Frequently asked questions
- Who are professional genealogists?
There are two categories of professional genealogists:
Estate agents: they search for the heirs of a person who has died without leaving a will. They work either at the request of a notary or any other person with a direct and legitimate interest, or in response to a public summons (expropriation, escheat, vacant estate). In return for a percentage of the estate, they reveal their rights to the heirs they have tracked down; they are generally paid only when the estate is settled.
Some estates carry out land genealogy research. The origin of the request is not a death as such, but an interest or problem linked to a property.
Family businesses: they carry out genealogical or historical research for a generally private clientele. The research contract sets out their mission and remuneration on a fixed-rate or time-and-a-half basis.
Genealogists may have their own documentation. He is familiar with many sources of information, local history and the administrative rules of the periods he studies…
CGP genealogists are professionals. They have a SIRET number which must be included in their service offers (advertising, announcements, etc.). The INSEE SIREN database lists the activity of the holder of this number. They operate either as companies (EURL, SARL etc.) or as self-employed professionals. They pay social security contributions (URSSAF, RAM, CIPAV…), are generally liable for VAT and business tax, some belong to a management association approved by the tax authorities, and incur overheads…
To join the CGP, they must demonstrate serious professional qualification and experience.
They are professionally insured.
- Is the genealogy profession regulated?
It is not regulated, and there is no recognized diploma, although there are university and private training courses. On the other hand, professional associations uphold a code of ethics and guarantee the competence and reliability of their members (general training, history, law, languages, experience, morality, insurance…). Fees are free.
The Chambre des Généalogistes Professionnels (CGP), founded in January 1997, brings together some forty genealogical firms. She is a founding member of Généalogistes de France (formerly USGP).
The CGP has a disciplinary role vis-à-vis its members and can facilitate an amicable settlement in the event of a dispute with a customer.
CGP members are required to respect the privacy and material and moral interests of the persons concerned, as well as the Consumer Code.
The CGP estate genealogist must be authorized by the SIAF (Service Interministériel des Archives de France) to consult public archives. They must also have obtained authorization from the public prosecutor’s office to obtain the copies of civil status records needed to establish the results of their work.
All these obligations and precautions enable CGP members to guarantee a quality of work that is widely appreciated.
- Are genealogists bound by professional secrecy? Can he disclose the information gathered?
CGP’s professional genealogists are bound by professional secrecy and respect for privacy (article 9 of the French Civil Code, law of January 6, 1978 on information technology, files and freedom…).
The personal or family data that you entrust to a CGP genealogist or that he/she finds during research at your request may not be distributed or transferred without the written authorization of the persons concerned or their beneficiaries.
However, nominative administrative archives of a certain age are freely communicable.
- How does a family genealogist work?
From the very first contact, the genealogist must obtain information from the customer in order to :
- analyze demand and understand expectations;
- draw up the most precise quotation possible, avoiding research on elements already known;
- open up new avenues of research should obstacles arise.
Information considered secondary during the initial interview can sometimes help overcome difficulties encountered during research.
After studying the file, the genealogist informs the customer of the feasibility of the research and the chances of success. After receiving an estimate, the customer will sign a research contract and, if necessary, a mandate to consult documents whose disclosure is subject to specific regulations. The research contract sets out objectives, terms and remuneration. A deposit may be required.
Once the research has been completed, even if unsuccessful, the genealogist submits a report with the invoice, describing the steps he or she has taken, listing the sources consulted and compiling the elements collected (copies of deeds, photographs, etc.).
- How does an estate genealogist work?
The probate genealogist undertakes research at the request of any person with a direct and legitimate interest, a notary, an heir, upon public summons or in special cases of land research. The only exception is in the case of estates subject to the vacancy regime.
The probate genealogist is generally only paid by the heirs he has traced, according to their share of the estate. He therefore undertakes a search at his own expense, risk and peril, with no certainty of finding heirs in line of succession or of the inheritance they might receive.
The time and cost involved in the search generally increase with the degree of kinship with the deceased, and the size and dispersion of the family, while the share of the estate due to each heir may be reduced, thus diminishing the interest of each heir in accepting the estate. The discovery of a will, a debt or a prescription (time limit) can reduce the genealogist’s work to nothing.
It’s not uncommon for research to take place in several countries, with particular linguistic, administrative or legal problems that are generally long and costly to resolve. Studying the contemporary period raises issues of privacy, as well as psychological problems for the people involved (falling out, break-ups, drama…). The genealogist must therefore be able to deal with all these different situations.
Once the rights have been established, the probate genealogist generally represents the heirs in the liquidation of the estate.
The intervention of an estate genealogist reassures heirs regarding the financial risks of the estate. As part of the representation of heirs that he carries out, he checks with the notary that no risk will be borne by the heirs.
- Can genealogists guarantee results?
