I Have a Complaint Concerning Many Genealogists

Warning: This article contains personal opinions.

This is an almost exact duplicate of an article I posted several years ago. The topic has come up again lately so I decided to publish it again for the benefit of those who did not read or do not remember the original article. I have changed a few words to make sure it covers recent comments.

I have a complaint that may upset some people, including some who read this newsletter. I will probably lose readers because of this article, but I don’t care. Like many of my readers, I feel so strongly about this issue that I just have to speak out – hold the sugar coating.

Some people are so shortsighted that they manage to ignore certain facts that are blatantly obvious to others.

In short, every time I post an article or someone’s press release about some new genealogy data becoming available on a fee-based web site, a great hue and cry arises from the nay-sayers. The comments they post on this newsletter’s web site and elsewhere vary in wording but have a common theme: “The information is public and should remain free to all of us and not be the private property of some company.”

I am amazed at the folks who actually believe this bit of misinformation.

In fact, information that was free in the past remains free today and will always be free. In the United States, this is dictated by Federal law. That is true now, it has always been true, and will always be true unless Congress changes the laws. Until then, the information will remain free to all of us in the same manner that it always has been.

By Federal law, public domain information has always been available to all of us free of charge. All we ever had to do was to travel to the location where the original information is available, be it in Washington, D.C. or some other archive. The information is free although we might have to pay a modest fee for photocopying. If we don’t want to pay a photocopying fee, we always have the option of transcribing it by hand. That free access is not changing by the simple act of some web site placing the information online. By Federal law, that information will continue to be available free of charge to anyone and everyone who wishes to travel to the location where the information resides. There is absolutely no change to this free access.

What *IS* changing is that we now have more methods of obtaining that information. While we can continue to access the original documents at no charge in the old-fashioned way by visiting the archive where each document is stored, we now have additional avenues – specifically, online. Companies that seek out this free information and then invest a few hundred thousand dollars in scanners, servers, data centers, high speed (and expensive) connections to the Internet backbones, programmers, support personnel, and all the other expenses are allowed to charge a fee for that access. However, the old-fashioned, in-person free access remains exactly the same as before: free. Your choice.

Let me draw an analogy: water is free. If I want water, I can go to the local river or lake with a bucket and get all the water I want at no charge. But if I elect to use a more convenient method, the local water company spends money laying pipes under the street and across my lawn to my house. I then have to pay a fee for that higher level of service. Nobody seems to question these “fees charged for convenient access.” The same is true with public domain documents: the information remains free, but we expect to pay a fee for the expensive “pipes” that deliver that information conveniently to our homes without requiring us to travel.

For me and for most other Americans, it is cheaper to pay for online access (Ancestry.com, MyHeritage.com, Findmypast.com, etc.) than it is to take a trip to Washington, D.C. like I used to do. Using one of these online services actually REDUCES my expenses. I am very thankful that commercial services make the information available for a modest fee so that I no longer have to pay exorbitant travel expenses. (Have you priced automobile gasoline or airline tickets lately? How about the hotels and restaurants needed when traveling?)

I am appalled that some people apparently expect a company to spend money gathering free records, spend money scanning it, spend money building data centers, spend money buying servers and disk farms, spend money on high-speed Internet connectivity, spend money for programmers, spend money on customer support personnel, and spend money on advertising to let you know that the information is available, and then expect that same company to make the information available free of charge!

Where did they learn economics? At the Tooth Fairy University?

To quote William Safire, speechwriter to one of my least favorite vice-presidents, these people are “nattering nabobs of negativity.”

C’mon folks. It is time to grow up and recognize the simple fact that those who spend money making information available to all of us are allowed to recover their expenses plus a reasonable profit. Those who don’t like this are free to get their information the same way that genealogists have been obtaining it for decades. If you don’t care for the new option, simply use the old method that has been in place for decades. You are free to choose the method you prefer, but please don’t complain about new, more convenient options that some of us appreciate.

If any vendors decide to drop out of this business because of the chronic complainers, we all will lose.

Are you a “nattering nabob of negativity?”

– Dick Eastman

168 Comments

Well put, Dick. Appreciate you making it clearer for those who complain. Now could you figure out how I reply to friends of friends [or even more remote] who call and ask me if I can look up something because “they heard I am on Ancestry”. I explain that I pay for Ancestry and that they can pay for a short membership and look their own stuff up with more chance of finding the correct people since they know the family. Maybe I’m being silly, but I’ve never heard of these people let alone met them.

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    My thinking is if I have paid for a service it is not okay to cover any and all, to in essence steal services from my account for them. I had a friend once who thought nothing of sharing (pirating) data until her son, a programmer, pointed out when someone did that with his information they were taking money out of his pocket for his work and effort. She had to agree. She also quit the practice.

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    My guess is that people are really saying that they’ve heard that you understand how to work on genealogy, which they likely don’t. If it were me, I’d graciously thank them for the thought, congratulate them on the new interest, and let them know where I first learned how to access databases (and do other work) — the public library.

    More importantly, I’d try to figure out how they’re finding out about me so I could put that practice to a stop. People don’t get your name and phone number from guessing.

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    Good point about it being more accurate (maybe) if you do your own. At least that way you know if you have a great aunt Tilly who married your Uncle Joe. A stranger wouldn’t see those peripheral connections. Or want to spend their time asking the questions one would ask of a paying client.
    You’d think, since so much of the internet involves by data aggregation for pay, that people would understand the concept by which their privacy has been destroyed.

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    Amen.

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    Amen, Dick. I agree with you completely. And – when I put my family tree and photos on Ancestry and other websites, I hope other people find them and it’s helpful. I don’t find family research to be proprietary. I love to share what my hard work has produced.

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    Very nice, Carol Lynn.
    It’s refreshing to read about someone who is willing to share info with friends and family. Most of us are strictly amateurs and not in it for the money. We do all the work and research because we really enjoy it and get a feeling of reward when we dig up some valuable family history.
    I have no problem sharing with others who politely ask or those who didn’t even realize the work I have done. What am I supposed to do, charge my elderly aunt or my 10 year old grandson?
    If I wanted to get paid for my work, I’d start my own “Free to Join” genealogy website and sucker in unsuspecting amateurs and grab their credit card info.
    Maybe one day, if I need a favor or info from one of the people I helped out along the way, they will kindly oblige too.

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    Have you noticed many of the Genealogy search webs, so called FREE, once you get in and want to search deeper you are redirected to a sign-up, free trail offer, or just plain you gotta pay to see what many consider public records?
    I’m apprehensive about these companies using my family’s information and then charging others to view it.
    How do you feel about this, I’d like to know?
    Thank you

    But, I have distance cousins that may want a copy census and have to pay on some web sites, all I’m saying some of these want us to put our stuff with them, FREE and it seems they in turn will charge others to get to the very info we gave them

    Did you know some RC Cemetery’s in the New York area, after you pay for Grave Search, ask you for the non-payment of grave up-kept. They feel you are responsible for your dead GGGfather. Thought I’d get your thoughts on this?

    Sorry for my poor command of the language. My entire point is some of these big sights claim FREE search, in fact I believe it is a common BAIT and SWITCH to get you to join. That so called FREE search stuff sounds like a carnival barker promising you the greatest show if only you pay the entrance fee. What is worse, many of these companies ask people to VOLUNTEER to index only to have that information sold and I don’t believe indexing persons understand this is being done.

    The expectation of getting something for nothing is different than being sold free entrance and finding out go gotta pay

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    Thanks John for having the guts to criticize the genealogical sites.
    So far its me and you vs about 100 others who think the genealogical sites are all wonderful , honest, and worth whatever they charge.
    Like I’ve written here 10 times already, these sites lie, cheat, rip off , bait and switch, and misrepresent just to rope us in and keep us there.
    Just because they save us a trip to the cemetery, to Ireland or to the Ukraine, that doesn’t give them the right to rip us off for our hard earned money.
    Thanks John. You get it and you demand the same kind of honest treatment I do.
    How about all the others here??

