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

Monday, March 19, 2018

To Pay or Not to Pay? That is the Question.

Genealogy programs and online databases are tools. Tools generally cost money. I am reminded of a time when I was much younger and working on a car that I happened to own at the time. I was having trouble with the steering and began the process of trying to fix the car myself with the help of a friend. After spending a few fruitless hours trying to replace the front steering ball joints, we finally asked a more knowledgeable friend for some help. He went to his tools and handed us a ball joint fork.

Using that tool, we got the job done is about ten minutes. Now, the moral of this story is to use the right tool. Genealogy is no different than any other similar pursuit when it comes to using the right tools. But guess what? Tools cost money. In my story, we borrowed the tool from a friend, but online today, I could buy the same ball joint fork for around $11. For some reason, genealogists seem to think that everything they do to find their ancestors should be free. Afterall, why should we have to pay to obtain information about our own ancestors? Right? Wrong?

I have written about the cost of being a genealogist many times in the past. Compared to some common activities in Utah, for example, power boating, snowmobiles, skiing, four-wheeling, ATVs and so forth, genealogy is positively cheap. For example, we are getting close to the end of ski season in Utah, but if you had purchased a season ticket to Snowbird Resort in Little Cottonwood Canyon, it would have set you back about $1000 per adult. The other activities are even more expensive.

You can do a lot of genealogical research online for free on websites such as and, but yes, there will be a charge for using many of the commercial websites. If you decide to travel to a remote location to do research as many of us have done, then there is an expense for travel.

The issue of charging for information is much broader than just that part dealing with genealogical information. My own experience is that the demographics of the genealogical community make the cost of genealogy an issue. Many of those who are dedicated to genealogical research are older, retired or on fixed incomes and have limited discretionary income. What may seem like a minor cost to some can be a budget breaker for others not so fortunate.

One good option for limited budgets is to use the services of one of the over 5000 local Family History Centers around the world. The Family History Center will have some of the commercial programs, such as,, and for free. You will not be able to have your own family tree on these programs for free, but you can use their databases to search for your relatives. To find a Family History Center near you go to and click on the Help link in the upper right-hand corner of the homepage.


  1. From your car analogy, James, I thought you were going to talk about paying for software tools, in which case I was going to point out that some genealogists are also "mechanics" and make their own :-)

    I soon realised, though, that you were referring to information, and paying for access to online usually-indexed material. As far as I'm aware (which isn't necessarily the full truth), all the information that we pay to access online can be accessed for free -- either in the corresponding archive or your local library. This may even be original copies in the case of an archive.

    Of course, it's not as convenient! The search facilities may be weaker, and the records held may be more limited (e.g. less global). Even in the case where a library offers free access to something like Ancestry, you have to travel and that could be very difficult for reasons of mobility or sheer distance.

    So, "you pays your money and you takes your choice". It's a little like convenience foods in the supermarket: you don't have to pay through the nose for it, and you could elect to make your dish from "original sources" (i.e. fresh food), in which case it would probably be better but take you longer.

    1. I agree, sometimes I change my mind about what I am writing about in the middle of a post. Sorry. :-) You can buy time by buying tools.