Sunday, August 26, 2007

TANSTAAFL

There Ain't No Such Thing As A Free Lunch. We've all heard that throughout our lives - as children, as students, as adults, as workers, as players, as genealogists. It takes money for the world to go around. If you're getting something for free, then someone else is paying for it.

DearMYRTLE and Jasia posted the other day about the "hidden" costs of all of the free genealogy data we have available to us - the web sites, genealogy societies, databases, search engines etc. Someone pays - the web site owner, the advertisers, or you and me. I want to address the "you and me" part of it.

Every so often, someone posts a rant on one of my mailing lists decrying the cost of joining a genealogy society, the cost of an Ancestry (or other commercial site) subscription, or the use of user-contributed databases by a commercial web site. I understand that many people are on limited incomes, and have to make priorities in their spending - genealogy may not be a necessary cost when a person is financially squeezed. But sometimes the rant is based on the notion that "someone wants to rip me off," or "they only want to make a big profit."

To my mind, a commercial genealogy company like The Generations Network (TGN - which has Rootsweb, Ancestry, MyFamily, Genealogy.com, FamilyTreeMaker, and other sites under its umbrella) is in a competitive business of providing information to customers (you and me). They offer an annual US Deluxe subscription (all of the US-based collections) for $155.40 a year, and an annual World Deluxe subscription for $299.40 (all collections). When you consider this on a daily basis, it is $0.43 a day for the US and $0.82 for the World. That is a pretty good deal IF you will use it on a regular basis.

Consider also that access to many of Ancestry's databases is available at libraries in the US in the form of Ancestry Library Edition. And that TGN provides access to Rootsweb (databases, mailing lists, message boards, freepages, society web pages, etc) for free. I am not sure if TGN has the USGenWeb and WorldGenWeb sites in their stable, but someone does, and they are free to use.

I don't know about you, but my Ancestry subscription is probably the wisest and smartest genealogy investment I've made in the last five years. I use it almost every day. I can use it any time of day, at home on my desktop, or on vacation on my laptop.

The biggest value, though, is the time (and money) it saves me - I can search databases and documents that I would otherwise have to travel a distance to find (incurring transportation and lodging costs), or find and copy at a local repository (copy costs, film rentals), or hire a professional genealogist to find (lookups or copies from a distant repository). I can download images from it (I just can't post them on the blog, apparently!) and save it electronically - I don't have to abstract or transcribe it by hand to obtain a copy.

Some people have bemoaned the fact that there are so many new commercial genealogy web sites now available and that they cost money. The fact is that these new web sites (I'm thinking WorldVitalRecords, Footnote, GenealogyBank and FindMyPast here) are providing access to unique documents and databases that are not available at the Ancestry or LDS web sites - they are providing a service to their subscribers.

My view is that competition is GREAT for genealogy - when there are several content providers, they will fight for customers and continue to increase their holdings. The worst thing that would happen to genealogy would be if one commercial company swallowed all of the others.

I, as a subscriber, have to make the choice whether to subscribe or not, based on the database offerings and my perceived need for them. Even so, the costs are not exorbitant to my way of thinking when considered as a daily or weekly cost. I could subscribe to all of those databases mentioned above for about $1.50 per day. I imagine that I spend $1.50 a day on things I "want" but don't "need." Heck, my cable modem connection costs me about $1.50 a day, and I use it for about 6 to 8 hours daily - I definitely "need" it!.

I am especially grateful for the work done by the LDS church in providing - totally free - a large research library in Salt Lake City, 4,500 Family History Centers all over the world, access to millions of data microforms, and the http://www.familysearch.org/ web site. This organization will continue to add new databases and documents over the next 10 years, and is collaborating with several of the non-Ancestry subscription sites to make their databases available at LDS facilities - for free.

