As a professional genealogist, I’ve found that everyone I talk to wants answers. It seems like whenever I tell someone that I’m a professional genealogist, they immediately have a family problem that they think I should be able to solve for them on the spot. Well, just like the cure for the common cold, the answers to age-old genealogy questions are not always simple and easy to come by.
As someone once told me, “I have answers … lots of them: Four, half-past two, Japan …. So, what’s the question?” As this clever person pointed out to me, it’s not enough to talk to someone who has answers, you need to talk to someone who can find the answer to your specific question. That’s why, if you find yourself in a legal quandary, you call an attorney … and not your physical therapist. When you have a genealogical question … you call a professional genealogist.
That’s also why, as a colleague recently mentioned to me, if you were to find a genealogist who promised they could solve your problem in a specific amount of time, you should run away. Genealogists are researchers – not omniscient know-it-alls. Research is the quest for answers, not the answer itself. Once you have the answer, research is over.
The measure of a professional genealogist is not that they can promise you the answer to your question, but that they know how to go about finding the answer if the evidence exists, and that they are honest about the feasibility of success. When working with a professional genealogist, it is important to remember that you are paying for the investment of their time and accumulated years of expertise in tracking down the answer to your question, and not for the resulting answer.
After all, if I could answer every question put to me instantly and correctly, then I would expect a lot more from this apparent clairvoyance than a simple hourly wage … perhaps sacrifices and burning incense in monuments all over the world, devoted to my worship would be in order!