What Do You Mean It Isn’t Free – My Response

Last week Thomas MacEntee wrote a week-long series Genea-Opportunities – 2012 Update where he discussed not only opportunities to earn a living in the genealogy field and their issues but also the perception that everything should be free when it comes to genealogy  [see What Do You Mean It Isn’t Free?].  Because of my present circumstances, my journey of Genealogy in the Recession, this made me a little uncomfortable.  It’s not that I think that everything in genealogy should be free, it’s that right now I need to find the things that are.  I think that this situation presents itself to one degree or another to many researchers sometime during their life.

I have presented many links to websites where the information is/was free.  Sometimes a subscription site is offering access to certain record collections for a limited time.  This is a loss leader for the company, i.e., they are hoping to attract new customers who discover the wonderful information available in those collections, and by extension in the rest of the collections that company offers, and sign up for a subscription.

Many times Webinars are presented as a form of marketing for their presenters and sponsors.  Legacy is a prime example of this.  They have weekly webinars on a wide variety of subjects that offer them an opportunity to promote their Legacy software and the presenter an opportunity to showcase his/her knowledge and professional offerings.  A CD and handout are then available for purchase.   The Illinois State Genealogical Society offers free webinars, charging only for the handouts, because it has found that the cost is covered by new memberships generated.

Sometimes the information is made available by the government and in this case it is funded by the taxpayers.  In the case of federal websites, this is all of us.  In the case of state websites, it is courtesy of that state’s taxpayers (and perhaps all of us, I suppose, if there is a federal grant of some kind involved).

Many times the information is free because of the dedicated efforts of volunteers.  This is the case on findagrave, The US GenWeb Project, RootsWeb, Genealogy Trails, and many others.  I wrote about findagrave on Tuesday’s Tip – Websites for Death Information–Free, of course; I will write about the other sites on Thrifty Thursday.

The tremendous amount of information on FamilySearch, in the Family History Library and in local family history centers is available because of the LDS Church and also because of many volunteers around the world who index, add to the wiki and more.

In the past, I have had subscriptions to Ancestry, fold3, NEHGS and memberships in local genealogy societies.  I certainly hope to again.  At present, I am very grateful for the wide availability of resources available to me at no cost and very appreciative of all the work that goes into making these resources available.

I am taking the opportunity to give back in any way that I can.  I have done quite a bit of indexing for FamilySearch, including the 1940 Census [and the 5 million name day that turned into 10 million!].  I have taken photos and posted memorials on findagrave.  I have responded to many queries on my Ancestry tree, offering information and guidance.  I have taught a class and I have researched and built trees for several people — all free.

And, I hope in some small way that this blog provides some useful information to the genealogy community as well.  Maybe it will even provide inspiration to someone else to give back a little.  I think that there will always be free resources available because genealogists tend to be very helpful people, people who like to volunteer and to help others become passionate about family history.  This doesn’t mean that we always expect a free lunch – just that we are grateful for it when it comes.

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