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8 Tips For Hiring the Right Professional Genealogist

Are you stumped with your family history research? The information you’re looking for could be too far for you to travel, in another language you can’t read, or just outside of your experience to be able to tackle.  So you’re probably considering hiring some outside help. Professional genealogists can be a valuable resource. But before you hire one, though, here are some tips and tricks:

 

1.  Know What You Want.  Have a specific goal in mind for the researcher, and you will more likely get specific results.  Rather than asking the researcher to “Find all your Johnsons,” you might want her to determine whether your great-grandfather John Johnson was born in this country or immigrated, and from where.

2. Collect Your Information.  The more information you can give a researcher, the better their search will begin.  If you have documents such as birth records, obituaries, names of known relatives and children, or even family legends, your researcher needs to know it.  Organize the information simply, in an email or letter, with copies of documents.  Make sure to let the researcher know where each piece of information came from.  Did you find it online, or was it passed down from Aunt Mable who knew the family?  I once did some pro-bono work for a person; I asked for all relevant information on the ancestor.  I then spent several hours to find a certain piece of information which I thought was a clue finding the goal.  When I spoke to the client about it, she responded testily that they already knew that bit of information, and wondered why I wasted my time.  Because they hadn’t shared all that they knew. You’d hate for those wasted hours to have cost you money.

3. Choose a Locality-, Ethnicity- or Language-Specific Genealogist.  Would you ask your dentist to perform heart surgery?  Of course not, nor the reverse.  Genealogists have specialties too.  Once you know your goal, you can find a researcher that is knowledgeable about that place, language, or the nuances of that culture’s records and customs.  If someone comes to me asking for research outside of my expertise, I am happy to direct them to others with the experience they are looking for.

4.  Do your homework. A search engine (Google, Bing, or Ask.com) can give you pages of hits for genealogists able to research your family.  How to sort them out?  Your first email or contact with a prospective researcher can help you determine if that researcher or group is right for you and if the costs seem within your reach.  Use your search engine to look for reviews on any research firm.  Look also for journal articles or blogs that the private consultant may have written to help you gauge their experience.  As a private consultant, I offer clients a sample of work for their review or a reference upon request.

5.  Make use of professional organizations.  There are nationwide genealogical organizations that inspire high levels of ethics from their members.  These have online searchable lists to help you find a genealogist’s field of expertise and experience.  Try the Board for Certification of GenealogistsSM (BCGSM), the The International Commission for the Accreditation of Professional GenealogistsSM (ICAPGenSM), or the Association of Professional Genealogists (APG).

6. What is a CGSM or AGSM?  These postnomials are indications that the researcher has passed a professional peer review of their skills through testing or submission of a portfolio.  BCGSM offers the designation of CGSM, or Certified GenealogistSM.  ICAPGenSM awards an AGSM, or Accredited GenealogistSM.  Go to their websites to find out more about their rigorous testing requirements.  Remember, however, that there are many well-respected genealogists who do not have these certifications, but are more than worthy to undertake your family’s research.

7.  Sign a contract.  As in any work you expect to have done, having a contract is best.  Most professional researchers have contracts to help define the research goal, price, time limit set, and responsibilities of both parties.  Having this in writing helps avoid misunderstandings in future.

8. Expect quality, but be reasonable.  Unfortunately, until time machines are invented, no genealogist can guarantee that your goal will be met, especially with limited time.  What you do want is a genealogist who is experienced, efficient, and adheres to a code of ethics such as the BCG’s Genealogical Proof Standard or ICAPGen’s Professional Ethics.

Take time to choose a professional.  Ask friends for referrals or check reviews and experience online.  I know I end up “falling in love” with every one of my clients’ ancestors, because I love what I do.  Professionalism matters, especially to the quality of the films at Reel Tributes, and it is something we respect in the work of others as well.

Using FamilySearch

 

Today we’re bringing you a short introduction to some of the amazing contributions FamilySearch is making to the genealogical community online.  There are online tutorials available, but let’s first whet your appetite for this amazing research tool.

How can Family Search to help me? The Family History Library in Salt Lake is full of microfilms.  These microfilms represent filmed records from all over the world, including such things as birth records, court papers, marriages, family books, land records, and much more.  These microfilm are available and can be requested to be sent to a local Family History Center (FHC) for a nominal cost. Using these microfilms enables the researcher to broaden his or her research without too much travel.  The FamilySearch website is now putting many of these microfilms online for free, and a great number of those are linked to a search engine for faster access.

When I click the Search button what am I looking at? This first page is your access into digitized records.  You need to register first to be able to see any of the records, but it’s free.  Let’s discuss what you can do from here.

