Monday, September 19, 2016

Is professional genealogy all it's cracked up to be?

I wrote about six months ago that I was officially in business as a professional genealogist. Since that time, I've been blessed to have requests come in from family, friends, and strangers to research their families. So now that I have a taste of what it's really like to be a professional genealogist, I wanted to ask myself - is this all it was cracked up to be? Am I happy doing it? Am I as passionate about researching the families of others as I am my own family?

The answers to those questions are: Yes, absolutely, and definitely! It's more challenging than I thought it would be, as you really have to focus your efforts because you're billing clients for your skills by the hour, and you want them to get the most bang for their buck. Obviously you can't control what the results of the search will be, but you certainly can give them the best research and reporting you're capable of doing. It's also been a stretching/growing experience, as I've been asked to research families in Washington, Pennsylvania, Michigan, Texas, Mexico, and Sweden. I've done research in some of these areas, but others were brand new to me. I really pushed myself to get in there, see what was available, and try to find as much information as I could for these clients. So far, they've been happy with the results!

I think the most difficult part of things so far was right at the start when I had two clients at the same time. I didn't have any trouble keeping the research separate in my head, thankfully (taking classes in multiple foreign languages helped me learn how to compartmentalize my learning, it seems) but finding the time to do the research for multiple clients, with similar deadlines, was interesting. But it all come together, and I got both of them done on time.

One interesting challenge has been waiting for paper documents or lookup requests to come in. Normally, in my own research, I would keep plugging away, looking other places while waiting and hoping that the records I ordered would provide the answers I needed. When doing research for hire, however, I don't have the luxury of unlimited time - I have to be selective about where I research, so I can't just keep looking and looking and looking. It's kind of hard to put the research on hold until that document comes in, but as the direction of the research may depend on what that document says or doesn't say, it's in the client's best interest to wait until it arrives. Then you can see what information is still needed, and get back to it.

Writing up the research reports has been an experience too. In my perfect world, the client would want to know everything about everything I looked up, what it means, and treasure every detail. Realistically, they have a question that needs answering, and including anything that doesn't help answer that question is basically wasting my time and their money. For example, a recent client commissioned research to get some information on the ethnic background of an ancestor. In the course of the research, I found records of a member of that ancestor's family that had married young and had a son soon after the marriage. The son died of seizures at only 5 days old, and the mother passed away two days after that. It was a tragedy for that poor family that I personally felt was worth remembering, but because it didn't help answer the client's question, I had to leave it out. It makes me want to include a "misc. stories I came across that didn't fit in with your request" section to my reports.  I wonder if any clients would want something like that?

All in all, I am absolutely LOVING being a professional genealogist. One night, while telling my wife about some of the discoveries I had made for one project, she commented that I never talked about my office job (or any other previous job) the way I was talking about my research. While I have appreciated the jobs I've had in the past, the experiences there and the people I've worked with and for, I have to agree - this is where my heart is. This is what I love. And I am beyond grateful for the chance to do this as a professional and help others discover things about their family they never knew. I know there will be ups and downs, and not every project will have that nice little "here's the answer to your question" bow on it. But I wouldn't trade the chance to do this for anything.