Hiring a Professional Genealogist was a Smart Move for This Pro Genealogist

Last year I did something that I did not think I would ever do regarding my genealogy research. I hired another professional genealogist to research one of my family lines.

I say “another” because I too am a professional genealogist. I just do not take research clients. My academic librarian day job and my second job (teaching an online graduate-level genealogy university course) leave me no time to take research clients. However, I am a professional genealogy educator.

I am also a very good researcher; a very stubborn and determined one. So much so that I want to solve every single mystery and research problem in my own family history myself. Because, I know I can. Eventually. With enough time. That’s all. Time.

The Research Problem

Michael John Flanagan, US Navy

Michael John Flanagan (1927-1997) was the grandfather I adored. He is the only grandfather I knew for most of my life, my second dad. He is the reason I ventured into genealogy.

Grandpa knew nothing about his past, about his parents, about his family. Other than that they were Irish. Because Grandpa was a double orphan by age three. But he knew his name, and that he was Irish (how could a Michael John Flanagan be anything other than Irish?). So he was fiercely proudly Irish. Obsessively Irish.

Michael John Flanagan and Coworker dressed as leprechauns
My grandfather, Michael John Flanagan (1927-1997) was obsessively proud of being Irish, and loved to make people laugh. He is the leprechaun on the left. Later in life, after he had grandchildren, Grandpa owned a bar. Every St. Paddy’s Day, he proudly donned his leprechaun outfit, and it was of course, cause for celebration at his bar. He also loved to venture out in public dressed like this, despite my grandmother’s horror and objections. Photo from my personal collection.

He developed alzheimers late in life. I was caught up in being in my 20s, a self-absorbed age. I had quit asking him questions about his past. Even though I was a student, studying and majoring in history. But, important history. Not the kind of history that pertained to a poor orphan from Buffalo, New York, who never had the luxury of finishing high school, who served in World War II, who juggled multiple blue collar jobs to support a wife and children, who desperately wanted to know about his family’s history. So, I didn’t dig. I wasn’t even sure how to dig into the history of just an average person.

And then it was too late. He died in 1997. I hadn’t listened, I hadn’t used my historian skills to learn his history. After Grandpa’s death, I became obsessed. What I didn’t discover in his lifetime, I was compelled to discover after his death.

Early Findings

Jump ahead 21 years.

I’d learned the names of Grandpa’s parents (his father was Patrick Flanagan) and grandparents (Patrick Flanagan, Sr., and Bridget Lynch). I’d learned that Grandpa was the only child born in New York. His siblings had all been born in Ohio, where his parents were married. His Ireland-born Flanagan grandparents spent the majority of their married life living in Ohio, with a brief period across the Ohio River in West Virginia. Five of his grandparents’ six children had been born in the U.S., but the oldest child (yet another Michael Flanagan, Grandpa’s oldest uncle) was born in Ireland before arriving in the U.S. as a toddler.

But Where in Ireland?

The 1930 U.S. population census entry for that uncle provided the first clue about where in Ireland Grandpa’s grandparents and uncle came from, but not much of a clue. That census record identified the Irish Free State, which became the Republic of Ireland.1 That’s it. Just the part of the island that became the Republic of Ireland. Nothing more specific.

Grandpa's uncle Michael Flanagan is shown on the 1930 U.S. Census, indicating that he and his parents were from the Irish Free State.
Grandpa’s uncle Michael Flanagan is shown on the 1930 U.S. Census, indicating that he and his parents were from the Irish Free State, which became the Republic of Ireland.2

Cousins who I connected with through Ancestry trees, DNA testing, and Facebook did not know a more specific location in Ireland. Some told me they’d heard County Cork, some County Claire, and some County Mayo.

I thought I had found good strong candidates for Grandpa’s Ireland born grandparents and then-infant uncle on passenger arrival records. But Michael Flanagan, Patrick Flanagan, and Bridget (Lynch) Flanagan are such common names, especially arriving in New York. I had very little corroborating information.

I could never connect those passenger arrival records that I found to my family in Ohio. I could never find naturalization papers for the family group that connected me to those passenger lists, or provided an Irish hometown clue. My 2nd great grandparents and their infant son immigrated before the naturalization process was federalized. I had found what I thought were first papers in Ohio for my 2nd great-grandfather Patrick Flanagan, Sr., but could find no evidence that he ever actually naturalized, or that his wife or son had naturalized on their own later in life.

Despite researching this family off and on for twenty-plus years, I had never been able to establish much of a FAN Club (Friends, Associates, and Neighbors) network for them that could provide clues about where in Ireland my 2nd great-grandparents came from.

I knew that I would need to dig further into U.S. records, particularly Ohio records, and look at the collected evidence more in depth. I knew that I would have to start looking across the pond in Irish records, for a possible family group that I could tie to my U.S. ancestors.

The Decision To Hire a Professional

As I mentioned before, I’m a very good researcher. I could do this. When I had the time. I’d been saying that to myself for years, over a decade. I had never carved out that time. What little time I get to do my own research is spent almost exclusively on my Mexican lines. I am entrenched in researching Mexico, California, and Texas. Would I ever make that time to dig into my Ohio-Irish line more? Would I make that time soon enough, in time to be able to share that knowledge with my mom and her siblings?

