By now you have a research plan (or plans), you know how much money overall you have to spend on genealogy, and, you've got recommendations from other genealogists or others about appropriate products or services for your planned research. For Part One and Part Two of this discussion, see here (Part 1) and here (Part 2).
Especially if it's a long term subscription to a genealogy website you're considering, here are even more questions to consider.
#4. For a genealogy or related site that’s recommended, or one you’re looking at:
First – does it really have the service, records, indexes, etc. that cover the area, types of records, and dates you need or want? What proportion of its collections do you think will be useful to you?
–are the collections or services growing, or are they static. (And, how long has it been since it’s been added to). Do the claims seem overdrawn? Or, is there specific information about future plans.
–are these collections or services unique or are they available elsewhere - on-line or off, at a library or Family History Center, for $ or free, on microfilm, or even in print?
Could you make a special trip to a library that has access to try the website out? If you feel the price is too high right now, can you tailor your research plans to make use of free access at a library or Family History Center for now or to use a published or filmed source for now? If your research is in a single area, many genealogical societies have developed indexes to local censuses, BMD and other records. Could you use these at a local library or genealogical library, or could you purchase microfiche or CD copies of indexes to use?
–are there special features or benefits associated with the website subscription or membership? Are there free features or is payment required for everything?
–will you need to download special software? How often is that updated? Is the site/service compatible with your technology?
–what kind of options for payment are there? For example, pay for view, credits to purchase (look for a chart to explain this), day pass, tiered memberships or subscriptions, deluxe versions, 3-6 month subscriptions, full year. Membership versus subscription? Does the company offer any 'loyalty' discounts or specials for members or previous subscribers?
What special offers or free trials are there? Might there be a regular month for trials or special offers so you can test the site out first? If not, I usually recommend a short term subscription or the purchase of a reasonable number of credits first.
–what do the Terms and Conditions say? What uses are allowed, special rules, can you share images freely, use them in your own family history publications, do lookups for others? Are you allowed to share a subscription?
–how long has the website/company/society been in business? Check domain name, ‘about us’, ‘our history’. Look for press releases as usually have this info. (But being brand new isn’t necessarily bad.) Who are the owners/investors/volunteers? Are they associated with other groups/companies? What’s their reputation? How ‘big’ is it? Where is it located? Contact information?
What kind of reputation does the company/individual have currently (again look at dated reviews and comments on-line or in genealogy magazines and journals.) Has the website won any awards?
–does it appear there’s good ‘Help’ on the website? Is there a users group on-line or do you already know a number of people using the website or service? Are there help videos available on CD/on-line?
All these questions may sound discouraging, but having these in mind may keep you from signing up for something you just don't need or won't use. Genealogy doesn't have to break the bank! And, if you manage your genealogy $ carefully, you may be able to afford that special genealogy trip you've been dreaming of. (Start a fund for that too.)
And once you do decide to join a website or purchase credits – keep copies of any e-mail or paper receipts, help information, user names, passwords, and ‘keys’ for software. As you research, keep track of credits used, subscription dates, and membership renewal dates. Just in case there is a problem, you'll have the information you need to deal with it quickly.
Happy genealogy shopping!
This was Part 3 of 3. I'm very interested in your comments and ideas about genealogy budgeting. I'll be writing more about this topic in the future.
This post was written for the 93rd Carnival of Genealogy! Hosted by Jasia at Creative Gene.