What makes the most sense to me is for each researcher to evaluate their available income for genealogy-related activities, and budget accordingly. If you are not going to use a genealogy subscription service more often than once a month, it makes no sense to subscribe - you can go to a library or an FHC and find almost every thing that is available. If you are doing research every day, a personal subscription makes a lot of sense.

TANSTAAFL is a true statement - but in my humble opinion, genealogy resources on the Internet are almost FREE, and I am happy and grateful that commercial genealogy companies exist to provide data and information to their customers. I hope that they keep up the good work - and the competition - because all genealogists and family historians will benefit.

Note: I am not a member of the LDS church, or an employee or affiliate of any of the web sites mentioned. I do have a US Ancestry subscription (which I got for $99.95 last year in a promo deal). I'm just a genealogy guy who is having a lot of fun searching for my own ancestors and helping other people in their searches.

Updated: 9:30 PM to edit several lines. "There Ain't No Such Thing as My Editor. I is it!"

5 comments:

Melissa said...

Randy

I agree totally! I couldn't have made the progress on my family lines that I have made thus far w/o an Ancestry.com subscription.

I'm not sure why people complain about paying a subscription to genealogy databases - granted I LIKE free - but why would they think they are entitled to free access to ANY genealogical data?

I enjoy doing lookups when I have time for those who request and give adequate details ... but when the complaining starts so does my use of the delete key.

Even going to the library and accessing the census on microfilm or using the Ancestry subscription isn't free - not if you want a copy of the page . . . any where from 10 to 50 cents per page. I've written courthouses for copying of records at $1 per page.

I will end my comments by saying again I really LIKE free data... I search for free sites and utilize free trials but you will not hear me complain about paying for the vast databases and convenience at Ancestry or any other online resources.

Melissa

Melissa said...

Randy

I agree totally! I couldn't have made the progress on my family lines that I have made thus far w/o an Ancestry.com subscription.

I'm not sure why people complain about paying a subscription to genealogy databases - granted I LIKE free - but why would they think they are entitled to free access to ANY genealogical data?

I enjoy doing lookups when I have time for those who request and give adequate details ... but when the complaining starts so does my use of the delete key.

Even going to the library and accessing the census on microfilm or using the Ancestry subscription isn't free - not if you want a copy of the page . . . any where from 10 to 50 cents per page. I've written courthouses for copying of records at $1 per page.

I will end my comments by saying again I really LIKE free data... I search for free sites and utilize free trials but you will not hear me complain about paying for the vast databases and convenience at Ancestry or any other online resources.

Melissa

Happy Dae said...

(grinning at Melissa) I'll try not to post this twice. Yes, FREE is one of my favourite 4-letter words, second only to FOOD. My website is free to visit and learn from. It does cost ME, however. Not only the cost of domain name and ISP, but the cost of TIME. Even with San Diego's standard of living (I used to live on Mt. Helix), you could not afford my time.

I occasionally get recognition, or a vote, ^ >^ and that is payment enough. Thank YOU, Randy, for all you do here.

Happy Dae.
http://www.ShoeStringGenealogy.com/ssg1.htm

Jayne said...

I have a full subscription to Ancestry and it's worth every penny. Not only have I found much information for myself, but for others too. What other one place can I find the records?

We all like FREE,and I may like it more than others, but sometimes, too, we get what we pay for.

There are MANY completely FREE sites out there. One of the best I've seen is: http://www.ShoeStringGenealogy.com/ssg1.htm

My own site has totally FREE information on it, regarding the Civil War. I hope you visit.

Jayne
http://www/bitsofblueandgray.com

Anonymous said...

I agree that the accumulation of genealogical data has a cost associated with it that needs to be supported by the people who use it.

Also, professionals need a way to make money. They therefore will charge for their time and costs.

The issue I have is with the public information that is accumulated at the taxpayers expense. That info should be accessible to the public at no charge. We paid for it already, and anyone charging for it is as guilty as the government when they try to tax the same money twice.

Let's be realistic and open the public databases to the public.
We are ALL entitled to FREE access to THAT data.

Ray