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Archiver > APG > 2008-01 > 1199978190

From: "Melinde Sanborn" <>
Subject: Re: [APG] forensic genealogy
Date: Thu, 10 Jan 2008 10:16:30 -0500
In-Reply-To: <BLU102-DAV1672816D126E413E93FB4BC4A0@phx.gbl>

In the vernacular, if a genealogy company signs an heir, the heir is the
company's client. The reputable company or genealogist has already correctly
done the research necessary to determine that the individual is a legal heir
or owner and proceeds accordingly.

Depending on the contract, the company may or may not do a range of things.
Some contracts grant power of attorney in the lay sense (IME judges hate
this), and allow the genealogist to acquire records that normally would be
closed to him/her but open to the heir-signee. Some genealogists or
genealogy companies work with lawyers or have lawyers on their staff and
normal attorney privileges pertain. In some states, a PI is involved.

A signed heir usually agrees to share his/her gross receipts on a percentage
basis, taken by the genealogist or company ahead of all other expenses
(except bond, court, and lawyers' fees), at the time of delivery of the
asset. The percentage varies; I am aware of cases of from 3% to 50%. In real
estate cases, sometimes the heir releases his/her right to title without any
share, or a token amount. (When I know this is happening, I decline the

This is different from being retained on an hourly or percentage basis by an
heir who wants to prove s/he is the owner of an asset or inheritance. In
this instance, the company is the heir's client - the heir is paying the

A third variation is the role of genealogical stringer. In this instance a
third party, usually a court, law firm, or insurance agency, retains a
genealogist to run the records. In most such cases the genealogist is paid
an hourly rate or a pre-negotiated fee, expenses may be paid, and the report
may be anything from verbal to documented evidence. The employer takes the
responsibility of gathering the documents (in many cases) and doing the
presentations in court, etc. A stringer almost never finds her/himself on
the witness stand.

I think the distinction needs to be made not only of how we are paid but by
whom and for what. These are certainly part of what defines "an interest" or

Debra, I think the issue is that "how" we get paid does make a difference
under legal considerations.

If we are being paid by the heir from the proceeds we recover for him/her
under contract with him/her -- does that make us his/her *agent*? If we
are that client's *agent*, we are NOT a disinterested third-party.

Lawyer Daughter gave me this description as I was researching for the
article -

"While most genealogists are hired as an **agent** for an individual who
wants to learn more about his family structure and history, forensic
genealogists have a different role. They are not charged with finding
information that will be of benefit to any particular individual. Instead,
they are retained by attorneys, estates, corporations or courts as an
independent, unbiased third-party ..... (This is my daughter's
word-smithing and she would not want it copied from this list/forum and used
in other places.)

We may think we can be both, but will the courts or legal profession think
we can be both under **their** standards?


As you state above, we can be retained by a number of different types of
clients, but when I get into court, I'm testifying as an expert witness and
affirming the truthfulness of my testimony. There have been times when the
results of my research have not been what the client hoped for, but they
understand that research results are not negotiable. There have been times
when this has been to my financial detriment as well, but that is simply
part of doing business.

In the counties where I tend to work, it has become extremely uncommon for
the court to directly hire a genealogist - they will advise anyone making a
claim to an estate to hire a genealogist to prove the relationship. If they
don't, the estate will ultimately be taken by the state. Therefore, it's
known by everyone from the beginning that I am retained by the family, but
it's also known that regardless of whom is paying me, that I am impartial
and that I report on my findings and make my conclusions on that basis.



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