Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Free Genealogy Isn't Free

The third topic in the week-long Genea-opportunities series talks about money:

What do you mean it isn't free? How do we as a community deal with the perception that everything is free for the taking when it comes to genealogy. From commercial databases, to freely stealing content from a blog or website, to being incensed when a genealogist charges for a webinar or syllabus. This is a no-holds barred look at why certain perceptions exist in the genealogy community and how they must change in order for the industry to move forward in the 21st century.

Thomas MaEntee wrote a great post on this subject today: Genealogy - What Do You Mean It Isn't Free?

I'm going to turn the topic at a different angle and dissect the word FREE.

Why should I pay for (insert name of genealogy product here) when I can get it for free?

FamilySearch isn't free. Someone is paying for that information be acquired, stored, preserved, digitized, and more. You may use it with no financial burden to you, but someone else is paying for your privilege.

Find-a-Grave isn't free. Someone is paying for the domain, servers and all that maintaining a massive website entails. That FREE picture you just got? A volunteer paid for that with time, gas money, and camera equipment.

Facebook isn't free. You pay for your use of this site by sharing your profile including your location, marital status, education, and all those countless "Likes" of pages with advertisers.

Blogger isn't free. You pay by having in your URL and Powered by Blogger at the bottom of the page.

When you view a "free" webinar, someone somewhere (likely the speaker) has paid for your access through the creation of a presentation and all the countless non-billable hours it took to perfect.

Even your own volunteer time is given at a cost of whatever else you could be doing. This is a constant challenge with professionals who have to measure everything in billable hours.

Sorry to be a downer and put a price tag on everything, but genealogy isn't free. Someone always has to pay.

The good news is that genealogy is a marketplace and your wallet is a driving force. Because you have to pay for quality research, speakers, books and memberships, you can expect and demand good products. The genealogy market will respond to that and adjust to bring us only quality stuff.

When you get something for "free," be thankful and pay it forward. It is a gift, not a birthright. When asked to pay for a genealogy service, treat it like any other toy you may purchase.

Genealogy products, books, webinars and information are just like other items on the store shelf. You can choose to put them in your shopping cart (or not), but don't expect the cashier to give them to you for free.


  1. Wonderful post and a valuable perspective of the word FREE!

  2. Very good post, and right to the point. I especially liked your part about Find-A-Grave.

  3. Good post. Also, sometimes "free" is worth exactly what you paid for it.

    I've had people email me at the library asking me to find an obituary for them. When I let them know that I found it and tell them that the library would like a donation of $x.xx, that's the last I hear from address to send it to or email address for electronic delivery. I figure if they don't think it's worth a small donation to the library(after all, it took time away from other duties) then they can get it somewhere else or make the trip here and look for it themselves.

  4. Well said, Amy (as usual)! And Quiltin' LibraryLady's comments struck a chord with me. I will be adding my ten cents worth to the debate on my Genealogy Leftovers blog sometime on the Easter weekend.

  5. Well said and accurate. Sometimes people miss the obvious and this is a perfect way to gently make the point. Thanks

  6. Nice post. I really enjoy indexing for sites and hope it pays back a little of what I'm getting for "free."

  7. We talk about teaching children "the value of money"; now that I have read your perceptive post, I can see that they (and many others) need to learn what "free" actually means, too!

  8. Thanks, New Genealogist. I'm an indexer, too, for the very same reason. It's my payment of thanks.

  9. I couldn't agree more. The number of times I've heard whining about Ancestry lately because they have digitised records from State Records NSW and made them available online. It's like Ancestry has stolen them for their own evil purposes, when actually they are providing a value-added service that SRNSW encourages the rest of us to use as well. The whiners think it should be free, but it's their taxes paying for the reading rooms and the microfilms that you can copy for $1 per page, but won't stretch to digitising all the records inhouse. It makes me angry!

    Thank you, I feel better now.

  10. It's never free. Somebody's always paying, at least in time. (So it was never free even in the good old days that seem better and older everytime a person turns around, lol.)

    And thanks for pointing out the costs of maintaining a domain and server space! It's not like the Internet fairy is making all this stuff run. I donate periodically to sites that have really helped me. So many great sites are basically just one person doing amazing work.