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How do I save money when hiring a professional genealogist?

image showing title question how do I save money when hiring a professional genealogist

Have a genealogy brick wall? Horrified by the cost of professional genealogy but still need help? Here are three things anyone should do before paying a genealogist to help with a research project.

How do I save money when hiring a professional genealogist?

  1. Prep and organize what you already know.
  2. Determine exactly what you want help with. The bigger the project, the more it will cost.
  3. Consider both the "big" genealogy research companies and individuals. Which is better depends on what you want and need.

Saving Money on Genealogy Research: Organization

No matter how you actually are charged for genealogy, it is hourly work. No genealogist can be certain they can get the results you want (unless they have already finished doing what you want). The only way to know when to stop is knowing how many hours of work to do. To make it easier for the client, many genealogists charge a flat fee instead of letting the client pick an exact number of hours. Regardless if you pay a flat amount or tell the genealogist how many hours you want, you are paying for time.

You can save money by saving the professional time and the best way to do that is reviewing and organizing the background information you will provide.

If you can afford it, you can just dump everything you've got on the professional (maybe that is a perk of hiring someone!). But every genealogist has to start with some information. If you have background information and do NOT provide it, the professional is likely to repeat work you've already done OR spend all the time trying to find results because they are missing something you actually have. Either way, you're wasting your money (that is your fault, not the professionals).

You need to provide what you already know and the better organized and inclusive it is, the more money you will save yourself.

Reduce the Cost of Hiring with Specific Projects

Identifying the smallest thing you need help with to try and save the most money.

Instead of hiring someone to research your family tree, hire them to identify one person or a couple. You can discuss your priorities when you start to make sure the professional focuses on what you are really interested it, is it the names, dates, places of the people or their life stories? Those are actually quite different!

Sometimes you just need someone to look for a specific record or use the records in a specific place because you can't do it yourself. This is much more specific than hiring a professional to research a person.

This is actually directly related to...

Find the Right Person or Company

Not every genealogist or genealogy company offers every service. Genealogy is highly specialized so once you know what you need, you have to figure out who offers that service (and preferably, if they can  do a good job providing that service---as with any industry, a genealogist might offer as many options as they can, even if they aren't as skilled at some).

The biggest genealogy companies can provide the fastest service because they have full-time genealogists as well as a network of contractors to get what they need. That's why their hourly rate is so high, too. You aren't paying for more skill. You are paying to cover the administrative costs of managing so many people. This is to your advantage if you want the least muss and fuss and aren't worried if you have an expert or just any genealogist.

It is also beneficial if you need someone to manage your project anyway (you have lots of "parts" that are best handled by different people). It may be the way to get records from anywhere you need (this will not be the lowest cost if you can easily identify multiple individuals that could do the same work because a company has more overhead---but you may not be able to DIY your own network or it might be extremely time consuming making the cost of a larger company worth-while).

If you have a very specific, difficult project in one location or with one unusual specialty, if you can find an expert, that is usually better than hiring a large company. The company might just contract with that individual, anyway (costing you more), or you may get non-expert service. If you need an expert, you need an expert.

However, if you need records you've already identified from a specific location, you want to consider anyone that offers the lower cost of getting records in that location (which is not "research," technically). Sometimes a large company is cheaper because they have someone that works for less. Sometimes an individual is cheaper because they're able to do lower cost work in that location (for example, a graduate student making copies of records at their university archive, or a professional genealogist that copies records while they wait on other records for research).

Although the cost of genealogy research can be prohibitive for many, there are ways to reduce those costs. Prepare and organize what you already know. Determine exactly what you need help with. Choose the right professional for your specific needs. By following these three recommendations, you can save money while still getting high-quality results.

Want to learn if hiring a professional is worth it? Check out this post from our sister blog, The Occasional Genealogist. (You'll also learn alternatives to hiring a genealogist).