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?

19 Responses to “Yes Folks, Genealogy DOES Cost Money!”

  1. Barbara says:

    Hear hear!!!!!!

  2. Jen Coates says:

    A well thought out and considered post Alona. I agree wholeheartedly. One thing that seems common amongst the “it should all be free” lobby are “brick walls”. But they are not real brick walls, merely a refusal to pay for a critical document (e.g. birth certificate) to answer that question. Purchasing core documents or subscriptions to sites where you can view them is practising good genealogy. Refusing to pay for anything is also very poor practice.

  3. Jen Coates says:

    P.S. And how did you know I research in my PJs? 😉

  4. Well said, Alona & Jen!

  5. Barb says:

    Well said! I recently was able to prove my Mother-in-law’s ancestry into the Daughters of the American Revolution. I’ve been researching for years trying to find a link for her (she’s 86). It couldn’t have happened without purchasing important documents and subscriptions, trips to various libraries throughout the country, and an understanding hubby!

  6. Jen says:

    A very well considered post Alona. I think there is a place for free and commercial services. Digital preservation can be an expensive process but so critical to maintaining the records of our ancestors and history. Without these commercial companies many records may not see the light of day. Many are so frail now and cannot be accessed by the public. As for the advertising, it is often the only way I find out about new records or products that help me with my genealogy. And the convenience of online databases cannot be overestimated not only because I live in a rural area, but our libraries and societies cannot be expected to have copies of everything and I am prepared to pay for this.

  7. Judy Webster says:

    I totally agree. You’ve summed it up well, Alona.

  8. crissouli says:

    I have included your blog in either INTERESTING BLOGS or GENERAL INTEREST in FRIDAY FOSSICKING at

    Thank you, Chris

  9. Anne says:

    Just a thought. I fully agree that access to records is not free. If the user does not pay, somebody is subsidising him or her.
    But all researchers should start with asking family members, and that is free but invaluable. No amount of documents can substitute for those conversations.

  10. Susie Zada says:

    What a superbly thought out and written blog!
    The only comment(s) I could add – if you’ve read every word and still have some doubts, read it all again slowly. Then if you still don’t understand and agree with every word that Alona said get into your PJs and crawl back into bed on this cold morning. Then start reading it slowly again!

    Eventually you’ll understand and if you don’t then you’ll never be a really successful family history researcher – to be one of those you need a lot of other characteristics – empathy, understanding, compassion, enquiring mind, determination, sharing attitude, … I could keep going but I might wear out my finger and I’ve got too much family and local history to do ????

    • Alona says:

      Thankyou for your kind words Susie. I know that some will never (want to) understand. And you’re right that it does have a lot to do with attitude as well.

      • Susie Zada says:

        Those who don’t want to understand are the big losers here! I’ve had so many comments from complainers demanding everything for free – fortunately they are far outweighed by the people who say ‘Thank You’! The latter leave a far greater and long lasting impression!

  11. Pauleen says:

    It has long been a mystery why people think our obsession should be free. I suspect this wasn’t the case until records started to be available in the internet. While genealogy may not be cheap, it is way cheaper than some others – golfing, yachting, boats, etc. great post!

  12. Margie says:

    I use a mix of free, paid and library-subsidised sites, and it’s certainly transformed my researching!

    Recently I came across one of those free user forums where people post queries and others help with ideas. The generosity of people is amazing – eg someone volunteering to go to a cemetery and photograph a headstone for an overseas enquirer. We’re so lucky to have that.

    What I did notice was an increasing tendency for some enquirers to abuse this generosity eg “I need someone to go to XXX registry office / library / church and find a certificate / entry /photo, preferably this week.” Even good will work costs time, effort and petrol / train / bus fares, let alone the cost of copying, transcription, certificate.

    What was more amazing was when enquirers were surprised or offended if others simply responded with links and polite suggestions for alternative ways to get the desired info.

    Thank goodness for the free sites. Thank goodness for libraries. Thank goodness for commercial sites that give me a way to get that missing record that fills in a gap!

  13. Glenice Gare says:

    Well said, Alona! and especially, thanks for sharing so generously. You don’t have to do that- it is way above and beyond the call of duty /and/or working at Gould Books. A great contribution to the genealogy search and something we can all do, even if the cost is time and effort and not money!

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