Connect with the Pros
As much fun as it can be to research your own family history, there can be times when it pays to turn to a professional for help. Maybe you just don't have the time to really dig into the records, or need some experienced assistance with putting all the pieces together. Or you might want to hire someone to do record lookups in a faraway city, or to take all of the bits and pieces of your research and turn them into a beautifully written family history. Sometimes you just need inside knowledge of local records, or a little extra help with a very stubborn problem.
Aren't genealogy conferences only for professionals?
Contrary to popular belief, genealogy conferences and institutes offer all genealogists — from the beginning hobbyist to the advanced professional — the opportunity to learn something new. They also offer the opportunity to learn from some of the world's best genealogists, keep up with new techniques and methodologies, and sample the latest software and gadgets. You can even take a genealogy cruise!
Join a Society
Some organizations, such as lineage societies, genealogical societies, and patriotic organizations, focus primarily on preserving the genealogy and family history of their members and/or region and making it available to the world. By joining such a society, you not only enjoy extra access to their records but can also benefit from the experience of the members. Most societies publish newsletters and quarterlies with record transcriptions, genealogy queries, articles on available records and resources, and news of interest to researchers. Many also offer some type of free or reduced-cost research benefits to their members, as well as the opportunity to include personal queries in their publications. Societies also generally arrange a variety of workshops, seminars, and research trips for their members. And, of course, there is the wonderful opportunity to network with other society members.
But what if the bulk of your research is not in your hometown? Do you join your local society? Or the society covering the area in which your ancestors lived? Both situations have their benefits. Many genealogists choose to belong to their local genealogical society, despite having no ancestors from the area, for the chance to actively participate in the local genealogical community, in addition to joining societies in the areas where their ancestors lived. While you may not be able to attend the meetings or actively participate in the business of societies outside your area, membership still affords you the ability to keep up with the latest research news and resources through newsletters and quarterly publications. Many societies also operate mailing lists, so you can participate to an extent without leaving home.
Even if you choose not to join a genealogical society, most offer benefits to nonmembers as well. This often includes access to their library collection and a system for requesting research, lookups, and/or copies. Historical and genealogical societies are also good places to turn for inside information on records and repositories that will aid you in your research and for answers to your local research questions. They may have a website with searchable records, a forum for posting queries, or a mailing list that offers the opportunity to ask questions, request a lookup, or share the details of your family.
Most genealogical and historical societies are nonprofit entities managed and run almost exclusively by volunteers. Despite the buzz over Internet genealogy, these groups are invaluable for their work in preserving our heritage for future generations. Yet the additional research opportunities offered by the Internet have left many societies facing declining membership, while operating costs continue to rise. By joining such a group, you help to keep them viable.
To find a genealogical or historical society near you, or that meets your research interests, visit the Society Hall (
Network with Other Genealogists
As mentioned previously, genealogists are connecting on a regular basis on Facebook as well as through Twitter, mailing lists, study groups, and other networking opportunities. This gives you the option to ask questions of other genealogists at all stages of research, as well as the many genealogists in the process of transitioning to professional careers in genealogy. Here are just a few examples of the many ways genealogists are using the Internet to learn from one another and make new friends.
ProGen Study Group (
Hire a Professional
To locate a reputable genealogist for your project, it is best to turn to a professional association. These groups work to ensure quality and ethics among professional genealogists, which can offer you a certain element of confidence in the person you are hiring. Two organizations within the United States provide credentials or certification to genealogists from around the world who have passed rigorous tests of their research skills. The Board for Certification of Genealogists (BCG) (
Expert Connect at
All three groups offer an online member list or database to assist you in locating a researcher by geographical location or specialty. Should you be dissatisfied with the work done by a member, each group also offers arbitration or other options to help in rectifying the situation.