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From the Ancestry Daily News
  Michael John Neill 12/5/2001 


My Professional's Report

Readers of the Daily News will remember that a few months ago, I hired a professional genealogist to work on one of my "problems." The material arrived in my mailbox and I've finally had time to take a look.

There were actually two notebooks with material in the package. One contained photocopies of all the documents that were obtained as a part of the research contract. The other notebook contained the researcher's final report and summary. I immediately looked through the photocopies to ascertain what they said. The researcher fortunately was able to find several of the documents that were a part of our research plan. There also was the researcher's final report, summarizing the documents, transcribing certain others, with an analysis and suggestions for further research. 

The report is an integral part of the research. I was glad it was included as a part of the overall project. One does not always receive a report.

When in college, I hired a researcher to work on another one of my "problems." The research was to cover court records and to make a copy of any case involving the individual I speculated was the father of my ancestor. I received a huge package of materials, wonderfully copied and organized with case reference numbers, etc. The package arrived at home and I was at school. I asked my mother to scan the cover letter/report and we'd talk about it the next time we talked on the phone. When we next talked, I asked her if the letter mentioned any proof of the mystery man being the father of my ancestor. Mother told me there was no such comment in the letter. I was disappointed and assumed the photocopies did not contain the answer to my question. However, when I arrived home a few weeks later and read through all the court cases myself, I realized one case file did answer my question. The researcher had neglected to mention it in her letter. 

The Report I Received
The report I received for my recent problem was extremely helpful in several regards. In brief, it contained a summary of the information I had submitted, a listing of what materials had been searched, what information had been located, extensive commentary on what had been found and what it likely meant, and suggestions for further research.

The commentary and analysis was extremely important. One of the individuals in the problem was a Greek emigrant and ethnicity and cultural "norms" played a role in the analysis. The individuals under study were residents of the Pullman area of Chicago and the report included some discussion of this area and the people who inhabited it. For any problem in a metropolitan area a discussion of neighborhood is important. Chicago is a big place and to fail to consider neighborhood is to potentially create problems.

The delineation of what had been searched and what was located was also necessary. This was important so that later research did not duplicate these efforts and so that if new name variants or information were located the records could be re-researched effectively if necessary. 

Finally, the report contained a listing of research suggestions. These were wonderful. Some of the suggestions were for research to be conducted by the researcher, but many were for things I could do myself, either by mail or through the Family History Library. I was given names of churches the family likely attended (here again, the analysis of the neighborhood was helpful) and Family History Library call numbers for the microfilmed copies of these records.

All in all, I was pleased with the report I received.

Did She Answer My Question?
Before I answer that, it is important to note that not every research question can be solved and that no researcher should guarantee to be able to prove a parentage or a specific fact. What I got from my researcher was a searching of specific pre-agreed upon records and an analysis of the information contained in those records based upon the researcher's past experience. My researcher did that and she did it with flying colors. The problem is that my "problem" is not crystal clear. 

A birth record for the Anne under study has not yet been located. It was a part of the research plan, but could not be located in civil records using a variety of possible first and last names. However, a 1921 divorce for the individual's mother indicates that William Apgar and Marie Apgar were the parents of four children, including an Annie, with an age very close to the age of the known Anne. William could not be located during the divorce proceedings and did not answer the bill of complaint. When Marie's second husband (who had been purported to be the father of Annie) was naturalized he indicated he had no children and when he and Marie divorced, it was indicated that no children has been born of the marriage. The researcher searched everything I asked for and researched it thoroughly. I am pleased with her work.

There are a couple of confusing items though. 

The World War I draft registration card for William Apgar (which I located as the researcher was compiling the report and which was NOT a part of the original research plan) indicates he had three children under the age of twelve. According to his divorce, he would have had four children at the time of the registration. Is the discrepancy worth worrying about? Was it a meaningless error that I shouldn't analyze too much, some eighty years after the fact?

Annie/Anne has not yet been located in the 1920 census. Her mother Marie and three siblings are living with Marie's second husband in the Chicago area. William Apgar has not been located either. Why is she not living with her siblings?

Would I Hire Someone Again?
Absolutely. In fact, I might have the same researcher perform more work on this family. However, I'm going to wait, for two reasons. The first is that I want to follow up on all the research suggestions she provided in her report. The second is that for the short term I've shot my research budget.

Short List of Suggestions When Hiring a Researcher
--- Have a contract. 
--- Start slow. 
--- Give them all you've got. 
--- Expect a report. 
--- Be patient. 
--- Don't expect miracles

Michael John Neill, is the Course I Coordinator at the Genealogical Institute of Mid America (GIMA) held annually in Springfield, Illinois, and is also on the faculty of Carl Sandburg College in Galesburg, Illinois. Michael is the Web columnist for the FGS FORUM and is on the editorial board of the Illinois State Genealogical Society Quarterly. He conducts seminars and lectures on a wide variety of genealogical and computer topics and contributes to several genealogical publications, including Ancestry and Genealogical Computing. You can email him at: or visit his Web site at:, but he regrets that he is unable to assist with personal research. 

Copyright 2001, 

Used with Permission 

The Hiring a Professional Series:

Books that may also be of help:

Professional Genealogy--edited by Elizabeth Shown Mills. This book is geared towards those who are professionals or wish to become professionals. Those considering spending a significant sum on a professional may wish to invest in this book and read relevant portions of it before commissioning any research.

BCG Standards Manual--edited by Helen Leary. The BCG (the Board for Certification of Genealogists) Standards Manual discusses what constitutes genealogical "proof" and what does not and also discusses how that proof should be organized. An excellent guide and introduction to genealogical report writing.

Evidence! Citation & Analysis for the Family Historians--by Elizabeth Shown Mills. This short work provides a framework for citing genealogical sources. An excellent reference for anyone doing genealogical research.


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