Tuesday, October 9, 2007

Can You Put a Price on Your Family History?

Jasia at the beautifully done (in fall colors) Creative Gene blog asks the question "What Is Your Genealogy Worth To You (DIY)?" She talks about doing it herself rather than hiring someone to do it, and that it might have been cheaper to hire someone. She notes that "money isn't everything when it comes to discovering your family history." Amen!!!

I started this post thinking, "well, I can take the number of years I've done research, times the hours per year of digging for records plus the microfilm costs, then add in the hours putting it in the software, then add in the cost of the copies and documents themselves, and don't forget the trips to distant repositories to find cousins and records, then there are books, magazine and database subscriptions...hmmm, that's a bunch of real money."

During the first 16 years of my research (1988-2003), I was going to the FHC nearly every Saturday for 3 to 6 hours, and often ordered 3 or 4 microfilm some weeks (but they were cheaper then). So that might be about 180 hours at the FHC, and say 100 microfilm a year. If the hourly cost of a professional was $15 an hour then (high for 1988-2003? not for a good one), and a microfilm was $3 each, then the cost would have been $3,000 per year. Adding in say another 360 hours per year to collect, review, organize, and input the data into a useful format and a software program gets us into real money! Plus about $500 per year for books, magazines and subscriptions. Add in an average of one research trip each year (let's see, New England 6 times, England, Norway, PA/NJ/NY/Ontario, Seattle, San Francisco, DC/MD/VA, I've probably missed a few trips) - say $1,000 per year for the genealogy part of the trips.

With all those assumptions, it comes to about $10,000 per year. Over 16 years, that is over $160,000 if I had hired a professional who worked the same number of hours and followed the same leads I did to find my family history.

Of course, it all depends on what level of research you want to find; just the family roots - names, dates, places, relationships? Or real family history - stories, deeds, wills, tombstones, obituaries, etc?

Say the professional was much more efficient and was able to pursue my genealogy and family history over those 16 years and spent only half of the hours I spent, but searched all of the microfilms I did? Well, that's still about $80,000, isn't it.

The above doesn't count the last 4 years which I've spent trying to add more family history data in original records - wills, deeds, etc. I haven't visited the FHC as often since about 2004, but I have spent significant hours at home transcribing, abstracting and inputting what I have. When Internet databases for the census records became available in 2003, I spent hours at the FHC doing my one-name studies (I had already found census records for my ancestral families, except for some of them who were elusive before the search engines became useful). Assuming the same level of activity, but not the microfilm expense, the last 4 years add up to another $8,000 or more a year (time and money). Of course, I have spent more time on blogging than on researching over the last 18 months, so my "costs" have gone down a bit.

I made the choice 19 years ago to pursue this hobby (now addiction) myself rather than hire professionals to do it for me. I am glad I did.

What has it really cost me in dollar terms? Really, just the cost of things I rented or purchased (microfilm rentals, magazines, periodicals, books, copies, airfare, hotel rooms, food on the road, databases, etc). Perhaps that came out to be $1,500 to $2,000 a year on average. My time and labor costs are not included in that estimate. It's still a chunk of money.

Was it worth it? YES!!!!!!! The last 19 years have provided me with:

* An opportunity to do real "research" - something that as an engineer I loved doing throughout my career, and when I got into management I no longer had the opportunity. Rather than researching at work, I started doing research at home.

* A chance to get to know my family members (siblings, cousins, in-laws, aunts, uncles, etc) and communicate with them on a regular basis.

* The ability to learn my family "history" - where my ancestors lived, what they did, how they lived, the events in their lives - a measure of personal history for each of them through the snapshots that the various documents provided to me.

* An outlet for my creative and deductive energies - to write, to help others, to learn techniques and processes. I love mysteries and histories.

* The opportunity to share with colleagues my enthusiasm and love for genealogy and family history through presentations, society leadership and blogging.

Genealogy research has been a major part of my life through the last 19 years, and I have enjoyed almost every minute of it. By my own accounting, I do spend about 500 to 600 hours a year (and perhaps more - every time I start a journal I lose track of it after a week or two). Does that seem like a lot? 600 hours averages out to less than 2 hours a day over a year. There are few days that I don't do something genealogy related, and there are many days when I "work" 8 to 12 hours on genealogy. To me, it's not really work - it is play - it's fun. It's stimulating. It's fascinating.

Is this a good subject for the Carnival of Genealogy? Probably! I look forward to Jasia's further comments on the subject. And those of others, either as comments to this post or as posts by other genea-bloggers.

1 comment:

Jasia said...

Thank you for noticing and commenting on my new banner, Randy!

I'm so glad to read your thoughts on the subject of what your genealogy is worth. I sure wish others would weigh in on it. Maybe they will when I finish my series.