Best Buys For Genealogists

By Rick Crume Premium

Given my Dutch and Scottish ancestry, my frugal ways should come as no surprise. Whenever I buy a genealogy book or CD that doesn’t cost me an arm and a leg, I feel good. If I end up using the item a lot and really get my money’s worth, I feel supremely satisfied.

Whatever your roots and genealogy budget, you’re bound to be looking for the best values, too. So here’s a selection of books, CD-ROMs, maps and other items that provide an outstanding value for the price. Shopping from this list will give you a lot of bang for the buck — and would make your most thrifty ancestors proud.


Family History Documentation Guidelines:

This handy primer shows you how to cite sources such as books, records and Web sites. It’s designed especially for users of Personal Ancestral File, but you’ll find it useful no matter what genealogy software you use. The 104-page spiral-bound book opens up flat on your desk for easy reference. Silicon Valley PAF Users Group, <>


Three of the largest genealogy conferences publish surprisingly inexpensive books summarizing the speakers’ presentations. Each syllabus, typically a hefty 500-page tome, is chock-full of practical advice, references and resources:

Federation of Genealogical Societies (FGS) Conferences — 1996, $10 ($5 for FGS members); 1998-2000, $15 each ($12 for members); all four, $33 plus postage. <>, (888)347-1500

GENTECH Conferences on using technology in genealogy — 1998, $5; 2001, $20. <>

National Genealogical Society (NGS) Conferences in the States — 1998 to 2000, $10 each ($8 for NGS members); 2001, $20 ($16 for members). <> (choose NGS Publications), (800) 473-0060

The Handybook for Genealogists: The ninth edition of this perennial favorite gives addresses and phone numbers for every US county courthouse and summarizes its record holdings. Also included are maps showing county boundaries and directories of archives, genealogical libraries and societies. You might find much of this information with some diligent Web searching, but it’s a lot easier to have it all at your fingertips in this book. $34.95. <>, (800) 289-0963


1880 US Census and National Index:

A tremendous resource for American genealogists, this set of 55 CDs has information on about 50 million individuals. Even if you don’t know the state where your ancestors lived, you still may be able to find them in the national index. $49. Family-Search, <>, (800) 537-5971 or (801) 240-3800

1881 British Census: This set of 25 CDs lists 30 million people from England, Wales, Scotland, the Channel Islands and the Isle of Man. $25.50. You can also order CDs for Scotland, Wales and English regions separately. FamilySearch, <>, (800) 537-5971 or (801) 240-3800

British Isles Genealogical Register (Big R) 2000: This lists more than 155,000 surnames, along with the family’s place of residence in England, Scotland, Wales or Ireland, a time period and the researcher’s name and contact information. About $18 including postage. The Federation of Family History Societies also carries a wide assortment of inexpensive guides, such as Irish Ancestry: A Beginner’s Guide and Location of British Army Records. <>

Clip-Art from Dover Publishing: These collections from the popular books include both ornamental designs and frames on eight CDs: Cherub Illustrations, Celtic Frames, Heraldic Designs, Stencil Designs, Old Fashioned Floral Designs, Old Fashioned Frames, Decorative Corners and Decorative Ornaments. For Windows or Macintosh, $9.95 each. Petersen Reproductions, <>, (877) 259-6144

Freedman’s Bank Records: A major resource for those with African-American ancestry, these records provide the names and family relationships of newly freed slaves who used the Freedman’s Bank from about 1864 to 1871. The file contains about 480,000 names. $6.50. FamilySearch, <>, (800) 537-5971 or (801) 240-3800

Heritage Quest Census Records: Heritage Quest has put all 12,555 rolls of US federal census microfilm from 1790 to 1920 on CD-ROMs. You can view the census records on your computer screen, zoom in for greater detail and print any page. $19.95 per CD ($14.95 for members of the Heritage Quest Research Club). Each disc contains the same data as its corresponding microfilm roll from the National Archives. While less convenient, microfilm rentals from Heritage Quest are still a good deal, too ($3.25 per roll or $2.75 each for 10 or more). You can place your rental order through many public libraries. Heritage Quest also publishes some of the most complete and accurate census indexes on CD-ROM and in book form. <>, (800) 760-2455


CHEAP NOTEBOOK COMPUTERS: You can now get an amazingly powerful computer in a very little package — and you won’t have to take out a second mortgage to buy it. A notebook computer that you can take to libraries or family reunions could make an ideal complement to your desktop. If you don’t have any computer yet, a notebook may be all you need for both home and travel. Almost every major PC manufacturer offers a notebook computer with all the basics for around $1,000. For example:

