Professional Genealogy Project Management

For a professional genealogist, project management is a process of determining what can be done for a client within the boundaries of time, scope, and cost. Performance of the genealogist is measured by these variables in the terms of the contract with the client.

The specifics of a project are those laid out in the initial contact with a client. They must be molded into a project with realistic, attainable goals, with measurable results in a time-limited fashion.

For instance, if a client asks that a genealogist find the birth record of John Smith in Oklahoma, in the 1920s, then the genealogist has part of the picture and can give the client some idea of the scope of the project. How long it will take to do the search, however, is difficult question for the genealogist to answer. With John Smith being a common name, there are likely to be several of them in Oklahoma, especially during the early days of the territory and state. Time and cost become factors here due to the number of records to be searched. The more information a client can give about the particular John Smith they are interested in, the better.

Consulting with the client, some of these questions might be answered with more data, such as parent and sibling names. A more accurate estimate of the time and cost a research project may take is possible with more information.

Initially reviewing the information provided by the client is billable time, however, and the client must be made aware of this fact. Reviewing a client’s information limits the amount of real, new research that can be done by the genealogist. The time and performance of the contract is affected by these limits, as well.

Determining the scope of the research within the period of the research request is one other item a genealogist and client must consider when beginning a project. Are primary, original, and direct records available? Are there alternative record sources available if primary, original, and direct records do not exist?

In the John Smith example, if the subject person were born before Oklahoma became a state, some territorial records may exist in the form of census records. The 1900 U. S. census, for instance for the territory would include, most likely, at least the month and year of a person’s birth. The census may also give the genealogist and client with the actual birthplace, other than Oklahoma territory, where the person was born. Mr. Smith may actually have been born in one of the states bordering the territory, or a more specific place may have been given, depending on how the enumerator completed their form.

Informing the client of the results of this preliminary research also takes time away from doing original research for the client. Analysis of the found data, report writing, and administrative tasks are also billable time for the professional. The client must also know this so they are not surprised by the limited amount of information provided in the time allotted for researching a project.