Let's assume that you clicked on this link, because you are particularly interested in genealogical research for all sort of purposes: you want to apply for a citizenship in a given country; you want to find missing family members; you want to prove your ancestry to reclaim lost properties or you are simply curious about the roots of your family.
You may have searched the web for do's and don'ts, but you fall outside of the group that still has ancestors that can be interviewed or be willing to be interviewed. Let's face it: not everyone likes to talk about their past and with generational trauma, people refuse to shed light on what they went through and so a new generation grows up without knowing too much about what happened to their ancestors, and how this affects them. They have no knowledge of where they came from exactly, or what their ancestors sacrificed to survive and live.
Let's assume also, that your ancestors came from Eastern or Balkan Europe, Russia, the former USSR countries or they moved somewhere, you don't know where to – and all trace was lost.
It would be difficult to follow the regular dos and don'ts, because there is no one you can talk to and there are no documents readily available for you to look into. You do not know the language and you do not know where to start.
And you have tried, I know, you have.
During the course of my career of being a genealogical researcher and having been a liaison officer between the local and foreign governments, I have listed the dos and the don'ts that have successfully helped me close hundreds of cases, many of them that looked hopeless at the beginning.
1. Get your facts right
As a genealogist I have wasted countless hours chasing a bit of information that wasn't right. The client wanted well – I understand that, so they provided me with a piece of information that in their eyes "wouldn't hurt". It would be, however, easier and less time consuming, if they admitted that they do not know the exact facts, but these are approximations and hearsays. It saves time, money and yields much better results in the end.
2. Do not assume that it won't work
This is probably one of the most common stumbling blocks. The task looks so unreachable that we choose to back down at the beginning in order not to waste time or money, or, even more importantly – emotional investment that we do not have much to spare anyway. Once the matter concerns our family members and includes potential financial gain it becomes an obsessive circle of “should we really be doing it” vs “how much we have already spent” and “how much there is to gain”.
A respectable genealogist will suggest a quick assessment of how much information you possess and weigh it against the resources that they have in order to give you a rough estimate in terms of the financial investment and the possible returns.
3. Choose the genealogist with a wide range of resources.
Point number 2, brings us directly to point number 3. You may want to use volunteer genealogists or do some search yourself, but there is no replacement for hiring an established genealogist, who has access to local, international, state and online documentation that you would not get an access to for security reasons. It is important that you check with the said genealogist first before you hire them with regards to the type of documentation that is indeed in their possession. It is also important to check the length of time that obtaining such documentation may take. This will allow you to plan your time accordingly and not get too stressed. Professional genealogists have an advantage over freelance volunteers, because they carry more weight against governmental organisations that they approach and it's much easier for them to access the documents that you may need. They also collaborate between themselves in order to explore each level of expertise and to look into all the possibilities, since different countries may have different requirements.
4. How to choose the right genealogist
It is quite easy to spot one actually. There are some so-called genealogists who happen to want to acquire all your documentation in order to "enlarge their database". You should by no means submit unless otherwise needed (such requests should only be issued by a government body and you will be able to see that). You will be asked to submit a power of attorney to ensure that the documentation can be accessed swiftly and that the genealogist can represent you in all necessary dealings to obtain the said document. You will be sent an interim report that will update you with regards to any new developments and you will be able to cup the expenses. There should be no situation in which you are left with a huge bill and with little to show for as a return for your investment.
5. Respect your time
Genealogy can be a lucrative business because it can take endless hours to find anything – if there is anything to find to begin with. You should not be asked to pay a lump sum of money in advance and then the genealogist may disappear on you. The search should not take months or years, unless a specific government body has a rigorous waiting period before you can get an answer. This brings us back to point number two – you can cup the amount of hours and ask for an interim report in order to see how things are progressing and whether or not the results are satisfactory.