Compaq 1200 Series — 800MHz Celeron, 128MB RAM, 10GB hard drive, CD-ROM, 56Kbps modem, 12.1-inch SVGA TFT display, 7.3 lbs.; $999. <>, (800) 888-0200

Dell inspiron 2500 — 900MHz Celeron, 64MB RAM, 10GB hard drive, CD-ROM, 56Kbps modem, 12.1-inch SVGA TFT display, 7.5 lbs.; $999. <>, (800) 388-8542

Gateway Solo 1200 — 800MHz Celeron, 128MB RAM, 10GB hard drive, CD-ROM, 56Kbps modem, 12.1-inch XGA TFT display, 6.8 lbs.; $999. <>, (800) 846-2000

IBM ThinkPad i Series 1200 — 700MHz Celeron, 64MB RAM, 10GB hard drive, CD-ROM, 56Kbps modem, 13.3-inch XGA TFT display, 6 lbs.; $999. <>, (888) 746-7426

Toshiba Satellite 1800-S203– 800MHz Celeron, 128MB RAM, 15GB hard drive, DVD-ROM, 56Kbps modem, 13.3-inch XGA TFT display, 7 lbs.; $1,099. <>, (800) 867-4422

REFURBISHED COMPUTERS: You can save a lot on refurbished computers sold directly by a manufacturer or retailer. These computers were typically returned under warranty because of some defect and then brought into working order. Check out these Web sites: Compaq <>; Dell <>, click on Notebooks & Desktops and then on Refurbished Systems;Gateway <>, click on Remanufactured PCs; Hewlett-Packard <>, click on Refurbished Products; IBM <>.

General society memberships

LOCAL GENEALOGICAL AND HISTORICAL SOCIETIES: Local societies often maintain a library of books and sponsor genealogy classes. A society where your ancestors lived may publish gravestone transcriptions from area cemeteries, offer research services and publish a newsletter. For a list of societies, most of which belong to the national Federation of Genealogical Societies <>, see <>.

NATIONAL GENEALOGICAL SOCIETY: Members receive both the NGS Newsmagazine with how-to articles and software reviews, published six times a year, and the society’s scholarly journal, published four times a year. In addition, members throughout the continental United States have access to the library’s book-lending service. $40 per year. <>, (800) 473-0060

NEW ENGLAND HISTORIC GENEALOGICAL SOCIETY: Founded in 1845, NEHGS in Boston is the oldest genealogical society in the United States. Members receive the quarterly The New England Historical and Genealogical Register and a magazine, New England Ancestors, published five times a year. In addition, members may borrow books from the circulating library’s 25,000-volume collection and access exclusive online resources. $50 per year. <>, (617) 536-5740


FAMILY HISTORY CENTERS: The vast holdings of the Family History Library in Salt Lake City, the largest genealogy library in the world, draw an average of more than 2,000 visitors every day. Admittance is free to all. But if you can’t visit the library in person, you can borrow most of the Family History Library’s microfilms and microfiches through more than 3,400 branch family history centers operating in more than 80 countries and territories. The fees in the United States are about $3.25 per microfilm roll and 15 cents per microfiche. For the location of a Family History Center in your community, go to FamilySearch <>, look under the heading Family History Library System and click on Find a Family History Center Near You. Or look in the Yellow Pages under Churches — Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

PRIVATE GENEALOGY LIBRARIES: The price of a one-day ticket to Disneyland, $43. A ticket to a Los Angeles Lakers playoff game (average seating), $55. A day at the Southern California Genealogical Society Library, $2. Spending a day at a private genealogy library is not only unbelievably cheap, but also a great opportunity to make progress in your family history research. And you won’t get sick on the rides or have to contend with unruly fans.

When you travel, make a point to spend time in some of America’s largest private genealogy libraries. Always call ahead to confirm the library’s hours and to get the dates of holiday closings. Before you leave home you might also use the library’s online catalog to prepare a list of the items you want to check. (See “Your Virtual Library Card” in Family Tree Magazine, April 2000, for help in using online library catalogs.) Here are some worth a detour, with their bargain-basement fees:

Daughters of the American Revolution (DAR) — 1776 D St. NW, Washington, DC 20006, (202) 879-3229, <>. Monday-Friday, 8:45 a.m.-4 p.m.; Sunday, 1-5 p.m. Free for DAR and SAR members; $5 for others ($3 on Sundays).