The family genealogist is subject to an obligation of means, not of results: he or she must do everything possible (within the limits of the contract, his or her capacities and the accessibility of sources) to meet the request, but cannot guarantee that he or she will find the answer. For example, if a marriage contract needs to be researched, but the corresponding notarial archives have disappeared, the genealogist will not be able to find it. Nevertheless, he must always provide the customer with a detailed report describing the research and sources consulted.
The probate genealogist searches for the heirs or successors of a deceased person, with no certainty of finding any. In the latter case, the estate reverts to the State. Heirs may be ignored (abandoned or unrecognized children, etc.) or may not be found (destroyed archives, disappearances, etc.). Lastly, search deadlines may exceed those for forfeiture of rights.
In all cases, the CGP genealogist is covered by insurance, which guarantees heirs against any errors he may have made.
- Does a genealogist have privileged access to information?
The professional genealogist has privileged access to certain information: his or her practice enables him or her to work efficiently and rapidly, drawing on sources that are unusual for an amateur.
To access recent civil records, which are subject to disclosure restrictions, professional genealogists must obtain authorization from the Service Interministériel des Archives de France, under the authority of the Ministry of Justice. Professionals have the advantage of knowing the procedure and, for the whole territory, of holding a valid authorization: this saves them time compared to amateur researchers.
The same knowledge of procedures applies to specialized archive services or to documents subject to special disclosure rules (notarial minutes, inheritance declarations, military documents, certain works from the Bibliothèque Nationale, etc.).
- How is an estate genealogist paid?
Unlike inheritance tax, which is an arbitrary deduction, genealogists’ fees pay for a service.
Unlike notaries and lawyers, genealogists work at their own expense: they advance funds with no certainty of obtaining not only remuneration for the work carried out, but also reimbursement of the costs advanced.
The genealogist’s remuneration is usually paid by the heirs he has found: the genealogist advances all research costs. He runs the risk of not finding an heir (relative in line of succession), the risk of discovering a will, a debt covering the estate assets, the revelation of a closer heir disinheriting those found by the genealogist, and so on.
This remuneration is generally a share of the net amount to be returned to the heirs he has found. A rate of 40% is not exceptional in view of the work accomplished, the service rendered and the risks incurred.
Indeed, kinship alone, even if apparently close, is not enough to reflect the difficulty of the search: there are special legal cases, natural or abandoned children, family quarrels and ruptures, complex emigrations, language problems and unsuccessful leads. Above all, you need to appreciate the problem as it presented itself to the genealogist: by family tradition, you may have known more or less precisely about the existence of a cousin, but sometimes even his spouse or neighbors don’t know about his family, who his living relatives are, what their addresses are; and the initial information available to the genealogist is sometimes particularly sketchy. On the other hand, the amount of the estate may be so modest that, even with a higher rate, the genealogist will find it difficult to cover his work, as family memories may not be as valuable to him as they are to you.
The intervention of a genealogist can speed up the liquidation of the estate, avoiding the loss or disappearance of assets, the application of tax penalties and other threats.
Finally, the genealogist will represent you in the liquidation of the estate, which will not necessarily be an easy task: length of the estate, number of heirs, nature of the estate…
We also need to consider the qualifications required to carry out such research in compliance with French and, where applicable, foreign laws. But also those concerning the settlement of inheritances, where the genealogist not only assists the notary but also checks on behalf of the heirs that the liquidation operations are carried out correctly and in the interests of his heir clients.
The probate genealogist also has to deal with family memories that can be embarrassing, if not dramatic for heirs, when it comes to protecting privacy.
- I've been contacted by an estate genealogist. What do I need to know before signing the disclosure contract?
Once an estate genealogist has identified you, he or she will offer you a disclosure contract and a representation mandate for the liquidation of the estate.
Only once the disclosure contract has been signed and the notary has taken a number of steps will the genealogist be able to provide you with information on the size of the assets and the details of the devolution, provided that he or she has the necessary information: one of the aims of the mandate is to take these steps. It is likely that, at the time of contacting you, the genealogist is unaware of the size of the estate and, above all, the number of heirs (i.e., the devolution, i.e., your share).
Typically, the contract guarantees that you will only accept the estate in the event of a positive inheritance, and that the genealogist will only be remunerated on a percentage of the inheritance due to you. No sum of money can be claimed from you.
The CGP estate genealogist, signatory to the Notary/Genealogist Charter, always complies with legal provisions, in particular the French Consumer Code: you have no costs to advance; you remain in control of your interests; his responsibility as an agent and his professional reputation are engaged.
- What should I do if I have a dispute with a professional genealogist?
