The Cost of Genealogy

The above picture represents what many of us put into our genealogy research, time, and money. I believe that if we wish to have a complete as possible family history, then we will have to utilize both of these resources. How much we use them depends on how much we have of these items to give in this pursuit, or in many cases how much we are willing to give.

Time is perhaps the more important of the two. If you are not willing to spend time in the hunt for our family history, then take up another pastime. Unless you have an unlimited amount of money to pay people to do the work for you, then spending time is something you cannot avoid. On occasion, I help people (free of charge) in their genealogy research. I met one gentleman at a local library with a subscription to for its’ patrons to use. After spending some time with him learning about his family and what he was looking for, we logged on to look up some records. Within 15 minutes, we had found many new records and new information. Using what we had learned, we found some more records that had several hundred possible finds for him. I showed him how and what to look for. I was then going to work on my research while he did that. About ten minutes later, I looked up, and he had not even started. I asked him if he had any questions. He told me that there were too many records to look through and wanted me to do it for him. I explained at most he had only an hour’s work and perhaps only five minutes if he got lucky. A few minutes later, he was packing up his stuff, saying he did not have time to “Look through all those records.” Also, he was upset that I would not do it for him. He just was not willing to spend the time and make an effort. I wish I could say this is my only example. Time is something we all spend while doing genealogy. Perhaps that means giving up our television watching, spending less time with our other hobbies, or just becoming better organized in our time management. As you will see, even when we spend money, it necessitates the spending of time.

Now let’s talk about money. I have heard many times that there are many avenues in which you can do your genealogy research without spending money. While this is correct, the fact of the matter is that your finished result, which is your family history, is only as good as what you put into it. I am not saying that you have to throw money into an endless pit, but the wise expenditure of your money (and time) will give you much better results. We have so many subscription sites that offer so many services and records that everyone should at one time or another take advantage of them. If you are not sure which one to use most of them offer a free trial period for you to explore them. One area I have spent money on is the online newspaper repository sites. Everyone should look into this resource in their genealogy work. I have discovered so much more about my family by doing this that I rank them as important as the census, and DNA. But if you only spend money on the for-profit subscription sites, you miss out on so many other genealogy tools. Other areas that money could be well spent on are equipment, education, travel, genealogy magazines, historical society memberships, and much more. It also goes without saying that for each expenditure of money we make, time must be used to make it worthwhile.

I understand budgets and all those daily expenditures that we all must face. I have been working on my family’s genealogy for years, and many times I had to put off spending money on genealogy for more essential items. But I have had conversations with too many people who proudly state “I’ve never spent a dime on my genealogy” and after looking over their work I would have to agree with them. In the end, we all decide what we want to spend our money and time on. For me, my genealogy research has been enjoyable and very educational. But the very first piece advice I give anyone who wants to do their family genealogy is that “genealogy is a long term commitment.”

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56 Responses to The Cost of Genealogy

  1. But so rewarding. There’s nothing better than solving puzzles

  2. Pierre Lagacé says:

    Long term commitment indeed! I am in my 12th year. I would venture that I have spent about 10,000 hours, but no more than $40.

  3. Amy says:

    Great post, Charles. Although not everyone has the time or the money to go as far as they can in the research, this is not a pastime for those who are lazy or willing to settle for a mediocre result. It takes a real commitment of the heart as well as time and money.

  4. If you request marriage or death records, each one can be about $20. It adds up VERY quickly especially if you travel to any courthouses to look for records. Not everything is online.

  5. Great post! I’d love to hear about which newspaper subscriptions you feel are worth it (although I do understand they are often highly dependent upon location). I find it frustrating to pay for a “basic” membership (such as with only discover that I have to pay EVEN MORE for additional access and so on and so forth. Thanks for your thoughts.

    • chmjr2 says:

      Each newspaper site has it good and bad. I use because I have found they are strong in many of the places my family has lived. If you are going to use them my advice as with any site pay the money then research like crazy for the term you have joined up. Also many areas have within them free newspaper sites than can be used. A search on the internet will turn up some of these. Also if you know the date of an item you are looking for the library in that area may be able to help. I have made great finds that way. Best of luck.

    • Shelley says:

      I think newspaper subscription worth is so dependent on the locales of your families. The best newspaper resource I use is the ancestor It’s free, kept up to date, and well organized.

  6. Sandi McGinnis says:


  7. higginsmj says:

    Totally agree! Thanks for sharing.

  8. Reblogged this on Through The Byzantine Gate and commented:
    Here is a well thought out posting frpm a blog friend here at WordPress. Here you will find support for what I have been saying that while this pursuit is rewarding it is not the product of a haphazard approach. Personally I have a budget that limits entertainment and travel so that I have the time and resources for subscriptions to other services. The money and time saved also enables me to purchase documentation. There is a willing sacrifice successful family historians make to bring you a well researched family history narrative. It is important that this topic be brought up and a conversation opened. Ancestry is not Facebook. Family History is a work of dedication. Our contacts are often working relationships. As family historuans it is our responsibility to emphasize it. The social aspect is important but so is the collaboration and individual effort.