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    I pay for TONS of genealogical info, have a subscription to ancestry, NEHGS, and have paid for genealogists here in the US and also abroad. People have to understand that genealogy costs $ if you are going to research correctly. On the other hand, when I find a site selling info that I am pretty sure can be found elsewhere for FREE I try to share it with rootsweb lists so people can save that little bit of $ and put it into another area of their research. I absolutely refuse to use MY ancestry.com or NEHGS account to do research for other people who just don’t want to pay for the info they need–but if I know that the info is out there for free somewhere I will help people learn where to find it. If I know where it can be gotten cheaply, I tell folks.

    Genealogy is not a cheap hobby…but some folks want everything for nothing, and that is simply impossible. I understand many folks don’t have the $ to invest many thousands of dollars as I have for research, but that is a personal problem JMHO. I have enough to do with researching MY people, and will not use my paid accounts to search individulals for other people.

    I post all kinds of stories etc on my family tree on ancestry, usually from free published resources on the internet on sites like archive.org, and share what I have found with others on my tree–and I appreciate when they share what they have found with others too…Lots of times the problem with not finding things is not knowing where to look.

    Other times it is that people don’t want to pay for the info they need to get further. JMHO if you don’t want to spend a dime researching then you have the wrong hobby–genealogy is not a cheap hobby and folks need to realize that.

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    I too agree with Dick. And, I agree with you. I have a World membership at Ancestry and many times come to a brick wall. Then another genealogy website says they have some information for free. Well, I’ve learned there’s no such thing as a free lunch. Yes, it’s FREE for seven days and then after that it costs. I understand it isn’t false advertising but it certainly doesn’t seem honest. And since I don’t buy into it, I often wonder “Am I biting my nose to spite my face?”

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    Mary Ann…,,
    Its deceptive, misleading, and unscrupulous, in my opinion.
    I refuse to sign up anymore when these companies tell me its FREE, then have you fill in the name of the person you are searching for, then fill in your name, user name, and password, and then tell you they have information for you. Just give them your credit card and personal info to hold for a week and trust them with it. Then they finally tell you they have info on your cousin Charlie Chapman.
    So you get excited. After 40 years somebody has finally located him.
    So they send you their info…
    It’s the 1930 US Census report for a Charles Chaplain, a 1942 marriage certif. for a Charlene Chappel, and a 1902 death certif. for an unrelated Charles Chapman. The missing Uncle Charlie was born in 1938. But if you upgrade to a WorldWide Search membership they may locate him in Australia. But that’s a one year commitment. No refunds.
    I’ll stick my neck out to say many of their business practices to get people to sign and upgrade border on criminal.
    I’m at a point I’m looking into flying to Czernivitsi in Bukovina Ukraine to search for my family records, rather than get ripped off by these unscrupulous genealogy companies.

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Amen. I know what the costs/investments are for our company and we don’t have that large of audience & quantity of data by comparison. Subscription to my favorite site is a bite. However I was just reviewing a folder of data I gathered on an out of town weekend research trip I did 25 years ago. Back then for about 10 hours in the library I had 8 transcribed census records & 4 copies from books. At the time that was deemed a successful trip. Fast forward-> In 2 evenings on line I had verified all of that with pdf copies saved plus MANY other census, birth, death records added. All in the comfort of my living room at the cost of the entire trip back then. I too wish the bemoaning would cease.

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I totally agree with all you say, with one caveat. Companies deserve to make a profit. However, it annoys me no end that digitized images are free on one well-known site, but when that free site partners with a paid site, the paid site neither offers those exact same database images for free nor does it advise its visitors that they may be obtained for free on the partner site. Those of us who have been doing this for a while realize it when it happens. However, I know many newbies who have no idea, for example, that some international records are available for free. If paid sites can allow free access to the 1940 census, which was mandated by the government, then they can do the same with records that the partner site (not the paid site) digitized and offers online at no charge to the public.

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    When you go to a bookshop you don’t expect them to tell you that you can borrow the book free of charge at the public library, nor do you expect them to tell you that you can get it 50% off at Amazon.

    If you’ve got a subscription to Ancestry (or whoever) then it doesn’t matter that some of the records are also free elsewhere. To the extent there is a problem, it’s for those who use credits – and they usually will be newbies, because the reality is that anyone serious about researching their family tree will buy a subscription eventually.

    I’d argue that wasting a few credits is the price you pay for experience – it’s rather like the (probably apocryphal) story about the engineer and the chalk mark. Sure, we might feel a bit sore about what Ancestry have done, but the reality is that if Ancestry didn’t have any prospect of earning money from the records they might not spend the money to add them to their site.

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    Peter Calver – No I don’t expect bookshops to tell me about Amazon. However, I work with many retired people, some of whom are not very tech-savvy but are willing to learn and have limited funds. They very much feel like they are being taken advantage of by the big companies. I think the solution is for any new partner agreements to include a clause that any databases offered for free by them should continue to include free access on the other’s site. On the other hand, if certain companies reduced their TV advertising budget by 10%, perhaps subscription prices wouldn’t be as high as they are, but that is another topic.

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    emptybranches, some providers do require the records to be free as a condition of allowing them to be published at other sites and some don’t. I don’t know whether the latter take a cut of whatever Ancestry makes, but I would assume that they do.

    The reality is that Ancestry are less likely to spend money putting records online if they can’t charge – and this means that some researchers may never find those records. After all, if they had already found them at the free site, they wouldn’t have paid to view them at Ancestry.

    As Dick pointed out in his article, what we are paying for is convenience. I could avoid paying for an Ancestry subscription altogether if I was prepared to go to my local public library – but I don’t, because I’d get half as much done in the limited time I’m able to devote to my own family tree.

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Completely agree. The people doing the companies have to put food on the table, too.

If you want to do things for free, for the common good, then you bet, do it! We all do things we just think need to be done; hang the money. Do it because it will be a good thing to have it. Transcribe some documents for all of us to benefit from. Index some newspapers — there are millions of pages online, with only sketchy OCR indexes. If you’re doing it for religious reasons, that’s fine too — we all benefit.

But some large percentage of the things that are online simply wouldn’t be there if someone hadn’t worked hard, on the expectation that her company would pay her for her efforts. Get what you can that’s free, and pay for what isn’t. It’s all a lot cheaper than flying to Albigensia to examine the civil registers.

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Every time I have to renew my subscriptions I feel a twinge. Occasionally I let the subscription lapse for awhile. But they can’t be beat. I have found records from Ancestry and Genealogy Bank that I hadn’t even known existed. I am happy they provide their services. It is a lot easier than all those trips.

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So very nicely (and very clearly) said. It’s really is all about convenience. You can pay for it and have it at you fingertips 24/7, or you can choose the old-fashioned method which may ultimately end up costing more in the long run, but using the internet sub-sites at the local library or taking visits to the archives, genie soc’s etc.

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donald J. krueger April 5, 2015 at 12:02 am

Spot on. There are people who think everything should be free for them and let others pick up the bill. Folks, there is No Free Lunch! Organizations like Ancestry.com and many others provide a service. If you want access, pay or go to some other method to obtain what you are looking for. Lets keep the comments for constructive action to further our goals.

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Spot on. Organizations such as Ancestry.com cost, however, evaluate what is available 24/7 and all their training courses that are free to members. I can attain official goovernment, church and organizational documents back to the 12th century while remaining within the limits of my home. Top that. Great article Dick Eastman, thank you.

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When I pay for my subscription I think about the cost of airfare, of a hotel room, of restaurant meals. Considering, the subscription is almost free.

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Superbly said – a shame that some people are incapable of reading and understanding plain English. And for the record, the Public Records Act 1973, which applies to the State of Victoria in Australia, is very similar – access to the records is free where the information resides. Mind you the Public Record Office Victoria have also made many records available on microfiche and microfilm at many sites around Victoria and Australia. And if you want the convenience of digital copies of many records in the comfort of your own home without your fingertips ever leaving the keyboard, then you can achieve that – for a price! Don’t apologise for repeating what has already been stated – some people need to read it again and again and again before they even start to believe it. Congratulations for repeating it and don’t be surprised if you need to repeat it again! 🙂

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Since I have to research my American ancestors from the depths of the English countryside I am delighted that firms have invested time and money so that I can sit at my computer and not have to fork out $1000.00 a time for long weekends in Boston.
What I do resent is the misdescription of the data and services that these firms provide. For example, Find My Past claims to have US Newspapers, presumably as a feed from another database, that it displays at 50% of the size of British Newspapers. Most, even fully enlarged are too small to read; despite complaints going back some nine months, nothing improves except their promotion of this unusable database.