A couple years ago, my husband and I decided we were going to visit Ireland in 2019. I had been holding off until I learned where my family was from. But, I realized a couple years ago that if I keep waiting like that, I might miss my chances to visit these places. So, a vacation to Ireland started being planned for 2019. Ireland has been a dream of my mom’s her entire life. I asked Mom to go with us. Even if we never learned where her great-grandparents were from in Ireland, we could still visit their ancestral country.

But I really wanted to find that ancestral location before our trip.

My mom is very healthy and active. However, her parents died in their 60s, and her father suffered from Alzheimers. Mom’s youngest sibling had died too young in 2015. I myself had almost died in 2014. It became imperative to me that I move on this now.

So I caved and hired another professional genealogist, a professional researcher.

My Criteria for Selecting a Professional Researcher

I was adamant that the person had to be a CG, a Certified Genealogist, recognized as such by the Board for Certification of Genealogists (BCG). Professional and scholarly standards are important to me. I teach and practice the Genealogical Proof Standard, and I would like to focus on obtaining my own CG credential at some point. So that was a must.

I also wanted someone who knows Ohio research very well and also had some experience with Irish research.

My friend and colleague Cari Taplin met this criteria, and I already trusted her expertise and professional reputation.

Cari did not immediately agree to take my case. What she agreed to was a phone conversation to talk over my research needs and what I hoped to accomplish. An ethical professional researcher should never immediately agree to take a case. They should first assess the scope of the client’s research need to determine what is achievable and if the case is within that researcher’s area of expertise.

The Hiring Process

Cari took my case. We agreed upon a a prioritized list of goals, signed a contract, and I paid the agreed upon retainer. That retainer was for a 15-hour block of time. I paid for a longer block of time than the minimum time that Cari requires. If Cari was on a roll, and then hit the end of that minimum block of time, I did not want to have to stop her momentum for us to negotiate another block of time and payment.

The prioritized list of goals were:

  1. Identify when and where Patrick Flanagan, his wife Bridget, and their son Michael arrived in the U.S.
  2. Identify the ship(s) they arrived on, and port(s) of embarkation
  3. Identify their hometown in Ireland
  4. Identify if they ever naturalized in the U.S.
  5. Identify when and where their son, Patrick and Bridget’s son, Patrick
    (client’s great-grandfather), was born. 3

She asked me to email her family group sheets, copies of any documents that I had, and notes about my own research findings. I set up a project folder in Dropbox for us to share, and I saved all of the requested information there, along with a copy of our signed contract.

The Client Work Timeline

I finally got around to sending Cari the information she requested on 11 May 2018. I had been extremely busy, and drug my feet for a couple months after singing the contract and paying the retainer. Cari even sent me a couple of friendly emails reminding me that she was happy to start putting my money to work any time I was ready.

In late May/early June 2018, I attended and presented at the annual Southern California Genealogy Jamboree conference. I had arrived the night before (May 30th), to attend the first day of the conference, DNA Day. That evening after dinner, I sat with friends at our usual evening spot – at the outdoor bar, seated around one of the outdoor fire pits – talking, laughing, and enjoying drinks. It had been a very busy afternoon driving up there, and then reconnecting with wonderful friends. I hadn’t checked my personal email all afternoon or evening. Sitting around that fireplace, sipping a good bourbon, I looked at my email account on my phone. Cari had sent me an email at 2:47 p.m. telling me that she had found them.

Cari had found my family. She had found my great-grandparents and their infant son, in Ireland. She was confident of her findings.

What better way to learn this important news than when sitting with dear friends at a genealogy conference. After frantically reading her email and the accompanying research report, I interrupted the conversation around the fire pit…crying. I shared the news with them. I then called Mom, and told her the news, and we both cried over the phone. Cari Taplin made my mom cry. 🙂 I still tease her about that. My grandfather had spent his entire life wanting to know. We finally knew, even though well after he had passed.

From where in Ireland does my Flanagan line originate? The villages of Kiltimagh and Ballyglass in County Mayo on the western side of Ireland.

Google Map of Ireland, showing the villages of Kiltimagh and Ballyglass.

The Findings

Cari’s research report confirmed that the Patrick Flanagan, Bridget (Lynch) Flanagan, and toddler Michael Flanagan who I thought I had identified in ship’s passenger arrival records in New York were indeed my family. Her research report explained all of the record sources she had reviewed, all of the evidence she analyzed, and her conclusions.

She was then able to trace them across the pond to Ireland, to those two villages in County Mayo, and back even another generation. She explained all of this in great deal: what records she reviewed, what evidence those records yielded, and her thought process (proof summaries) on how she reached a confident conclusion that this was my same family group.

Page one of the 16 page research report written by Car Taplin for my research case. It outlines the prioritized research objectives (scope) and the pre-paid block of research time we agreed upon in our contract.
Page 1 of the 16 page research report written by Cari Taplin for my research case. It outlines the prioritized research objectives (scope) and the pre-paid block of research time we agreed upon in our contract.
Image included with the permission of Cari Taplin, CG.4

I had never learned this information in time to share with my grandfather, but at least I could share it with Mom and her three living siblings. Beautiful County Mayo had already been a planned stop on our 2019 vacation, but now we could add specific villages to the itinerary.