There are three distinct ways to research in FamilySearch:

  1. Search Engine.  Try entering name, dates, and location for an ancestor you are researching in the fields given at the top of the page.  Your next page will be a list of hits for that search, with closest matches listed at the top.  To look for a specific type of record, scroll down and click “Collections” in the box on the left.  This will open a smaller box with types of records hit for this search such as vital records or censuses.  These search hits represent only those microfilms which have been indexed and inputted into the search engine.  Be warned that not every microfilm or even every digitally reproduced microfilm is represented in the search engine.  FamilySearch invites volunteers to help index their digital records to make them even more accessible online through their indexing program.  When you open a hit, often it leads to an index page.  Towards the bottom of the page is a film number that the record was indexed from.  Take down this number and check the catalog to see if it is digitized, but browsable only, or available to order and send to the local FHC.
  2. Browse.  Many of the digitized microfilms are not represented yet in the search engine, but are online.  Think of these like using a microfilm on a traditional reader, but in the comfort of your own home.  From the search page, scroll down to the section “Browse by Location.”  This represents all the digitized films, but when you click on a place, you will see either a number (the number of records in this group) or the words “Browse Images.”  When you click on this it will either take you to a second page to narrow your search to a more specific location/record type or straight to the first page of the microfilm.
  3. Catalog.  If the record type you want is not in the digitized collection, check the online catalog to see if it has been microfilmed.  Remember that not everything you need has been microfilmed, but the FamilySearch staff does continue to search out records and ask permission to film new ones all the time.  A current project includes FamilySearch staff and volunteers who are working with the National Archives to digitize Civil War pensions.  To search the catalog, use a place name where your ancestor lived, and check the record types that come up.  If you found a film number from a hit off the search engine, enter it from this page as well.

You might also explore other tools from FamilySearch, such as the FamilySearch Wiki, Learning Center, Research Assistance, and more.  Technology today has made so much available to genealogists, and we appreciate all those groups who contribute their time and talents to helping us find our families.  Let us know what you’ve discovered to tell your family’s story!

 

 

San Francisco 1926: Standard Oil, Mansion Guest Houses and A Life Changing Coincidence

 

Author’s note: The following is taken from my grandmother’s memoirs.  She wrote these words when she was 79 years old and lived to be 105.  Her memories are reflective of  the eyes of a young woman leaving home for the first time. 

This is the third of 3 guest posts from “Letters to My Kids“. Make sure to check out Posts 1 and 2!

Ruby had to return to Portland and the night before she was to leave, a friend of hers from Portland dropped by to say goodbye.  He brought with him an acquaintance from the Army days at Fort Lewis, Washington, in 1918, whom he accidentally encountered on Market Street on the way to our apartment.  They hadn’t seen one another since leaving Fort Lewis and it seems like fate that they met that night because the acquaintance was Ray Mackin, whom I married four years later.  I decided that night that Ray was a real good and generous person because he immediately invited us to dinner and paid the bill for all four of us!

In 1926 I changed jobs again, going with Standard Oil Company of California at 200 Bush Street. I was in the Land and Lease Division, where we mostly wrote leases for prospective oil-bearing lands.  I can recall writing leases for land in Saudi Arabia not realizing that the Saudis would one day control most of the oil production of the world.  Standard Oil was a good place to work – the surroundings were pleasant and my fellow workers high class, educated men and women.

Our office was on the eleventh floor and we were able to watch the construction of the new high-rises.  In the early twenties there were only a few tall buildings in the financial district, most of the buildings being only one, two or three floors.  In the three years I was at 200 Bush, several tall buildings were erected, the most interesting being the Russ Building at Bush and Montgomery.  When it was completed, it was the tallest building in San Francisco.

After Rudy returned to Portland, I moved around from guesthouse to guesthouse. These guest houses were all in old S.F. mansions and for $60 a month, I had a private room (shared bath), two meals a day and excellent service.  Filipino men who knew what the word “service” meant mostly staffed these guest homes.  The guests were generally young, single people with an occasional married couple.  It was an ideal living situation – we had pleasurable times together and many romances developed.

I dated Ray Mackin on and off for several years.  He always took me to good restaurants; the best plays, sporting events such as baseball games, college football, hockey games, etc.  He was very good company, being witty and somewhat more affluent than most of the young men I knew.  Ray gradually edged out the competition until I was going only with him.  Neither of us was in a great hurry to marry but we sort of drifted into it and were married at the Star of the Sea Church on Geary Street, San Francisco, on September 7, 1929.

Using Family History Centers

One of the things the LDS Church (Mormon) is often known for is the strong interest in genealogy.  The Church’s contributions to the preservation of innumerable historical documents has helped the genealogical community for decades.  I am often surprised, then, when I talk to baby genealogists who have never stepped into an LDS Family History Center (FHC).  If you have not visited your local center, let me give you a few reasons to make a visit a priority in your search for your ancestral kin…

1.  A Wealth of Microfilms.  Some of the first preservation of records across the world was conducted by LDS genealogists under the original direction of the Genealogical Society of Utah.  They photographed old court records, church books, and more onto microfilm.  FamilySearch, a non-profit arm of the LDS church maintains these records on and offline.  They now work at an astounding rate to digitize and index these microfilms and make them available online.  Using FamilySearch online will be our next post.  Not all microfilms are online, but are still available to order and have sent to your local FHC to be read on a microfilm reader.  Many FHCs even have microfilm readers that will digitize your selected pages from the film to print or download onto a flashdrive.  Check the catalog for records you may need from the location your ancestors came.  Clicking on a film number will take you to an online ordering system.  Select the FHC you wish the film to arrive at, pay online using your credit card or PayPal, and you will receive emails notifying you of the status of your order.  Films generally cost $7.50 for postage and handling, and are available to be viewed at your local FHC for 6-8 weeks, depending on your location.  You can pay more to extend that time.  For me, ordering a $7.50 film from an out-of-state courthouse is worth the price.

