Why Hire a Pro to Do Your Family History?
By James W. Petty, AG, CG

At some time or another, we all need a pro to do work that we have begun or intended to start for ourselves. This is as true in family history work as it is when a person calls in a plumber to finish the job that turned out to be beyond his amateur capabilities.

In The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, we are encouraged to seek out our ancestry and do our family history so our ancestors can have their temple work done. This is that important doctrine of “turning the hearts of the children to the fathers.”

Family history and genealogy is more than finding names for a family tree; it entails learning about the people of history that make up our past. As we turn our hearts to them through research and temple work, they receive the blessings of the gospel, and our love; and we are enriched, and buoyed up. We need them and they need us.

Family history and genealogy, besides being a motivational aspect of the gospel, also requires a great of time, effort, and skill. When it comes to doing our genealogy, hiring a pro can make these important responsibilities all the more possible to accomplish.

So why hire a professional genealogist when you can do it for yourself? What is the difference between an amateur researcher and a pro? How are professional genealogy research services different from doing research at home on the computer?

A Ten-Hour Test

Recently, an individual contacted our company offering to work for us as a professional researcher, based entirely on the years of experience he had in tracing forty or more of his own family lines, primarily using his computer. “Almost everything can be found on the Internet!” he exclaimed. He pointed out his experience working with databases, on-line message boards, and government collections found on many web sites.

When we said the Internet only scratched the surface of genealogical and historical research, he emphasized how much he had been able to accomplish and how many names he had found. So we suggested a test, a problem in North Carolina in the late 1700’s; and whatever he found on the Internet he needed to be able to cite the original sources, and not just take hearsay as fact. His research quest was limited to ten hours.

At the end of the time, little had been discovered and documented. The researcher informed us, “There were no vital records! No censuses! Church records weren’t available! Message boards didn’t give details or sources! And there just wasn’t enough time!”

We pointed out this is what professional genealogy research is about – conquering the problem of too little time, accessing the needed records, and presenting a scholarly report of our findings. A professional has to know records, and how to use them.

Knowing the Territory

At the beginning of the musical “The Music Man,” we are introduced to a trainload of traveling salesmen discussing their wares and how to sell them. Over and over they emphasize the concept of “you gotta’ know the territory” – and so it is with the professionally designated practitioner in the “territory” of professional genealogy research services.

In some ways, the pro and the amateur are the same. Both the professional and the hobbyist want to know the truth about the family tree. The main difference is the level of excellence, skills, and knowledge of records and how they are used to accurately determine and properly document the pedigree.

Many diligent amateurs become very proficient in the records of their specific area, at least as far as it pertains to their individual family lines. Their search is done with little know-how to properly identify an ancestor or whether or not they are even using the right record. We are reminded again when doing genealogy of the importance of “you gotta’ know the territory!”

In professional genealogy, the work is done by an expert who has prepared himself for a career in professional genealogy research services through formal education, training, experience, certifications, and participation in professional membership organizations, earning the title of professional genealogist, or the professional designation. The amateur and self-appointed professional genealogist are at a real disadvantage when it comes to doing research for themselves and for others by not having this professional foundation.

Hard Questions of Family History

Professional preparation qualifies the practitioner to provide the service and research required to tackle the hard questions of family history. Why do certain records exist? What is their historical and genealogical relevance? How do you use them? What are viable alternatives for missing or non-extant records? Which sources are best for the time, place, and circumstances, and what information can be found in them that can be used to further extend the family history research?

Those and many more issues have to be addressed in the research process.

A professionally designated genealogy researcher is a person who has been educated, not just in one area of research specialty, but in many areas. This qualifies him to search and study the wider family tree to discover family names relevant to his client’s temple work project. Such a researcher has the knowledge and the technical ability to understand how to follow ancestors back from one community to another, using genealogical and historical records in a scholarly fashion, verifying and documenting the ancestry as he goes. This allows the professional to find more names and more historical detail that are so needed in turning the hearts of the children to the fathers.

In addition to this comprehensive education, the professional is trained in the methodologies and practices of the industry which ensure accuracy, access, and efficient use of research time and resources. He understands in-depth genealogical resources like “county court headright certificates,” “baptism for the dead registers,” “state-land states,” or the importance of evaluating property measured by “metes and bounds.”

He works to become a credentialed experienced member of the professional community and participates with organizations that promote best practices, standards, ethics, and proper business licensing in the field. By adhering to this route to professional designation, the practitioner has earned the right to commercially provide professional genealogy research services to others. With this kind of effort, you are most likely to get trustworthy quality family tree research.

Advantages to Hiring Professional Researchers

What are some advantages to using professionally designated genealogy researchers?

Genealogy is very interesting; it grabs your attention and pulls you in. There is nothing quite as exciting as discovering a family name in the records of history. It gives you a sense of belonging, to your family, your country, your past, your heritage.

But like potato chips, you are never satisfied with just one discovery! You quickly learn that family history and genealogy research takes time ! And the more interesting it gets, the more time it takes.

It also requires continual education, study, reading, and application of scholarly research techniques in order to accurately determine the family pedigree. And all of this preparation takes more time!

A professional genealogy researcher, armed with education, experience, training, credentials, and packing a good imagination and an understanding of history, can discover and document the information you might find, but in one-tenth the amount of time, and with greater accuracy and understanding. For LDS Church members desiring to do temple work, hiring a professionally designated researcher, who knows the records and understands the processes, will enable them greater opportunities of accomplishing the most in searching for the names and family stories of their ancestors.

In addition to the issue of time, a professionally designated genealogist is likely to have a much deeper understanding of records, and their relationship to people and history than others without that preparation and career experience. Solving problems in historical records can often be very difficult. It helps to know such things as how a chancery record might reveal family relationships when vital records and censuses don’t exist; or that military pension files are available and can fill in details about a person’s life, and his history with his family.

A good professional will also have contact with qualified professionals in other locations, making it easier to obtain hard to get records. All of this professional knowledge can lead to more family names and family history.

Perhaps the most important value of a professionally designated practitioner is his ability to summarize the research and compile it into a clear understandable narrative. Everyone who does a lot of genealogical research knows that a good summary of their findings makes the research understandable to other members of the family and paves the way for future research efforts. A trained professional can provide reports, charts, diagrams, maps, and even pictures in some cases, all which make the information more interesting, more accurate, and more useful in future research.

Solving All Your Problems

Can a professionally designated genealogist actually solve all of your genealogy problems? No. Genealogical research is often fraught with difficulties, road blocks, brick walls, and dead ends such as missing or destroyed records, inaccurately recorded events, and families or individuals who simply avoided being recorded. These are all reasons why family history research can be so challenging and time consuming. Even professional researchers struggle in their search for the truth.

But the properly trained professional who understands the records of many localities, including foreign languages and research in different countries, and has access to worldwide records, will give your family tree research the professional edge. His professional preparation, excellence, accuracy, and skills are all valuable resources needed to find your ancestors in the people of history.

With technological advances, scientific discoveries in DNA research, and scholarly developments, professionally designated genealogists are prepared to provide you with the best services and opportunities for successful research as you endeavor to turn your heart to your fathers.

It pays to hire a pro in family history research when you want the professional advantages and results.