Maybe you have thought about hiring a professional genealogist to help tackle a nagging research question or build out your family tree, but the cost has kept you from moving forward. You’re not alone. Just like hiring an expert in any field, accessing the experience and knowledge of a trained genealogist can be expensive.
If you know you can’t swing the cost yourself, consider enlisting other family members in the project and sharing costs with them. It seems anything can be crowdfunded these days (just check your favorite social media platform!), and genealogy is no different. The advantage with genealogy, however, is that rather than asking for a straight-up donation, the other financial contributors get to share in the family discoveries that come from the research, too.
Here are a few ideas about how to proceed:
- Identify possible interested parties. If you are looking for help building out your own family tree, your siblings are obviously a good place to start when looking for people to share the cost. But don’t rule out asking cousins, aunts, uncles, in-laws, or even grandchildren who may also be curious about earlier generations of the family. If the expected results may not affect them as directly, they could contribute a smaller amount of money. Nothing says costs have to be divided evenly, as long as contributors can agree on a fair breakdown.
- Determine the scope of the project. Professional genealogists will always ask you to identify specific goals before beginning a research project. You may have a brick wall that has been difficult to break through for many years, or you may want the researchers to build out a particular line as far as they can. Be aware that the scope of your project may change based on who contributes to its funding. If you bring cousins into the mix, for instance, researchers may venture outside your direct family line to see what they can turn up about extended relatives. This could involve some negotiating, too. Be careful not to let the goal(s) grow too large to address in a single research session, which at AncestryProGenealogists is about 20 hours of a professional’s time. Representatives can guide you through the goal-setting process if you’re not sure what to expect.
- Don’t be timid about asking. Write a letter or email to everyone in the family to detail the idea of a “crowdfunded” research project, family history book, or oral history interview. Explain the time and hassle that could be saved by having professionals do the work, and describe the anticipated return—a more detailed family tree or the preservation of a grandparent’s life story in his or her own words. Let them know that a joint project can produce priceless gifts for everyone in the family. (One generous AncestryProGenealogists client made it possible for his in-laws to give a transcription and audio recording of a family interview to more than 100 family members this Christmas by personally funding one oral history interview. His extended family members paid for any individual transcripts and audio files they wanted to give to their own children and grandchildren, but he funded the work required to create those products.)
- Accept non-financial contributions. Some family members may not be as interested in genealogy or may not have the financial means or inclination to donate to the project. However, they may have a stash of family photos they could scan and send for inclusion on a family tree or in a family history book. Perhaps they want to write down their own memories of a particular event, or chime in about topics to include in an oral history interview with an elderly relative. They could even be in charge of collecting accurate information on all living descendants who likely will not be researched or interviewed but who should be included in the project. These are also valuable ingredients of a family history compilation, and they can allow family members to feel that they have contributed to the effort even if they do not give money.
- Let children help, too. While young children will likely need to leave the financial aspects of genealogy work to their parents and grandparents, they can help in other ways. Have them help organize and label photos, or take them along on a trip to a local cemetery where families are buried to take photographs of gravestones. Have them help design a family newsletter as the research progresses, keeping everyone updated on the research team’s latest findings.
- Don’t forget about DNA testing. Many family members have covered the costs of a DNA test kit for each family member, and considering the holiday deals on AncestryDNA kits available at this time of the year, they are at a perfect price point for many gift-givers. While family members often believe they will have similar DNA results, even siblings will be intrigued about percentage differences in their ethnicity results, so it makes sense for all in the family to take the test. Let DNA technology fill in the missing pieces of the story as a starting point and help spark interest in genealogy.
- Discuss what you’ll get for your money. Many families who share the costs of an oral history interview of a particular family member primarily want to capture that relative’s memories, stories, jokes, and wisdom, not to mention his or her voice. However, there are many ways to share that with all the parties who contributed (and even those who didn’t, if you’re feeling generous). They can receive a flash drive with the audio recording of the interview, a simple indexed transcript, or a beautifully designed softcover booklet containing the transcript and any family photos you’d like included. Inquire about these at the outset of the project so all interested parties know what is available, and what printing costs might apply. See AncestryProGenealogists’ products page for photos and detailed descriptions.
Families who share the costs of these genealogical journeys can achieve a long-held dream of knowing who they are and where they came from, but the added benefit of sharing the costs and returns of a project is that living family members grow closer in the process—without anyone having to foot the bill alone.