Free Genealogy - Is there really such a thing? | The Armchair Genealogist
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Free Genealogy - Is there really such a thing?



Type ‘free genealogy’ into google and you will face 14,900,000 results.

When I first started my research, I thought that this little hobby wasn’t going to cost me much. I wonder how many of you felt the same?  I think anyone new researching their family history would be excited to learn that so much free genealogy is available, I also think they would be misled. 

  There is no such thing as free genealogy. Sure, there are many wonderful websites offering free transcribed data. There is plenty of free information about researching genealogy in the form of websites and blogs. There are plenty of places to grow your family tree... free, however, usually with restrictions, and they usually want you to upgrade to a premium account that will cost. (we won't even discuss the recent Geni.com fiasco.) However, when it comes down to the nuts and bolts of finding some hardcore documents, primary and secondary sources, there are no such thing as free.

In terms of the internet, most primary documents are locked behind subscription walls. Secondly, even if you’re lucky enough to find a primary or secondary document on the internet for “free”, it all comes at a price... your time.

Outside of the internet, unless you’re among a minority where your ancestors lived in your current town, you’re looking at extensive traveling, to cemeteries, archives, land record offices etc.etc. None of which is free. Let’s not forget the time to accomplish all of this. Why do you think so many of us spend decades chasing our ancestors documents – the time and expense, but we love it just the same. 

Do You Have a Budget?

 Many of us are on restricted budgets and time restraints, like laundry and soccer practices and a little thing we call a mortgage. Personally, I probably spend somewhere between $500.00-$1000.00 a year for database subscriptions, software, local travel, books, microfilms, photocopies etc., the basics of just keeping my personal research ongoing. This doesn’t include any conferences or large genealogy research trips. How much do you spend?  

In terms of time... let’s just say a lot, I put it in the same category as revealing my weight, I just can't say the number out loud.  

When it comes to spending your money, you have to know when the price will justify the result, and often times that is hard to know in advance.

Best Buys

For instance, I was looking for information on my Polish ancestors. I had a deadline for a family history book. I spent $500.00 with a professional researcher in Poland and got to the heart of what I was looking for in a matter of a couple of weeks. Could I have found this information for myself? Certainly. These particular parish records were microfilmed with the LDS. However, by going thru a researcher and paying my money I got 15 copies of original documents along with accompanying translations. (I was able to recoup the expense in the book price).

After seeing the documents it became clear to me I would have never have found them on my own. First, they were understandably in Polish; secondly, they were in an old handwriting script. Even if they were staring me straight in the face, I would not have known what I was looking at.

This worked out well for me, but plenty of times, I have placed my money on the table with no results.  This usually revolves around my Irish ancestors.  I’m sure you could tell of tale or two of similar circumstance, of money out the window.

I think the majority of us spend plenty of money on travel, and databases, we might scrounge a few things free – but for the most part, time will be your biggest expense.

Occasionally you get an email from a distant cousin who might drop something into your lap, (who doesn’t love that) or you stumble across something in the most unlikely place, and we might consider that “free.” How many of us have not been elated when this has happened, convincing ourselves we just got something for free.  Let’s be honest, we've been pounding the pavement for years, those little surprises did come at a price.

So newbies, I’m not trying to discourage you but don’t believe them when they say 'free genealogy', nothing in life is free and especially not genealogy. I would rather you start your genealogy knowing what you’re getting into, don’t be misled and be prepared for the long haul.

Genealogy is time consuming; it requires endless hours of searching even with subscription databases.  Many start and then reality arrives and their research falls by the way side. Genealogy takes time, it takes travel and it takes money but finding an ancestor is priceless. Ask anyone in the biz, we wouldn't trade it for anything. 

 Do you have a yearly budget to spend on genealogy?  Do you have tips and tricks to keep your expenses down?  Feel free to share in comments your “best buys” or “money wasted” story?