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In my retirement I am enjoying the challenges of finding people’s ancestors and creating family trees.  I started out on my own family project looking for my biological father and I was able to find out who he was thanks to DNA testing.

There are two ways of doing your family history.  One is to do it yourself and the other is to get someone to do it for you.  If you are lucky, you might find someone to do it for you gratis otherwise professional family historians and/or genealogists will do it for you at an hourly rate of between $40 to $75 per hour.  A few will charge less and a few will charge more.

The family history projects that I undertake consist of researching a person’s family history and producing a detailed family tree, a pedigree chart and a software created book taken from the family tree using Family Book Creator.  Where possible, I also include stories and other anecdotes. I also offer and prefer that the person takes a DNA test which not only assists in producing a more detailed family history but often unearths close relations, such as 1st, 2nd and 3rd cousins that were previously unknown to the person.

I have worked on more than 20 trees to date and I can say quite categorically that one can’t do very much family history research in 20 hours.  It is very easy to find other people’s discoveries and accept them as being relevant to one’s own history but not everyone is careful about how they authenticate what they have found.  I try as much as possible to prove every connection I find but it isn’t quite so easy at times.  For example, I might find a birth certificate for someone that indicates who their parents were, where they were born and the date of birth.  But is it true?  In my own case, my birth certificate states that I was born on 3rd March 1941 to Leonard Herbert Cummings and Delva Ida Frederika Mutlow.  I do know for certain that Leonard was not my father and there is “some” evidence that suggests my birth date is incorrect but not proven to be so.

Going back further in time, many people could not read or write so what was said wasn’t always what was written down.  My favourite example of this possibility was finding a surname of “Tarrans”.  Eventually I discovered that it was a young Irish lad who was telling the American Census taker that his name was “Terrence”!

What I do now is when I believe that I can’t prove whose someone’s parents are, then I add a ⚫ after that person’s surname to indicate I have reached the authenticated – at this time – “end of line”.  If I happen to have “potential” but “unproven” parents and other ancestors, then I will include them in the tree for future reference but – anyone after the ⚫ is unproven.  I do this so that when I produce the pedigree chart, each family line is displayed in a different colour background but all unproven people are displayed with a grey background.

I have done several trees gratis but no longer do so because of the costs I incur in doing this work.  I estimate that I am currently spending about $3,000 per annum on various but essential subscriptions to companies like Ancestry, Family Tree DNA, FindMyPast, Scotland’s People, MyHeritage – the list goes on.  Just trying to get a birth or baptismal or marriage record can incur a cost of about $35 each.

I do not charge commercial rates because I know that nobody would hire me as I am not accredited.  I do this work because I enjoy it and also because it occupies my time which is impacted by the fact that I have a “perambulation” disability which means I spend more time at home that I would like to.  And I do really enjoy finding skeletons in other people’s closets! And I do so love it when I do find a particularly juicy “skeleton” and when I ask the person I am working for if I should include it in their family tree, their response is – “yes, please do, and I hope you find a few more”.

I charge about $5 an hour which sounds ridiculous but my experience tells me that it takes about 12 moths to properly research and build a family history complete with tree, chart and book.  I try and work no more than 3 or 4 projects at any one time allocating a minimum of 10 hours each week to each project although it usually exceeds that number.  Ten hours a week over 48 weeks is 480 hours (minimum) by $5 per hour which is $2,400 per annum or $200 per month.

If I were to consider charging a more commercial rate, such as $40 per hour, then each project would be about $20,000 and few people would pay such a fee even if they could afford it.

Occasionally a project will complete earlier than 12 months and some might exceed 12 months.  My charges do not include chart printing.  Costs vary depending on the amount of data involved.  I recently produced a 5 metre long chart which cost me $100 for chart preparation and $175 for printing on polyester.  Additional charts only cost $175.  Charts on ordinary paper are cheaper.

I prefer to use Ancestry for DNA testing and I arrange and manage the tests.  Cost per person is between $125 to $175 depending on the time of the year – they run frequent specials such as Mother’s Day, etc.

These tests are very simple – one just spits into a tube, seals it and mails it off.  Takes about 6 weeks to get the results back.

The booklet I produce is in either PDF or WORD format and I can email this to you for you to print as you wish, or I can print in and put it into a ring binder for $50 per copy.

John Cummings
Anglesea, Australia

January 2019