As a paid researcher you will probably need to know about sources that you did not use for your own family tree. Before setting up a business, do some voluntary research (perhaps dealing with requests sent to your local Family History Society). This will alert you to any significant gaps in your knowledge. You can then decide what research commissions your business should accept. You could start by working as a record agent, dealing with simple requests that require minimal analysis and interpretation ('I want a copy of Document-X, which I know is at your local record office.') When you are familiar with more record series, you can offer a wider range of services.
In my opinion, these are the principal requirements for a professional genealogist who does research in local record offices or archives:
- A very high degree of proficiency in using the holdings of the record office.
- A thorough understanding of correct research techniques and the difference between primary and secondary sources.
- An awareness of the traps involved in using indexes and interpreting handwriting.
- The ability to cite sources fully and accurately, regardless of whether results are positive or negative.
- A willingness to undertake professional development and on-going education. This includes attending seminars and conferences (for example, the Australasian Congress on Genealogy and Heraldry), reading reference books, journals, newsletters and Web sites, and doing whatever else is necessary to keep up with changes in your particular field.
- Good analytical skills.
- The ability to use lateral thinking.
- Some knowledge of the history of the area in which you specialise (dates of first settlement, local industries etc.)
- The ability to interpret and analyse the lives of individuals and families in the context of local, national and world events.
- Good communication skills, especially in reports and emails. (Clients do care about your grammar, spelling and punctuation!)
- A clear understanding of privacy issues and professional ethics.
- Some knowledge of accounting and small business management.
Potential clients rarely take much notice of my formal qualifications and accreditation. Their decision to employ me is usually based on word-of-mouth referrals and/or the helpful content of my Web site.
Do you agree with my ideas on what should be expected of a paid researcher? If not, why? I would love to hear your point of view. Whether you are a researcher or a client, please share your thoughts by leaving a comment below.
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