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    The US newspapers can only be expanded until the width of the page equals the size of the viewing area, which is certainly a limitation compared to the British newspapers – but nevertheless I could still read 5 of the 7 pages I picked at random without difficulty.

    The sixth page used smaller type for some articles, and I certainly found these hard to read – however, if you download the page you can expand it to whatever size you want. The seventh page was a poorly photographed image, and even after downloading it I could only just read some of the text. These were both from the first half of the 19th century.

    So I wouldn’t say that the database is unusable – but the image quality does seem to vary according to the period you’re researching.

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I agree completely – I live in Australia, so the amount it would cost me to travel to the UK or US to research in the original records would cost me far more than what a subscription to a paid site costs. Even researching in Australia works out cheaper than travelling to the original archives myself. Also, when searching in the original archives, you often have to search manually through microfiche, microfilm and books for information on your family – on the internet, you just type in what you’re looking for, and up come the results – which means that you can access far more information in the same amount of time. For the convenience, and the amount of records they provide, the amount paid for a subscription is well worth it.

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Absolutely Dick! But while you are beating on that drum let me also add those who cry that because Government held information is “public” it should also be freely available on the Internet! It IS a governments job to keep and make available our “public” records (within their rules) and if they determine that the best, and cheapest, way of doing that is to make them available on “the net” then that is great. However, I do object to my tax dollars being used to place information on the net simply to satisfy somebodies hobby!!
I am equally uncomfortable about publicly supported educational establishments spending lots of money on digitizing whole libraries and then maintaining the infrastructure to make the digitized results freely available to all! (They don’t even attempt to defend their own copyright notices!) Now, I realize the argument here is a good deal more complicated, but at least I don’t see how these same universities etc., can then turn around and complain that they do not have enough funding and have to raise tuition fees and NEED more government grants. Let them use their grants for actual teaching, not for “publicity” which IS the primary reason for this mass (and often poor quality) publication!

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You pay for convenience. And I’m happy to do so.

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Agreed! I do appreciate that many people are on low incomes and can’t afford subscriptions to the likes of Ancestry and Findmypast, but at the end of the day these companies and others providing images and transcriptions of records are businesses, not charities. Even so, Ancestry often makes many of its records available for free for short periods from time to time (they are doing exactly that this weekend, at least in the UK) and even Findmypast recently had a free weekend. The latter company has also run special offers, allowing full access for a month at a price that surely anyone could manage – £1 or $1. If you are doing genealogy on a shoestring, watch out for these offers and make the most of them! And, of course, make the most of FamilySearch.

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    Exactly. Just because I can’t afford a Rolls (and I WANT one), doesn’t mean that the government should give, or sell, me one for half price. Let me buy a Ford — both vehicles will get me where I’m going. Same with grocery shopping — look for specials, use coupons, etc., unless one is wealthy enough to pay full price for everything all the time. I’m on a very limited income being retired, and I really don’t like paying for Ancestry. BUT, when I can check local wills and estate settlements online at 3AM when the courthouse (only 5 miles away) is closed…priceless!

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ron.deyoung@gmail.com April 5, 2015 at 2:04 am

I agree wholeheartedly, Dick, thank you for the refreshing clarity. A recent family history research trip cost 4 figures, a membership or 3 is money well spent. A reminder that a few of those great genealogical subscription websites are available for free use by any visitor at the 3000+ LDS family history centers. And thank you for your service to the genealogical community!

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I have to disagree on one major point. I think what most of us complain about is not the fact that the geneology sites charge a membership fee. We are all adults kiving in capitalist societies and understand that companies are in business to charge and make a profit.
What we object to is the often misleading and underhanded ways they seek our business and then charge for it.
They totally misuse the word FREE and make promises to deliver documents rhat they don’t have or don’t pertain to those people we are searching for.
Their scheme of immediately taking our credit card information locks us into them and often makes it easy for them to manipulate us. If it’s really free for a week or month, DON’T demand our credit card and personal info.
Who knows what they even do with all that.
The sites all seem to be interconnected and often send us from one pay site to another with bold promises of accurate results.
If only the genealogy sites would be more honest and less sneaky about their claims and charges we wouldn’t complain.
Charge us immediately with no “free trial” period or put it all on an a la carte basis. Just stop making unreasonable promises to us and then forcing us to remember to cancel out before our “free trial” ends.
Honesty is the best policy.

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    I have to disagree with this one.
    It’s not that difficult to cancel – and if you’re really worried about providing information, use a one-time-use credit card number – it can’t be used to “renew” your trial if you forget to cancel.
    I find short “free” access periods very helpful to determine if there’s enough information of interest available to actually subscribe.
    YMMV.

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    I think there’s a very practical reason why companies take credit card details for free trials – if they didn’t, some people would exploit them by registering multiple times under different email addresses.

    When sites are free for a weekend (as Ancestry.co.uk is right now) they don’t ask for credit card details – because they’re not at risk of exploitation.

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    Free weekend on ancestry.com.
    I never saw one here in the USA.
    Sometimes they do offer 10% off DNA tests or Fold3 memberships…whatever that is.
    I’m waiting for them to offer a free month at JewishGen since that’s normally free anyway.
    JewishGen can’t seem to find even one of my relatives in Bukovina from 1850-1900. I even gave them the names of their home towns.
    So they steered me over to ancestry.com without telling me it would cost hundreds of dollars for me to sign up and have them do a search. To me the two of those sites scam people by working together and steering people into the more expensive plan.
    If you examine a JewishGen site you will see a similar looking search section right next to their own section. When you enter the person’s name and hit, search, it takes you right over to ancestry.com where they try to sell you a membership to find who JewishGen conveniently couldn’t.
    locate. This happens exactly the sane with archives.com, findAgrave.com, ancient faces.com and a few others.
    It’s bait and switch.
    But NOBODY here cares how they are getting ripped off, but me.

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    Lloyd, there was a free weekend on Ancestry.com at the end of August. (There may have been others since – that’s just the first one I noticed when I searched on Google.)

    As for your “bait and switch” comment, perhaps you don’t realise that most free sites can only exist because of the commission they earn from providing links to pay sites?

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    I agree with Peter’s comment about some free sites living off commissions. I joined one genealogy discussion site a few years ago because someone registered there with a unque name that’s in my tree, and I hoped to connect with them (alas, I never did). The operator of that site frequently reminded users to join or renew through her links to help cover her costs. Eventually she closed her site because she could not afford to keep it going.

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    Jeff…
    Again….Everyone here is misinterpreting my complaints.
    I have no problem with any genealogy site charging a fee. I don’t care if its 10c or $100.10. I don’t care if they got their info and records for free or paid a million dollars for them. I just want them to treat me honestly and respectfully. All I get from the “big guys” are phony “free offers”, credit card demands to sign up, worthless 1930 US census reports, surnames that aren’t even close, empty promises to produce what I’m searching for, and the old bait and switch from free or cheap to yearly and expensive.
    So again, it’s free enterprise and a supply and demand economy.
    If they can get it, they’ll charge it, and that’s fine with me.
    I just want to be able to buy exactly what I want from an honest supplier who doesn’t use scam tactics to rope in and rip off its customers.
    Just be honest with me and I’ll pay if I think it’s worth the money.

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    As adults, we have some responsibility. Read the terms and conditions!

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    They do have the expectation that you can read and comprehend past the word “free”. Do they need to babysit you through the entire transaction? You are ordering a subscription in which the first days are free with an option to cancel within that free trial period. If you don’t cancel then your subscription continues on as ordered.

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    Dora…I guess you quickly skimmed over many of the responses here which agreed with me that the business tactics of many genealogy sites are very unscrupulous. Let me fill you in on their reasons.
    The credit card scam…
    Many people have to set up “virtual” credit cards with limited funds in it and a very short expiration date. Why? Because of all the shysters out there who make it difficult to cancel or who automatically renew without proper notification. Some even use customer credit cards for illegal purposes. Ask Dick Eastman about using these cards. He doesn’t trust many of the genealogy sites either.
    Many genealogy sites take your money and run. They promise so much to entice you in then give you nothing more than worn out census reports and worthless marriage records of the wrong person. Once you pay your upgraded subscription fee and realize that they have no info at all on your Great Uncle Fester, its too late to cancel. You’re stuck with an expensive Universe-Wide Search Membership which gives you minimal data from the planet Mars. So many of them bait and switch to get honest people to sign up for big bucks without producing anything worth a dime.
    Next time an Internet company does that to me, I’ll call you to get me a refund since you claim you know better.