2.  Resources galore at the library.  There are two types of libraries available from FamilySearch: the Family History Library (FHL) in Salt Lake and smaller local libraries known as Family History Centers, often located in part of an LDS meetinghouse.  The Family History Library in Salt Lake City, Utah, is considered by many a genealogical mecca.  People travel there from all over, individually and in special groups, to have the opportunity to view all the films, books and indexes, and special collections, most of which are on site or can be ordered within a day or so.  One popular group research trip is organized by the National Genealogical Society twice a year. Free classes are available onsite at the FHL, separate from these group trips. There is still much available in your local FHC as well.  General how-to books, maps, magazines, and indexes featuring local history are available to patrons to view within each FHC.  Each FHC has an unique collection, depending on contributions or local needs.  There is an easy-to-use FHC finder on the FamilySearch website to direct you to the one closest to you.

3.  Helpful Volunteers.  While you cannot reasonably expect to find an expert on your particular genealogical conundrum at each local FHC, what you will find are people who are dedicated volunteers willing to help the best they can.  They can help familiarize you with the center, its holdings and hours, and the websites available for free online when you visit.  You don’t have to be a member of the LDS Church to volunteer yourself, you might consider donating a few hours a month to help out there too; ask the local FHC Director for more information.

4.  Online Access to Premium Sites.  Many premium online genealogy websites have generously donated access to their collections if you are using computers at the FHC and at the FHL.  Sites such as Ancestry.com, fold3, WorldVitalRecords.com, HistoricMapWorks, and NewspaperArchive.com are just some of the collections you can peruse while you visit.  The bonus is that those helpful volunteers often have experience with these sites and can assist you in person to familiarize yourself with those online collections.

5.  Best of all, its FREE!  People are always welcome in the Family History Centers, free of charge.  You need not expect proselytizing about the LDS church, the goal in the FHCs is to help you with your family history.  The only charges you might see are for the films, and those are generously low.  Now even copies are no charge in many local FHCs.

Perhaps a quote from Maya Angelou is appropriate here.  She said:

“We need to haunt the house of history and listen anew to the ancestors’ wisdom.” 

Perhaps the Family History Library and local Family History Centers are some of those tangible houses of history filled with valuable resources to genealogists of all levels. Visit one today and let us know of your experiences there! 

 

Gather ye DNA while ye may

Ever since I first heard that my own mitochondrial DNA could be analyzed, and that those results could give me answers about my genetic ancestry, I just knew that I wanted to be part of this effort.

Initially, I felt the test was cost prohibitive. But then as luck would have it, AncestryDNA (www.ancestrydna.com) recently made it feasible.  For only $99 plus shipping and handling I purchased a ‘genome scanning’ test kit for collecting my DNA sample. Pretty neat, huh?

The test requirements were easy, simple and painless:

DNA TEST DIRECTIONS:  Read accompanying instructions.

Do not eat or drink for thirty minutes before test. Open tube, fill tube with saliva to the black line on the tube (not including bubbles!), add stabilizing solution, close tube, shake, and mail saliva to address in Utah in the enclosed, prepaid-padded envelope. Wait six to eight weeks for results.

I now have the test results back from the DNA laboratory in Utah.  I am learning about recent generations of my family and also about the generations that reach back many thousands of years. For example I have learned that my ancestors have been on the British Isles for millennia.  This fact has been determined with 98 percent certainty based on the commonality of my mitochondrial DNA compared with others of similar lineage or ethnicity. I have even been given the names and email addresses of those who with 98 percent certainty are my fourth, fifth or sixth cousins. These are people who have also taken the same DNA test that I did. As more and more individuals take part in submitting their DNA samples for genetic research, more family connections will be made and our family tree can grow exponentially.

It excites me that it is now possible to reach out to my ‘cousins’ comparing our family trees, documents and the stories that have been passed down through the years. I’m hoping to find others with a common ancestor. Interestingly enough, I have also learned that two percent of my DNA links me with indigenous Americans.  This information has kept me up at night, pondering who those ancestors could be!

Have you ever thought about taking your family genealogy to the next level? It is so doable now and can open up a world of information, interest and fun for the whole family.  Who do you think you are?  Now’s the time to find out. Let us know if you found anything surprising from DNA tests.

For more information on DNA and “deep genealogy”, check out the following web sites:

www.cyndislist.com/dna/

www.en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Genealogical_DNA_test

http://articles.chicagotribune.com/2013-02-18/news/ct-met-dna-genealogy-tests-20130218_1_dna-test-results-genetic-adam-genealogy-hobbyists