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

Wednesday, July 27, 2016

Does Genealogy have a Free Lunch?

Also known by its acronyms, TANSTAAFL or TINSFAAFL, the phrase "There Ain't (is) No Such Thing As a Free Lunch" has been used in a variety of contexts. The word "free" is the key issue discussed by any interpretations of the phrase. I once contemplated writing a book entitled, "How to Live Free in America" but I decided that I did not want to contribute to the cumulating lack of observance of the law and propriety in the country. However, in this context, we need to be careful to distinguish between the concept of "free" and the philosophical concept of "freedom."

A quick search on Google produces over 13 billion references to the word "free." This is a pretty direct example of how grossly overused this word has become, not just in America, but worldwide. If you are one of those who expects to find things free, then your life will be filled with frustrations and disappointments.
Genealogists, probably even more than most in the general population, have been conditioned to expect their genealogical lunch to be free. Even in the much larger online community, free has almost become expected. So, here I am writing a blog post on the "free" Google Blogger program and it is free but only if I happen to have an Internet connection, a connected computer and want to spend my time blogging. Even if I try to work the system and go to a library where I can use a free connection and computer, I will have paid state or local taxes to support the library's free computers.

For years, I have taught classes about both online genealogy programs and those that run on a local computer. In many of those classes the participants expressed outrage and indignation over the fact that there might be some charge for using the program. This was especially true for "upgrades." As hobbies and other interests go, genealogy is relatively inexpensive, but it is and never has been free in any sense of the word. If genealogically important information is found "free" online it is due to the fact that someone has paid to put the information online. In this context, the time to enter information online is considered to be the payment.

During my life, I have had a lot of friends and relatives that ran "home businesses." Almost without exception, as they ran these businesses they looked at the normal business expenses but they commonly neglected to factor in the time they spent in operating the business. They sometimes made an "income" from the business but never applied the income to paying themselves for their time spent. Of course, unless you are planning to become a "professional" genealogist, genealogy is not remunerative.

Stepping back a bit, genealogical software is fairly inexpensive. For example, claims that the average American spends $936 annually on eating out at restaurants. If that amount alone were spent on your genealogical endeavors, you would probably benefit more from learning about your family than eating out. You could also subscribe to all four of the major, online genealogical database programs including the "free" one, But the real point here is that the amount of out-of-pocket money needed to do genealogy is not significant. Genealogy does involve a lot of time spent. It can become "expensive" if you feel the need to travel and visit family locations or to do research in distant locations.

Personally, I have never viewed either the time or the money I spent in pursuing my family history as a burden. We do pretty much what we want to do.

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