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When is it Time to Hire a Professional Genealogist?

If genealogy is just a hobby for you, chances are good access to basic tools like Ancestry.com will keep you busy researching various branches of your family tree for years. But what happens if you get stuck and can’t get over a particular hurdle on your own?

One option is to hire a professional genealogist.

But is this always necessary? Is it worth the cost?

This is something I’ve thought about doing for my German grandfather’s line. He’s the one who was a child in Germany during WWII. He had family locked up in the camps. His family pretty much lost everything and had to relocate after the war. And then he and one of his brothers made the journey as teenagers to the United States. And the rest is history.

Right?

Sort of. But it’s been a nearly impossible history for me to trace. And that’s especially frustrating because this is both my namesake’s line and the line that led to me being born a dual U.S.-German citizen. I know who my great-grandparents are, and that’s it. In contrast, I’ve traced my mother’s lines back to founding families in the early 1600s, and even centuries earlier than that. Some we well-documented lines. But this one — my father’s father’s family — has been much more difficult due to the moves and the destruction of records during the war (not to mention a potential name change that turned up).

So every now and then I think about hiring a German genealogist to help with that research.

I’ve decided I’m not quite ready for that yet. There’s still some digging I can do with some trips up to NYC (related to my great-grandfather’s brother, which might give me more insight into his own background, or at least what’s going on with the name change). And within the next few years, I’d like to work on my German language studies and visit the country once or twice to dig my hands into local research independently a bit.

But there will almost definitely come a time when I need to bring in a pro.

Here are some scenarios when it might make sense for you to hire a professional genealogist if you get stuck:

  • You can afford it. (Even limited research can get pricey.)
  • You need someone who speaks the local language.
  • Certain documents need to be obtained and / or copied by a personal visit to a local parish or government office.
  • You no longer have the time to dig further into your difficult lines.
  • You have a pressing need to find answers quickly (perhaps a legal situation where you want to identify family).

Those were the reasons I could think of for bringing on a professional genealogist. What about you? When would you feel inclined to do that? Or have you already? If you have, can you tell us about your experience? Leave a comment. I’d love to hear your thoughts.

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