I am occasionally asked what it costs to hire a professional genealogist. The answer: it depends. What do you want done?
A Person to Look Up Local and Courthouse Records — obituaries, birth, marriage, death, land and probate. Lookups at a distant location will cost $15 to $25 per hour, plus the cost of copies. The cost of a courthouse copy varies by locality and is not cheap—$10 plus or minus. You may be able to have your record searcher send you a photo or extract of the record and save the cost of a copy. You can find record searchers at local genealogy society websites. Click on “about us” or “lookups.”
Click on CONTACT US at the top of this page to have a Cedar Hill Genealogy Society volunteer do local look ups for you. See fees on ABOUT US
This might sound expensive, but $100 for four hours of lookups in Lubbock, for example, saves you the five-hour drive each way and the expense of staying overnight. The local searcher is familiar with how and where the records are stored and accessed. He probably has a good working relationship with people in the courthouse—a valuable advantage. She will get more results in less time than you can in unfamiliar territory.
Also, don’t pay your lookup person to do work you can do yourself. Include as much information about the person as you can. Give her as good an estimate as you can about the birth, marriage, death and land sale dates. Provide enough information about the person’s family so your looker-upper can tell if he found the right person. See Be Aware of Alternate Spellings of Your Surname in our Blog page
A Professional Genealogist to Research Your Family History — a person to “find your family tree.” This is going to take some serious research. A professional will charge $50 to $100 per hour with a ten or twenty hour minimum. She will spend an hour reviewing with you, what you know—all the bits of data, notes, documents, keepsakes, stories and what you want done. He will then take that information home and spend an hour or two developing a research plan and a proposed research agreement. The agreement will include a letter describing the work to be done and in what form it will be. If you accept her proposal, the time spent reviewing your data and forming a plan will be charged as part of the first hours of research. If you choose not to work with the professional, there is no charge.
It should go without saying that you don’t want to pay someone to do what you have already done or can do for yourself. You probably know all there is to know about your siblings, parents and grandparents. You probably already have or can easily get the documentation for their birth, death and marriages. Be sure to provide copies of those documents during the initial meeting. No professional worth his fee is going base his research on unsupported data. She will search for the documentation herself if you don’t provide it. And, you’ll be paying him $100 an hour to do that.
An ethical professional will not make guarantees and will not refund charges for time spent. Successful or not. Professionals are not fortune tellers. Be wary of those who guarantee results or that they can get you into a lineage society.
You are not going to get a family history book in ten or twenty hours of professional research! A well-researched family history will have the names and dates of your ancestors—the begats. It will also include pedigree charts and family group sheets, validating and fleshing out of family stories, and placing your family’s history in historical context.
To Break Through A Brick Wall or Research Overseas. He, too, will want to see the documentation starting with you and going back to where you got stuck. Again, give her copies of the supporting documents, or you’ll be paying him $100 an hour to find those documents. Before she even starts on your task.
The best way to find a professional is word of mouth. Ask fellow members of your genealogy society if they have hired someone. Or, ask at the research desk of the genealogy section of your library. At the Dallas Public Library, the folks at the desk in the eighth-floor genealogy section are familiar with professionals—they see them all the time researching in the library—they know who the good researchers are. Larger genealogy societies may have members who are professional genealogists. Check their websites. Click this link https://www.apgen.org/articles/hire.htm for information about hiring a professional.
Thanks to Geri for the original research for this post and to the “retired professional” (you know who you are) for your firsthand information.
Dave Klauck, June 2018