Genealogy is more than just looking at a record and copying the information found in that document. Occasionally, one can do valid genealogy research in that way; most times, however, it is not possible. Few people are lucky enough to have had their genealogies written already and fewer of those people are able to compile the entirety of a family history back to the fifth generation, at any rate. Given these facts, a professional genealogist is a great resource for the amateur family historian.
Most genealogy research, both ancestor and descendant, involves detailed examination of difficult to read records. Old-fashioned language is the least of the problem; many records that genealogists use are poorly microfilmed and the context of a document, historical, legal, cultural, or otherwise must also be considered. Again, sometimes it is necessary to consult a professional genealogist, someone who understands the time, place, and context of a record.
Many times an amateur genealogist will contact a professional and ask that they do some in-depth research for them. A responsible and accountable professional will follow a number of steps in fulfilling the need of the amateur; to list them briefly, a professional should:
Analyze the data received
Check for availability of records
Develop a research strategy
Do original research; i.e., that not already done by the client or others
Keep track sources examined and record all documentation
Summarize the research
Provide suggestions for further research
At the end of the research time allotted by the client, the client should expect to see much progress made on his/her stated goal as demonstrated with the above specifications. Even though the professional may not have solved the research problem, or completed the task, the client expects results.
As a professional genealogist, I follow the guidelines set forth above in working with a client to consult and tell them of any questions about the data provided and all results found in a project.
Some of the material in this article was abstracted from the GENTECH flowchart from the National Genealogical Society’s website.