The Added Benefits

Learning this information as a confident conclusion from an excellent CG-credentialed researcher was justification itself for the expense of hiring a professional genealogist. Had I not hired someone, I would still be trying to make that time “someday” to investigate that family line. Those somedays would likely add up, until a point of regret. So, the findings that answered my research goals were totally worth this expense.

But I received so much more for that expense than what we agreed to contractually…Cari’s investigation into my research goals. I stress the word “investigation” because it’s important to remember that paying for professional genealogy research services does not guarantee an answer to one’s research goal. It guarantees an attempt, and if they are a thorough credible professional researcher (like a CG), it guarantees their evidence analysis and reasoning. I explain below how this was an added benefit.

Added Benefit Learning Lesson One

I mentioned earlier that I would like to pursue the CG myself. I just have to make the time, someday. Does that tune sound familiar? One of the work samples required for the CG (part of the BCG portfolio) is a client report, like the one I received from Cari.

I had in my hand a client research report written by someone who had successfully passed the CG. This provides me with an excellent work sample to pour into and assess as a learning tool for my own attempt. I refer to this report often as I take stabs at writing practice client reports of my own: how Cari organized it, her choice of words, and how she laid out her logic and analysis. I have reviewed the work samples provided on the BCG website, and I have additional samples from the Certification Discussion Group I participated in last year. But the client report that Cari wrote for me motivates me much more to keep reviewing it, because, of course, it pertains to my family.

Added Benefit Learning Lesson Two

Cari’s research report confirmed that I had identified the right people on the New York passenger arrival records. She also confirmed that I had identified what is very likely first papers in the naturalization process filed by my 2nd great-grandfather, while also concluding that he probably never finished naturalizing.

That gave me confidence in my own work. Cari had reviewed those records, among many others, reaching her own conclusions. She felt confident those were the right three people.

Added Benefit Learning Lesson Three

This client research report explains in great detail how Cari reached the conclusion that she had the right family, both in New York and in Ireland. In particular, she explained how she ruled out every other Patrick Flanagan, Bridget Flanagan, and son Michael Flanagan of about the same age, in that same place, at about the same time period. These are all very common names, particularly in New York at the time they arrived from Ireland. The family of three did not immigrate together. Husband Patrick, Sr. came over first. So why was Cari so confident that the people she identified (the same ones I had identified) were the right people by those names, versus others of about the same age?

To make sure she had the right family in New York after arriving from Ireland, Cari traced other individuals with the same names, of about the same age. She had to do this to rule out all other possible candidates. Her technique is one that I need to remember to employ more often, and this report provides me with an excellent example of that technique.

Next Steps

So what do I have planned next to learn more about my Irish Flanagan and Lynch family?

Visiting Those Ancestral Villages

This weekend, Mom and I returned from our first visit to Ireland, where we spent some time exploring County Mayo, including Kiltimagh and Ballyglass. Although Grandpa is no longer with us, I know that in a way, he was still with us. Yes, it was indeed so very worth hiring another professional genealogist to identify those ancestral locations!

Researching This Line Further Back

Cari got me this far – from Ohio to arrival in New York, across the pond to Ireland, and another generation back from what I requested. But she advised me that she is not a specialist in Irish research, and that while she would love my continued business, she cannot contract with me to conduct Irish research further back. Instead, she suggested that I consult with an Irish specialist. An ethical professional researcher should be up front about their expertise and limitations.

I am digging around a bit on my own, working with Irish records for the first time. But it’s really just dabbling. I will never have the time to start learning Irish research very in depth (I’m too focused on Mexico). So down the road, I might indeed hire an Irish specialist.

My Flanagan and Lynch family line still presents many puzzles here in the United States. Their extended family network is certainly complicated. So I will likely hire Cari again later when I am ready to start digging more into some of those puzzles in the Ohio and West Virginia area.


Sources

IMAGE: Kiltimagh and Ballyglass, Ireland; Map data ©2019 Google (https://www.google.com/maps/ : accessed 2 October 2019).

  1. 1930 U.S. census, Erie County, New York, population schedule, Buffalo City, enumeration district (ED) 15-153, sheet no. 2-A (penned), house 231, dwelling 16, family 26, Micheal Flanagan household; digital image, Ancestry (http://www.ancestry.com : accessed 2 October 2019); citing National Archives microfilm publication T626.
  2. 1930 U.S. census, Erie County, New York, population schedule, Buffalo City, enumeration district (ED) 15-153, sheet no. 2-A (penned), house 231, dwelling 16, family 26, Micheal Flanagan household.
  3. Cari A. Taplin, CG, “Research Report for Colleen Greene: Research Report #1,” p. 1; prepared for Colleen Greene, {email address withheld for privacy} 25 May 2018.
  4. Taplin, “Research Report for Colleen Greene: Research Report #1,” p. 1.

Hiring a Professional Genealogist was a Smart Move for This Pro Genealogist