Are you at the point in your research where you have looked at all the record sources you can find and feel like you’re at a roadblock? Every genealogist reaches that infamous “brick wall” every now and then. This is where you reach a certain ancestor and just cannot go back any further no matter how hard you try. It can be very frustrating, especially if the brick wall is in the still relatively recent past. You think there should be records available, but you just can’t find them, and you haven’t been able to find anyone online who is researching the same line as you (and who might have additional information to share).
What do you do when you’ve done all you think you can do? Here are some suggestions:
- Do a DNA test and see if it matches you up to any relatives you’ve never met. Contact them to see if they have any information on the brick wall line you’re researching.
- Google your brick wall ancestor’s name to see if any obscure hits come up that will help you in your research.
- Go over your research again to look for any clues you may have missed.
- Go on a genealogy road trip to where your ancestor lived and look for clues in the courthouses, archives, libraries, and historical societies there.
- Hire a professional genealogist
What is a Professional Genealogist?
A professional genealogist is someone who has gone through the certification program of the Board of Certification for Genealogists. This is a rigorous program where a person who wishes to be able to put professional genealogy credentials by their name must prove they know how to do thorough research in a variety of areas and properly cite their sources.
It can take up to a year and sometimes more to get certification, and it isn’t easy. Some people have to try several times before their research portfolio is good enough to receive the coveted certification. However, once they receive it, you can hire one with the utmost confidence that they know all the tricks to the trade and will leave no stone or leaf uncovered in their search for your elusive ancestors.
What Will a Professional Genealogist Do for You?
A professional genealogist can help in a variety of ways, depending on your needs and your budget. Some of the things professional genealogists do include:
- Looking into record sources you may not have access to (or even know exist)
- Going to local sources to do the genealogy road trip for you if you aren’t able to make the trip on your own
- Go abroad to foreign countries to do research on your overseas ancestors on your behalf (or you can hire a genealogist who already lives there, so you don’t have to pay travel expenses)
- Translate documents written in foreign languages
- Use clues in your genealogical research and in their own to make connections you never would have come up with on your own
- Research alternate sources for information on your brick wall ancestor, such as their neighbors, siblings, distant relatives, and other people who lived in the places they lived (you never know when your ancestor will be mentioned in someone else’s record)
Should You Hire a Professional Genealogist?
Yes, if you feel that you have gone as far as you possibly can with a particular family line. If you have reached that proverbial brick wall and just can’t seem to break through it or go around it, and you are determined to find out what is on the other side, hire a professional genealogist.
Sometimes, the records and clues just don’t exist for whatever reason, and even a professional genealogist won’t be able to get any farther, or much farther, than you. However, in most cases, you will find that a professional genealogist will bring a lot to the table. You will almost always be very pleased with the things a professional genealogist can discover for you.
Where Can You Find a Reputable Professional Genealogist?
The best place to look for a professional genealogist who is reputable, tried, and proven is the website of the Board of Certification for Genealogists. They keep a register of professional genealogists who have passed their certification course and who are offering their services for hire. You won’t find any better, more trustworthy genealogists around, as these genealogists must adhere to a code of ethics in order to maintain their hard-won certification.
You can also sometimes find reputable professional genealogists from the cards they leave in local courthouses, libraries, archives, and historical societies. If you subscribe to any genealogy magazines, the reputable professionals will often have ads in them. It takes a real professional to pay to place an ad in a magazine.
Once you’ve found your professional, hand over your research, talk about your goals for the genealogist regarding your research, and discuss rates. Some professionals work on an hourly rate, while some work on a flat fee schedule (with extras paid for by you, of course). When the genealogist is clear on what you’re hoping to get out of the experience of hiring a professional, you will both enjoy the experience a lot more. Plus, you will almost always get amazing results you’ve been looking for a long time.