The Wigtownshire Pages



What can a Professional Genealogist do for me?

by Ian McClumpha
Why should I pay someone else to do my hobby?

Would I pay Tiger Woods to play in my Sunday morning fourball?

For a moment, let us consider who does employ a professional. Firstly there is the person who wants to find their family history (as we all do) but for various reasons cannot do it themselves. Perhaps they feel lacking in expertise; perhaps it is just a case of too many demands on their time. How many people employ a Painter to decorate their house, yet are quite competent with a paintbrush themselves.

Secondly, there are those who are tracing their ancestors because they consider it their duty to leave the information for their children and grandchildren. They have little interest in the research process, but need to find their ancestors. Often these people get ‘hooked’ like the rest of us, when they realise that Family History is the most fascinating hobby invented!

Thirdly, there are those who are not content with tracing backwards. When they realise that GGrandfather had four brothers and three sisters, and all married and had children, they are keen to find living relatives. Internet research is limited to the older records, but the researcher ‘on the spot’ has access to records right up to last year. Fourthly, there are those who are ‘shrewd’. They have realised that Scots Origins charge £10 per certificate, which might not be the correct one when it arrives. By employing a researcher to look up the records they have identified, they can save quite a lot of money. Scottish records are unique in that ‘on the spot’ researchers can view the certificate without having to purchase it.

And lastly, there are those that are stumped. They have researched back to 1790 and have hit a brick wall. Perhaps the brick wall has sprung up in 1920 or whenever, but invariably there is no way round, or over, via the internet. It needs someone with a fair knowledge of the local sources and available records.

What can a Professional Genealogist do for me?
There is a popular misconception that all the records have been filmed and available on pay per view sites or in LDS Family History Centres. In fact the records available are too numerous to mention. The National Archives (formerly known as the PRO) and the Scottish National Library have manuscript collections dating back hundreds of years. For example, the Ailsa Muniments has over a thousand records. The Stair Muniments, The Agnew Muniments, and other Galloway records are all available in the Gifts & Deposits collections in the National Archives.

Many of these records are on permanent loan to the Archives, and will never be microfilmed for general release. The Scottish National Library has an on-line catalogue, but admits only a tiny proportion of the manuscript collection is listed. It takes an ‘on the spot’ researcher to track these down.

As the research leads further back, the records get harder to read. Spelling is said to be a modern invention, but many old Scots words have disappeared from modern usage. The professional researcher is able to interpret most of these old letters, even Secretarial Script or Latin, or at least get a transcription from a specialist.

How can I select a professional?
There are no ‘official’ qualifications for Scottish Genealogists. You might see the letters ASGRA after someone’s name; this means they are a member of the Association of Scottish Genealogists and Record Agents. This association operates a code of conduct, all members have to submit a test piece of research before being accepted as a member, and they set recommended fees.

You might see the letters CSFHS after someone’s name (or ‘Cert. in SFHS’ ). This means they have completed a course at Stirling University. This course is the only recognised qualification in Scottish Family History Studies and all graduates have a thorough grounding in ‘All Scotland’ research. Visitors to the Scottish Genealogy Society in Edinburgh can browse the final projects that each student had to complete, but of course not all became professionals.

It is advisable to pick a researcher with ‘local knowledge’, but often the trail can lead elsewhere. Many Galloway families moved to Glasgow or Edinburgh in the search for work, usually leaving family behind. Once you have engaged a professional you do not really want to find another when the trail leads to other parts.

What information will the professional require?
Once you have commissioned a professional do inform him or her of the research you have already done, especially the ‘negative results’. It can be most annoying to spend ages searching a record without finding anything, only to discover it has been done before! When you are giving known information always say whether it is proven or not. Stories told on Granny’s knee are not always reliable!!

Make sure you tell him or her what you are actually looking for. There is little point in sending screeds of information if you do not make the questions clear.

Discuss your requirements with the professional and agree on a budget. Perhaps a long complicated project can be done in instalments. And, finally, remember that a search may result in some negative findings.

Good luck.

Ian McClumpha
email: imchad@freeola.com
Website: http://www.imchad.freeola.com/
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