Sunday, July 8, 2012

The cost of genealogical research - and potential data loss!

Revisiting my research and sorting it into order has given me a new perspective.

I had started to get my research into control, starting to scan documents into folders. Making electronic backups. This process has been very slow, as I work fulltime, have a family and also study.

Then my husband had a fall while carrying the laptop, and it broke.

Our laptop had our life on it – not just the typical household stuff, photos etc – but my husband’s work portfolio and all my family history research.

Data retrieval cost a pretty penny, but was necessary to do. As cheap as external storage drives now are, we simply hadn’t had the money to purchase sufficient storage to back everything up.

Fortunately, I had my family tree uploaded to Tribal Pages. I’ve always subscribed to the belief that I do not own my ancestors, so freely share my research with people who can prove a family connection. 

I know some people out there think that because they did the research, and paid for the website subscriptions and the BDM certificates that they don’t have to share. From my own experience, I do appreciate that the costs aren’t insignificant (both in terms of time and money), but to each their own, its just not a belief I subscribe to.

I have had some qualms however, when my sharing has meant that my research has been taken and grafted on to someone else’s tree without so much as the courtesy of asking my permission, nor even citing me as a source. It grates even more, when they’ve made numerous mistakes, so obviously don’t have the same research standards as me. But you can’t avoid plagarists, nor “name collectors” in this field unfortunately.

Anyway, I also had some family history research documents on another computer, and some were stored also on DropBox (cloud storage is fabulous!). And I also had my hard copy research. So I could have reassembled most of my research eventually, with only a little loss – but that would have taken time.

This disaster made me think. If we had a fire or similar disaster, what would I do? How much would it cost to replace everything I had? No doubt, the family history research would be the least of my priorities, but eventually, it would rise to the top.

The info stored on TribalPages would be ok. However, this website (714 names) contains only the results of my research. Its not the research, nor is it the evidence. The info contained here, is just the results of more than 12 years research, and collaborations with other family branches. And family history research is much more than just gathering names and dates.

In today’s prices it would cost me £9 to replace every certificate I have got.  At today’s exchange rate, that is $NZ18 per certificate. For each name verified during research, that’s a minimum of two certificates per name (sometimes three). Obviously, I’ve not been able to get a certificate for everyone on my tree – mainly just the direct line ancestors, but I have had to get some “sibling” certificates to support my research sometimes. And this for the four branches of my maternal line, and four branches of my paternal line – at least six generations back each! I haven’t done the maths, but I imagine the cost is not insignificant.

In addition to my certificates, I also have my labour and time. True it’s a labour of love. But I hate to think how much time I have spent. Sometimes information is quick to find, other times you can spend years and years off and on, looking for one small piece of information.

In my early days, I had to do the hard slog, looking through registers in public records offices. Visiting LDS Family History Libraries, looking through reels and reels of microfilms. Ordering microfilms on interloan from some other LDS Family History Library – can’t remember the cost per reel in those days.

More and more has become available online now, and I did subscribe to Ancestry to help with my research – a couple of hundred dollars per year, I think, at the time. 

Then I’ve also had subscriptions to websites to allow me to share the information with family in as user-friendly a manner as possible.  The current one, on TribalPages, costs me about $45 per year. There are most probably better ones out there, but this is the most cost effective, affordable one for me. TribalPages allows collaboration as mentioned previously, but it also offers the ability for people to create their own family tree graphic. Family have chipped in a couple of times.

Now, due to my job, I have free access to Ancestry and FindMyPast at work. However, to do the research for free, I’d need to stay behind after work – which I do, from time to time. 

Also, I can find some of my English information for free on the LDS’s FamilySearch site, which helps.
However, most of the information on these sites, are just indexes. Its not true to say its all online, because its not. Still have to order those expensive certificates. These websites just save you the cost of an airfare to the local public records office.

Unfortunately, the Scottish government now has a firm commercial grip on the information for my Scottish lines. I find ScotlandsPeople horrendously expensive, and it doesn’t allow libraries outside of Scotland to subscribe. 

ScotlandsPeople charge just to view the indexes, then you also have to pay to view the documents. So I’ve been unable to do any Scottish research for a long time because it is currently not in my budget.

One of my father’s branches is from Newfoundland. Happily the Grand Banks website for Newfoundland has a huge team of enthusiastic researchers, who are indexing and providing information for FREE

FamilySearch have also scanned parish registers for Newfoundland, and also provide them for free. As they are not yet indexed, this does cost a time commitment however – as I need to go through each individual image and check for “my” names.

So all this thinking has really pressed home to me, I really need to digitize and ensure I backup adequately – in a coherent manner, so that if the worst happens, I don’t have to waste precious time reassembling my research.

I also need to succession plan. Who to pass the sum of my research on to, in the event of my death? I’d hate to think of future generations having to start again from scratch.


  1. So many good points in your post Seonaid. I've recently been backing up my photos, FTM backups and certificates using Google drive, dropbox and even gmail to ensure I don't lose them. As you say cloud storage is fabulous. I do have a world sub in with a cousin to share costs but its all still quite expensive. As for succession ......I have no idea yet.

  2. Excellent points - so often it is not until we need it that we start thinking about backing up all our data. And how many who back up have not tested the backups? I agree with you on Newfoundland research through GrandBanks. It is an amazing site but also check out FamilySearch as they have digitized some of their microfilmed records - and what part of Newfoundland (my ancestors are from the Bonavista region). Cheers and hope you are back up to speed soon.

  3. Oh Seonid i so relate to everything here being the family genealogist for over 35 years! I have my computer backed up on an external harddrive that wasn't that expensive when you compare the pain of losing everything!

    I too am finding my efforts which i give freely, all over the place without a mention that it came from me but what galls more is that these people don't respond back with their own info for you to add to your own information after freely giving to them. I also have my photographs 'stolen' off the internet and find them pasted elsewhere...little we can do about that but when they are presented to such places as Cenotaph database and other organisations... that galls me! I give my grave photos freely to Cenotaph after i have written short bios of those buried. Luckily being connected to Auckland Museum, database staff know me and my photography, but i was surprised to learn this!

    Why can't people just be honest? As long as i'm attributed I don't mind people using my information. It's definitely got worse over the years!

    Keep up the great work Seonaid! Great post.

    Yours in genealogy