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Employing a Foreign Genealogist

By: Chris Nickson - Updated: 23 Oct 2012 | comments*Discuss
Genealogy Foreign Qualifications Records

If you’re researching your family tree and need to look into a branch that was overseas, you might want to consider hiring a genealogist based in that country. It can seem like a big step but there are several good reasons for doing it. The language barrier can be insurmountable or you might not be able to follow the records well.

Using a professional in a foreign country can save a great deal of time and frustration. Many of the advantages are self-evident. The genealogist will know how records are organised and be able to go to the right places quickly to obtain the information you need. There will be no language barrier in obtaining records. It might well prove to be less expensive than endless phone calls or a trip to the country in question. The only problem might exist if the genealogist doesn’t speak English (and you shouldn’t assume they all will).

What to Expect

A vital factor to remember is that any genealogist is going to limited by the quality and availability of records. In some countries this will pose no problem, whilst in others things might be sketchy at best. The genealogist should know what’s available (and if not you might want to reconsider whether to employ them), and this will give you a good idea of what’s possible.

Creating those expectations is important as a first step. As long as they’re realistic you’ll know how far forward the work can carry your research. That’s not to say everything will go exactly as planned; life just isn’t like that. But you’ll have an estimate.

Once you know what might be achieved, set out the parameters for the job. This is for the genealogist, letting them know where to start and where to stop. Accept that there’s no guarantee that they’ll be able to obtain all the information, but set a schedule, including regular updates on the work.


After all the effort and spending money you need to hope that the results will be worthwhile, although, again, you should remember there can be no guarantees. As a general rule you’ll only go to the lengths of employing a foreign genealogist where there might be something important to be learnt. It should be a compelling part of the family history if it’s going to cost you money.

The Genealogist

Just as you wouldn’t employ a genealogist in this country without checking qualifications and references, you need to apply the same standards to a foreign genealogist.

Depending on the country, finding a list of candidates shouldn’t be too difficult, but bear in mind most places don’t have formal genealogy qualifications. Many of these people will have come by their knowledge through experience and trial and error.

The simplest way to find someone good is a hearty recommendation from someone who’s used the services of the genealogist. That can count for a great deal, especially if the recommendation is unsolicited and comes from someone you trust. Even then, don’t trust it entirely. Your research might involve a different field that’s not the genealogist’s expertise. Do check references. It takes time, but it’s worthwhile

It’s important, too, to find someone you can work with easily. Good communication makes that possible, ideally in a common language, but even without that. You need someone you can trust to do a good job.


Before any work begins decide on payment. This is vitally important. You might pay by the hour or you might pay for the job – that’s down to negotiation – but you need to give a top figure for the work as part of the parameters. That way the genealogist won’t keep on working and you won’t end up with a shocking bill. By setting everything in place before any work begins there will no be terrible surprises later.

To protect both parties, set everything out in writing, as an agreement or a contract. It avoids any later comebacks or recriminations.

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