When Should You Hire a Professional Genealogist?

I’ve long since hit a dead end researching my family’s history in Germany — my namesake line no less. Family believed most records there were lost when a key town was pretty much destroyed by the Russian military in WWII. The family was forced to leave their home and most of their belongings behind, and on very short notice. Gathering documents just wasn’t a priority.

But now there’s hope. If you’ve followed this blog, you know that I recently received my certificate of German citizenship (I was born a dual US-German citizen, and had to fight for three years to prove it). Even though it took several years, someone in Berlin was finally able to find the documents they needed in their records to prove that. And the document in question was my grandfather’s birth certificate.  Even though I’m not sure exactly what was found or where, it means there’s a clue to my family’s past there, just out of reach.

And there’s another challenge in this branch of my German family — a possible name change. When we couldn’t track my great grandfather any further, we instead decided to research his brother. While my great grandfather stayed in Germany, his brother came to the U.S., meaning there would be more records available to me.

My goal was to find out their parents’ names. So I looked up his brother in our Social Security Death Index to get his social security number. And then I requested a copy of his SS-5 form (application for a Social Security Number). This form would have his parents’ names on it.

I received the form. And to my surprise, while the social security number was the same, the name was different. The first name was his German middle name (no surprise there). It was a different last name that caught my surprise. Instead of Mattern, he was listed as Weber.

That opened all sorts of questions. Why did he change his name? When did he change his name? Did my great grandfather also change his name at some point over in Germany? Are they even really brothers?

Those questions have to be answered. I know his brother was a political prisoner at Dachau during the War, so it’s possible his name change (or the family’s) is related to that. But long story short, I just don’t know.

I know there are still a few things I can do here in the U.S., like finding out which NYC borough my great grandfather’s brother processed his name change with. Finding those records, if he ever did it officially (which he should have if it was changed in his Social Security records), could give me my next lead. But short of finding that, I don’t know what else I can do.

So I’m considering the next step of hiring a professional genealogist — specifically someone in Germany. It’s not a move I’ll make right away. Probably not even this year. But it’s something I’m seriously considering.

And I wanted to ask you about the same. At what point would you hire a professional genealogist? What kind of work would you have them do for you that you couldn’t do yourself? Or if you’ve already worked with one, would you recommend it? Share your thoughts in the comments.

Jenn is a professional writer and publisher, and the founder of Climb Your Family Tree.

She first became interested in genealogy as a teenager. Since that early start, she's spent 28 years putting her personal passion and professional research skills to use in exploring her own family history while assisting others in their genealogical journeys.

In addition to running Climb Your Family Tree, Jenn is a long-time PR, social media, and online marketing specialist and she's been a digital publisher / web developer for over 20 years. She owns a variety of web properties including All Freelance Writing, Freelance Writing Pros, Kiss My Biz, and NakedPR.

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