How I Became A Professional Genealogist

8 February 2021

When you’ve been researching your own family as a genealogist for nearly 30 years but further progress is hampered by Covid-19 restrictions and the demands of family life with three small children, you need to indulge your genealogy mojo one way or another.

Genealogy gets under your skin, well and truly. Research avenues and brick walls occupy your mind constantly and I’m sure we all know the compulsion to look up some query or other on one of the many online research sites while supposedly working on something else or for someone else, or have coerced friends and colleagues into letting us research their family (or proceeded anyway, without permission!)

So, when I saw that Family Wise was looking for subcontractors, to become a professional genealogist and to carry out research for probate genealogy – it was an opportunity I couldn’t pass up!

Probate genealogy wasn’t new to me. My mother received a letter from a probate genealogy company a few years ago on her 70th birthday, informing her that she might be entitled to benefit from an unclaimed estate. I’ve since learnt that the company concerned (not Family Wise) was at fault for not divulging the name of the deceased; however, the same day I had downloaded the Bona Vacantia list and started searching for our family surnames. It wasn’t long before I spotted my grandmother’s name which had been on the list for some little time. (No wonder, as she had been a Miss Jones who married a Mr Davies in the Welsh borders, a part of the country where both names are very common, and my mother was a Miss Davies who married a Mr Jones and then moved to a different part of the country). The “estate” turned out to be a small pot of money held by the care home in which my grandmother had died some 24 years earlier.

genealogist family pictures

I have to take my hat off to Family Wise; the recruitment process I went through was interesting, challenging, fun and, above all, a brilliant introduction to the type of work I’d be required to undertake as a subcontractor.

It was essentially gamification for genealogists – starting off with the deceased’s name and dates of birth and death, and using available online resources to trace their potential beneficiaries.

I think there were 11 or 12 questions and, as I worked through the challenge, I could see that my research was on point due to the nature of the later questions, e.g. How many children of X were still alive in 2004?

A few days later, I had a very friendly and helpful chat with Family Wise HQ, an interview where they learned more about me, my experience and my likely availability, and I asked a few questions in return.

I was then formally accepted as a subcontractor and given access to rotas, subcontractor briefing notes and example research notes, formatted for maximum ease for case managers.

Since then, I’ve worked on many different cases, some from the published Bona Vacantia list and some from private sources; some historic cases involving common names or missing links (they do like throwing me the problematic Joneses!) and some brand new cases where the race is on to find beneficiaries as quickly as possible.

Communication is key. Not only to make sure any key facts are shared without delay and to avoid duplication of effort but also to request any family documents that may prove relationships, such as birth/death/marriage certificates or wills.

The mental workout is fantastic if, like me, you love the detective work, the building out of a family tree and the identification of potential beneficiaries.

And it never fails to amaze me that, with the help of online indexes, census returns and the 1939 Register, electoral rolls, Companies House and a host of other tools including wills, military records and social media accounts, you can construct an accurate (and extensive) family group with up-to-date addresses and phone numbers through which to share potentially life-changing news.UK Census Online family history

Of course, it’s not always possible to find every detail or establish every relationship precisely, especially where common names are concerned or if the individuals’ lives fall outside key record sets. But that doesn’t always matter – what matters is thorough research, the use of probability and common sense and the identification of relations who could be sources of further information and clarification. In short, the combined efforts of an experienced team of researchers towards building out the set of potential beneficiaries.

So, if you’re considering joining the Family Wise family as a subcontractor, I can guarantee you interesting, challenging and varied cases to work on, new research avenues and indexes that might not have come your way before, and the kind of satisfaction that all genealogists know when they’ve drawn the right conclusions based on the available facts.

As I was told early on by one of the case managers, “You’ll learn more about genealogy than you ever knew before!”

– Mark Jones

If you enjoyed this blog, be sure to take a look at our other recent articles, such as “Cher Ami – The Messenger Pigeon That Helped Win The War

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