Earlier this week, I received an email from a blog reader named Marjorie. She was asking for advice. I was going to email her privately, then thought a blog reply would help others in the same boat. Also, I don’t have very good answers for her location questions, so I’m hoping you readers will provide your input in the comment section. Thanks Marjorie for letting me publish your question, which is below:
For a few years I have just been collection names and filling my tree. Now I want to get serious, so I am going back and basically starting over and doing it properly. My question is what would be a reasonable budget for one doing their personal family history and where should I invest and what should I avoid. My research is primarily in Mass., Iowa, Missouri, Illinois, and Oregon. What books, societies and publications should I invest in? I am learning much from your blog and others. Thank you for your time.
I must admit, I could write a book-length answer to them without even blinking.
The “reasonable budget” will depend on your definition of getting serious. What are your goals? A basic family genealogy for your relatives? A well-sourced personal family history? Publication? Education? Professional pursuits? Each goal varies, so will the price. Whatever you choose, you’re going to have to pay for some vital records and the cost and access vary by state/county/jurisdiction.
As for societies: do you want local interaction and face-to-face how-to instruction, or national publications? The societies you choose will depend on what you want out of the experience. I belong to a local society for social interaction (I have no ancestors in this area) and distant societies where I have an ancestral interest. I can’t attend meetings at the distant societies, but I enjoy and value their publications.
Personally, I wouldn’t run out and buy a bunch of books just yet. Get a feel for your research interests and weaknesses. Consult Cyndi’s List page for beginners. If you have access to a public library, ask a librarian for some genealogy books at their location or others. Sample the books that way, then buy the ones you can’t live without.
Now let’s talk fee-based websites. Ancestry.com is the biggie. I’m a subscriber and use it often. Many libraries have a special version that card holders can access for free, so check on that. I pay for a subscription because I do so much at home and the fee-based version has all the bells and whistles. Before paying for any genealogy site, read some reviews and opinions. Also, don’t forget the great (currently) free resource FamilySearch.org. I like the FamilySearch Pilot page. Some societies give members free access to certain fee-based databases. I know Footnote.com occasionally offers free access to some of their collections for a limited time so check there often. When you sample the freebies, it will help you figure out what you need in your genealogy tool box and what you can live without.
The states of interest to you: MA, IL, MO, IA, OR are not states in which I have significant research interest, so I am hoping some readers and friends leave comments that may help you. One great resource is at Miriam Midkiff's AnceStories blog. Each week, she publishes a set of online resources for a particular state. She's doing it in alphabetical order, so MA, MO, and OR are just around the corner. Click Iowa and Illinois for great online resources.
I realize I didn’t answer a lot of your questions, but much of it depends on your interests, goals and location. Also, I wasn't kidding when I said I could write a book on this. At some point, I just have to hit "publish."
By reading genealogy blogs, you’ll learn a lot about what is essential and what's just luxury. Ask lots of questions because bloggers are really friendly and helpful. At the very least you’ll get enough information to lead you to the offline resources that may hold the answers.
So what do you think, readers? Have anything to add to this giant question with lots of possible answers? Help Marjorie out!