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    Lloyd:
    You have mentioned JewishGen several times in your posts here over the last few days. While I do not represent them in this forum (or anywhere else!), I have the impression that you expect more of them than they have ever promised. JewishGen is completely free. It has three paid staff – total – who are paid for via donations to JewishGen.
    The information you find on JewishGen is all provided by volunteers with interests in particular areas/towns. Data on JewishGen is the result of volunteer time and/or fund-raising for record search, acquisition, and translation. Some archives in some Eastern European countries are quite open and interested in making their records accessible. Others, less so. In may cases in Eastern Europe, records have been lost or just do not exist. So, whether a record is available to JewishGen to index is complicated by many forces beyond their control.
    JewishGen has several associated Special Interest Groups who organize, fund-raise and try to create indices for archival records that are of interest to other like-minded researchers. If you are, for example, interested in Bukovina, participate in the Romania SIG (of you are not already doing so). Telling them you have an interest in a town will not make the records miraculously appear. They, like the other SIGs, depend on volunteer efforts and fund-raising. If no one has already stepped forward to volunteer/fund-raise for your community of interest, perhaps you would.
    Sometimes, one is lucky and someone else has already done the leg work. For example, there is a group currently indexing Czernowitz vital records that have been microfilmed by the FHL. There is also a RomSIG project where their hired Romanian researcher has located records for Suceava and Radauti. There is an ongoing project to index the records. A partial index is already online on JewishGen. My research has benefited from this work for all three locales.
    It is true that JewishGen has an Ancestry link on their home page. As far as I can tell that is an affiliate link – similar to Amazon links on many websites and monetized blogs. If one goes to Ancestry via the link on JewshGen and becomes a member, JewishGen will derive some small financial benefit. Otherwise, I do not personally find it useful for my research.
    A few years ago JewishGen developed an agreement for web-hosting via Ancestry (that is why when Ancestry was attacked about a year ago, the JewishGen website went down as well). As part of the JewishGen-Ancestry agreement, some of JewishGen’s databases are shared with Ancestry. They are free to access whether one goes through JewishGen or Ancestry. I have found that the information accessed via the JewishGen website is often more robust.

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    longislanderl@aol.com April 11, 2015 at 3:49 pm

    Thank you Emily for your informative and honest opinion of JewishGen, Ancestry, and the relationship they have to each other.
    My experience with JewishGen has not been very positive. I have received very little information from them regarding my family in Czernivitsi and in its neighboring towns in Bukovina.
    I know for a fact that my ancestors lived there from the 1840’s to 1900 but JewishGen has no record of them or people with similar names who may be related. Each time I search I get no results found, and a come-on from Ancestry that “we’ve found them here”!
    Of course Ancestry can’t find them either un Bukovina, but they do send me the 1949 US Census and a lot of totally unrelated people whose names hardly even resemble mine…ALL for a fee. There is no doubt that the “free” offer by JewishGen is just an enticement to sign up on Ancestry for a fee when they sheepishly tell you they have no records of your family.
    Only once did JewishGen find people with my last name, but it was burial records in a Vienna cemetery. Not likely my poor family from Bukovina.
    So, as the old saying goes….”You get what you pay for”. I got exactly what I paid for on JewishGen, but much more on Ancestry.
    While Ancestry gave me no info on Bukovina, it at least gave me details of my ancestor’s voyage from Hamburg, immigration, naturalization, places of residence, places of business, marriage and death records, etc.
    So I can’t complain. But to me, JewishGen and Ancestry have a sweetheart deal going and they have worked the bait and switch game perfectly.

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Absolutely agree – the convenience is worth paying for. I am a family historian and a collector – not just a collector of names but original records. With over 35k 18th and 19th century British and Irish Newspapers several thousand British and Irish Police Gazettes – 19th century British and Irish Directories, Law Lists, printed British Army Lists from the late 1700’s to WWII, Navy Lists, rare government reports on Ireland etc. etc.
Scanning isn’t free – serious scanners are very expensive – so I scan what I can afford and make it available for researchers for a fee.

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I am so with you on this one….I recognise that sometimes I can’t afford all these genealogy goodies but at the same time I recognise that there is a cost in making them available and who the heck else is going to pay if it ain’t me???

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Thank you Dick and Friends for your many comments that assist us in a better understanding of what we are accomplishing during our research and also being in contact with some great people from many places in this old world. All the Best Dick and Friends with the many efforts you make to assist us all. HAPPY EASTER TO ALL. Paul

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Curious about who the “genealogists” where that got you so riled up. I can understand that some amateurs may think this way but it surprises me if professionals believe it. Don’t professionals charge for their services to provide “free” information?

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But I’m a graduate of Tooth Fairy University. I got my PhD. there. Are you implying my degree is worth less than one from Harvard???

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I have been telling people that for years ….. thanks for another great artiicle as always.

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I totally agree with you. I am 80 years old and unable to make trips to all the States my ancestors resided in. I appreciate the work done by these companies and it is only right that they get paid for doing my legwork.

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Thank you. We’ll said!

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Great article. Do you really have a list of favorite and least favorite vice presidents? And at an inner-city high school where I taught, there were many students who didn’t want to pay for water and other services.

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Another bit that wasn’t mentioned. The census records, like the 1940, were also indexed and made available to us by just such companies. I LOVED that bonus. Make it so much easier. I eagerly awaited them doing that. That cost money for which they should charge. And not having to search with microfilm, etc. but at home at your leisure, is a blessing for sure. I live in a rural area so the convenience was worth it. Thanks, Dick.

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I do understand the pay sites. I don’t have to like them. Being on a fixed, very limited, income I have no funds for paying for the convenience offered or trips to view the original records for free. It’s a question of a roof and food or genealogy. As much as I love genealogy I prefer a roof and food. Fortunately I can access some things through the local library. The time limits on their computers is very limited so it’s rather a pain in the posterior region, but a little time is better than none.

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Thank you for explaining it that way. I agree with you. Now I hope one day you do an article on the problem that irks me. Ancestry advertises that all you have to do is follow the green leaves on their site so many people blindly do that and copy someone elses tree and it may not even be their family line! I believe Ancestry and other sites should use a disclaimer saying they are just hints and only that….it may not be your line!

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    —> Now I hope one day you do an article on the problem that irks me. Ancestry advertises that all you have to do is follow the green leaves on their site so many people blindly do that and …

    I wrote that article last month as a Plus Edition article. You can see the beginning of the article by starting at https://blog.eogn.com/2015/03/04/should-all-genealogy-data-on-the-web-be-verified/

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    donald J. krueger April 5, 2015 at 9:31 am

    Please go to their Learning center and watch their training sessions and they repeately tell you to Verify the info and Not to accept what others have entered unsourced. Thank you. P.S. A very helpful book “Genealogy Standards” follow those rules and you will have solid info. My rule is to have at least four sources before its entered into my tree.

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Perhaps I’ve been around too long and got ‘into’ computers too late (1979) but with so much junk on the Internet I think amateurs are easily hoodwinked. Many I talk with at a public library expect to identify their fore-bearers back to the pilgrims or the English barons within a few hours on the computer. My job as a genealogy volunteer is to guide them to primary and secondary sources and evaluation of citations among other vital research aspects. Then they get into Ancestry’s “Family Trees” or the unending lists of names in FamilySearch and confusion reins, previous guidance forgotten, undocumented family histories are created.
I know not everyone can afford the services of a professional genealogist so I usually suggest enrolling in a beginning genealogy class and/or joining a local genealogy society. While these are not free, they are modestly priced.

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I agree for the private records, including newspapers (but Fulton Post Cards in 100% free and I have found 100s of articles and obituaries there), but Federal records for veterans, etc? As taxpayers, we paid for their storage and collection and preservation; the US Federal Government should not charge anything but postage and handling for obtaining federal records which are cleared.