The contract presented to you by a CGP genealogist has generally been validated over the course of his practice, with his various clients, their advisors (lawyers, notaries) and you yourself may have introduced special conditions. Difficulties may nevertheless arise during execution, whether in terms of surcharges, certain procedures, deadlines…
In this case, after rereading the contract, you should first seek an amicable solution, using if necessary a formal notice (to inform you, to return the funds collected, etc. within two weeks, with the threat of denunciation of the contract, legal action, etc.) by registered letter with acknowledgement of receipt, with a copy, if necessary, to the notary concerned and to the co-heirs.
In the absence of a result, and in the case of a CGP-affiliated genealogy firm, you can contact the CGP to ask it to intervene with its member, initially in an amicable manner, or even to take disciplinary action, in order to resolve the dispute. In the event of our member being held liable, our professional insurance may be called upon to intervene.
If the CGP fails to rectify the problem, you can appeal to :
51 chemin des Grands Moulins
In the absence of an amicable solution, you can contact the Direction Générale du Contrôle de la Concurrence (DGCCRF), or take your case to court (depending on the size of the dispute), or, in serious cases (embezzlement, etc.), file a complaint.
- How do you become a professional genealogist?
There is no codified or compulsory training: many books, genealogical circles and professionals provide initiation. Some probate firms employ salaried researchers: this is often the channel for professional training.
In addition to a taste for documentary research, intellectual agility and perseverance, the profession requires a good general knowledge, particularly of history, and, especially in the field of inheritance, a sound legal and tax foundation. Foreign languages (or Latin) are useful. Working as a professional also requires good interpersonal and management skills, and, especially when self-employed, a certain psychological and financial soundness. It’s not usually an early career activity.
Estate search activities depend on legal and tax regulations, the number of intestate estates and particular cases of devolution or escheatment.
Family genealogy involves a lot of amateurs (genealogy circles, etc.), but the sector is very active (see specialized magazines and websites). Highlighting certain archives and information enables specialization.
Genealogists, especially family genealogists, generally specialize in regions close to their establishments, and are familiar with their history and terroirs.
But genealogists are generally led to broaden their field of research when a file is opened, or to find a particular development in their region or field (Navy, Army, Colonies…).
It’s an active industry, and you can make a living from it: as with many other activities, it all depends on the time you devote to it, the quality you produce, the reputation you’ve achieved, the competition, the events and… the standard of living you’re looking for.
The CGP does not hire, nor does it intervene in recruitment by its members: candidates are invited to apply directly to the firms.
- How do you join CGP?
The CGP is a professional association open to established genealogists with a certain length of service in the profession.
The admission procedure is based on an application file and interviews to verify the skills, aptitudes, motivation, status, etc., as well as the rigor of the applicants. In the event of breaches of its rules, the CGP can exclude the offending professional. This is where group insurance comes in.
CGP provides neither training nor installation advice: each genealogist is in control of his or her own objectives, resources, procedures and archives…
The CGP does not hire, nor does it intervene in the recruitment of its members, nor in the development of their clientele.
- Can I do my genealogy using magazines, genealogical circles or the Internet?
Genealogical circles are an introduction to genealogy and a way for researchers in a given region or field to help each other: their sector is generally fairly narrow, but they provide general and anecdotal knowledge in a friendly atmosphere. Equipped and active circles have fairly high membership fees.
National magazines are obliged to present attractive subjects (genealogy of personalities, vanished trades, medieval nobility…) and their self-help sections are more random than those of a regional circle, even if they can reach a wider audience.
The Internet allows you to search by name and keyword: you shouldn’t deprive yourself of this source of information, but be aware that archives are far from being all catalogued, indexed, digitized and analysed, and that published genealogies correspond to particular branches, favouring one descendant or obscuring another. This is a practical source, but no less random than the previous ones.
These sources don’t exempt you from researching the aspects that interest you. Whichever path you choose, establishing your genealogy is both an enrichment and an investment.
If you’d like to create a well-documented genealogy to your liking, but lack the know-how or time, you’ll quickly see the benefits of calling on a CGP genealogist.
- Why use a professional genealogist?
Reconstructing a genealogy is fascinating, but the difficulties and risks of getting stuck are numerous and therefore costly, especially for an amateur: the facts extend over a long period, across various regions, countries or professions, and they have left traces that are disparate in nature and quality.
Calling on a CGP genealogist allows you to enrich the history of your ancestors and reduce costs and delays, because :
- his experience and knowledge of the organization of archives enable him to overcome problems that are insoluble for many amateurs;
- knowledge of local history, territorial and administrative structures and boundaries (in France under the Ancien Régime or today, in a particular country or profession) means you can work fast, select relevant documents and exploit them to the full. This also enables him to document the lives of your ancestors beyond the facts of birth, marriage and death;
- close to and familiar with the relevant sources, it saves you travel and accommodation costs…
CGP’s genealogists can carry out the research you want, with the best chances of success and in the most cost-effective way overall. It also provides professional insurance.