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Hiring a Researcher

by Alan Weiser


I was prompted to write this article because I narrowly escaped the possibility of being scammed by an overseas genealogy researcher. To avoid unnecessary expense and disappointment in your search for family roots do not leave the hiring of a genealogy researcher to chance. This article takes you through a four-phase systematic approach (1) defining your requirements, (2) evaluating proposals. (3) contracting with the researcher, and (4) monitoring the researcher’s performance.

When To Seek Help

I have defined on a scale of 0 to 5 the experience of those who seek help in the conduct of genealogy research. At 0 are those who have absolutely no experience in the conduct of research for information on family roots. From 2 to 3 are those who may have done a bit of research on their own; they may have studied the various research tools described on the JewishGen (www.jewishgen.org) and other web sites or books. From 4 to 5 are those who have done a lot of genealogy research at home or abroad and may even have had others do some research for them for pay. The people in this category could easily do the research on their own, but for reasons such as lack of time, inability to travel to another city or overseas to visit archives and other document depositories, and/or inability to gain access to such archives and depositories, they are unable to do so.

Now if you are in the 0 category don’t even try to define the research requirements on your own. Seek help by studying search aids and databases described on genealogy web sites and in books. Seek advice from Coordinators of Special Interest Groups (SIGs) and Research Groups (RGs), especially those associated with the city or country of interest to you. Gesher Galicia SIG and RG Coordinators’ contact information can be found on the JewishGen web site as well as for other countries and regions.

If you are in the 2 to 3 category, you can try to rough out a set of requirements following the lessons provided in this article. Before seeking researcher proposals, you should seek advice from SIG or RG Coordinators to review and comment on what you have prepared.

If you are in category 4 to 5, you are probably experienced enough to develop a good set of requirements on your own. In this case you should crosscheck your efforts against the suggestions made in this article.


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Defining Research Requirements

Defining requirements involves describing what you want accomplished, the reports that you want, and the schedule for the job. The more precise you are in defining the requirements the more likely you are to achieve your goals at a reasonable price. Avoid detailing how the job should be done. Let the prospective researcher propose an approach subject to your acceptance.

A Typical Scenario: You want to learn all about your great-great-grandfather, Chaim Looney, who was born in Kolomea, Galicia Region. That is all you know.

Write down in as much detail as possible just what you want to learn. For example, you may want to search for Chaim’s vital records, his parents’ names, his siblings names, his children’s names, his occupation or profession, property owner data, schools attended. Write down in as much detail as possible what you want to see in the report(s), including format. In addition or in place of reports you can request that copies of records be purchased or copied and sent to you; providing the archives permits this.

Establish a tentative schedule in which the research project should be accomplished. A more definite schedule will be established during discussions with the selected researcher. In fact the schedule may have to be changed as the researcher probes in different directions, depending on what information is found. An important item is that reports and communications be required in your native language unless you feel proficient in the language of the country where the research will be performed.

Evaluating Proposals

You must specify what information you want in the researcher’s proposal. In general the request for a proposal (RFP) should require: (1) researcher’s name, (2) residential or business address, (3) mailing address if different from (2), (4) email address, (5) telephone number, (6) fax number. The RFP should require that the researcher describe in detail the approach that will be used to achieve the research requirements in the schedule specified. The researcher must explain why any proposed deviation from the specified requirements and schedule may be necessary. The RFP should require the researcher to propose a price for the project. The researcher may propose a price based on (a) total costs including expenses and fee regardless of how long it takes, (b) an hourly charge plus expenses, or (c) a combination of (a) and (b).

The RFP should require a personal resumé. The resumé generally should include a list and description of ongoing or previously completed research projects relevant to the proposed project. For each such project, a time period should be denoted. The individual or group for which the work was done along with contact information must be listed. In the absence of relevant previous experience, the researcher should provide references as to competence to do your project. Three character references with contact information should be requested that will attest to the researcher’s honesty and trustworthiness. Relevant education and special training information should be required in the proposal. You should strive to obtain several competitive proposals by placing messages on appropriate email discussion boards and soliciting SIG and RG coordinators to identify researchers.

Proposals can be evaluated objectively, subjectively, or a combination of these two modes. If your genealogy research experience is in category 3 or lower, you should ask for help from SIG and RG coordinators or others with extensive experience to assist you in evaluating proposals. If there is only one proposal a subjective approach is generally effective. Using your experience or help from others you would determine if the proposed approach meets your technical requirements at a price you can afford on a schedule that meets your needs by an individual you can depend on for expertise and trustworthiness.

An objective approach to evaluating proposals makes it easier to compare merits of competing proposals, but takes quite a bit of experience and time to set up a logical scoring procedure. Generally the evaluation should include (1) technical approach, (2) schedule, (3) price, and (4) experience/ character criteria. Be sure to check with the technical and character references. The procedure would require ranking these criteria and assigning relative points based on their importance. Each proposal is evaluated and assigned a score for each criterion say from zero (not worth anything) to five (superior). The scores are then combined with the weighted rankings of the criteria and summed up to give the proposal a final score. The proposal with the highest score would then be selected for negotiation with the researcher.

Contracting With The Researcher

In the case of only one proposal the researcher is either selected for contracting or dismissed. In the case of multiple proposals the researcher’s proposal with the highest score is selected and negotiations begin for contracting. Your requirements and the selected proposal are often not 100% compatible. Some deviations may exist within each criterion. You and the researcher must be willing to compromise as needed to overcome differences. Some requirements may have little or no room for compromise. For example, say you have only $200 for the project and the researcher will not do the job for less that $300, you either forgo the project, reduce the technical requirements or change the schedule to reduce the effort. After all the differences are ironed out, you should prepare a written contract detailing what is to be accomplished, the schedule, and the price. The responsibilities of the parties involved should be specified. You should sign the contract document, then submit it to the researcher for review, agreement, and signature. Each party should retain a copy of the signed contract.

Monitoring The Researcher’s Performance

Here is where T*R*U*S*T becomes a very important aspect of the entire project. If you are using a researcher with no personal local representative to oversee the researcher, you will have to depend on whatever the researcher reports. If the researcher claims a visit to the archives produced no relevant information as requested, you still have to pay the researcher, because fees are usually based on effort and not results. If in actuality the researcher never went anywhere close to the archives, it is unlikely you will ever know this. On the other hand the researcher must trust you. A way to set up the payment arrangements is to pay something small to get started, and make progress payments as the project moves along and you are supplied with useful research results. The researcher must trust you to make those progress payments. On very short assignments progress payments generally will not be a realistic method.


Seek help as needed for doing a good job specifying requirements, evaluating proposals and ensuring a high degree of trust, negotiating and contracting, and reviewing researcher performance and you will be richly rewarded by obtaining the family root information you seek.


Gesher Galicia is a non-profit organization carrying out Jewish genealogical and historical research on Galicia, formerly a province of Austria-Hungary and today divided between southeastern Poland and western Ukraine. The research work includes the indexing of archival vital records and census books, Holocaust-period records, Josephine and Franciscan cadastral surveys, lists of Jewish taxpayers, and records of Galician medical students and doctors - all added to our searchable online database. In addition, we reproduce regional and cadastral maps for our online Map Room. We conduct educational research and publish a quarterly research journal, the Galitzianer. Gesher Galicia is also organized for the purpose of maintaining networking and online discussion groups and to promote and support Jewish heritage preservation work in the areas of the former Galicia.

You can search our free All Galicia Database, Map Room, and archival inventories, and read about member benefits starting at $50 per year. You can also join online.

Our general contact address: info@geshergalicia.org