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    You have to pay for the salaries of those who have to take the time to find your information to copy it. But I am sure the amount they charge is inflated.

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    I agree with you 100%, fumetti. I have paid and am still paying. I see no reason why Government records should be so costly to obtain.

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One obvious exception that I have experienced: FREE BMD utilized volunteers from all over, myself included, for many months, to index the British Vital Records. Upon completion, the FREE part disappeared. Try to go back in and look up something you indexed yourself for them and you are presented with the Ancestry.com signup page. I understand the message, but I also recognize that many people were duped into providing months of free labor to make this all available for Ancestry, com to add to their inventory.

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    FreeBMD is available for FREE on http://www.freebmd.org.uk/ and always has been. Anyone indexing for FreeBMD worked for them not Ancestry. Ancestry simply includes the data on their site but that has no effect on the FreeBMD site – who knows, Ancestry might even have paid FreeBMD for it?

    In fact, the FreeBMD site enquiry software is actually better than that on Ancestry.

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    You can still find them free online.

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    The site did not let me post the link. You will find them at freebmd dot org dot uk/search

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    Sorry, but that simply isn’t true.

    FreeBMD remains free, and will continue to be free.

    Like many free sites, we depend on advertising income.

    It is probable that you clicked an advert for ancestry instead of the search page. We don’t try to trick people into doing so, we don’t try to persuade people to do so. We even label the adverts to ensure that people have all the information.

    Dave Mayall
    Trustee
    Free UK Genealogy

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It looks like it doesn’t bother anybody here how all the genealogy sites promise up to date, FREE information on your ancestors and rope you in , credit card and all. Then all they offer you is the same 1930, 1940 US Census reports that you’ve seen elsewhere a dozen times.
So unless you have a “one time credit card”, these shysters know more about you than the IRS and use your personal info to sell to other similar sites. And if you are a busy guy like me, it’s very easy to let that cancelation date slip by and the next thing you know you bought a whole month of worthless marriage records of people with near similar names.
Go try to get a refund even if you miss the date by just one day.
So these corporate scammers pull every trick they know to get you in and keep you there.
FREE FREE FREE! Free garbage.
Do you want to find Uncle Vlad in Moldova?? That’s NOT Free. You have to sign up for FindAnUncleInternational for $295.00/yr.
Have you ever heard of Bait and Switch??
Yes. They do provide very good information, but their lucrative, shady business practices are the envy of the internet world.

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Amen and then some! Thank you for making it so clear. I know someone right now who gives away her password to 5-700 people for multiple subscriptions and charges a membership fee to pay for them. She calls it a “benefit of membership.” It just makes me sick. Personally, I still would like to travel to the Archives and feel the thrill of seeking and locating the original documents. I really miss that. But, economics change our way of thinking. Thank you Dick for your up-front honesty and clarity.

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I agree with you 100% about online genealogy service companies and I pay my share to several of them. However, you seem to hold a double standard in your articles about individuals who think they “own” or “control” information which they spend years gathering, mostly the old fashioned way. Then, if they post it on a website or blog it is gobbled up and spread all over the internet with no mention of where it came from. Case in point, I posted a story of a local man, which I wrote, not from a previous publication, and along with it I posted a hand drawn picture of him. This was put on my personal website for local history and genealogy. Within days it was all over ancestry in every family tree with the name Bates. This had happened before, many times, but this time it got to me and I contacted each person and then when they wouldn’t take it down, I contacted ancestry. I think they are all down now. The point is I don’t understand why one can’t share without everyone thinking they have a license to take what is shared. My website clearly states that it is not to be copied without permission. Now, I only put up things that I don’t mind sharing and after ten years, I expect to take my website down when the bill comes due again. I also publish books, so if they want what I’ve worked so hard for they can buy a book. I’ve got over 30 years invested in research and over 20 of those was gathering it the old fashioned way. In fact, most of what I get locally now is still gathered the old fashioned way, So you’re right, if they want it they can drive here and get it the same way. They won’t find it on my website anymore. Another case in point. A couple of years ago, I shared my 30 year family research with my brother who had just started in genealogy, after retiring. I told him I would share on the condition he would never put the information on ancestry’s tree. For a year he didn’t, then he seemed to forget that, and posted it. Of course it was picked up by everyone with the family name and put it trees that had no relationship to our family. He did take it down after a family squabble. He has recently put it back up, but at least this time he did it in a private tree. I think this research belonged to me, I traveled many miles, spent many thousands of dollars and worked hard to gather it. I think I had a right to restrict its use. He doesn’t think so, and apparently you don’t either. I’m now very selective in what I share. Last case in point. I wrote a local history magazine for six years, before there was an internet. I now see articles and photos from my magazine all over the internet with no mention of my name or the name of my magazine. Sometimes they actually clip of the bottom of the page, as every page of the magazine has the name of the publication and the date. I did that so that if it was copied they would always have the source. And yes, I expected people to copy a single page or story for their personal genealogy, but I never expected someone to spread it all over the internet. But, as I said, the internet didn’t exist then. As you can see, I think a person should be able to share without having their material taken without permission, even if it did come from a public source.

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    KUDOS to you Sam, you beat me to it! Those two opposing viewpoints seem a bit hypocritical to me. I see no reason why I should make my information free to everyone and be berated for doing so. If I paid to obtain the information just like those big companies did, I feel that it’s my right to decide how and who to share my research with.

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“nattering nabob of negativity”….I like that.

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I entirely agree with you. I just wish more were put on line as you still must travel to look at many land records, wills and masses of misc records. Come on Ancestry scan those Midwestern and Western records. I’d pay more to have all of the CT records before 1850 available.
Thanks for letting me vent on this. I enjoy your newsletter and find it useful.
Leslie Edwards

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I hear what you are saying, I was one of the grumblers…But NO MORE!…It would cost me a fortune to travel, take time off work, book in to lodgings, and print out all my stuff….x

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I basically agree … one thing I wish is that the fee companies (Ancestry.com, for example) who have people doing volunteer transcribing/indexing would give some amount of credit for that.

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Thank you for voicing something I think all the time when I see people complaining about cost of subscriptions. I once paid $50 for a marriage certificate from a state that later came on line. If I had been patient (or even knew it might ever be there) I could have saved money. I have been researching for so many years that I am so appreciative of being able to subscribe to several sites and access so much more infomation for a fraction of the cost. I would never have been able to get all this infomation without subscription sites.

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Again, well put, and I have no problem paying a subscription etc. I just think there are a few situations that upset many people:

1. The age old monopolies. Not a lot can be done about that.

2. Situations like Findmypast were in when they colluded with the UK government to put out the 1911 census before time when no one else could get at the info, treating it as a cash cow for a year or 2. And also the Scottish Government insisting on exorbitant online fees for access to their public data.

Although Findmypast were involved in both these I don’t think they can be blamed for the continuing Scottish fees and they have certainly changed their ways since moving into the USA market and I am now a loyal subscriber.

As genealogists we were probably spoiled with the free services of the LDS and other bodies in the early days.

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    You are so right about the Scottish government – there is operating at a profit and then there is TOTAL RIP-OFF. That is one case where it is probably cheaper to travel to get the info!!! :-\ I have lots of Scottish research to do but one weekend of their charges – with no proven results – and I had to quit!

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    Jim, I am as frustrated as you are by monopolies, but this only applies to Scotland – and using ScotlandsPeople is still a lot cheaper than travelling to Edinburgh or a Registrar’s Centre, unless you live awfy close!

    Findmypast didn’t ‘collude with the UK government’ to release the 1911 census early. It was released early because of a Freedom of Information challenge to the so-called ‘hundred year rule’, and had nothing to do with the government or any commercial company. Findmypast was the successful bidder in a competitive bidding process which is strictly controlled, and it was well-publicised at the time that Ancestry decided to withdrew from the bidding. Licences awarded to companies like Findmypast, Ancestry and others to digitise national records like the census, military service records, passenger lists etc are never monopolies, this is not allowed. The winning bidder may have temporary exclusive use of the records for a period, usually a few months, after which other companies can buy the images if they wish. When the 1911 census became available to other companies it soon appeared on Ancestry and The Genealogist, in both cases before the ‘official’ release date of 2012.

