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The original content for this article was contributed by The National Institute for Genealogical Studies in June 2012. It is an excerpt from their course Methodology - Part 1: Getting Started, Methodology - Part 2: Organizing and Skillbuilding, Methodology - Part 3: More Strategies, Methodology - Part 4: Effective Searching and Recording, Methodology - Part 5: How To Prove It, and Methodology - Part 6: Professional Preparation and Practice by Louise St Denis, Brenda Dougall Merriman and Dr. Penelope Christensen. The Institute offers over 200 comprehensive genealogy courses for a fee ($).
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One note regarding enhancement of your business: certification or accreditation gives you the most credibility when working with professionals in other fields. It also lends status as an expert witness when collaborating on legal or court matters.
Another aspect to think about is the possibility of joining forces. Do you want to be a sole practitioner or is your best interest served by forming a partnership with a colleague, a network of colleagues, or contracting employment with a company that already provides a specialty service?
Locating missing heirs for probate and estate affairs is a specialty that some genealogists concentrate on full-time. There are a number of ways to look into this.
- Each state or province usually has an official agency responsible for ensuring that legally entitled blood relatives receive their due share of proceeds from an intestate estate. Their administrative role may also apply in cases when next of kin seem to be unavailable, when named executors in a will are not available or incapable, or when the next of kin are all minors. The agency—in Canada often called the Public Trustee—must conduct a reasonably thorough search for such heirs within a specified legal degree of consanguinity. They are learning that employing genealogists is the most efficient way to do this, since it often involves tracing back to a grandparent generation or even earlier, and then forward to descendants. We see more and more such contract work arising for professional genealogists. You will need to take the initiative in approaching them.
- Sometimes legal firms have similar problems with the estate of a deceased client, or having been court-appointed administrators. Approaching them for contract case work is feasible if your area has a limited number of lawyers, or in a large center if you know which firms deal with estate planning and probate. Swift work is usually the rule when working for an attorney or an authorized public official, to avoid encroachment by less scrupulous parties.
- Then there are the independent heir-tracing firms, a competitive field. They monitor court agendas for (preferably large) estates that languish for probate in the absence of known heirs. Such companies or individuals may include private investigators and/or trained genealogists, but there is no licensing requirement for this activity. Normally they seek a healthy percentage of the estate in return for tracing and notifying an heir who would have been ignorant of his inheritance without their intervention. It’s a high-pressure business and they have to work fast to locate heirs before the competition does. You could contact such firms for potential work in your area, having satisfied yourself that they are operating ethically.
If modern genealogy is your forte, you will want to consider applying to become a private investigator as well. In most places, this will require a licence which may involve testing or presenting certain qualifications. It likely also involves a fee. Investigators can subscribe to some contemporary databases or information not available to the general public. Since much of the work deals with tracing and finding people, ask yourself if you prefer interaction with the living rather than the dead. Sound knowledge of twentieth century sources and techniques, and interviewing skills, are essential qualities. Investigate the investigators yourself! Is it worth your while, will it expand your business to enter a second field?
- Megan Smolenyak Smolenyak of Genetealogy.com and honoringourancestors.com has coined the word “genetealogy.” This is definitely a 21st century innovation! DNA testing can reveal whether or not a group of people have a common ancestor, whether they are related to each other and/or related to others of the same surname. The Y chromosome (paternal lineage) or mitochondrial (mtDNA = maternal) are the two that are tested for the revealing “markers” which are a constant link through generations. Databases for such studies are growing fast. This is a complex subject but if you have a scientific bent, you could develop a service in partnership with a testing laboratory. One-name societies and clan associations are potentially interested groups. DNA testing can’t reconstruct a family tree, but together with traditional kinship research it can assist with identifying lineage through the deep past and provide clues about ethnic origins. See also the Sorenson Molecular Research Foundation in a Google search.
- Genealogy has also proven its value in both genetic counselling clinics and the study of hereditary medical conditions. We know that certain family characteristics can be delineated from observation and individuals’ memory, but beyond that, hereditary illness or conditions can now be predicted and avoided. In the past few years, genealogists across the world have volunteered their time for help with transplant surgery cases, tracing living relatives as potential donors. A transplant recipient needs a compatible genotype as a donor and sometimes there is no known immediate family; his/her survival often depends on swift timing. If this type of work interests you, how can you investigate it in your area?
Now here’s a way to visit the lands of your ancestors and have your trip paid for (if you plan wisely)! Taking a research group to another country, or to a part of your own country, can be rewarding for all. Of course you will have to have had some hands-on experience with the records or repositories that you will visit. It’s very helpful if you have made deliberate contacts there so you are known as a professional. Possibly this requires speaking another language. Unless you have extraordinary local contacts, it may be easier to work with a sympathetic travel agent who can make arrangements for flights, accommodation, travel within the area, and any necessary visa requirements. That agent will also expect a commission for her work. Your genealogy planning as the tour guide would also include time for mentoring and/or tutorials, as the participants will probably need assistance with their individual cases. Some professionals who plan a research trip on their own will take with them assignments from their clients. A somewhat different aspect of tour arranging would be to bring a group to do research in your own area.