  9. You’re so right, its not a quick fix, but, like anything, the more you put in the more you get out.

  10. Well put. I have reblogged with an added comment. I can never emphasize enough that Ancestry and being a family historian is not the same thing as Facebook.

  11. Hi Charles, excellent article! I especially love the picture–very creative and a story itself! Even though I don’t write as much these days– I still spend hours daily doing research that never ends but brings great interest. I agree that newspaper archives can flesh out–breathe life into the facts we collect. It is an investment of time and money for sure, but oh so interesting. I too help others as much as I can, giving back–or as a way to serve. Thanks for another great treatise from those endlessdepths of yours!

    • chmjr2 says:

      The picture is my well used wallet that my granddaughter gave me many Christmases ago. I moved a few things around for privacy, and the watch was also a gift. I know you do not write much these days but how about re-posting some of your old blogs. Many new people here now and always worth a re-read. It is always great to hear from you.

  12. KerryCan says:

    The issue of time is the exact reason I haven’t really delved into genealogy research–I know I would be consumed by it and I simply don’t have the time right now. Someday . . .

  13. I couldn’t agree more with you. TY for this great post and a reminder to us who have put in the time and money how worth the journey has been.

  14. Luanne says:

    This is a stellar post. You are so right. Sometimes we simply have to open the wallet to get what we need. And, as for time, UGH. There is never near enough time. About the man in the library, I will say there is one other possible explanation for his boorish behavior. Some people are so intimidated by research because they have a hard time seeing beyond an overwhelming pile of letters and words. If you felt this way in school, it’s likely you might feel that way about genealogical research.

  15. westernlady says:

    Beautifully written description of the times and trials of being a family genealogist. The past twenty years of research for me has now developed into finding ways to share all the information with my cousins. Since I retired five years ago I have spent a great deal of time researching and organizing the information I have collected and since December of 2018 I have spent five and six hours per day “cleaning” my Ancestry Tree. It is now focused and specific to direct descendants of each immigrant. The 52 Ancestors in 52 Weeks has provided the stories of these ancestors to be available to my cousins. They have the choice of reading it or not, now or later. I’m beginning to feel my job is almost finished and the stories will be left to my cousins and the their children. This is the legacy I can leave.

    • chmjr2 says:

      It is very hard work that you are doing. Have you or have you thought about getting your work published? We have so many low cost ways to do this now.

      • westernlady says:

        Very interesting. I have never considered publishing. Where do you start for information?

      • chmjr2 says:

        You will find many places to check out with a quick search on Google. Also the Aug/Sept. 2019 issue of the Internet Genealogy magazine has a good article on Family history ebooks. While you may not wish to do an ebook many of the companies listed also do print. Amy who has a blog on WordPress called Brotmanblog: A Family Journey has her blog post printed in book form. You could reach out to her and find out who she uses for this. What I am doing is writing a book using Micro Soft Word and having the pages bound (Spiral binding) at a very reasonable price, at my local Staples store. I hope this was of some help.

  16. You put it very well! Genealogy rewards judicious expenditures of time and dollars, if wisely invested. I’m still willing to “spend” entire weekends learning the ins and outs of a new database, and I’m willing to “invest” to support genealogy societies because the small investment of dollars is more than rewarded with access to data, books, and most importantly, a group of people who share your obsessions. 🙂 I think all genealogists should set a budget of what they can afford annually, then spend freely in pursuit of ancestors AND knowledge.

  17. “Amen” to that. For those of us who are “into” research, it is time and money well spent. I look on it as a form of treasure hunt — you never know what nugget you will turn up. As for those who are not “into” it, well, they will never understand.

  18. momfawn says:

    This is a beautifully written piece. So many people say, “I don’t have time,” when they really mean, “I don’t want to give up any of my other habits.” So their projects remain undone. – Fawn

  19. heresmeg says:

    Totally agree!!! Thanks 🙂

  20. I have a budget for genealogy so I don’t go crazy. It is my only hobby currently, so I put a lot of time and effort into it. It’s amazing how many people want you to do the work for them and to do it for free. I guess watching the likes of Long Lost Family or Who Do You Think You Are? perhaps gives people the impression it’s easy and you get results instantly, oh if only they knew! Please excuse me as I go off to bury myself in a pile of genealogy paperwork!

    • chmjr2 says:

      You have made some very good points. I agree people just do not realize how much time that good family history takes. Then you have some people who just want the work done for them. Also the shows that you mentioned do make it look easy they also have brought many people to the hobby of genealogy. Thank you so much for your comment.

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