    The Scottish situation is different, where the Scottish government does retain a monopoly on the images, which are put online under licence, currently by D C Thompson, the parent company of Findmypast. There is no subscription option because Scotland only allows pay-per-view, which is a great pity. The licence is due for renewal this year, so it remains to be seen whether anything will change, including the service provider, currently D C Thompson Family History, the parent company of Findmypast.

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Well said. I have told people that paying for one of the Irish sites is not palatable, it is far cheaper than flying to Ireland and staying in a B and B. I also agree with people who are complaining about companies that offer “free” services. Just as life is not black and white, so questioning how research companies operate does not have a black and white answer. There IS a difference in research companies. Some are up front about paying, while others rope you in with offering free information that is short-lived or not really free if you want all of the information on a record.

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    Thanks Jan. finally someone else has the guts to state how many of the genealogy sites rip us off with their bogus “free offers” of old. Worn out information.
    How nany times are they gonna keep suckering us in with enticing new info just in from Belarus only to find its not included in our package and the info is written in Ukrainian.
    I’ve gotten a load of worthwhile info from ancestry.com but now its all repetitive as they and JewishGen keep recommending each other to me for more family data that neither can provide.
    So three cheers for Dick Eastman but he is putting all the blame on the wrong people.
    If we were treated honestly and respectfully by all the ancestry sites we wouldn’t complain about the cost. But stop with these bogus “free offers” and worthless enticements. We value our money and our time. Why doesn’t everyone else here come out and admit the same?

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What was private before has been made public Without my permission over the years, Dick. Ancestry.com takes many free items and sells them by membership. I have no problem with paying for the membership for their work in gathering and purchasing. But I do have a problem that Ancestry,.com gained access to the 2500 names that I researched for decades, and submitted to LDS back in 1988 (which I did because they had policy that no one could change my accurate and hard earned work without proof submitted to the church.) That did not stop Ancestry from copying and downloading my work and charging a membership to sell access. And what is worse, it was made public without my permission, when I did not allow public to access and change, thus allowing people to take it, call it their own. My work has been so butchered over the years that I have three new GGG Grandfathers in place of the correct person because people want to have a “family tree” without doing the work. I tried to keep up with the people who made a mess, but I gave up. It is too late to privatize my work as it has been sent all over the world, without my permission.

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Here! Here!

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Well said Dick

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One of the best places for cheap access is your local genealogical society AND their knowledgeable staff. Here in Portland, the GFO gives your access to all the major sites for a $7 day fee or $41 annual membership. I don’t think you can beat that except for being able to research at 10 pm.

I post my research on a public Ancestry tree hoping my information IS copied as it’s accurate and sourced. I’d rather share this, sometimes hard found, information so it’s not lost again than have it be mine alone. What good does that do? I also hope that having it out there will lead me to new family members and their special collections of photos, letters, diaries, etc. IMO this information is that of each person in my tree, not mine alone for putting it in one place.

As a genealogist, you copy everything you find. Why do you expect anyone else to act differently than you do? The Internet is no different than a book. If you’ve never copied pages and pages of a book rather than purchasing it, I can understand your indignation. If it’s there, we make a copy!

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    JHopkins, we all want to share our research with our cousins. But, if you had a private tree, would it be so difficult for those cousins to contact you and ask to exchange information? In fact, wouldn’t you want them to ask, so that you know who your cousins are?

    Unfortunately posting information publicly allows people to take it and add it to their tree even if they’re wrong about there being a connection (which they often are). Others who look at those incorrect trees won’t know that your information is correct and the rest is wrong (because attaching a source doesn’t guarantee accuracy) – and pretty soon your research will appear in so many incorrect places that it becomes devalued.

    An analogy is Hitler’s attempt to destroy the British economy during WW2 by flooding the country with forged 5 pound notes. Even though the value of the forged notes only amounted to 10% of the total, all the notes had to be withdrawn and replaced.

    http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-17070943

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I agree with you, Dick! Back in the late 1970’s and all of the 1980’s, I did a lot that traveling to courthouses to find out stuff. Like you, I can now find actual copies of documents on line that I would otherwise have to travel somewhere to get. I have a subscription to three pay sites. I use at least two of them at least two or three times a week. The subscriptions cost far less than the expenses I would incur if I had to travel to another state to get the info. Of course, some documents can be ordered via US mail from courthouses.

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Complaining about having to pay companies that have spent (their) money digitalising is pushing your luck. But these companies are unloved because of some of their practices.
– “Give us your credit card details for “free access””.
– “We have Somewhereshire Parish Registers” No, you don’t you have digitalised a few registers but not “Somewhereshire Parish Registers” – not even those for a defined time period. Incomplete coverage is a menace – you find “your” “Joe Bloggs” but you don’t know he’s “yours” – “yours” may be in the neighbouring parish which is not yet on-line; but people assume that it is “their” Joe Bloggs.
– Unverified family trees which infect other (mainly newbie) researchers’ work. Checking against unverified family trees is not verification!
– Dodgy “hints” and “suggested records” which mislead (again mainly newbie – but also those who should know better) researchers. Joe Bloggs aged 20 in the 1851 Census is not necessarily Joe Bloggs aged 30 in the 1861 Census.

There is also a slightly allied point that relates to the Archives not to the digitalisers. There is an issue about equality of access – particularly if a “National Archive” in some corner of a nation (usually a well-off area that is expensive to visit) hoovers up physical records denying those of us “in the sticks” access to our local records. Saying that these records are now available (at cost) through Find My Ancestors is not necessarily an adequate response. That may not be the service I subscribe to. You worry about completeness. And actually having contact with a document is something different from looking at a digital transcript. Holding a document (at a local archive) signed by my Great Great Great Grandmother is part of my “genealogy”. Finding my Grandfather’s initials on a Great War War Diary (at the UK National Archives) bought me a shiver at the very least – his writing was so like my late father (born after my Grandfather was KIA).

I think it is reasonable that if a National Archive makes records available to Find My Ancestry for digitalisation, it should insist as part of the deal that those digital records be available (for free) at all (say, for UK) County Archives. This partly addresses the equality of access issue – accepting that the cost of this is that the digitalisers may pay less to the National Archive for access to the records.

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Not only do site owners invest the money and time that reduce our individual costs, as Dick illustrates, but the rapid, online data access provides incredible opportunity for pattern analysis of similar/related data. How wonderful that we can identify relationships, errors, and family patterns that likely would never come to light in traditional physical data searches at libraries, historical societies, and government offices.

While we’re at it, a plug for our host: Dick’s FREE newsletter is a huge contribution to the profession/hobby/industry. His PAID subscription is an even bigger bargain. If the discussion of paid vs. free data rings a bell with any readers of the free edition, I would suggest that they sign up for the paid version of Dick’s newsletter, if only for the simple act of expressing your appreciation for the insight that Dick provides us on such a wide range of topics.

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It’s too bad the ones who complain are probably not reading this blog. I am very willing to pay the subscription of sites who provide digital copies of documents that I would have never have been able to obtain otherwise. I agree with your statement about cost of travel to these sources. My mother did much with our family history in the days when the only way of obtaining any of this information was by letter or traveling to the depository and then hoping to locate a copy of the document. No photocopying capability in those days either, so she had to be satisfied with transcriptions (sometimes not too reliable) and the generosity of people willing to locate these documents even though she paid them. I have been able to verify much of her data, although I have also located some errors after being able to see digital copies of the exact document. I will never complain about paying for the privilege of being able to see a digital copy or even an index of the location of these documents.

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I agree with you. One of my pet peeves is I put my information out here and people see my info and use it if they want. But they mark their’s PRIVET I don’t think that is fair either.

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I happily pay Ancestry. I am so grateful they exist. However, I would more happily pay if it were cheaper, LOL!!

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For pay genealogical businesses stay in business because they offer a product that many people are willing to pay for. I have done genealogy for 40 years, most of the for pay services are invaluable. They provide records I would never easily have obtained.

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Ancestry, as well as other genealogy sites, should take some of that money we’re handing out to them and make sure they hire QUALIFIED people to transcribe documents and to have employees who actually go in and change/accept the edit suggestions that have been submitted. Names, locations, etc. are often transcribed incorrectly and not even close to what they are supposed to be. It makes doing a simple search nearly impossible for finding some ancestors. One example, the PA Death certs, and now the PA Birth certs. This affects searching by place /location. In at least one PA county, an entire township name was not transcribed correctly and it is clear on the document(s) what it is supposed to be. All of the names connected to that township are under a non-existent place. They are in such an all-fired hurry to get documents scanned and transcribed that there are MANY errors, affecting searches. BIG pet peeve of mine, can you tell? 😉 It does no good to have the images available if you can’t find them.

