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

Sunday, December 30, 2012

The Cost of Genealogy

If time is money, then every activity we participate in has a cost. But I think that looking at time as money is a particularly inappropriate way of viewing life. If acquiring money is the only objective in life, then there is no real meaning to the vast majority of our activities. But sometimes we need to look at the other side of this "time as money" attitude, that is, those who view everything in terms of its cost and value "free." Of course, no one and no society can get something for nothing. Even if the cost is hidden or distributed over a large number of people, there is still a cost.

Genealogy is not a particularly expensive activity, as such, but it can be. To do one thing that we would like or choose to do, we have to give up something else. I have a huge number of "interests" other than genealogy, from photography to minerals, but if I want to accomplish a specific goal in any one of these interests, I have to give up time devoted to the others. When people say they don't have time for an activity, such as genealogy, what they are really saying is that they don't choose to allocate the time to that particular activity. They value other activities more than genealogy.

One issue in determining the cost of any activity, is separating out the overhead, common expenses of living from the added expenses of the particular activity. There is no need here to go into a detailed discussion of budgeting and finances, but how we managed to spend our money or other disposable resources determines to a great extent the time we have left for other activities. Unfortunately, genealogy has garnered the patina of old age. I frequently talk to people who have the attitude that doing genealogy is something put off until old-age and retirement. However, retirement from a commercial job does not automatically mean that you will allocate time to any certain activity. Most of the so-called retired people that I know feel just as busy as they did when they were working full time for a living.

As I grow older, I am more acutely aware of the trade-offs between different activities. If I spend two hours watching a movie, then I have just lost that two hours but could've been spent in another activity. Part of the cost of genealogy is in its comparative value as an activity. As long as we consider genealogy to be a "less desirable" activity, It is extraordinarily easy to find other things to do rather than concentrate on finding our ancestors.

Moving beyond the general overhead activities and the trade-offs between other positive and equally desirable activities,  becoming involved in genealogy also incurs some out-of-pocket expenses. I suppose, you could look at genealogy as requiring no more than a piece of paper and a pencil. But there is a time commitment involved in learning the basics and acquiring sufficient skills to properly record and document genealogical research. It is currently a fact genealogical life that there has been a shift in the nature of the activity to being almost entirely computer-based. So presently, any consideration of the cost of genealogy, has to include the background, overhead cost of acquiring and learning to use a computer system.

 When you begin adding in the cost of a computer, computer programs, the time involved in learning the programs, the skills involved in operating a computer, the cost of an Internet connection, and other incidental expenses such as paying for the electricity to operate the computer, you begin to see that the cost of becoming involved in genealogy may be substantial. Of course, a computer system has many other uses besides genealogy. A person may be motivated to purchase a computer system even with no intention of becoming involved in genealogy. Therefore, the entire cost of the computer system could not be and should not be allocated entirely to that portion of the system used for genealogy.

My acquisition and use of computer systems, paralleled my increased interest in genealogy. I would have purchased and used computers regardless of my interest in genealogy but because I had computers available my genealogical interests benefited from my computer interests. But I certainly cannot attribute my acquisition of computers to be entirely caused by my interest in genealogy.

When I said that genealogy was not a particularly expensive activity the response should be "compared to what?" I happen to live in a society surrounded by people who expand relatively large amounts of time and money on a variety of recreational and entertainment activities. Several of my neighbors own rather large and expensive motorhomes or Recreational vehicles, some of which cost well in excess of $200,000. The gas alone for these vehicles for one year is probably more than my entire expenditures for equipment and supplies for genealogy.

It is obvious, that the cost of any activity including genealogy, is relative to the overall time and financial resources of the individual interested in the activity. What I've found be interesting over the years is that very few people I would consider to be wealthy, as to financial resources, are at all interested in genealogy. It is probably impossible to determine, but I would guess the people who are motivated to accumulate wealth are probably not the same people who are motivated to seek out their ancestors.

One additional cost of genealogy is the alienation factor. Unfortunately, there will be people and even members of your own family who will avoid you as a result of your interest in family history.

Basically, this analysis comes down to a question of whether or not any particular activity is worth the time and expense needed to pursue it. In my case, and I would assume in the case of those reading this post, that decision is already been made and a fairly large allocation of time and money has already been spent in the pursuit of genealogy.


  1. The rewards are greater than any monetary cost involved.

  2. I agree that you are preaching to the choir's safe to say we place such importance on our family research that both the direct and indirect costs are well worth it.

  3. our family research is definitely worth both the direct and indirect expenses to all of the geneabloggers i'd guess.