I think this new service is going to be a winner. Today I had a chance to talk with Todd Godfrey, Senior Director at The Generations Network. He is one of the managers involved in Ancestry.com's brand-new service, called Expert Connect. In fact, the service is so new that the web site went live during the middle of our telephone conversation.
Expert Connect is a new "clearinghouse" that allows individual genealogists to find and hire genealogy professionals. When you, the individual family history researcher, have exhausted all your resources, you probably need to find the next level of support. Typically, you need to find someone who is intimately familiar with the ethnic groups where your ancestors originated or who may even reside in the area where your ancestors lived.
If you are looking for German ancestors in Pennsylvania, you probably need to find someone with expertise and experience with the records available in Pennsylvania, possibly even the records written in German. The same is true for French-Canadian, Italian, Irish, Polish, and almost all other ethnic groups. You need to find an expert, preferably an expert with easy access to the original records. That access might be in the area where your ancestors lived or in one of the major repositories of records, such as Washington, D.C. or Salt Lake City, Utah.
Perhaps all you need is someone to look up a record that you already know exists or to take a picture of a tombstone. On the other end of the spectrum, perhaps you are stuck and don't know where to turn next; perhaps you need advice. You may even want to hire a professional genealogist to perform twenty or thirty hours of research for you, especially if you live many miles away and you know you cannot get back to your ancestral homeland to do research in person. The "ancestral homeland" might be Pennsylvania or New Hampshire or Ireland or Italy. Ancestry.com's Expert Connect service has about 400 researchers available today in those places and elsewhere to help you.
Expert Connect was launched in beta this afternoon and is expected to remain in beta for a month or so before being released as a "live product." You can state what you are looking for, and the genealogy experts can then bid for your work. You can read the bid proposals and select the one you want.
Five services are available at Expert Connect during beta:
- Record pick-up - This is perhaps the simplest service. You already know the exact record you seek, but you know that you will never get to the correct records office to obtain a photocopy. You can hire someone to go to that office, obtain the photocopy, verify that the record is the one you specified, and then send it to you. The sending of that record might be high tech in which the expert scans the record and sends it to you via e-mail; or, a low-tech solution might be best, where the expert stuffs the photocopy into an envelope and sends it to you by old-fashioned mail. The method of delivery depends upon what you and the expert decide in advance. More than 400 people have already signed up to retrieve records for you, including experts in eight foreign countries.
- Local photo - This service is simple in concept and is valuable for the person who cannot travel to the "old country" or "old home town." You hire someone in that area to travel to the object(s) you want photographed, and they will take pictures for you. These photographers will take pictures of tombstones, old houses, landmarks, and more.
- Record Look-up (which is not the same as Record Pick-up) - Professional records researchers will look up records for you. I would expect this to happen in cases where you do not know the exact records you want or their exact location, but you are confident that there should be a birth record, a death record, a marriage record, a deed, or something similar in a general area. You can hire an experienced records researcher who knows the repositories in that area and has experience finding records. He or she will then find the records you seek and, if successful, will forward copies to you.
- Custom research - This is the case where you can hire a professional genealogist to do research for you. Some clients would love to see their family trees traced backed to the 1700s, but they don’t have the time or ability to travel to the old country and look at the records themselves. Some questions are so complex that they need an expert on the case. Advanced research projects like these could take 10 hours or 200 hours. Finding the appropriate expert researcher has been difficult in the past, but Expert Connect should simplify the process.
- Ask-An-Expert - I can picture this becoming a very popular service. In short, you are looking for advice. You might say to yourself, "I have a question. I want to ask an expert for advice so that I can then proceed on my own." In this case, you are paying for advice from someone who knows the specific area or ethnic group you seek. In the four previous scenarios, the expert sets the fees, and you are free to accept or decline the service. The "Ask-An-Expert" service is a bit different in that you, the client, decide what you are willing to pay for the advice. Is it worth ten dollars to you or fifty dollars? You decide.
In all cases, the professionals bid for your work. In four out of the five services, the professionals set their own fees, and you are free to accept or decline. You may find more than one person bids for your work and at different price levels. You also get to see a description of the pro's areas of expertise and even read his or her rating from former clients. You pick which expert you wish to use, if any.
All fees are collected in advance by The Generations Network (the parent company of Ancestry.com) and held "in escrow" until the work is completed to the customer's satisfaction. Once the customer agrees that the work is complete, The Generations Network pays the expert.
Clients never pay any fees to The Generations Network, but the experts do pay a percentage of the fees to The Generations Network to cover credit card processing fees and other expenses.
There are two types of independent experts available through Expert Connect: researchers and professionals. Anyone who exhibits a passion for genealogy and a history of helping others with simple research tasks (e.g., local archive searches or photography) may sign up to become a researcher. Researchers can provide Expert Connect’s Record Pickup and Local Photo services. Professionals, on the other hand, must possess advanced qualifications such as industry certifications, education, membership in professional associations and relevant experience. Professionals are able to offer all five of the Expert Connect services.
Expert Connect is available to everyone right now. You do not need to be an Ancestry.com subscriber to use the service. More than 400 genealogy experts are awaiting your proposal.
All work performed is private and is strictly between the client and the researcher. Ancestry.com will never see the results and obviously will never publish the information found.
I suspect this is going to be a win-win situation for clients and experts alike. For clients, it solves the question, "Where do I find an expert with the credentials that I need?" I was especially interested to learn that the service has a rating system where clients will rate the services they receive. This is somewhat similar to eBay's ratings service. In the future, you might select a somewhat more expensive proposal in lieu of a cheaper one if the researcher's Expert Connect rating is higher than that of the low-cost bidder.
For genealogy experts, Expert Connect provides an easy and convenient method of finding new clients. Each expert can accept as much or as little work as he or she wants as each expert controls "the throttle."
The five services described are all available right now and will be available throughout the beta period. Future services will probably be added later this year. Nobody is predicting what additional services will be added as The Generations Network wants to first evaluate customer feedback. However, I think it is a safe bet that translation services will be added to the list of available offerings before long.
You can learn more or even enter a proposal today at http://expertconnect.ancestry.com. I would suggest that you first take some time to read the FAQs (Frequently-Asked Questions) that are available at that site at http://expertconnect.ancestry.com/Faq.aspx.
Are you a genealogy expert? This is a great place to find new clients. Go to http://expertconnect.ancestry.com and click on "Interested in becoming an expert? Learn more about becoming an Expert Connect expert. Click Here."
I will share one story with you. I decided to see how the proposal system works. I am researching several French-Canadian families in Maine, with primary emphasis on my mother's maiden name, which originally was spelled Dubé although later generations corrupted the spelling into several alternate spellings. I used Ancestry.com's Expert Connect to search for professional genealogists who specialize in French-Canadian ancestry in Maine, and only one was identified: her last name is Dubé, and she lives in Maine.
Think she can help? I have never heard of her before and probably would not have found her without Expert Connect.