What Is a Contract Genealogist?

by Gail Sessoms

Genealogists research family ancestry, often providing documentation and reports on their findings. Although some companies hire genealogists to fill staff positions, many individuals, businesses and organizations hire professional, independent genealogists for contractual work. The contract genealogist signs an agreement detailing the scope of the work, fees and other details of the research. The work performed by contract genealogists meets a wide range of needs, from individuals building basic family trees to historical documentation used for legal purposes.

Historian for Hire

Contract genealogists, who are independent contractors, are self-employed. The Association of Professional Genealogists lists several jobs for contract genealogists. Families hire genealogists for many reasons, including for documentation of family history for a publication and creation of a family tree or family reunion presentation. Attorneys hire genealogists to assist with identifying estate heirs. A contract genealogist may serve as a consultant for a genetic genealogy project. Another genealogist may need help from a specialist in translating foreign genealogical records. An applicant for membership in a lineage society, such as the Daughters of the American Revolution, might hire a genealogist to document her lineage. Contract genealogists speak at special events, conduct workshops or seminars and write blogs for organizations.

Education and Training

The client that hires a contract genealogist establishes his preferred education and training requirements based on his needs and the project. The client might require a college degree in history or in one of the sciences, such as biology or genetics. Some genealogists hold certificates for completion of education programs or attendance at conference workshops. The field of genealogy is one which allows for self-education and training; an individual can achieve a high level of expertise without formal training or college education. Genealogical institutes and home study programs offer extended educational programs.

Credentialing Organizations

Credentialing organizations offer accreditation or certification following the genealogist’s successful completion of requirements, which include testing and evaluation and continued good standing with the organization. This resource is especially important for the contract genealogist as one method by which clients can verify skill, knowledge and adherence to a code of ethics. The International Commission for the Accreditation of Genealogists offers the accredited genealogist credential. The Board for Certification of Genealogists offers the certified genealogist credential.

Work Agreements and Pay

The Association of Professional Genealogists, or APG, recommends using a letter of agreement between the client and the contract genealogist to detail the work to be performed, the fees and the product to be delivered. Contract genealogists may perform simple, one-time research or work on longer, more complex projects. Genealogists produce genealogical studies and narratives, case studies of individuals or families and comprehensive research reports complete with all documentation. Although some contract genealogists charge flat rates, most charge hourly rates, according to the APG. Clients reimburse contract genealogists for expenses, such as travel, postage and document fees.

About the Author

Gail Sessoms, a grant writer and nonprofit consultant, writes about nonprofit, small business and personal finance issues. She volunteers as a court-appointed child advocate, has a background in social services and writes about issues important to families. Sessoms holds a Bachelor of Arts degree in liberal studies.

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