Fiske Genealogical Library — 1644 43rd Ave. E., Seattle, WA 98112, (206) 328-2716, <>. Monday, 10 a.m.-3 p.m.; Wednesday, noon-8 p.m.; Thursday, 3-8 p.m.; Saturday, 10 a.m.-3 p.m.; second Sunday of the month, 1-4 p.m. $40 per year, $5 per day, $3 for an evening.

Genealogical Forum of Oregon — 1505 SE Gideon St., Box 42567, Portland, OR 97242, (503) 963-1932, <>. Monday, Wednesday and Saturday, 9:30 a.m.-3 p.m.; Tuesday and Thursday, 9:30 a.m.-9 p.m. $4 for nonmembers.

Genealogical Society of Pennsylvania — 215 S. Broad St., 7th Floor, Philadelphia, PA 19107, (215) 545-0391, <>. Monday-Wednesday, 10 a.m.-4 p.m.; Saturday, 10 a.m.-4 p.m. by appointment only. $5 for nonmembers.

The Heritage Library — Suite 300, The Courtyard Building, Hilton Head Island, SC 29928, (843) 686-6560, <>. Monday, Thursday, Friday and Saturday, 9 a.m.-3 p.m. Donations welcome.

Minnesota Genealogical Society — 5768 Olson Memorial Highway, Golden Valley, MN 55422, (763) 595-9347, <>. Wednesday, Thursday and Saturday, 9 a.m.-3 p.m.; Tuesday and Thursday, 6:30-9:30 p.m. $5 for nonmembers.

National Genealogical Society (NGS) Library — 4527 17th St. N., Arlington, VA 22207, (800) 473-0060, <>. Monday, 10 a.m.-5 p.m.; Wednesday, 10 a.m.-9 p.m.; Friday-Saturday, 10 a.m.-4 p.m. $5 for nonmembers.

New England Historic Genealogical Society (NEHGS) — 101 Newbury St., Boston, MA 02116, (617) 536-5740, <>. Tuesday, Friday and Saturday, 9 a.m.-5 p.m.; Wednesday-Thursday, 9 a.m.-9 p.m. $15 for nonmembers.

New York Genealogical & Biographical Society (NYCBS) — 122 E. 58th St., New York, NY 10022, (212) 755-8532, <>. Tuesday-Saturday, 9:30 a.m.-5 p.m. $10 donation from nonmembers.

New York State Historical Association — Lake Road, State Highway 80, Box 800, Cooperstown, NY 13326, (607) 547-1470, <>. Monday and Wednesday, 9 a.m.-9 p.m.; Tuesday, Thursday and Friday, 9 a.m.-5 p.m.; and Saturday, 1-5 p.m. Summer hours are weekdays, 9 a.m.-5 p.m., and Saturday, 1-5 p.m. $3 for nonmembers.

Newberry Library — 60 W. Walton St., Chicago, IL 60610, (312) 943-9090, <>. Tuesday-Thursday, 10 a.m.-6 p.m; Friday-Saturday, 9 a.m.-5 p.m. Voluntary contribution.

Sons of the American Revolution (SAR) Historical and Genealogical Library — 1000 S. Fourth St., Louisville, KY 40203, (502) 589-1776, <>. Monday-Friday, 9:30 a.m.-4:30 p.m. Free to DAR and SAR members, $5 for others.

Southern California Genealogical Society and Family Research Library — 417 Irving Drive, Burbank, CA 91504, (818) 843-7247, <>. Tuesday, 10 a.m.-9 p.m.; Wednesday-Friday, 10 a.m.-4 p.m.; first and second Sunday, and third and fourth Saturday of each month, 10 a.m.-4 p.m. A $2 donation is suggested from nonmembers.

Western Reserve Historical Society — 10825 East Blvd., Cleveland, OH 44106, (216) 721-5722, <>. Tuesday, Thursday, Friday and Saturday, 9 a.m.-5 p.m.; Wednesday, 9 a.m.-9 p.m.; and Sunday, noon-5 p.m. Nonmembers: $7.50 for adults, $6.50 for seniors, $5 for students.

Online databases

1900 US Census: has not only put images of every page from the 1900 US Census online, but also created an index to every head of household. A subscription to both the census records and the index is $14.99 per month or $79.99 per year. <>, (800) 548-1806 This site lets you search through hundreds of millions of names in thousands of databases all at once. Among the most important resources here are US census indexes, 1790-1870; the Periodical Source Index (PERSI), an index to thousands of genealogical journals; the Civil War Research Database; early American marriage records; and a reconstruction of the 1890 US census. Many databases on this site are free, but as a premium member you get access to everything for $24.95 for three months or $69.95 per year. < >, (800) 262-3787

Genealogy Library: Now for the price of just one or two books or CD-ROMs you get a full year of online access to a virtual library of genealogy books. A subscription to Genealogy Library brings you more than 1,900 genealogies and more than 250 town and county histories and published records, as well as vital records, US census indexes, 1850 census images and dozens of collections of land, military, marriage, probate, church and other records previously published as Family Archive CD-ROMs by $9.99 per month or $49.99 per year. <>, (800) 548-1806 (For a complete review, see the October 2001 Family Tree Magazine.)

