Discovering La Famiglia: Hiring a Professional Researcher

A researcher was able to photograph my Great Aunt Donata's grave for me, which provided her date of death and her photograph.  A researcher was able to photograph my Great Aunt Donata's grave for me, which provided her date of death and her photograph.

L'interesse per la scoperta delle proprie radici italiane vive ormai da anni un forte incremento di popolarità negli Stati Uniti. Moltissimi sono, infatti, i ricercatori "amatoriali", che si imbarcano con entusiasmo nel tentativo di risalire ad atti di stato civile e religioso, come certificati di nascita, morte, matrimonio o battesimo presso Comuni o parrocchie della penisola. Questi tentativi  si rivelano spesso complessi o infruttuosi a causa di inesperienza, barriere linguistiche, ostacoli burocratici o informazioni incomplete, lacunose o incorrette. Assumere un ricercatore professionista per condurre ricerche di tipo genealogico in Italia può essere di aiuto per risalire e ottenere il rilascio di documenti altrimenti a volte difficili da reperire. 

If you have been following this column for a while, you have learned about the main types of civil and ecclesiastical records that can be researched and hopefully, by following the advice here, you have made a lot of progress in completing your family tree. Perhaps, after you have exhausted all research options available to you, you have hit a brick wall. If this is your situation, consider hiring a professional genealogical researcher in Italy.  This person could assist your ongoing research from the U.S. or help you side-by-side during a trip to your ancestral village. This month’s column will focus on how to ensure your endeavor on hiring a professional researcher is successful.

Advantages of Hiring a Researcher

Some record repositories do not open their records to the general public but only to known research professionals. For example, some parishes are very strict about opening their records. A local researcher will likely know the ins and outs of researching the records in locations where they have done extensive research in the past. This can be beneficial in taking your research in a direction you never thought about. 

Selecting the Right Researcher

There are several companies and individuals that offer research and guide services. Unlike here in the U.S., Italy does not have a professional genealogical organization. This does not mean that there are not good researchers, it simply means that Italy does not have a governing body with specific guidelines for the profession. I recommend that you ask around and get recommendations for researchers from friends or family or consider joining a Facebook group dedicated to Italian genealogy where group members share their experiences. You can also contact your local Italian Society for suggestions. Be cautious of just selecting a researcher from the internet. 


Agreeing on the Scope of Work

Before you pay a retainer or fees to a researcher, you want to make sure that you both agree on the scope of the work to be performed. I recommend that you sign a contract with your researcher that summarizes the following points:

• The fees for their services.

• If there is a retainer, what does it cover and how will it be adjusted when the research is complete.

• The number of hours that the fees cover and what   is an acceptable number  of hours to work beyond the initial contract; the cost of any extra 

• A list  of records or facts that you want the researcher to find (be as specific as possible as this will help the researcher develop a research plan and provide a more accurate fee estimate).

• How often the researcher will provide status reports, whether the research will include copies (with translations) of records or just summaries. 

Developing a Research Plan

Make sure you share with the researcher as much information as you can about what you have already discovered for your family tree. There is nothing more frustrating than paying someone for research you have already completed. You can share these details in a research plan that you and your researcher work on collaboratively. The basic parts of a research plan are:

• Research Question: List exactly what you want to know.

• Known Facts: List all the related research you have completed and verified; include copies of the records if helpful to the researcher.

• Hypothesis: Show what you think the answer might be and why.

• Sources to Search: You and the researcher brainstorm what sources there might be to answer your question.

If you have hired a researcher, I would be interested in hearing about your experience! I find that I learn a lot from others’ experiences. I can be reached via email at 

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