We are often asked on the mailing list to recommend a maritime researcher but unfortunately it is not something we are prepared to do, for two reasons:
Firstly, we have numerous researchers among our regular subscribers to Mariners. It would be unfair to them if we were to single out any one of them. Nor can we accept messages asking about researchers; recommending them by name, or posted by researchers themselves as deliberate advertising, either overt or covert. It would be unfair to allow any one of them to have an unfair advantage over the others and nor do we want Mariners to become a market place. For the most part, our researcher-subscribers understand our situation and support us.
Secondly, no two pieces of research are the same. Seamen’s service records of the early 19th Century require a completely different approach from research into convoys of WWll; someone who is excellent at one may be a little less experienced with the other. Recommendations may work very well, but each piece of research is unique. It is for the client to make the necessary investigations in order to find someone who seems to offer exactly what they are looking for, in the right time frame and at the right price. However, we acknowledge the major problems faced by anyone unable to get to Kew themselves. The following points may help you when faced with the choice.
Obtain several quotes; six would not be too many.
Explain exactly what you need, and make sure that you give them absolutely all the information you know about the person or the event. No information is trivial, and may hold a useful clue!
Enclose an sae or two internation reply coupons or you may not receive a reply.
The reply should address all the points you raised.
It should include an estimate of likelihood of success (but no researcher will guarantee a positive result). You need to feel that they are at the least optimistic of success.
It should clearly state how long they expect the research to take, and how long their waiting list is at the moment.
It should include a clear explanation of their fee structure and whether the cost includes photocopies (expensive at Kew), postage, or the time taken to write the report.
In turn, you should expect to be asked for at least a deposit, and if the search is of a fixed fee nature, you may find that you are asked for the whole amount before the search can begin. A reputable researcher has their reputation to uphold, so provided you obtained their name from a reliable source, you should have no hesitation about payment in advance. It may well be that the researcher has had their fingers burned in the past usually by someone who has refused to pay after a ‘no find’ search. Such searches are very disappointing, but a researcher who has spent some time looking for a record that simply isn’t there, still deserves to be paid for their time!
Kew research is not cheap, but researchers are not, contrary to what has been said from time to time, after a way of making money out of innocent clients. Most of them are specialists in their field, with years of hard-earned experience. They will have learnt the need for frequent breaks to ensure that their eyes don’t become tired and they miss a vital entry but coffee and other refreshments are expensive. Overheads are high - Kew is on the outskirts of London so whatever route a driver takes, traffic will always be heavy and that means high fuel costs, and extra wear and tear on the car. And at the end of a long day, they have to turn around and do it all again. Be sure at the outset that the researcher is aware of how much money you have available to spend. They should be able to tailor the research to give you the best chance of a successful outcome within your criteria. Again, a reputable researcher won’t take advantage of your honesty, and may even suggest spreading the research and payments over a longer period to allow you to afford it.
Most of the genealogy publications carry researchers’ advertisements for work at Kew. The National Archives website at National Archives >> has a list of registered researchers divided into categories according to subject area. AGRA, the Association of Genealogists & Researchers in Archives, has their own website at AGRA >>. Subscribers to Mariners would do well to post a message asking for advice. They may find that one of the experienced subscribers is also visiting Kew and can do a search for you. Alternatively, you may be approached privately by a researcher who saw your message.
Before you approach anyone for help, it is a good idea to do as much as you can by yourself. Not only will you cut down the costs of the final search, but the more educated you are about what may be available and what is actually possible, the easier it will be for you to choose the best researcher from the replies you receive.