In a previous post "How Much time and Effort Did It Take?" I laid out exactly the effort I extended to find the parents of Nathan Brown. It took me somewhere between 40-80 hours.
When deciding to do brick wall research yourself or whether to hire a professional a number of factors come into play.
Can you afford the cost?
The first issue is money. Professional research is going to cost on average somewhere between $25 and $50 an hour depending on where you live and the experience level of the researcher. If we use the work I did as an example, and we settle on 60 hours, at those rates you would be paying $1500 to $3000 for that amount of research.
Some people might have that kind of money to spend on genealogical research but many don't. If you do choose this option, you will want to choose a professional genealogist very carefully. You will need to make sure that they have the specific skills required to solve your brick wall.
Giving away the journey
The other factor that comes to mind is, even if you do have the money, would you want to give the whole project away to another researcher? I'm sure many genealogists would like some help and still continue to participate in the research process.
There are a few alternatives that the regular genealogist can choose from. The first is to have a consultation with a professional genealogist. In this scenario, you provide the professional with all the information and documentation that you have accumulated on your brick wall. They will review the information and provide you with suggestions for where you should focus your efforts. This can be a very effective and reasonably priced solution to get you back on track and on route to solving your brick wall.
Before choosing this option be sure to choose a genealogist who is familiar with the location and time frame that you are researching. Another thing you can do to ensure the success of your consultation is to have all of your documentation well-organized. Be sure to let the genealogist know about your negative searches. Those are the books and databases and other resources that you've already searched but came up empty.
A Second Option
You may have noticed that my search process was broken up into specific activities in various geographic locations. Another ideal strategy to harness the help of professionals in a limited manner is to hire them for very specific tasks. This works particularly well if your brick wall touches on a number of different geographic areas.
For instance, if I were to have hired a professional I could have asked them to search for deeds at the Registry of Deeds in Worcester, MA for Nathan Browns who lived in Charlton, Massachusetts between 1795 - 1815. (I allowed for a couple extra years on either side.) I could designate 3 hours of research time and a limited scope of searching for deeds. In this case, the researcher would get back to me with any deeds that were found or a report indicating that there were no deeds for any Nathan Browns that met the criteria. In this kind of scenario you as the researcher would retain total control over strategy and analysis and the professional would be performing record lookups on site. This is particularly helpful for genealogists who do not live near enough to the brick wall locations to do the research in person themselves.
The down side to this is that the paid researcher doesn't know enough about your research to notice related or allied family names that they may come across in the course of the research. That could leave missed opportunities. However, it still covers the main targets of your research so is a reasonable option.
The key to solving a brick wall, whether you do it yourself, or make use of a professional, is to create a well thought-out research plan and then document what you find. That way no matter what happens you'll be able to review your own notes or a professional will be able to help you better when looking at your well-prepared documentation.
If you missed the live version of the webinar, you can see it now in the Legacy Family Tree archives. It will be available until November 14, 2011 to view (for free) at your leisure.