Donna Radz - Read Before Hiring as a Researcher of Genealogy
by Cliff Lamere 26 Jan 2007
In 2005 and part of 2006, Donna M. Radz was listed as a genealogical researcher on my webpage called "Researchers of Eastern New York Genealogy." At that time, she had her own website and advertised as Past Quest.
On July 1, 2006, I received a complaint about Donna Radz. "I am reporting a very bad researcher... Since I asked her to carry out research for me last October, she has inundated me with emails with one excuse after another." I was provided with email addresses of some other complaining clients. I learned from them that Donna Radz had taken a minimum of $750 (mostly in 2005) in payment for work that she had not done by July 2006. There is a question about the quality of Donna's research and her knowledge of where to search for genealogical records, which I discuss below.
Discussions with Donna Radz
For a ten-week period in 2006, I corresponded with Donna and/or her clients almost everyday. Sometimes, several hours a day were involved. I tried to encourage Donna to make up all of the work she owed for past payments received. To help improve her skills, I also sent Donna instructive emails concerning genealogy and research techniques. My goal was to help Donna develop into a respected researcher who could be hired with confidence by genealogists.
Eventually, Donna Radz broke two agreements she had with me. The agreements had been made to keep this webpage off the internet. Donna thinks this webpage is unfair because it only gives the negative side of things. She says that some of her clients were happy with her work. That may be true. But, I know of many more that were very unhappy.
Case By Case
In this section, I mention some problems that exist, or existed, between Donna Radz and eight of her clients. Since Client A made the initial complaint, and a later broken agreement concerned that client, the explanation of this case is very lengthy. If you wish to view shorter cases first, go directly to Client B.
Client A : On June 28, 2006, I received a complaint from "Client A" that Donna M. Radz had cashed a check of $100 without doing the agreed-upon research, and that she wouldn't refund the money. Once the problem came to my attention, I decided that it would be unfair to remove Donna's name from my webpage, or warning genealogists about her actions, unless the complaint was valid.
Over a period of eight weeks, I received information from some of Donna's clients indicating that after cashing their checks she had provided no research, or incomplete research, or wrong research. Some clients were satisfied. After corresponding with just a few dissatisfied clients, I wrote a short warning message about Donna and added it to my researchers' webpage. This upset her. To get the warning message removed from my webpage, Donna Radz agreed to work with me to make up the work she owed people.
Resolving the problem between Client A and Donna Radz was very difficult. Even though an agreement seemed to have been finally reached between them, in the end Donna failed to live up to it.
The following email from Client A shows what research she needed to have done. It was sent to a third party with the hope of getting some help locating a researcher in Sullivan Co, NY.
I noticed your advertisement for a private researcher on the Sullivan Co Mailing List and wonder if you can assist me please?
I live in England and belong to the Sullivan Co Historical Society and I am looking for a private researcher who can search their records and/or any other local records . They have a museum but their records are not indexed, they cannot recommend anyone and do not carry out private research. So I need someone local who could do this for me.
I am wondering if you... could recommend a private researcher who you could put me in touch with please.
Clearly, the request was for someone to do research in Sullivan County at the Sullivan County Historical Society and at other places in the county. The request was for a person who lived locally. Somehow Donna Radz received the message. Even though she lives about 120 miles from the Historical Society, Donna made the following reply.
My name is Donna M Radz
I am a private researcher and work in Sullivan County.
I would love you [sic] assist you.
____ sent me your email.
In the same email was a copy of Client A's email request, so there can be no doubt to what Donna Radz was responding. To Client A, the email from Donna sounded like Donna was the "local" person being sought. No mention was made at that time of additional travel expenses. $100 was sent to Donna for five hours of research. The client says that four months later no work had been done so she asked for a refund. Donna agreed on March 28, 2006 to make the refund, but a couple of days later she produced some work, including military records Client A says that Donna was instructed not to look for (it had already been done for Client A by a different researcher). Then Donna "produced an invoice for $90.80 for 4 hours research and expenses." Client A said, "I concluded that she had gone into the local library, and done a blanketsearch on the surname ____ to get out of sending me the refund."
I recognize at least one of the resources used by Donna, the "Capital District Genealogical Society card index and notes," as being from the NYS Library and nowhere else. After further communications, Donna offered to refund $10 per week. However, Client A lives in England, so the foreign currency exchange would have consumed too much of each refund. Client A refused that offer. Further requests for a refund were not honored.