US Federal Census Subscription: is putting scanned images of all the US federal census records from 1790 to 1920 online. The 1790, 1800, 1880 and 1920 censuses were completed first and more records are added every week. In addition, head-of-household indexes will be added for the later census years. $24.95 for three months or $69.95 per year. You can get an annual subscription to both the census records and for $99.90. < >, (800) 262-3787

Preservation & storage

Genealogical storage products: The Hollinger Corp. produces a full range of products such as record storage boxes, file folders and albums to safely store your old family records and photographs. The company offers competitive prices, especially if you buy in large quantities. <>, (800) 634-0491

Hon filing cabinets: The Hon 500 Series file cabinets are 25 inches deep and provide economical storage and easy access for all your paper files. The two-drawer cabinet costs $89.99, but you might as well get the four-drawer cabinet for just $10 more. Add hanging file folders and, depending on the volume of your genealogy files, you may have enough room to organize and store all your personal financial papers, too. OfficeMax, <>, (800) 283-7674


KinShips: A picture of the ship that brought your ancestors from Europe makes an ideal illustration for your family history. KinShips’ collection of prints includes more than 300 ships, mostly ones in service between 1890 and 1930. A 4×6-inch print matted to fit an 8×10-inch frame costs just $15 plus postage. <>

Research & copy services

Library of Congress Photoduplication Service: You can get a copy of almost any book, microfilm or photograph in the Library of Congress, as long as the item is not copyrighted. (Works published in the United States before 1923 are in the public domain.) Fees include $12 for processing and research and 50 cents per photocopy page, so a large book could be expensive. Still, the service gives you access to rare books and prints you might not find anywhere else, and it’s cheaper than a trip to Washington, DC. <>, (202) 707-5640.

NEHGS Research Service: The staff of the New England Historic Genealogical Society will search dozens of major sources in its collections for a name and send you copies of the pertinent pages. Fees generally range from $8 to $20. For example, they’ll check up to five published and indexed genealogies or local histories and photocopy all pertinent pages for $12 plus postage and handling. Members get a 25 percent discount. <>, (617) 536-5740 Ext. 233

NGSearch: National Genealogical Society Library staff will check any indexed book in the society’s collection (see <>) for the name of an individual, a couple or a fact, for just $5 for NGS members or $10 for nonmembers. The fee covers copies of the title page, the index page and up to 5 more pages. Additional pages are 25 cents each. <>, (800) 473-0060

Software and scanners


Adobe Photoshop Elements: This $99 program for editing photographs gives you most of the features of the $600 Photoshop, and it’s easier to use. Use Photoshop Elements to create and edit digital images for print, e-mail and the Web. Owners of Adobe PhotoDeluxe and other selected programs get a $30 rebate. For Windows or Macintosh. <>

Personal Ancestral File: You can download this popular genealogy software program for the best price of all — free — but if you’d rather have it on a CD it’s just $6 for Windows (version 5.1) and $10 for Macs (version 2.3.1). FamilySearch, <>, (800) 537-5971 or (801) 240-3800


Siemens Pocket Reader: This $100 handheld model scans one line of printed text at a time, perfect for toting along to the library. You don’t even need to bring your PC. <>

Tamarack 2400FS Film Scanner: Most flatbed scanners have a maximum resolution of 1200 dots per inch (dpi) or less, which isn’t adequate to do a good job with slides and negatives. This 2400-dpi scanner will let you preserve digital copies of your old slides and negatives on your computer. $190., <>, (800) 888-4437

Videos Each video in this series features an expert discussing a genealogy topic such as using the Internet, organizing your files or searching in cemeteries. $14.95 each. The Studio, <>, (877) 263-2267

“Ancestors”: If you missed the popular PBS series or just want to see it again, you can still catch it on video. The first series introduces key concepts for beginners, and the second series features experts sharing their real-life family history stories and discoveries. First series: $14.99 for individual episodes or $59.99 for all 10 episodes on two videocassettes. Second series: $10.95 for individual episodes or $49.95 for all 13 episodes on four videocassettes. PBS Home Video, <>, (800) 828-4PBS

From the December 2001 issue of Family Tree Magazine