Help, Support and FAQ: Offering Lookups

Interested in becoming one of our lookup providers but not sure where to start? Looking for advice on how to craft a compelling lookup offering and set realistic prices? We answer some common questions asked by lookup providers on this page.

What qualifications do I need to become one of your lookup providers?

While you needn’t be a certified genealogical professional, we’re looking to recruit skilled researchers who have:

  • experience in tracking down frequently-requested source records, with at least one specific area of expertise (e.g., vital records, obituaries, probate records, etc.)
  • convenient access to key genealogical record repositories (e.g., historical societies, family history centers, county archives) and excellent relationships with repository staff
  • the ability to turn around straightforward, well-defined requests within 5-7 working days
  • access to a suitable image scanner and confidence in scanning original documents to produce quality digital images
  • a commitment to friendly and positive customer service.

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How should I decide what lookups to offer?

This question merits a lengthy, detailed answer, but we’ll try to offer only a brief version here.
Two strategies probably make the most sense, particular when you’re first starting out:

  1. Try to determine which lookups are likely to be most popular, and offer them if those records are available at a library or archive near you. In our experience, vital records (e.g., copies of death certificates, marriage licenses, etc.) tend to be asked for the most frequently, particularly if they often include parents’ names. You should also check our list of Custom Lookup Requests for the counties whose records you’re most familiar with. If our users have already asked for providers to tackle specific custom lookups in those counties, you know you’ve got at least one likely customer right away.
  2. Evaluate the genealogical records collection available at your favorite local repository, and decide what unique resources are found there that are unlikely to be found anywhere else. Then craft a lookup offering around those resources. An example: if your local historical society has tombstone transcriptions from an important local cemetery (with an index, ideally), and those records are not already available online, you might do well to offer to search the index and offer copies of the transcriptions.

As you get more comfortable with what kinds of documents potential clients are interested in for your local area, you can consider ordering microfilm copies of those documents for your local family history center’s permanent collection if they are available. You can then offer lookups that utilize those microfilmed records as a resource.

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Should I offer a lookup if other providers already offer it?

There are at least two ways to look at this, depending primarily on the demand for a particular type of lookup in your area.

On the one hand, if you feel you can provide faster turnaround times or lower prices than are currently offered by others, feel free to create your own offering. It may take a while for you to build user ratings to the level of existing providers, but with conscientious effort, you should be able to become competitive over time. This works best in large markets with many requests.

On the other hand, particularly if the current providers have strongly positive ratings, you might find it to your advantage to carve out your own unique niche and offer a lookup that no one else yet provides.

In a less-populated county with a smaller number of likely requests, it may not make sense to offer lookups that duplicate those offered by others. Of course, in such a county, there may be less provider competition to begin with.

Finally, if you are a volunteer for a local genealogical or historical society and plan on having your fees go directly to that society, it’s probably worth your while to offer competitive lookups, even if the prices you charge are higher than those offered by others. Many potential clients will find your society ties to be an important point of differentiation and they may patronize you accordingly.

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Your "Record Type" menu doesn't offer the category I want. Can you add it?

We will definitely consider such requests, but we can't guarantee to implement them in any specific timeframe. Please email us at support(at)genlighten(dot)com with your suggestion, and we'll try to respond as quickly as we can.

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How can I offer the same lookup for multiple localities without re-entering the data?

The "duplicate" feature is designed to make it easy to offer the same lookup for several different localities without having to re-enter the entire offering from scratch each time. When you click "finalize" after creating a new lookup offering, you'll be brought to the "Manage Lookup Offerings" page. Click on the "duplicate" link to the right of the offering you just created. You'll see an exact copy appear in the table below the original one. Now, click on "edit" for the copy. This will bring up a copy of the filled-out input form for the original lookup. You can then choose a different locality from the drop-down menus for state/province and county, and make any other edits (e.g. to the descriptive title, year range, detailed description, or instructions) that you need to.

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What are the "Brief Descriptive Title" and the "Year Range" for?

