Genealogical Ponderings

the Professional Family History Blog

Professional Family History Blog
  1. How to Choose a Professional Genealogist

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    Expert in Genealogy

    Today is an exciting day for family historians in the UK. The first day of “WDYTYA Live!”, the largest genealogy symposium we have. Many family historians are heading to Birmingham today, perhaps wanting to find answers to their questions in the “Ask the Experts” area, perhaps wanting to visit the many stands or perhaps mostly wanting to catch up with like minded people. Many “professionals” will also be there but if you want to hire a professional, what should you look for?

    There are now many websites offering genealogical services on the internet. If you search for “professional genealogist” or “family history researcher” in the search engines such as Google you will find many pages of results.

    So how do you know who are the “good” ones? You may wonder why I have decided to provide guidance here. Surely I should be encouraging you to employ this genealogist? As with any profession, not all so-called “professionals” are as good as others and it concerns me that members of the public are parting with their hard-earned funds for services that are simply not up to scratch. I have had copies of reports sent to me described as “research conducted by the previous professional” that were so lacking in detail that I have had to repeat some of the work to ensure certain records had been checked.

    Many websites and advertisements include claims regarding experience and qualifications but beware of “embellishment”. The researcher that has 20 years experience may have started working on their own family tree 20 years ago but have actually only been in business using the wide range of records necessary for professional work for the last 2 years.

    So what should you look for when choosing a researcher in the UK?

    Sometimes instinct is sufficient to weed out those who offer a below par service. If you make an enquiry and receive a written reply full of grammatical errors, you can be fairly certain that your final report will be similar. Genealogists who make generic promises are also to be avoided. If you see “I guarantee to research your family back to the 1700s” ask yourself “How?”. The ability to progress research depends on record survival, legibility of records, lack of transcription errors in indexes and the truthfulness of our ancestors, to name but a few.

    Some qualifications are readily checked, others less so. For example if you wanted to check I have actually been awarded the Diploma in Genealogy you can consult the IHGS Graduate list.

    In terms of reporting you should expect to receive a professionally written report that includes details of the records searched and the dates ranges considered. If records have been consulted but no record of your family found then these searches should also be included in the report to prevent you wasting money having the same records searched at later date. A good genealogist will write a report in such a way that it can be used to form the basis of future research. “I looked at the 1891 census but could not find him” gives you limited information. “I searched the 1891 census indexes on both Ancestry and Find My Past for John Hopkin, Hopkins, Hipkin or Hipkins born 1832-1834 in Worcestershire and no results were found” gives a far better indication on where to start future searches. Sources are particularly important. In advice from the Society of Genealogists (see below) the following is noted: Citations within the report should enable anyone to find and recreate the genealogy from the sources used and allow the reader to follow the reasoning leading towards any conclusions.

    Two examples of a source for a parish register search are:

    (1) Parish registers for Barking, Suffolk

    (2) Barking, Suffolk composite register (original images on microfiche) covering baptisms 1692-1728; marriages 1692-1728 and burials 1692-1728 (reference: FB15/D1/2), fiche 6-7 of 34, examined at Suffolk Record Office, Ipswich on 21 Oct 2013

    The second includes the format in which a record was searched (microfiche copies can be harder to read than the original), where and when it was examined and a full reference. Another researcher could readily go to Ipswich and find the same reference.

    In my opinion there are two ways to find a good quality researcher in the UK:

    • a recommendation from a friend or colleague who has experience of the quality of a researcher’s work
    • employing an accredited genealogist

    AGRA MemberIn England and Wales the ONLY body who assesses the quality of a researcher’s work and their business approach before granting full membership is The Association of Genealogists and Researchers in Archives (AGRA). The accreditation “AGRA Member” indicates a member who has been through this process. Both full “Members” and not yet fully assessed “Associates” have agreed to be bound by AGRA’s Code of Practice. ASGRA in Scotland and APGI in Ireland perform similar functions. The AGRA Directory may be used to find researchers with the specialism you require.

    APG_largeAn alternative to AGRA, used by some UK researchers, is the US-based Association of Professional Genealogists (APG), though it should be noted that, whilst members agree to abide by a Code of Ethics, no assessment of research is made before APG membership is granted. The US have their own schemes for accreditation.

    Good advice is also available from AGRA and the Society of Genealogists.

    Both AGRA and APG have stands at WDYTYA Live! If you want to know more, pop along and speak to them face to face.

  2. Reflections on 2013

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    Christmas wishes from Professional Family History

    I do hope that you have all had a lovely Christmas break with your families. I have been lucky enough to have my family to us this year. Christmas is always a little bittersweet, celebrating with those that are here whilst thinking of those now absent. There is, however, little time for melancholy in our house with an incredibly excited six year-old counting down “How many sleeps?”

    As we approach the end of the year I always find myself reflecting upon the year just coming to an end. The last couple of months have contained some unpleasantness for Professional Family History as my last blog post detailed, partly due to my hoping to avoid unpleasantness for so long. However, there have been many more positives to counter the negatives.

    In July of this year I was proud to be awarded the IHGS (Institute of Heraldic and Genealogical Studies) Higher Certificate in Genealogy. There are a number of routes to this qualification but for me it followed three years of intensive learning and assignment writing with the constant support of my fabulous tutor +Les Mitchinson. I was immensely pleased to be given the added award of a Distinction especially when I discovered that myself and fellow genealogist, Julia Henderson, were only the third and fourth individuals to have ever achieved this.

    November marked my third year of trading as Professional Family History. Over this time I have had some wonderful clients. Some have been with me since the beginning, some I have only met recently. We have had some frustrations during research this year but also some wonderful successes.

    It is not appropriate here to mention all the cases worked on this year but as a couple of examples: A report to one of my longest standing clients triggered a long-forgotten memory of a family story in her elderly mother, from many years ago, and this has confirmed the particular research area to target next.

    One of my favourite research moments was a “brick wall buster”. I have a lovely client who came to me with many years research and a “hunch” as to where earlier ancestors originated. I’m sure we all have moments like this in our own research during our continued search for missing information: “I have possibilities A, B and C but I have a strong feeling it must be C”. I am simplifying things here, there was some supporting information in favour of C but no EVIDENCE. As professionals we must counsel against such feelings and advocate thorough research to prove or disprove theories. My client and I have been on a journey looking at records for two parishes in Suffolk some distance apart. Towards the later part of the year I found the document confirming that the individual who had been living in parish B was born in parish A. There is more to consider but it was a wonderful breakthrough.

    There have also been some interesting sources used this year. One I must mention as it is so often overlooked are the records of Freemen. One of my clients has ancestors who were admitted as Freemen to the Borough of Sudbury. Freeman records are often overlooked as “unlikely to contain my relative” but when they do they can provide a host of information.

    In general terms there were four means of being admitted as a Freeman to a borough or guild: servitude, via apprenticeship, patrimony, by being the son of a freeman, redemption, by purchase, and honour, granted on an honorary basis.

    An example of an entry in the admission registers is “…Samuel Godfrey of London Baker son of Thomas Godfrey late of the said Borough Butcher deceased is a freeman of the said Borough and Hath the right to vote for members to serve in Parliament for this Borough…. [07 March 1733]”. It is readily observed how the one entry provides information on family relationships, occupations and places of residence and, in this case, provides a date by which the father had died.

    As I look forward to 2014 it is with some excitement. I have research planned over the first few months, some on continued cases, some with new clients. I also have a few professional “firsts” in the pipeline that I am very much looking forward to.

    To close, I wish you all a Happy New Year and hope that 2014 brings you everything you wish for.

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