusty archives and crumbling volumes. There are those who would rather hire a genealogical research firm who has contractors all over the world who can - for a relatively small fee - visit the archive and return the record at a fraction of the cost of obtaining it themselves.
How do you choose to proceed?
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