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When I subscribed to ancestry, i knew what I was getting. I use it every day and am grateful for it. I do have a complaint about another company that tests DNA. I purchased my test and then uploaded my GEDCOM to it. I had full use of it without additional charge. The company transferred my family tree to a subscription website. I no longer have full access to it without subscribing to the new site. I was asked for permission to transfer it, and gave it before realizing the full implications of it. I asked to transfer it back and was told this was not possible. I could afford to subscribe to the new site, but I will not, due to the principle of it and the way it was underhandedly done.

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“By Federal law, that information will continue to be available free of charge to anyone and everyone who wishes to travel to the location where the information resides. There is absolutely no change to this free access.”

This is the 21st century. The taxpayers who paid for these documents shouldn’t have to travel across the country to make photocopies. If we’re trying to save the taxpayers a few pennies by putting the private sector in charge of disseminating the information electronically, private companies should have to compete for the business. We shouldn’t be forced to go through one private company for the information that we’ve already paid for.

I happy to see private companies making big profits, but one single company should not be allowed to sell access to public documents without having to fight with other companies for the business.

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    —> I happy to see private companies making big profits, but one single company should not be allowed to sell access to public documents without having to fight with other companies for the business.

    The companies DO have to fight with each other for the business. That has been true for years. That is why some of the records appear on Ancestry, some on MyHeritage, some on Findmypast, some on Footnote.com (before it was acquired by Ancestry and had its name changed), some on FamilySearch, and so on. Sometimes one company wins the bid, at other times another company wins the bid. These companies (and one non-profit) have been bidding on the rights to acquire records for years and I haven’t heard of any planned changes in that process.

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https://blog.eogn.com/2015/04/04/i-have-a-complaint-concerning-many-genealogists/#comment-157557

Here’s my pet peeve: Corporations making an outrageous profit off of PUBLIC documents that are owned by We The People, the storage, maintenance, and upkeep of which are paid for with OUR collective tax dollars.

Public documents are just that: PUBLIC documents. Our tax dollars ALREADY go toward storing them. WHY do our Congress Critters and other government officials approve letting corporations use OUR public documents to make private profits off of OUR co-owned public documents? [Having to jump through hoops because our government officials are so paranoid they don’t understand that genealogists and historians need info on ancestors and historical figures, nor have they figured out that the majority of us don’t have a larcenous bone in our bodies and would never actually use copies of these documents for criminal activities can make me snarl with frustration over the nitwittedness of our elected officials.]

Why don’t our state (& county) and federal government libraries and historical societies do something as sensible as Norway and Denmark and put all the images of documents online for free to everyone world-wide (with search engines often in two or three languages)? Their older images are in greyscale. The newest additions to Norway’s Digitalarkivet database are in digital (color) formats and the work of scanning and putting the images online is paid for by their government (i.e., funded by their taxpayers). Everyone around the world who has ancestors from Norway can search for, see, use the documents and/or download them and/or link back to the images. [Some are transcribed, some are not; more transcriptions are being added daily, weekly, monthly – as fast as transcriptions and verifications can be done.] The documents are in a sufficiently high dpi jpg format (or choice of .pdf) that if handwriting is difficult one can enlarge it on screen for easier viewing. Everything in Norway is on one web site for the entire country (no corporations involved, no ads, no stupid waving leaves with erroneous info – no thinking for people; actual people using their brains have to think for themselves and know “stuff” to accomplish successful searches, analyze data, etc.).

I get why a fee is charged on our local (county) level to have a clerk of court make copies. They have to be there anyway to issue and file new documents and collect the fees (i.e., tax dollars, aka ‘filing fees’). I always specify copies of the original documents. Much to my annoyance re-typed info on “certified” copies are often misspelled, transcribed wrong, info not in the original document is added for reasons I’ve never fathomed, other information in the original record is not included because there is no blank on the certified form to include it (like the cause of death for one of my gr-grandmothers – the info is in the original ledger book, but it’s not on the c.c. of the death certificate, and I didn’t know the cause of death for over 25 years). A few experienced clerks of court who apologize for having to charge for certified rates even for a simple photocopy understand the necessity for viewing an original document; the in-house notary certifies the photocopy. I’m perfectly fine with that – as long as I get a copy of the original document(s) with all the pertinent info not obliterated by the notary info & seal.

Where I live the state historical society has a joint project with the Library of Congress where they’re putting old newspapers online, too. More will be put online in the future, and because I’m old I’m hoping the two from small communities where I lived when I was young go online before I die because there is a lot of data in those two which have info on my ancestors and relatives. Thanks to those newspaper records not even from my local community I was able to verify one old family story that I was led to believe was just a tall tale; it wasn’t, and the reality of a detail the newspaper had which wasn’t in the family story makes it much more interesting. Actual images of newspaper pages, no transcriptions, no corporations involved.

I’d rather see ALL images of public documents scanned, put online in a high-quality colored digital format, indexed, and able to be downloaded for free since our tax dollars are already paying for the storage and upkeep. It would be a one-time expense to make digital copies of everything currently in file, index, make a flexible search engine, put online (keep backup duplicates in separate locations), images could be added when new ones are issued, and then the cost of web site upkeep should be comparatively inexpensive after that – a webmaster and IT people who can make sure links are always intact and the web site stays up and running efficiently. Certainly, it would be far less painful to pay income taxes and sales taxes and other odd “fees” to know that money would benefit We The People as a whole.

THAT would make much more sense than turning our public documents over to corporations to make outrageous profits off of images we collectively own (and know their corporate profits are sent to offshore bank accounts where they do not pay a single cent to the US Treasury in income taxes).

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    ” It would be a one-time expense to make digital copies of everything currently in file, … images could be added when new ones are issued, and then the cost of web site upkeep should be comparatively inexpensive after that ”
    What? Have you any idea how much data comes out of government? How many new servers would be required each year? How much rewriting / replacing of software would be needed each year because the original software worked fine for the volume that was around then but is grinding to a halt with the current volume?
    Our county record office is barely keeping up with cataloguing new stuff, never mind digitising and indexing it – and that’s only stuff of genealogical interest.

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    I’m glad I’m not Norwegian or Danish, and have my taxes go fund and maintain an expensive service provided free of charge to people in other countries!

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    First, all that scanning and indexing costs manpower and equipment and money.
    Housing all the information online costs money.
    Running a search engine costs money.
    The “one-time expense” would be enormous.
    Keeping the website running costs a bunch of money. Software needs to be updated; servers repaired and replaced. Not to mention the monthly bill for server space and backups.
    “The cost of web site upkeep should be comparatively inexpensive” — Ugh, no, that’s quiet expensive.

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    Bev,
    It is quite clear from your post that just how you get data from the Internet escapes you. The documents you think your tax dollars “own” are not turned over to any company. They pay to make digital copies of them, construct or rent huge server farms to hold that digitized data, maintain the software required to “locate” the document you are looking for, and send it in the form of ones and zeros off to your home computer. None of this is free, of course and I have oversimplified in hopes you can understand the amount of work, if not the technical complexity. All so you don’t have to write letters, wait for the document to be transcribed (with the errors that trouble you) and be delivered by snail mail. Please understand that these folks do make a profit, and if they didn’t they would be there long.

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    The USA is not likely to adopt the Norwegian or Danish models any time soon because they run contrary to our current political philosophy, which favors having goods and services provided by private industry and paid for by fees collected from the users of the goods and services, rather than through general taxation. The citizens of Norway and Denmark are much more accepting of the socialist system of having government provide goods and services at taxpayer expense. A large portion of US citizens believe that private industry generally does a better job of it and at a lower overall cost and tend to favor privatization and outsourcing to specialists like Ancestry, FamilySearch, etc.

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“Sometimes one company wins the bid, at other times another company wins the bid. These companies (and one non-profit) have been bidding on the rights to acquire records for years…”

That’s not the kind of competition I’m talking about.

