Genealogy is a fascinating and addictive hobby. In fact, many people have told me that they never used to be interested in it, but once they started looking at their ancestry they were hooked! Tracing ancestors has become extremely popular in the last few years, particularly here in the UK with the help of excellent TV documentaries such as "Who Do You Think You Are?" where well known TV personalities get help in researching their own family history, often with extremely moving and astonishing results.
Of course, the search for ancestors is also extremely popular in other parts of the world, particularly in the USA, Canada and Australia, where many people find that their ancestors emigrated from the UK. Luckily, it is much easier to research global ancestors these days because records such as the census are available online, and you can also search for and order birth, marriage and death certificates on some internet sites.
However, the census will only take you back to 1841, and if you want to trace back further than that, it is usually necessary to visit the local record offices to search the local parish registers where your ancestors lived and also other records such as wills and land deeds.
This gives the non-UK researcher just two choices: either travel to Britain and tour all the record offices where you ancestors might show up, or hire local UK genealogists, depending on where your ancestors lived.
There are many good UK genealogists ready to carry out research services for their own county, and sometimes the counties nearby. Fees tend to vary considerably, and each genealogist has their own particular methods and ways of reporting.
This can get confusing and time consuming for the client, who may well be searching several lines all over the country and will need to communicate with several different people, giving their details and information each time.
What can be a more effective idea is to hire just one genealogist who will handle all correspondence with other genealogists and should be able to save the client money and time.
Surprisingly, not all UK genealogists carry out internet researches, so it is a very good idea to make sure that your chosen researcher will follow up all possibilities using online resources such as the IGI in order to find possible lines of research.
When hiring a UK genealogist, you should check the following:
* Do they have any sort of qualification such as a Degree (preferably in history or humanities), or a qualification in family history or historical research?
* Do they carry out internet searches as well as local archives?
* Are they able to order certificates on your behalf?
* How experienced are they?
* Are they knowledgeable about local and national social history?
* Do they write clear, concise reports, detailing all research they have carried out?
Remember that genealogists have to spend a lot of (unpaid) time reading through your details and deciding which searches to carry out to start with, so make sure that when you send your information it is also clear and neatly laid out. Make sure your researcher knows exactly what it is that you want him or her to do. If, for example, you are only interested in one direct line, then make sure they know this. You do not want to be charged for work you did not request.
Most local genealogists charge an hourly fee and will ask you to set a spending limit. This is common practice as it is always difficult to know how long searches will take. Sometimes the researcher will only need a couple of hours, especially if the searches come to a brief full stop, but if they find a parish where your ancestors lived for centuries, they may need to spend many hours on your family tree.
Setting a spending limit will ensure that you are not charged for hours of fruitless searches, but if there is potential for further research, then you have the option to continue and spend more if you wish.
If you decided to use a single genealogist to trace all your UK ancestors, in this case they would normally request a flat fee that will cover all the expenses of hiring other genealogists. However, make sure that your chosen genealogist will refund the balance of the fee if they are unable to use up the entire fee (which may happen if they were unable to find any information on your ancestors).
Wherever you are in the world, hiring UK genealogists to find your ancestors will be the best way forward if you are unable to search local records yourself, or if you do not have regular internet access. Follow the guidelines above, and you should find the experience an easy and exciting one.
Ros is an experienced professional genealogist and writer, and offers an ancestry tracing service at her website, Tracing Your Ancestors In The UK.