My first article on how to choose a genealogist dealt with credentials. Once you have narrowed your choices it’s time to ask for a sample report so you can evaluate the professional’s quality of work.

Research done on behalf of a client is confidential, so the genealogist you are considering may not be able to provide you with a report from a paying customer. But most professionals have done work on their own families or on historical families of interest to them, and they should be able to provide you with a sample report based on such research.

The best way for you to evaluate that report is the same way professionals judge their own work and the work of their colleagues – by using the Genealogical Proof Standard.

To be an informed consumer of genealogical research, it would be worth a few hours of your time to familiarize yourself with the GPS. The standard is outlined on the website of the Board for Certification of Genealogists. You can find a thorough and understandable treatment of the GPS and its five elements in Mastering Genealogical Proof by Thomas W. Jones. 1

Armed with a basic understanding of the GPS, you can evaluate the sample report provided by your prospective genealogist:

  • Does it appear that the genealogist did a “reasonably exhaustive” search by checking multiple sources, or was he satisfied with the answer provided by the first source checked?
  • Is each statement of fact accompanied by a source citation that would allow you or another researcher to find the original information?
  • Does the report simply list the information gathered, or does it fit the pieces of the puzzle together in a way that makes sense?
  • Is there conflicting information, and if so does the genealogist resolve the conflicts by analyzing the quality of the sources, the weight of evidence, or other mitigating circumstances?
  • Does the report include a conclusion written in a clear manner that you can easily follow and understand?


Genealogical reports should include the results of all sources checked, including those that did not provide information useful to answering your research question. You pay the genealogist to check those sources, and it’s important for you to know they were searched and provided negative results so you don’t waste your time – or pay another researcher – to check them again in the future.

Once you have found a genealogist who possesses credentials that make you comfortable, fits your budget, and provides a sample report that shows quality work, contract for a small number of hours to research one narrowly defined question. Regardless of the professional’s level of skill and experience, a few hours may or may not prove adequate to answer that question. It’s impossible to know whether sources will contain the needed information until they are checked. But regardless of whether the question is answered the interaction will allow you to continue evaluating the researcher’s work and begin building a professional relationship. You can contract for more hours of research as your comfort level increases.

1 Thomas W. Jones, Mastering Genealogical Proof (Arlington, Virginia: National Genealogical Society, 2013), chapters 3-7.


Source by Thomas E. Smith