Professional genealogists provide an invaluable service to individuals who lack the resources or patience necessary to trace their family history. The scope of genealogy, however, goes well beyond family trees; extending into areas of law, technology, event planning and medicine. Hiring a genealogist can be costly, so you must conduct your own research before hiring someone to do research on your behalf.
Start your search with professional associations. The Association of Professional Genealogists provides a directly of genealogists who adhere to a strict code of ethics. The Board for Certification of Genealogists certifies professional genealogists who pass an industry test. The International Commission for Accreditation of Professional Genealogists tests genealogists in their areas of expertise and requires renewal of accreditation every 5 years.
Hire a genealogist with knowledge and experience appropriate for your project. Genealogical projects range from providing heir information to estate attorneys, to coordinating family reunions or writing family histories. Many genealogist affiliated with professional associations provide biographies detailing their level of experience and education.
Talk with several genealogists before making a decision. Factors to consider are: pay rate; availability; and career-level. Ask for professional references and for samples of published work before hiring someone. As with other professions, highly skilled and experienced genealogists demand higher rates than their more junior colleagues.
Develop a project plan before work begins. Outline the scope of the project; clarify project goals; approximate the number of hours necessary to complete the work; detail anticipated collateral fees for postage, copies and the like; define terms for project extension and determine how retainer fees relate to final payment. Each party should sign the plan and retain a copy for his records. It's important to keep in mind that genealogical work takes a great deal of time, and that most researchers cannot provide exact time frames for project completion. Agree upon work phases through item prioritization to avoid accruing fees that you can't afford.
Discuss copyright issues. Most professional genealogists wish to own the copyright to all original materials related to their research. In this case, you must receive permission from the genealogist before publishing her work. Put the copyright agreement in writing and have both parties sign the document.
Have realistic expectations before you hire someone. A genealogist cannot, in good faith, guarantee a positive outcome. It is quite possible for a genealogist to research a family line for months or years without finding any information.