Out on a Limb: The Real Deal

By Allison Dolan Premium

Everyone loves a bargain — but for me, frugality is a way of life. Most of my wardrobe comes straight off the clearance racks. Frivolities such as cable TV? Forget it. My grocery-shopping philosophy: If it’s not on sale and I don’t have a coupon, I’m paying too much.

Naturally, I found this issue’s roundup of money-saving measures for genealogy as exciting as super-double-coupon week.

My glee doesn’t derive simply from being a tightwad. Though family history may not seem a pricey pastime at first — you can find lots of free data on the Internet and in libraries, after all — it doesn’t take long for reality to set in. The cost of photocopies alone could necessitate a second mortgage. Online data services’ subscription fees might rival your monthly car payment. Soon you find yourself wishing your ancestors had bequeathed you a small fortune instead of a small forehead.

Yes, every genealogist could use some budget relief. So even if you’re not a hard-core cheapskate like me, you’ll appreciate our cover story, where we identify 26 easy ways to reduce your roots research expenses, from cutting those photocopying fees to sniffing out steals on books, Web sites and office supplies.

You’ll also get hints on genealogical good deals throughout this issue. For example, our online vital-records guide highlights a handful of free Web sites that host official birth, marriage and death data. Our Toolkit section gives you the scoop on a little-known but immensely valuable Internet resource. And don’t overlook one of the longest-running bargains in family history: genealogical-society membership. Societies’ annual dues are a real steal when you consider all the benefits of belonging to such a group. If you haven’t yet discovered the society scene, read our story to find out what your money will buy.

All this budget-conscious coverage might make you more miserly, too — but don’t eradicate your entire genealogy budget just yet. There’s one more lesson in thriftiness to keep in mind: Be realistic about what you can expect to get for free. We often hear family historians grumble about the costs of genealogy products and services. Of course, no one wants to pay more than she has to, and many of you must limit the dollars you devote to research. But that doesn’t mean you should expect unpaid access to every Web site or gratis research from every library and archive. In other words, don’t pass up valuable resources because you’re, well, too cheap.

Being a frugal family historian boils down not only to pinching pennies, but also to recognizing a good deal when you see it. For instance, consider how much it might cost to trace your overseas ancestors if not for the resources available to you stateside. Whether you’re researching family from Italy or Ireland or somewhere in between, you can borrow microfilmed records from the Family History Library for just $3 to $4 per roll — much cheaper than a plane ticket to Europe. Swedish researchers now can tap 11 million digitized church records from a single Web site called Genline <>. As our review points out, access doesn’t come cheap, but you can’t beat the convenience and speed of having all those primary sources in one place.

So give our suggestions a try — and if your budget’s still stretched too thin, you could always support your family history habit by trimming other expenses. I’ll see you at the clearance racks.
From the June 2005 Family Tree Magazine