RootsTech 2015

Some people eat, sleep and chew gum, I do genealogy and write...

Saturday, May 19, 2012

Free of Charge?

Where did the idea come from that genealogical information had to be free? It is a difficult topic to research, but have governments ever provided "free" copies of their records? Last time I checked, for example, an original death certificate, at the time of death in Maricopa County, Arizona, was like $20 or more and we had to get a half a dozen copies. People who automatically think that public records are free apparently have never tried to obtain any. If you have to pay for one copy of a death certificate, you begin to see what a bargain Ancestry.com really is.

Almost every repository I have ever been to, at least, charged for copies. Even at something ridiculous like 10 cents a copy, the number of copies I have retrieved from online sources such as Ancestry.com would start to become a significant issue. I used to carry rolls of quarters with me to the Family History Library to make copies. Copies were 25 cents and I probably spent a few hundreds of dollars just in copies. I note that a photocopy of a death certificate in Florida costs $5.00. So if you divide that out, the current full World price for Ancestry.com is about $300 so that is equal to 60 death certificates. Obviously, if you are an active genealogist, you will accumulate a lot more than that in mailing costs, certificate costs and expenses obtaining the documents directly from the repositories.

As I think about it, I think there is a fundamental misunderstanding between the idea of "freedom of information" and free genealogy documents. Freedom of information (FOI) is a misleading term. It has been used to address the issue of government secrecy, but free in that context does not mean that there is no charge for obtaining the information. Believing that you can obtain information from the government, or anyone else, without some kind of fee is extremely naive. Here is the FOI statement from The National Security Archive:
Actual search, review and duplication fees vary by agency. Search/Review fees can be anywhere $8.00 to $45.00 per hour and duplication fees can be from $.10 to $.35 per page. Agencies cannot require a requester to make an advance payment unless the agency estimates that the fee is likely to exceed $250 or the requester previously failed to pay proper fees.
Can you imagine what it costs in time and attorneys' fees to get to the point of making a request? You can't if you haven't ever tried.

Not to belabor the point, but have you looked at the fee schedule for the National Archives?  I would not suggest showing up there without a reasonably adequate budget for copies running into the hundreds of dollars.

Now lets address another issue. FamilySearch.org does not charge for any of its services. The only charge I am aware of at Family History Centers is a possible copy cost. Currently at the Mesa Family History Center, there is a 10 cents a copy charge for printouts and copies. If Ancestry.com is a bargain, then what is FamilySearch.org? A gift?

1 comment:

  1. I do volunteer work researching Sacramental records. The cost is $15 per hour, some people are aghast that we charge. The fees cover the preservation and rebinding of the old Church books.

    I think people think everything should be free because of the shows on television. No one ever "pays" for the service. They have no idea how many hours of research go into process.
    I often thing that their idea is just to call and tell when they are coming and they will pick up the folder you have prepared.

    Everyone thinks health care should be free too. The insurance company will mail insurance checks to the patient for service provided, it is not unusual for the patient to have cashed the check and spent the money. Their logic is the "doctor is rich enough."

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