On June 28, 2006, Donna Radz told the client, "There is no way I could have traveled to the actual county for a charge of $100. Mileage is .35 cents a mile and that is a low charge. I never charged you any mileage for the work in the NYS Library. I only charged for my time." By this time, Donna was admitting that the research had taken place at the NYS Library rather than in Sullivan County. The client then asked, "Perhaps you could tell me why you said you would be happy to do the research I requested because you worked in Sullivan County?" Donna responded, "I do go to Sullivan and many other counties, but I live in Rensselaer County and would have had to charge much more than $100 to go there. We must have crossed signals, I can do work on Sullivan County in the NYS Library."
On June 29, 2006, Donna offered to make the trip to Sullivan County for an additional $78 for mileage, plus about $90 for travel time. If those were paid, she would then be able to do the contracted five hours of research for the $100 already paid. So, to do the job to which Donna originally agreed, she then wanted approximately an additional $168.
To summarize, Client A specifically asked for the work to be done at the Sullivan County Historical Society and any other local place, and Donna accepted the job without mentioning any travel expenses. Client A did not believe that there would be travel expenses, because she had said that she wanted "someone local" to do the work. When Donna said that she worked in Sullivan County, Client A assumed that Donna was "someone local," as had been requested. Donna did the work at the NYS Library instead, then claimed that she could never have done the job to which she had agreed, because the travel expenses would have been more than the $100 she accepted to do the job.
After I got involved, I learned that Client A no longer wanted Donna to complete the work. However, and to her credit, Donna kept asking me if Client A would let her make up the work. I talked Client A into it, but she stipulated very specific conditions for an agreement between the parties, and the conditions were forwarded by me to Donna. One condition was that "Donna is to do the agreed 5 hours of research in Sullivan Co archives, at the Museum and any other local office as necessary to complete the time allotted."
Donna and I then discussed various dates. When the amount of the travel costs became a problem for her, I offered to loan her the money for gasoline and tolls. When her automobile wasn't working, I offered to drive her myself if she paid for gas and tolls. After some postponements, and knowing the conditions Client A had stated, Donna made the trip to Sullivan County on September 20. However, she spent only 2.5 hours at the Historical Society before returning home. I had pointed out that deeds could be researched at the county seat, but she did not do that. She then refused to go back to Sullivan County to do the remaining 2.5 hours of research.
At that point, I put a version of this webpage online. After being online about two weeks, Donna Radz agreed to return to Sullivan County to complete the work, but by that time Client A had already refused to let her do any further work, and did not want to discuss it.
The client wrote to me, "It is now almost a year since I was first in contact with her to do my research... I do not want Donna to do anything further for me. I am fed up with doing battle to get anything done - it just goes on and on. I want to get on with my life. I am now calling a halt to this. I do not want to hear from or about Donna Radz again. Thank you for all your help over the past weeks."
Client B gave Donna Radz $100 (according to the email forwarded to me by Client A) but the person would not answer my emails when I said that I was pretty sure Donna would now do the work she owed. Donna did not recognize the person's name or remember what work was supposed to have been done.
Client C told me that Donna had been given $300 over a year ago. She wrote to me, "Please don't bother with anything. Like I said, I am just chalking it up to picking a bad researcher. I do not feel like doing any further genealogy at this time... She sort of soured me on researching for awhile. Maybe in a few years."
This person was unable to get the return of the papers that were sent to Donna. When I again mentioned to Client C that I was pretty sure that Donna would make up the work, I received no reply.
Client D said, "Donna finished the work I asked for after almost a year. The copies she sent me were not the best, perhaps they couldn't be. I had told her exactly what I wanted, including the pages and volume numbers of the will, but it was a problem getting them done. I would not use her again because of the time involved and the constant excuses, which may have been legitimate, but she should have said she couldn't do the job."
Client E told me a long story of back and forth emails with Donna, then wrote me the following: "I just can't get over the fact that she supposedly does this and she doesn't keep better records of who sent her how much or how much time they paid for or whatever... and then she has a million and one excuses... I definitely don't plan on recommending her to anyone and she has me very leery about "hiring" someone else to look up stuff for me. I hate to think that all researchers are like Donna... I am sure they aren't but I don't want to lose more money either. Thanks for inquiring... Good luck I know there are a lot of angry people with her!!" [This is the complete paragraph, as received by me.]
