top of page

The 'Solve' is Only Part of the Job

The most gratifying result of helping someone use their DNA testing and genealogical research is "The Solve"—finding the answer they are seeking, in terms of identifying biological parents, grandparents, great-grandparents and beyond.

For me, it's that "a ha!" moment. For the client, it is finding the answer to a question that has burning in their brain for years, decades, or even generations. These answers, sometimes, are the one thing a client needs to finally understand who they are and their own heritage.

The detective work that leads to these answers is, for me, absolutely the most fun part of the job. Telling the client what I've found also is contributes to the high. The most difficult part, though, is writing up a report to explain and document how the research was conducted and how my conclusion can be considered reliable. Client reports are very much like those research reports we had to do in high school and college. And for me, until about four years ago, that was the last time I had to painstakingly compile source citations to support my findings.

Writing for newspapers and magazines, while not always a walk in the park, does require that I have credible sources and that I quote them accurately. But, for the sake of readability, never required footnotes and citations.

However, I've come to appreciate the practice of writing these reports in such an academic style. I find the exercise helps improve my own confidence in the research I've done and the conclusions I've reached. I also know that without them, clients would have a much more difficult time trying to understand all that went into the work. The client needs that information, too, and has paid good money for it.

This fact became even more tangible for me in the past few weeks, because I was hired by a woman who had hired another researcher to use her family's DNA testing to determine the identity of her maternal grandmother's biological parents. She was born in 1906, and days afterward was placed in a children's home. She lived there until she was four years old; she was not to be adopted out. In the end, she was taken in by one of the home's nurses, who raised her as her own daughter but never legally adopted her.

The original researcher , in my opinion, failed to do what she was paid to do. Primarily, by not providing the client with a report detailing her findings, the client was left to try to make sense of the researcher's conclusions on her own. (I must admit, it's a "newbie" mistake that I've made in the past, myself.) But it's a difficult, if not impossible, expectation for anyone who hasn't studied genetic genealogy research methods.

Second, the researcher used the client's own tree on Ancestry in her work—a practice I wouldn't recommend for two reasons: First, if the client's tree isn't private and unsearchable, anyone could stumble into it and find information that may or may not be accurate and, in turn, add any of that information to their own trees.

Consider the possibility that the researcher may have made a serious error. Now, not only is the client's tree wrong, but anyone trusting that information and putting it into their own tree (clearly, something that shouldn't be done but something we all know happens way too often). Unless the researcher doesn't take the time to delete the bad information, that will be something the client will have to do, if she can. Because no matter how meticulously she researched her own family in that tree, her tree is now wrong.

On the surface, this original researcher did give the client what she wanted. However, the client did not get her money's worth if she doesn't have anything to explain the research and is stuck with having to delete someone else's mistakes from her own tree. Additionally, she has had to spend even more money to hire me to give her the information the first researcher should have provided. And it was the client's choice: I suggested she go to that person and ask for that information, but she said she would prefer to keep me on the case.

Of course, I'm grateful that she chose me and that I have a new client. But, it's a shame that this happened at all.

Professionally, I believe the best practice is to create what we call "speculative" trees for each client. Through Ancestry's settings, we can make sure these trees are totally private and unsearchable, which keeps our work confidential and eliminates the possibility that someone may find the information, right or wrong, and add it to their own tree. Settings also allow me to add the client as an editor of the tree, so they can look at it any time they want and, if they choose, add to my work.

So consider the possibility that, during my review, I find that the client's previous researcher had made a huge mistake at some point that renders all the additions the researcher made to the tree useless. Should this be the case, then the client will have to comb through her own tree to remove all the bad information that she never added in the first place.

If you are considering hiring a professional genealogist, make sure that they know what you expect from them, in terms of a full explanation of how they came to whatever conclusions they make. And make sure you also understand the limitations of this research. We can't always find the answers we seek for many reasons: Sometimes the records either never existed or cannot be found; sometimes the information on extant records is wrong or illegible; paper trails can simply dry up.

The more you, as a client, understand about the work, the more interesting it will be and the more satisfying it will be.

15 views0 comments

Recent Posts

See All


Rated 0 out of 5 stars.
No ratings yet

Add a rating
bottom of page