Private Client Work-Good and Bad
For many years, the only kind of genealogical work I wanted to do was private client work. That’s where I’m hired by an individual to research a specific question they have about their family history, or they hire me to do a report of their family history.
This can include, but is not limited to, just one direct line of research (for instance, they only want to know about the direct father-son line of their father’s ancestors). This is sometimes because they are interested in the family name. Sometimes, they want me to do a complete family history which includes every possible ancestor from all their lines as far as I can go!
Now obviously, the latter would take months and months and cost a LOT of money. Most of this cost would be in my time in researching and in documenting all the information and sources in a way that gives them a good report, that’s interesting, and makes sense.
Sometimes the results of this work is excellent and other times it’s unrewarding. You can spend weeks searching for information that just isn’t there.
You can find that some clients give you a family tree full of incorrect or incomplete details that throw you off the path. It’s amazing how many people “remember” details AFTER you have done research and not found it and they suddenly remember that the person’s real name is different, or “oops, I forgot to mention that they were not family, only family friends who we considered family” etc., etc.
You may find that a lot of clients are SO excited to get their family history done UNTIL they find out the cost. Suddenly, it’s not that important or exciting.
It amazes me how some consider what we do as genealogists as “just a hobby” and that our time is not worth anything. It’s a difficult discussion to have with someone trying to explain that we can spend weeks researching and not finding the answer, which is disappointing, but we should still get paid for the effort.
We subscribe to many databases, pay for memberships to various genealogical societies and libraries, archives and repositories in order to get the information we are looking for. We also do a lot of leg work in the form of driving. Most of these places are not near where we live. We can also be asked to go to cemeteries or libraries in other towns. This all costs money. We are accredited or have diplomas in this science…and it is a science! We have to follow a standard and have to provide proof for every single piece of evidence we find and corroborate that with the question we are being asked.
The response you get from some clients is worth every cent invested in doing what we do. Recently I just finished a family history for a client in the UK. I live in Canada. She found me via my website and asked me to find her “missing grandmother”. She had tried for years to do this online herself. Within an hour, I found this lady and within a few days I had all her answers. Her response was amazing!
“I’m all goosebumps and a bit tearful. It’s 8.00 in the morning here, and I’m just having my breakfast, but I wanted to reply and say thanks straight away.
It is truly fabulous for me to have this info at last (I’m 61).…
I can see how it must be so gratifying to do this work – and I’m glad you’re out there doing it for me.
I look forward to the report. I expect I’ll want to take it further at some point – there’s bound to be more questions. But what an amazing start. Thank you!”
Some responses to my work have not been so encouraging. People are funny. They have a pre-perceived idea of what to expect sometimes. My job is to inform the client from the beginning what to expect and what the costs will be, but sometimes this isn’t enough.
One example I had was from a client in the U.S. who’s family story for generations was that they were related to Alexander Hamilton, one of the most influential promoters of the U.S. Constitution. The client had little family history beyond the fact that they came from Kentucky in the mid-1800s and after doing a thorough research and looking at census records, and other original sources that tied into her family (along with a well known family website of Hamilton), I concluded that they were NOT, in fact, related.
This did NOT go over well at all. She believed I was mistaken.
How could this story be in her family for all these years if it were not true? How could there be no connection?
I explained how I came to my conclusion, and showed her the proof with all the documentation. She still was not happy and thought she shouldn’t have to pay for my work. I did get half of the payment up front, but not full payment. This was a very hard lesson to learn on MY part.
Luckily for me, this client was a friend of a friend and the payment was eventually received.
Sometimes we discover family secrets. These secrets can come as a complete surprise to people and are either received as interesting or horrible, unwelcome pieces of knowledge.
It’s a fine line in being tactful about your findings in this respect. A client may be wholly unaware that their grandmother was previously married or had a child out of wedlock etc.
Some fellow genealogists I know refuse to do private client research for just this reason. People are all different and have different personalities, expectations, demands and ideas of what we should provide.
Some only do research, or blog, or write or teach. Others lecture. I continue to do private research work because the GOOD outweighs the BAD for me.
I have learned how to know from the outset what a client is truly expecting and get full payment up front. If this is not how they wish to proceed, they have the option of doing the work in stages. They pay up front for a portion of the work. If they like it, and want to know more, then they pay for another block of time.
It’s interesting to see how you approach this as work. At one point, long ago, I considered it then decided I just liked doing the search for myself or close friends. I can imagine the challenges and conflicts.
Interesting to hear your experience! On the personal side, the story from my maternal grandmother was that she was a descendant of President James K. Polk. But…Polk had no children, and the family name was Pope. The Pope line turned out to be very interesting, but not presidential. Those family stories…
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Some of those stories are actually true and THAT part is a lot of fun!