I am really happy to announce that my professional genealogist consulting doors are once again open!
After almost two years of concentrating on a full-time job, I am back to making genealogy my full-time business and I genuinely could not be happier about it. This is definitely my mission in life. You can request a no-obligation chat or email quotation by visiting my consulting page here.
But what can a professional genealogist, or in my case, a professional genetic genealogist, actually do for you, you might be wondering? Well, a number of things actually! The examples I have provided here relate specifically to those searching British or American ancestors, but do generally relate to research in other areas of the world as well.
1. Start your family tree for you, from scratch
If you have never even attempted to look into your own family history, and are a bit overwhelmed or too busy to begin trying to do the research yourself, a professional genealogist can start a basic family tree for you. Different genealogists have different ideas about what this actually means, but for me, I would consider a family tree to your 2x great-great grandparents to be a ‘basic’ family tree and report. A good genealogist will produce a family tree for you, and provide you with a basic report of their research and where your ancestors appear on records like census records and birth / marriage / death records. They may provide you with images of the actual records where copyright laws allow or order the certificates for you so you have them for posterity (for a fee – for English & Welsh birth / marriage and death certificates this is currently £11 for paper certificates and £7.00 for pdf certificates (available for some birth and death records)).
The genealogist should discuss with you in advance whether you want all certificates that are available, or whether just to order the certificates necessary to progress your tree –they should also seek your approval for in advance of any purchase.
2. In-depth family history / genealogy research
Maybe you’re looking for something a little more in-depth than a straightforward report indicating who each ancestor married, where they lived and what they did. Some genealogists specialise in writing a full narrative history for your family tree, or beautifully presented family history book.
Or maybe you’ve already done a lot of your own research, but need someone to try and extend it for you. Maybe you’re struggling to find your ancestors on official records and would like a professional genealogist to provide an extra set of eyes to try and find your ancestors on census records, or in parish records. Maybe you don’t know how to work out which John Smith is your John Smith.
It may also be that you’re really confident and happy to do your own research but you’ve hit the limits of what online research can provide, but really need someone local to the area in question to go and look in an archives, or you just need someone with local knowledge of that area, I like to call this a ‘boots on the ground’ researcher. For example, I am based in London so can visit any Greater London archives or repository that is open to the public, but I also have good local knowledge of several areas of the UK that I can draw on to do my research.
Similarly, lots of genealogists specialise in specific occupations, or niche areas such as house histories, so you could look for a genealogist to help you with, say, a lawyer ancestor from the 1860s, or to research the house that you live in now.
Maybe you’ve found a really old document relating to one of your ancestors but are struggling to understand what the document actually says – for example, older British wills are usually written in ‘secretary hand’, which can be difficult to decipher, and some are either written in Latin, or have parts which are in Latin. Some genealogists specialise in Latin translations (alas, I am not one of them, but I can transcribe your secretary hand documents for you!).
A professional genealogist can also help you untangle a burning question you’ve always had regarding a particular ancestor of yours, or a family rumour that you’d like to get to the bottom of as well – they can either do the research for you, or they can provide a consultation to give you advice about how to best approach the question if you’d prefer to have a go at doing the research yourself.
In recent years, many amateur (and professional, for that matter) genealogists have started to investigate DNA testing, and wondering how this can aid their paper-based research, only to be hit with complete overwhelm when they actually get their DNA results. A professional genetic genealogist can help you interpret your results and see how they back up (or not) your family tree research.
Which brings me on to…
3. Make sense of your DNA results
For this one you need someone experienced in working with DNA results – they will usually refer to themselves as a genetic genealogist, like me. Perhaps you are someone who DNA tested for fun, but you don’t understand the results you got, or maybe they have raised questions for you.
A professional genetic genealogist can analyse your DNA results for you, make sense of your DNA matches, or just do a consultation to help you with a specific research question that you have. Note, it may be that the consultation results in the genealogist telling you that it’s not currently possible to answer your question with DNA alone, but they may be able to suggest ideas in how you can improve your chances of being able to answer that question in future.
4. Identify biological family
Perhaps you are an adoptee, a foundling, or you do not know who your biological father was (or maybe this is true of a close relative of yours). You’ve probably seen examples of this on tv shows like Long Lost Family. A genetic genealogist can analyse your DNA results to try and identify biological relatives.
Unfortunately, for British people, this is not usually as straightforward as it is for people from the USA; the numbers of British people in DNA test companies’ databases is far lower than it is for the US. Nevertheless, a genetic genealogist can look at your results to ascertain if it’s possible to come to an exact answer, and if not, can suggest ways in which you might be able to improve your chances of finding an answer. It’s usually possible to find out something from DNA that you didn’t know before, even if not an actual answer.
5. Verify your own family tree research
You may have done your own family tree, or perhaps another family member has passed research on to you. A professional genealogist can help you verify that the research is correct (or not, as the case may be) by checking the research that has been done and examining the source information.
6. Brick wall advice
Everyone will eventually encounter a brick wall in their family history research, for the simple reason that sometimes records are just not there, or a person is not named on the record as expected. And the further back in time you go, the less likely it is that there are records that confirm your ancestors (unless you’re one of the relatively few people who descend from what we call a ‘gateway’ ancestor – this is a person of royalty or nobility who is very well documented).
A professional genealogist can help you approach brick walls to see if they can be overcome – either by further research, or by other means such as using DNA. They may be able to spot a new approach or idea you haven’t yet tried, or strategize an approach to try and get past the brick wall. Sometimes this can result in an answer you may not want to hear – that nothing further can be done, although with DNA work, that answer is more likely to be ‘nothing further can be done right now’, since more and more people DNA test, and that trend will continue, so you never know when a key DNA match may appear. The same can be true of records-based genealogy as well; we are so blessed with the availability of online records now we forget about records that are not online; not only that but archives and repositories are blessed with new items all the time, which may have been held privately before then.
7. Write your family history
This is somewhat of a specialist skill that some genealogists are able to offer. Maybe you’d like to write your autobiography and family history but need some help actually writing it. Some genealogists combine writing and copy-editing skills to help you do this.
8. Citizenship research
This is a very specialist area where a genealogist helps you obtain citizenship in a particular country. For example, there are specialists who help descendants of Irish ancestors obtain Irish citizenship, Italy and other EU countries (particularly so that a person can enjoy the benefits that EU citizenship can confer).
9. Heir/Probate research
An heir or probate researcher aims to trace next-of-kin and beneficiaries under wills or in relation to unclaimed estates, or verify all the descendants of a particular individual to ensure that all heirs to an estate are identified and then tracked down. This is another extremely specialist area, and is generally provided direct to a business rather than a private individual; usually to a probate law firm administering a Will, or a commercial company which takes on unclaimed estates.
10. Unidentified person / Criminal investigations
This area of professional genetic genealogy was unheard of just a few years ago. It’s called by different names including forensic genealogy (which can also be used to describe the heir research referred to above) and investigative genealogy. A genetic genealogist working in this area usually works for law enforcement directly, or a company that assists law enforcement. It is a highly specialised area of genetic genealogy where the genealogist works to identify either an unidentified body – usually a victim of homicide, suicide or unexplained circumstances – or they try to identify a possible suspect in a homicide or other serious violent criminal matter.
So there you have it – this is just my take on what a professional genealogist can do for you. The good news is I can assist with almost everything on this list, so if I’ve whetted your appetite and you want to know more, please do head to my consulting page for more information.