Yes Folks, Genealogy DOES Cost Money!

The commercialisation of genealogy, and genealogy costing money is not a new topic, as it’s one that seems to pop-up every now and then.

This post is one that stems from comments I saw on Facebook from someone who is convenor of a genealogy-related Facebook Group who said she wouldn’t share any post (no matter how relevant or useful) if the blog had adverts on it, simply because they didn’t wish to promote commercial genealogy. This led to numerous comments asking why.

Personally I don’t agree with this woman, as we should do all we can to help preserve our records and history, commercial or otherwise.

Before I go on let me just state up front, that yes I do work in a genealogy bookshop, Gould Genealogy & History ( Yes, it is a commercial business, and currently lists about 7000 products on our website. No, it doesn’t make bundles of money, but we do have wonderful customers who have kept our little family business going for over 40 years.

Would the fact that I work in the genealogy industry influence my opinion? I doubt it. Or maybe it has, as I see the work that goes into caring, restoring, archiving, housing and digitising records, and I know that it ALL costs money, so I have no objection when paying my subscription fees to various online websites, or to a number of societies and so on.

For sure you can do a lot for free, and I do not condemn that in any way. In fact, I promote the use of free sites (just check my list of Discovering Links posts, and Facebook Links). But during your genealogical journey there comes a time when you need to order a certificate, pay for a researcher, join a society, buy a subscription to a website or magazine (or both), buy a book to help your with your search, or even a DNA kit or two. So as you see it’s not ALL free.

Despite that, there is an anti-commercialism feeling from some people in the genealogy scene. I don’t know why, but I do know it’s there.

Here’s a question, how many of you have been able to view ORIGINAL RECORDS online? By that I mean the scanned images of the originals? I have, and to say it is very cool is an understatement. Wills, land records, parish chest records, shipping lists and so on … it is super exciting to see them, yet without funding for preservation, archiving and digitising we just wouldn’t have these records available.

Just think, a few years ago the only way to see them (apart writing and getting photocopies) would have been to travel to that region and go to the local archive. So the fact that you can see them from home, even in your pyjamas if you wish, is simply AWESOME … and it saves you money on airfares! And yes, a subscription can cost several hundreds of dollars, but that’s STILL cheaper than an airfare!

“The information is public and should remain free to all of us and not be the property of some private company.” This is common complaint from people. And it’s one that I’ve partly covered above. If a record was free from a society or archive, and is now on a pay website that doesn’t mean that the free record is no longer available if you go to (or get in touch with the society or archive). It simply means you can now access it easier from your own home, online, but to do so yes, you’ll have to pay. It also means that the society or archive has possibly been paid some money which will go towards helping store those and other original records better for the future.

Subscription Sites
Paying money for a subscription simply means that you are giving that company money to then be able to negotiate with another archive to obtain and digitise their records, which helps everyone in the long term.

Societies rely on membership money as that enables them to continue to pay rent and pay the other regular bills for their premises, continue to collect books and records, update their website, and sometimes have guest presenters speak at their meetings. Some even have a small bookshop and sell products to their members, which help supplement their income.

It’s a general fact that there’s not a lot of money to be made in genealogy research, so if a researcher has adverts, or uses affiliate links to supplement their income why is that considered wrong? You as a customer don’t pay more for their services, and it helps them out a little.

If a genealogical researcher or speaker writes a book, is it wrong that they spruik it? Surely not? A number of authors I know have adverts of the books they’ve written on their website, and so they should. It takes not only a whole lot of knowledge, but a lot of time and money to write and publish a book, and yet, unless you sell many thousands of copies, you’re simply making peanuts. Still here they are sharing their expertise, to help you and others, with research, so good on them. Buy it and support them.

Other hobbies
Model trains, fishing, knitting, papercraft, you name it, people are happy to pay for their hobby, yet when it comes to genealogy many say ‘it should be free’. I don’t believe so, as it really is helping to preserve our records and our history.

For those who’ve read this far and totally disagree with me, just answer this one question, WHY do you believe genealogy should be free?