Why Genealogy Isn't Always Free
Monday May 26, 2008
Last week, genealogist Dick Eastman got tired of all the complaints about "the high cost of genealogy services" and wrote a knee-jerk reaction article "I Have a Complaint Concerning Many Genealogists" that pointed out what a bargain these type of services actually are. Well, he obviously struck a chord with readers, because as of this morning the article has received over 200 reader comments - both supporting and speaking out against the opinions expressed by Dick in his article.
I definitely agree with many of Dick's views. I even get reader complaints when they find they have to register to access records for free (such as was originally required for the RecordsSearch beta at FamilySearch Labs, although that was expanded to a public access pilot last week and no longer requires registration to view the free records). On the other hand, it can be easy sometimes to get frustrated at the high cost of genealogy research. The North Carolina State Archives, for example, charges me an extra $20 fee for each genealogy request (on top of photocopying and mailing expenses) because I do not live in the state. On the one hand, this makes complete sense as a means for keeping records access reasonable for residents whose taxes go to support the archives. But on the other hand, my ancestors have been paying taxes in North Carolina for over 300 years, and literally hundreds of their descendants still live in and pay taxes in the state. Does this give me cause to complain?
Most of the biggest complaints by readers focus on the services provided by commercial genealogy endeavors such as Ancestry.com, WorldVitalRecords.com, Footnote.com and FindMyPast.com, where an annual subscription can set you back anywhere from $50.00 to $200.00 (I'm rounding here). That is definitely a lot of money, although well worth it when you consider the costs of travel, photocopies and other expenses associated with going out and accessing these records on your own. There's also the benefit of being able to research from home -- in your pajamas, at 2:00 a.m. When you consider that Ancestry.com spent well over $10 million dollars in 2007 acquiring and digitizing new content and creating indexes, the price tag isn't nearly as hefty as it first appears.
Instead of complaining about the high cost of genealogy, why not use the time to consider other options? I know it stinks to not be able to afford the high cost of an annual subscription when you know the information about your family is right there, but most such sites do offer monthly subscriptions which can be quite cost-effective if you take time to determine exactly what you're looking for prior to subscribing. Some also offer a pay-per-view option, which can be beneficial if you only need a record or two. You can also find cost-saving tips in Trace Your Family Tree Without Breaking the Bank.
Free is never truly free, so if you plan to benefit from the "free genealogy" efforts of others, why not spend some time helping to get free genealogy records online, either through an organized effort such as FamilySearch Indexing or FreeBMD, or on your own.
Old News - THE INTERNATIONAL GENEALOGICAL INDEX
One of the most valuable resources for family historians is the International Genealogical Index (usually referred to as the IGI).
Compiled by members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints (LDS), it is online at the free FamilySearch site. The British Isles is particularly well represented - not just England & Wales, but Scotland and Ireland too.
There are two types of entry, and it's important to distinguish between them. Many were transcribed from baptism and marriage registers by volunteers as part of a systematic project. These entries were carefully checked and are almost always accurate.
Other entries have been submitted later by individual members of the Church, and usually appear with the note "Record submitted after 1991 by a member of the LDS Church ".
Such entries are sometimes no more than speculative guesses, and this is most obvious when no precise date and location are given, or a place name appears instead of a church name. In these circumstances it is best to completely disregard the entry.
It is very important to note that the IGI is a partial index - some parishes are not covered at all, perhaps because the registers were lost, or otherwise unavailable, or because permission was not granted for them to be copied. Other parishes are included only for certain periods.
For many parishes the transcriptions end when civil registration began (1837 in England & Wales, 1855 in Scotland).
The easiest way to find out whether the parish you're interested in is included for the relevant period is to visit Hugh Wallis's site (see the My Links page). However, even if the parish is included, the entry you're looking for may have been omitted.
It has been discovered that very occasionally as many as half of the entries for a year are missing, so the fact that you can't find your ancestor in the index doesn't necessarily mean that the record isn't in the register (though it is usually a strong indication).
Once you have found an entry in the IGI it's always a good idea to get a copy of the source record if you can - which may means a trip to the records office or archives holding the relevant register. But there are also hundreds of LDS Family History Centres around the world which can usually obtain microfilm copies of registers on your behalf at a very low
These centres are open to all researchers, not just members of the church and wherever you are in the world there's a good chance you'll find one near you!