If you are an experienced genealogist and would like to earn a few dollars, you might be able to do so by helping others solve their genealogy mysteries. Conversely, if you have a genealogy mystery that you have not been able to solve, you might be able to get help from someone else for a reasonable fee.
UnsolvedAncestry.com is an online service that matches problems with problem solvers. In many cases, genealogy experts in distant locations can help others with their searches. For instance, you might find it a lot easier for a genealogist or enthusiast in Scotland to answer a difficult question about a Scottish ancestor than it is for you to find the same information in America.
To be sure, the financial rewards probably are not all that high. I doubt if anyone will make a lot of money by solving other people's genealogy mysteries. Nonetheless, there is an opportunity here to make a few dollars and to simultaneously feel good about helping someone else with their family tree searches.
First of all, people with mysteries post their questions on the site and offer a reward. They simply fill out an online form, giving all the details available about the ancestor of interest. The online form also contains a space for the amount of money offered to the first person who can solve the mystery. Anyone else who has the same interest in solving the original poster's objective can even add to the award amount.
For those interested in solving mysteries and earning financial rewards, the online process is simple: peruse the listings to see what information is being requested. Searching the posts is absolutely free and open to everyone. If you can solve the mystery, you contact the person who posted the query and arrange to supply the information. The award goes to the FIRST person who can supply documented proof. UnsolvedAncestry.com then charges the payer of the award an additional 3% as the site's fee.
Of course, "proof" is the primary word here. You obviously cannot claim a reward with a statement of "My Aunt Mary told me so." If you can solve the mystery, be prepared to supply photocopies of original documents or other proof that meets commonly-accepted genealogical standards. Once you provide the required proof, the reward will be yours.
I scanned through the listings for a bit but did not see any "simple to solve" mysteries. At least, there were none that I felt I could solve quickly. However, if you happen to have expertise in a particular area of interest, you might be able to help quickly. Wherever your area of expertise lies, you should first search for queries that match your research skills. This will greatly increase your odds of being able to solve a mystery.
Unfortunately, I could not find any method of searching listings by geographic areas of interest. Everything appears to be sorted by surname. There is no quick method of differentiating SMITH records in Virginia from SMITH records in Massachusetts. You will have to read the text of each listing to find the details.
The awards I saw varied from $1 to $800. Most of the rewards being offered seemed to be in the $50 to $200 range. I will admit that I did stop and closely read the listing that offered an $800 reward! I am not an expert on Virginia ancestry, so I'll pass on that one.
I suspect this service will become popular for genealogy experts who live in areas noted for migrations out of that area. Those in Scotland, England, Ireland, Scandinavia, Germany, or all along the eastern seaboard of North America will have an advantage: those people live close to original records and generally have a better knowledge of history, geography, and sources of records for that area. Familiarity with the area's history and record-keeping will be a major advantage.
Of course, any service has drawbacks, and I see one major issue here. Generally speaking, those doing the research will not be professional genealogists. They have not passed a series of rigorous exams that prove their competence. As a "buyer" of information, you will want to examine "the goods" carefully to make sure they are complete and error-free.
I see an analogy here with the business world: if your business has simple bookkeeping needs, you could hire a person who simply has basic bookkeeping experience. However, if your requirements are a bit more complex, it may be cheaper in the long run to hire someone who is a CPA, having proven their level of competence. A certified expert should be able to do it right the first time.
The same is true in paid genealogy research: you generally get what you pay for. For simpler research tasks, I would be willing to pay a modest fee to a skilled amateur genealogist who can provide copies of original documents. For more complex tasks, I would prefer to hire a pro.
Of course, I bet there are a bunch of professional genealogists reading the listings on UnsolvedAncestry.com! This web site should provide a good method for an "underemployed" professional to find more work.
If someone contacts you in response to a listing you post and claims to be a professional genealogist, ask for proof of their certification(s). Any professional will do so quickly and proudly. Any delay or excuses instantly generates skepticism.
In short, caveat emptor! (Let the buyer beware!)
Even with the one concern about the professional expertise of researchers, UnsolvedAncestry.com looks like an interesting service. It provides services both to seekers of information and to providers. That sounds like a win-win situation!
For more information, peruse the listings and help files at http://www.unsolvedancestry.com.