Some professionals specialize in the tenure of land, i.e. tracing ownership and titles. In North America this might be a sideline as a title-searcher; all sales and transfers in the registration of a piece of real property generally require a title search for legal effect. Law firms that specialize in real estate do this regularly to ensure clear title/ownership. Mineral rights, timber rights, and other rights may also be attached. Check with your relevant state or provincial agency to see if extra training is necessary. In the U.K., professionals work with the title deeds registries, manorial records, tithe awards and other varied documentation along with the genealogies of those entitled to land, rights of way, and so forth.
As with newspapers or magazines that could be amenable to a genealogy columnist, a radio or TV station might be interested in a genealogy show. In some areas, a regular phone-in question period has been popular with radio audiences. Nick Vine Hall became known as the Voice of Genealogy in Australia through years of a talk-back radio show that had reached a million listeners. Television is getting into the act as well; we are seeing nationally-broadcast shows about tracing your roots. With some judicious contacts and market research, your choices might include making proposals about story lines (an interesting, successful research story), consulting on a production, acting as a panellist or host for a live audience format—selling yourself as the specialist needed for such enterprises.
You might be surprised how many openings there are from time to time for editors of newsletters or journals of genealogical content. Your local society could be extremely grateful for an offer to take on newsletter editorship (in paper or electronic form) and you will gain valuable—but probably unpaid—experience. That experience, with the assistance of an editor’s guide (see again, The Canadian Style, Chicago Manual of Style or the “Editing Periodicals” section of Professional Genealogy), will stand you in good stead when an opening comes along for a larger journal that pays an editor’s stipend. Or, you may be aware of a subject or regional area for which you could launch your own newsletter or journal. This kind of enterprise overlaps somewhat with our previous discussion on publishing and entails business knowledge and skills in addition to editing. You would have to consider such items as how to fund it (subscription, advertisers or both?); obtaining appropriate authors and articles, a good printing contact, peer reviewers and proofreaders; how to distribute it.
Maybe photography is another passion or hobby of yours. Why not combine it with your genealogical interests? There are professionals who now offer their clients photographs of the family homestead, the local church, the cemetery stones, and other historical sites or artefacts that featured in the ancestors’ lives. Electronic and digital technology has made it much easier to use and transmit high-quality products. Going one step further, you may be able to offer the assemblage of existing family photos and slides on a CD or a DVD (or whatever new technology appears on the horizon) as a back-up for preservation.
Does your society need your good organizational and office skills? Even if they can only afford a part-time person, you may be the right one to consolidate an office for them. Running an efficient central office can reduce overlap, duplication and occasional cross-purposes among the volunteers who often reluctantly wear too many hats. What are the daily, weekly or monthly chores to be handled? Do they need a policy and procedures manual? Are you qualified to answer correspondence from members and non-members? Do you have book-keeping skills to offer? Such things as maintaining the communal calendar and reminding officers or committee members of upcoming agendas, packaging and mailing out requested publications, cataloguing library acquisitions, ensuring timely correspondence, editing or proofreading of newsletters, contacting speakers for meetings, arranging workshops or field trips ... the list goes on. Maybe you can develop and/or manage a website or membership listserve for them. Whatever stipend they can manage may well be worth it for a happy organization.
- You may well ask how many of this type of society would be available for producing income for you. There are lineage societies, which may need expert help in processing applications. They may or may not offer an honorarium or fee for such work. On the other hand, they may be pleased to refer applicants to you for paid research and application completion. Clan associations and family organizations may not know the benefits of a “resident” genealogist until you tell them what they’re missing. These days with electronic communications, it’s not always necessary to live in a specific locale to review applications or coordinate members’ input. Naturally, you should be familiar with the criteria and membership requirements of any organization that you approach.
- Another avenue along this line is creating a society restricted to a particular surname or descendants of one ancestral couple or a well-known historical personage. The “Pioneers of _______” or “First Families of ______” are other concepts that appeal to the general public. If you create a list of the original settlers or landowners of a specific town or historic area, you have a nominal base to build on. Cooperation and/or sponsorship from the municipality in question would be ideal. You will brainstorm objectives and goals for your society idea, and membership benefits. Through selective promotion or advertising you can reach the appropriate market. If detailed (paid) research for potential descendants is your personal goal, then you must be careful to consider any likelihood of conflict of interest between membership fees and research fees.
Information in this Wiki page is excerpted from the online courses Methodology - Part 1: Getting Started, Methodology - Part 2: Organizing and Skillbuilding, Methodology - Part 3: More Strategies, Methodology - Part 4: Effective Searching and Recording, Methodology - Part 5: How To Prove It, and Methodology - Part 6: Professional Preparation and Practice offered by The National Institute for Genealogical Studies. To learn more about these courses or other courses available from the Institute, see our website. We can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org
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