Friday, April 30, 2010

How To Budget Your Genealogy $ - Part 1 - Carnival of Genealogy - 93rd Edition

Some of the more frequently asked questions in genealogy sessions I teach are variants of:

How come every index search I try for genealogy on the Internet leads to a page asking for my credit card information? Shouldn't information be free?

and then,

How can I decide what I should pay for? I don't want to pay for something that's free elsewhere or that I won't really use.

So I sometimes include a session focused on these questions.
Lately I've noticed several magazine articles on 'free genealogy' and some forum discussions too, so this seems a timely topic.

I do feel that much of the very best information for genealogy and family history on the Internet has always been free and I am happy to recommend these sources - for example, and Then there are the specialized reference websites, like the Canadian Genealogy Centre for Canadian genealogy and family history and for British. Even the standard version of my favourite genealogy software is free to download - Legacy at

Nothing is really altogether 'free' though - after all, someone is paying the expenses involved in gathering information, compiling indexes and databases and programming and maintaining computers and websites. It might be with volunteer donations, it might be government, or it could be a commercial company like (for RootsWeb) or Millennia Corporation (for Legacy) paying. We need to let them know how much we appreciate their efforts. (Thank you to all the above from me! )

I believe it's important to emphasize that putting information and services on the Internet does cost money. Genealogy and family history societies, for instance, need to generate some income from their indexes and publications, so that new ones can be developed or older ones updated. Individual genealogists too may be paying all the cost themselves - doing it 'for love'. Here's an article by Lorelle on WordPress that outlines the costs for a genealogy blog, for instance, The Blog Budget. (Sometimes you do see a 'donate please' button on an individual or group's genealogy site. Please consider 'clicking' if you found the website or service helpful.)

Even with all volunteer labour, there are always bills to pay. Sometimes, in the heat of discussion, this is forgotten. I do love getting information for free, but I hope I won't ever begrudge paying for services, publications, or access to indexes, etc. that are worthwhile to me.

Here are some of the questions I ask, and some things I consider when choosing how I will spend my ‘on-line genealogy’ dollars to purchase genealogy and family history services, subscriptions, etc.

#1. What kinds of research are you doing right now or planning to do very soon? Consider: geography, time periods, the types of records you need.

Write up a new research plan for each on-going or future project. (Here's an article by Kimberly Powell about genealogy research plans with an example: Think Like a Detective - Developing a Genealogy Research Plan.)

Can you ‘save up’ research to make a short term subscription ‘pay’? This is what I often do for my on-line Swedish research - which still necessitates using pay sites. After all, a subscription is much cheaper than a trip to Sweden. And when I do get there, I'll be visiting the 'right' places and ready to do more research - parts that can't be done on the Internet or at home.

What services or tools do you feel would be helpful to you?

Do you have any time restrictions? Are you preparing for a reunion or a genealogy trip, perhaps, and need or want to do all you can from home first?

How important is convenience to you right now; how much time do you have (and when)? How important is ease of use; and accessibility. If you have time during the week to visit a library or Family History Center, for example, you may be able to use commercial databases there, but if your genealogy time is 'middle of the night', personal subscriptions make sense.

What type of computer, browser, firewall, etc. do you use? How comfortable are you with computers and the Internet? Do you have a technology ‘guru’ of your own? (Some sites require you to use specialized software, for example. More on this later.)

#2. What’s your $ genealogy budget? Be realistic here :-)

Be sure to think about both on-line and off-line genealogy. Do you plan to order a number of English marriage certificates, soon, for instance, or is there a genealogy seminar or conference coming up? Would you like to take a special class in the fall? Or are you determined to have an autosomal DNA test done?

Think about adding in at least a small $ cushion for those unexpected opportunities, maybe that hard to find book that pops up in an e-Bay listing.

You'll notice that I put the $ question second. That's because I feel if you don't have a research plan, and haven't thought about your own research preferences and restrictions, then no matter how many dollars you have, you won't get the best results.

This is Part 1 of 3. Part 2 - how to find genealogical recommendations and reviews - is coming very soon. I'll be very interested in your comments and ideas about genealogy budgeting.

This post was written for the 93rd Carnival of Genealogy! Hosted by Jasia at Creative Gene.

1 comment:

Joan said...

I hate to admit that I am one of those who definitely does not have a research plan in place --- however, after reading your part 1, it is certainly something I will at least be aware of in the future.