Client F said, "she had reported that she had some research that was mailed to me - I never received it. I requested that she scan it and send it by e-mail - she responded - "will do" - I never received that either. I had actually requested that she refund my deposit - which she never did; in the alternative I requested that she continue my search. She hasn't."
Much correspondence occurred between Client F and myself. The client no longer wanted Donna to do the work that was owed. In order to resolve the problem, I eventually did the research in Donna's place. Client F found that to be acceptable. Donna agreed to pay me back by doing some research for me at a later date.
Client G paid $50. "I finally told Donna that she could refund the money at $5.00 a week - she sent me a money order for $10.00, then I heard nothing. I contacted her again and threatened to report her for fraud. She sent a counter check for $5.00, which bounced."
Client H said the following: "Donna M. Radz (ladyzdar) is a scam! She has ripped off many people who paid her money to do research. She is constantly full of lame excuses. Donna M. Radz cashed my check for $100.00 and never responded to me with any results. I feel cheated and angry, as do many others."
During the ten weeks I worked with Donna and her clients almost daily, she completed the work for two of the eight clients above. Work for two others had been completed earlier than when I got involved, but the clients were nevertheless unhappy with Donna. Three of the eight did not allow her to make up the work. And for one, she would not complete the work even though she made a recent agreement with the client and me to do so. Following that, many emails were exchanged. Donna entually changed her mind and decided to do the research, but by then the client refused to allow her to complete the work, due to the stress it was causing the client.
Quality of Work
1) Donna sent one client a list of books she had looked at while doing research at the NYS Library. She did not realize that so many books had the same or similar titles because she was looking in a SUBJECT card catalog, not a book title catalog. When she looked at the actual books she apparently didn't notice that their titles were different from the "titles" she had seen in the card catalog. As a result, the client received wrong book titles to be used as a source of information.
2) One client had their work completed and then asked Donna to determine if 8 vital records certificates were available. Almost all were for events which probably took place in Albany city. I received a copy of the email at the same time as Donna. I asked Donna to tell me where she would look for each of the certificates. For some, she gave more than one answer. If it were a quiz, she would have earned 2½ out of 8 (31% correct). The city of Albany is a very special case. They began collecting vital records in 1870, 11 years earlier than all but a few other communities in the state, and Albany did not start submitting them to the state until much later. Although Donna does research in Albany, she was not aware of these facts. She would have reported that most could not be obtained even though they were available. Donna would have been looking in the wrong place. She would have been looking at the NYS Archives in their vital records indexes on microfiche, which doesn't list them because those records were never submitted to the State.
I explained to Donna where each Albany record/certificate would be found so that she wouldn't look in the wrong place. After that, Donna made an agreement with the client to search for certificates for five events that occurred in the city of Albany. She would charge $100 for looking for five certificates ($20 each). If any were found, an additional $22 each, the standard charge, would have been paid to the State. Donna looked for the certificates at the NYS Archives 15 Nov 2006. In my opinion, $100 was an unfair fee since two of the five events took place before the State started collecting vital records. Donna knew that when she accepted the money (reduced by $5 so that the money could be rushed to her). After receipt of the fee, she then reported the unavailability of the certificates from the State even before visiting the NYS Archives. There was no refund even though she did no research to earn the fee.
Another of the five events took place before Albany started to submit certificates to the state. Donna could have known that from what I had told her about city of Albany certificates. Perhaps she did not believe me. Only two of the records could possibly have been indexed at the NYS Archives where Donna did the search. The exact date of both was known, but neither was found in the index. The fee was $100 for searching for two certificates, plus searching for one that couldn't have been there.
It is customary to charge for failed searches. A researcher is paid for their time trying to locate something, not the promise of results. However, I hadn't previously heard of a researcher charging for searches that were not performed.
Shortly before I put this version of this webpage online, the client wrote to me saying, "I paid Donna Radz a total of $295.00 and received only one death certificate and I'm still awaiting one marriage license... I feel exhausted regarding my business dealings with Donna Radz and the sad part is I [have] very little to show for it. Dealing with Donna Radz was aggravating, time consuming, expensive, and unfulfilling."
I was surprised at the number of people who preferred to lose their money rather than deal with Donna Radz once again as she attempted to make up the work that she owed them. That attitude was even held by a client who lost $300 to Donna.
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