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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.

Although I am in reasonably good health for someone who recently achieved octagenarian status, I have the misfortune of having Small Fibre Poly Neuropathy which impacts my ability to walk very far and for very long so family history research keeps me busy and stops me going mad!

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 A$40 to A$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 Tree Maker and Family Book Creator.  Once I have producd the book, I need to edit it which can be fairly time consuming.  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 is impossible 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 christian name of “Tarrans”.  Eventually I discovered that it was a young Irish lad who was telling the American Census taker that his name was “Terrence”!

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 well in excess of A$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 A$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 always – “yes, please do, and I hope you find a few more”.

The way I work is that I try and only undertake two projects at any one time. This allows me to spend a minimum of 20 hours per week on each project. Up till now, in order to recover my subscription costs, I have been charging a minimum of $200 per month which comes down to a ridiculously low hourly rate of $2.50. But at the end of the day, I am not making enough money to buy some decent wine!

Depending on what people want, I then estimate how long it is likely to be for me to complete the project. It may be a simple pedigree tree with no frills or it could be a highly detailed tree going back as far as I can and “sideways” – including all aunts, uncles, cousins et al plus producing a detailed chart and an ancestors or descendants book. The first one might only take a month or two and cost about $300-$400. The latter could take about twelve months and cost about $2,400. That is based on my minimum rate of $2.50 per hour. If I were accredited and charged – say $35 per hour – then the former would cost about $1,400 and the latter about $8,500.

I tend to ask people what they are prepared to spend and let them offer me an hourly rate. The highest hourly rate proffered to date has been $15 for a three month project.  As at today, my minimum rate has to be no less than $5 per hour, preferably more.

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 A$100 for chart preparation and A$175 for printing on polyester.  Additional charts only cost A$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 A$125 to A$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 A$50 per copy.

John Cummings
Anglesea, Australia

March 2021