Hiring a German Researcher

You may consider hiring a professional researcher when you reach a brick wall. I have used this option when I could not find a birth record for my grandmother and a marriage record for my great-grandparents. I also asked a researcher to track down living descendants of my grandparents’ siblings to find pictures and stories of the family left in the old country.  

Since this is an expensive option, you need to be careful to hire a researcher with suitable qualifications. You also need to be specific in the information you request. However, I found that paying the right researcher was a bargain compared to the travel costs to perform the research myself in Germany. Also, I was excited when adding the new information to my family history

There are two associations of professional genealogists with German members that should be capable of doing the needed German research – one based in America and another in Germany. The American-based group is the Association of Professional Genealogists (APG), with a few German members.

Website for APG – https://www.apgen.org

The German-based group of German-speaking professional researchers is called the Verband deutschsprachiger Berufsgenealogen. The English translation of the group’s name is Association of German-speaking Professional Genealogists. The German group’s website can be read in German, English, or French.

Website – http://www.berufsgenealogie.net

Things to do when hiring a researcher:

  • Request references from prior clients and check them before hiring a professional genealogist in Germany.
  • Also, ask for a research plan.
  • Discuss fees and payment options
  • Remember, the researcher expects to be paid for their efforts, not their results. Therefore, there is no guarantee the researcher will find the information you requested.
  • Your request must have enough information to give the researcher a chance at success. Better researchers have learned to ask questions to focus their research on providing the best results to their clients. 
  • Also, use researchers who are knowledgeable in the area of Germany, where the records originated. The documents you need may be in church and local government archives that may not generally be open to the public. Hiring someone familiar with the local archives is critical because outsiders may not be able to obtain the same access a locally known researcher can get.

Payment

Your discussion of payment should be part of the upfront negotiation with your researcher. The discussion should include agreeing on the amount and how to transfer the money overseas. The only payment method available when I started in the early 2000s was with a foreign bank transfer that cost between $50 to $100 for each transaction. Today, most foreign researchers are accepting payments using the following methods:

  • PayPal – you can use a credit card or bank transfer to PayPal, and they will charge the payee a transaction
  • XOOM – you can pay Xoom with your credit card, and they deposit the money into the researcher’s bank account. You pay $9.99 for each transaction, so try to combine as many payments as possible into one transaction.
  • TransferWise uses a system similar to Xoom but with a lower transaction fee (starting at $3.00). However, this service warns that they use an average currency rate, so you may pay more dollars to get the correct euros to your researcher. But, TransferWise predicts that you should save about 5% on the overall transaction.
  • Western Union – requires cash to be paid to their agent and a small transaction fee (for example, $8.00 for $150 to Germany)
  • Credit cards – some researchers have begun accepting credit cards as payment, and they absorb the higher transaction fee for foreign money transfers.

My decisions on hiring a researcher were based on:

  • How vital was the document or information?
  • My evaluation of the researcher to do the job
  • The convenience of the payment option
  • Finally, the cost versus the importance of the information

Example #1:

Early in my research, I contacted the church where my grandmother was baptized, requesting a copy of her baptismal record. I received a response from a local church member requesting $150 to find the document, translate it, and send me a copy. I declined the offer and decided to try later because I already had the birth date and names of her parents. Furthermore, I only wanted a copy of her baptism to have a physical record.

Since my original request, the records have been made available online to researchers in Poland. Ten years later, I received a copy of the document from another researcher and copies of the birth records of her siblings for $100.

Example #2:

I contacted a researcher in Romania in 2011 to find the marriage record for my father’s grandparents. He quoted a cost of $30 for the document and $120 for travel expenses, including an overnight stay. The marriage document and translation I received were a bargain for the $150. The information unlocked the mystery of my father’s family history and led to many more documents and family stories.

Eight years later, I found the marriage document in a new database on Ancestry.com, but I had already completed most of my father’s family history by that time. I shared my 2011 results with most of my relatives in 2012, and they were excited to hear the new details of their Szabados ancestors. I am glad I could unlock the mystery because some family members died before I found the records on Ancestry.com. Additionally, a few others have started to write a family history for their family branch. Unlocking that mystery in 2011 probably created excitement for them to begin researching their family history sooner.

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