These elements -- along with your price, your username, and your provider rating -- are what appear in search results when clients first try to connect with a lookup provider using the "Search Available Lookups" page. Think of the title as the "headline" of an article describing what you have to offer. An example might be "Cook County Death Certificates" or "Lowell, NY Cemetery Photos". The year range serves to filter out requests for records that just aren't available. This is a common source of confusion for clients and frustration for providers.

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What should I include in the "Detailed description of your lookup offering" field?

The detailed description serves as your 'sales pitch' to clients. We'd suggest you consider including the following elements, while keeping your description crisp and concise:

  • The specific type of record you're offering to retrieve
  • The repository you'll visit to obtain the record
  • The basic information the client can expect to learn from that document
  • How often you visit the repository and/or how quickly you can turn around the client's request
  • The data you'll need the client to provide so you can successfully complete the lookup
  • A brief description of why your search may be unsuccessful and what helpful information you can provide in such cases
  • Any additional services you offer as part of the lookup (e.g., enhancing the contrast or orientation of the image)

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Why must I set two different prices? What's the difference between them?

We ask you to define both a "Document Found" and a "Not Found" price for two basic reasons:

  1. To educate the client to the very real possibility that you may not be able to find the record they want despite a thorough and diligent search
  2. To assure the client that you as a provider have a significant financial incentive to find the requested record.

The "Document Found" price is basically the one the client agrees to pay if the record corresponding to the data they submitted is delivered as promised. The "Not Found" price is what the client expects to be charged if a 'best effort' search fails to yield the sought-for document.

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What can I do to minimize "Not Found" results?

You'll obviously never be able to completely eliminate this possibility, no matter how carefully you define your lookup offering. But here are some suggestions we can offer based on our experience:

  • Consider focusing on lookups for which an online index already exists (but for which the actual records themselves are not online.) Have the client search the index themselves and provide you with the index entry or certificate number. While this option isn't available in many cases, it can greatly reduce the likelihood of "Not Found" results where it does exist.
  • Define the "deliverable" for your lookup so that you'll always be able to deliver it. For example, rather than offering to find the client's ancestor in a City Directory for a given year, offer instead to provide the city directory page that would include the ancestor's surname were it present. That way, you're providing exactly what they would find if they conducted the search themselves.

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How much should I charge?

This question has challenged professional genealogists for decades. We won't pretend to have any simple answers, but we can offer a few basic ideas and recommend some key resources you should consider looking at.

  • A good place to start is to ask yourself, "What would I be willing to pay for someone to perform this lookup for me at the level of quality I expect?" If it seems reasonable to you, it probably will to others as well.
  • Think through the expenses you'll incur in fulfilling the lookup (gas, parking, copying fees, etc.) and the time it will likely take you. Multiply your time by whatever hourly rate you need to make. Consider any efficiencies that might result when you can fulfill multiple requests on a single trip to repository. The resulting number will probably be a pretty good ballpark estimate of what you should charge.
  • If the lookup you plan to offer is similar to ones already offered by other Genlighten providers in different areas, feel free to use your competitors' prices as a benchmark. Rather than simply trying to beat other providers' prices, consider matching them (or even charging slightly more) while offering your clients additional value. This could take the form of faster turnaround time, image enhancement efforts, or other added services.
  • Join the Association for Professional Genealogists (APG) and read the articles in their quarterly magazine. You'll find that the topic of "What to Charge" is a popular one, and that you can benefit greatly from the experience of other researchers in this regard.
  • Read Chapter 10, "Setting Realistic Fees", in Elizabeth Shown Mills' "Professional Genealogy: A Manual for Researchers, Writers, Editors, Lecturers, and Librarians", Referred to in the trade by its nickname "ProGen", this is the definitive resource for becoming a successful professional genealogical researcher. Don't be put off by the word "professional", however, even if you have no such aspirations. This book has much to offer Genlighten lookup providers in terms of advice, ethical guidelines, and case studies.

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What's your current commission rate?

Our commission rate is currently 15%. If you as a provider set your "Document Found" fee at -- for example -- $10 for a particular lookup, we'll credit $8.50 to your Genlighten provider account each time you complete that lookup successfully and upload the client's requested document to the site.

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