A guest post by Tammy Tipler-Priolo BASc, PLCGS HTLC © 26 March 2016
So you have hired a professional genealogist and now you are wondering what you will get for your money. Well there should not be any big surprises as you should have already been in communication with your professional and have a good idea of what to expect. That is not to say that there will be unexpected results, which is a different matter and which you should have discussed or had pointed out to you in the beginning stages of negotiations with your professional genealogist. If your professional feels a search is necessary for your request but knows that there will be a high price tag to conduct such a search, they should be discussing this with you first and asking for your approval to follow up that lead. I include on my website, brochure and initial analysis report the following:
“Note: Some searches may yield unexpected results or no results at all. Cost applies to all research done regardless of outcome. We do not guarantee proof for membership into any group (i.e. Native Status, UEL, Mayflower Society and so on). Turn around time depends upon the type of search to be conducted and demand from other clients.”
Understand Your Professional Genealogist’s Approach to a Research Plan
First off, clients should realize that each professional has their own approaches to client work, including how they negotiate, where they will conduct research, what record groups they will conduct research in, how they write up their reports and even the fees they will charge. I try to put myself in my client’s shoes and treat each client individually since every person is unique and no client has the same set of circumstances regarding their query no matter if the outcome may be the same. Some clients have a full understanding of what I can and cannot do for them, making it a simple matter of sending me their query along with any pertinent documentation/information they have, as well as a required retainer, thus allowing me to begin the analysis/research/report/analysis process. If this process seems cyclic, it is, that is until the query has been answered satisfactorily or the client decides to temporarily or permanently cease their working relationship with me, their professional genealogist.
Often I may spend some time educating my potential client on the research process and what the reality of their request really means; without remuneration. I have spend many years helping clients search for Aboriginal ancestors including First Nations and Metis. This is a very specialized and yet broad and ever evolving branch of genealogical research and I would never be arrogant enough to think that I know all the facets of this unique type of researchto . The best I can do for a potential client with this type of request is have a frank discussion about the subject and tell them what I can and cannot do for them. If need be, I will even suggest a more qualified professional, however I would do that no matter the subject matter if I felt it was beyond my scope of knowledge and expertise.
Code of Ethics
I follow the Genealogical Proof Standard established by the Board for Certification of Genealogists. I also follow a code of ethics as a member of the Association for Professional Genealogists (APG) At the latter site you can also find more about hiring a professional genealogist. I also have my own code of ethics including treating others as I would like to be treated, being honest and up front about what I can and cannot do as well as helping many find a professional genealogist who would be more suited to handling their research request. I am often surprised by the many people who call me from the USA asking for help with research in their state. I direct them to the APG website, local genealogical society, library or archive, but do let them know I am more then willing to help them if they cannot find anyone to help them. I have also conducted pro bono work if I feel a suggestion or helpful hint will not take up too much time, however do not expect a professional to drop everything to help you work out a genealogical problem for free. Time is just as valuable as money and time taken away from other life obligations is worth something. Be thankful if you are lucky enough to get this type of help and pay it forward when possible.
The Research Plan
As a professional genealogist I first analyze the client’s information and create an initial analysis report which includes the client’s request, a list of all the information, including documentation and source citations for all. I then create a research plan around the information supplied pertaining to the client request; this may include filling out a pedigree chart, family group sheets and timelines depending on how much information is supplied and if it is warranted. I then ask that the client read over the initial analysis and research plan for any errors or omissions as well as asking them to approve the research plan. I go one step further asking if they wish to carry out the research plan or hire me to carry out part of the research plan or all of the plan. If they decide to have me carry out part of the research plan, all I ask is that they let me know which part they will be conducting and which part they would like me to follow through on so there is no duplication of efforts. Once I have the approval for the plan as well as further fees to carry out the plan I begin working on it. The work involved includes research, analysis of findings or lack thereof as well as writing a report of my findings including any analysis and if necessary a second research plan is included.
The Importance of a Written Report to the Client
Some people will state that a report is not necessary for the work you have conducted for them. I insist on writing a report as this is part of the genealogical process and should be respected as such; a record lookup can be a different matter. A report will explain to a client the what, where, when, why, who and how of the research and analysis process. The report may give you the answers you are seeking, create more questions, have a few surprises, provide more clues to your request, as well as help eliminate possibilities that were logical places to look but did not yield the required result; hence cost applying to all research conducted regardless of outcome as time was spent doing the work you would have had to do yourself. The report helps a professional show their work, as well as giving the client proof of work done. Read those professional reports straight though and listen to what the professional is trying to say in the report. The report is both the professional’s friend as well as the client’s. Also attached to the report will be copies of any relevant records found along with their source citations. Source citations help verify where the document is located helping others to locate the same document if needed. Verification of documents is necessary to the genealogical process especially if one is trying to obtain membership into a specific group. Always cite your sources, no matter the circumstances, or your work is useless.
I tell potential clients that one hour of research equals one hour of report writing, thus this helps clients when planning their budget. Asking how much a research project is going to cost can be an extremely hard question to answer depending on the request being made, thus I refer my clients to my brochure for my fees and packages and suggest that they need to figure out what kind of budget they are willing to work with. I collect my fees upfront and only work within that fee structure. Once the funds in a client’s account have been diminished, I contact the client to see if they wish to send more funds to have me continue the work unless I was able to accomplish the original goal set out for the client. If the client wishes to continue having me work for them they will send me a new retainer to work with and if not, I close the account and any money left in the client’s account is returned to them. Other professionals may take part of a retainer and bill the client the remainder after the work is completed. There are two schools of thought for the different types of fee structure and both work in their own way. However, be wary of someone who says they will do research for you for a set price as they may not be able to accomplish the work in a proper fashion or not finish it in a timely manner. This is not always the case, depending on the request; just be very careful not to be fooled into accepting a plan that is not a great deal. If it sounds too good to be true it probably is.
Good Two-Way Communication is Essential
The biggest thing to remember when working with a professional genealogist is good communication. The more constructive questions you ask and the more advice you consider from the professional the more knowledgeable you will become in the Genealogical World, thus giving you a better understanding of what a professional genealogist can and cannot do for you.
Tammy Tipler-Priolo BASc, PLCGS, HTLC
The Ancestor Investigator