If you’re a private company providing transportation various destinations, you compete with other companies who provide transportation to the same destinations. You don’t bid on rights to acquire public roads and make the customer choose between your company or the sidewalk.

For any given public document made available to the public through the private sector, the customers should be able to go to more than one private company for access — or else there should be a free (or low fee) public option. I’m all in favor letting the market provide goods and services, but companies that sell access to public documents should have to compete for customers for each public document to which they provide access. A little competition might force companies like Ancestry to improve their services and offer better deals.

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    They do compete. Every English census is available on (I think) at least 3 pay-sites. The Scottish censuses are admittedly available only through one pay-site, but that site is run for the Scottish government.

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Wow Dick, you opened a big can of worms this time. To quote Snoopy, “Everything cannot be 5 cents”. For me, 20 or 30 years ago I could afford the time, the gas, the motels, the hefting 25 pound ledgers off the top shelf of musty old courthouse basements, and waiting for the snail mail to arrive hopefully weeks after a written request. Now, age and economic situations do not afford this research luxury, so I sit at home at my computer, pay for Ancestry.com and Fold3, and wait for Familytree DNA to catch up with their promises. My expenses are now down, no more 80 dollar haircuts, no more fancy shoes, and no more $25 dollar manicures, since I chew my nails down while waiting for document downloads. Some people buy yachts and Beamers and trips to the islands. Genealogists just sit at home and pay Ancestry and other online sites who provide us the convenience of occasional actual documents. This discussion had some great points, and I agree with most of them. But this is now, it will all change tomorrow, so we just have to deal with it.

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I would like to say thank you for these words and the way in which you have expressed them.

One of the things I do in relation to Irish Genealogy is photograph and transcribe Irish gravestones. I currently have 20,000 gravestone and church photographs on the web and I know from experience that people take copies of my photos in the ‘everything is free’ manner.

I work a mail list and Facebook and I would not be able to tell you how many times over the years since 1998 I have been told that this information is free and should be supplied to us free of charge. I have tried explaining in a number of ways that the information may be free to those who read it, but it is NOT free to those who collect it time and money wise.

I think now, I will simply save this url and refer people to it when I see these words again.’information should be free’.

Also, those people who say that once a database is set up “cost of web site upkeep should be comparatively inexpensive after that ” really need to read up about the work and costs of simply paying for & maintaining a web site.

Regards,
Jane
Oops – before any of you say anything in response to my words. Ireland is one of the only countries in the world providing access *FREE* to our Griffiths Primary Valuation, our Tithe Applotment Books, the 1901 and 1911 census returns, and is currently working on provision of copies of our Roman Catholic Parish records (up to c. 1880) in the Summer of 2015.

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Ancestry do a service for genealogists and deserve to be paid for it. But when they take advantage of inexperienced users to charge them their considerable yearly fee when they have given the statutory notice of cancellation and then have helpfully filled in a questionnaire explaining their decision but failed to re-tick a box, my sympathy for the organisation vanishes. £100-odd is an expensive way to learn by experience.

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    Eva..,,
    For a few days it looked like I was the only one here who noticed or was annoyed by the unscrupulous business practices of the genealogy sites. At least you seem to be annoyed too, and rightly so.
    Again, I’m not talking about those people who complained that these sites get much of their info for free and then having the nerve to turn around and charge their customers.
    I’m talking about their practices of making unfulfilled promises, refusing to give refunds or credits for cancellations after the due date, their bait and switch tactics, their sneaky and misleading ads and promos, etc., etc.
    But most people here are so busy praising Mr. Eastman for his criticism of genealogists, they have overlooked the real culprits here…the genealogy hustlers on the internet who use deceptive practices to make a buck or a pound.

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    Ancestry and other sites have a right to charge for their info and you have the choice whether to pay or not. My gripe is re-accurring charges on your credit card.
    Not everyone is as smart as Yogi Bear an often forget and get charged again unwittingly if they forget to cancel the account.One should change the date on your credit card immediately after sign up.

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    —> One should change the date on your credit card immediately after sign up.

    Thanks for posting the comment! You encouraged me to write about the method of safely paying for ongoing subscriptions that I have been using for years. My (new) article is available at https://blog.eogn.com/2015/04/06/why-you-need-a-temporary-credit-card-number/

    I just used this method last month to stop payments for an ongoing (non-genealogy) newsletter I subscribed to several months ago. The newsletter turned out to deliver much less information than what the advertising seemed to claim. I later discovered that the newsletter author did not provide an “unsubscribe” link or even any method of contacting the author. However, I was able to stop credit card payments within a couple of minutes by signing onto my bank’s web site.

    About a month later, I did receive a message from the newsletter’s author saying, “Your bank has declined payment. Please supply your new credit card information.” Of course, I didn’t supply any information at all.

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Well said Dick – it obviously does bear repeating, as a reminder. I suspect that a large proportion of those who strongly disagree with you, are the very same people who help themselves to information made public by individuals via the internet, and then do what they like with it. I do think that it is hypercritical not to apply, to private individuals as well, the same basic principle that the investment of time, money and expertise in gathering, organising, and “publishing” material justifies some form of reward in return for its access/use by others. Also, there is one major benefit, or added value, provided by the likes of Ancestry, findmypast, etc, which seems to have been somewhat glossed over here. That is, there is an immeasurable amount of time and effort saved by their indexing (remember, many records in original repositories are still not even indexed), and especially by their smart search capabilities.

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Great article, Dick, and I concur 100%. I gladly pay Ancestry and Fold3 their fee every year for access to the vast store of documents they hold. If I had to travel all over the country, and send to state archives & National Archives for records that are available on both sites, I would spend much, much more in travel expenses than I do for membership fees. Granted, not everything is available on these sites, and some travel & mail order is still necessary, but neither of those ways of obtaining documents is “free” either, and much more complicated than a search online. I still travel to courthouses when I can, and love every minute of it, but I can’t tell you how many family connections and mysteries I’ve solved just by documents available on pay sites.

As for people “stealing” my years of research work, and documents I’ve acquired the hard way by travel & going to archives & courthouses, I say that is fantastic! I’m not going to take this stuff with me when I’m pushing up daisies, so I love to share my finds! What they do with it is up to them. I don’t even care if they cite my work. Big deal. I sync 3 trees on Ancestry, and I often hear from distant cousins who are thrilled to find a relative & thank me for posting a document that helped them. Makes my day!!

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I believe the quote is “nattering nabobs of negativism”

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I do have a bone to pick with Ancestry, because years ago they asked users to post their family trees, with the understanding that access to that information would be free. Well, it isn’t. One must pay for access – I must pay to access my own family tree.
And have you tried to quit your Ancestry account? It takes a good half hour of hard-sell telephone conversation.
Yes, I understand that places like Ancestry put time, money and staff into their websites. But they also got a lot of free information for which they charge, without any benefit to the people who provided that information at no charge to them. Let the donor beware!

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    Great! Ancestry.com takes a beating by someone other than me.
    After reading through over 100 responses to Dick Eastman’s article, I got the impression that most of you are ancestry.com stockholders and agreed with Eastman that most genealogists are greedy, thankless pigs, looking to feed for free at the genealogy trough.
    The problem really is….the internet started out as free and since has become a very expensive place to do research and even play games and listen to music. So much is now available ONLY through paid subscription. But so many people still expect everything on there should be free.
    So why shouldn’t most people expect free stuff from ancestry, archives and ancient faces? But the professionals know better.

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    That is exactly how I feel! Ancestry has many pictures and information I uploaded because I want to freely share with any relatives and future researchers. Now that I am retired and got my pension cut after earning it with thirty years work, I can not afford their high fees. But, Ancestry still has all my information I put on their pages without charging them a fee and I can’t access it. How is that fair?

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    longislanderl@aol.com April 24, 2015 at 6:15 am

    Be careful criiticizing ancestry.con here. Certain prople have a love affair and connection with them and you could get into trouble.
    I love bashing ancestry.con here and have bern beaten up by tbeir supporters for it.
    Last week ancestry.con gave anotber “free weekend” to poor gullible souls like me. So after being off there for a few months, I made up a fictitious name, and snuck in. (Not too different from those here who use fictitious credit cards to sign on with).
    Same old ancestry.con as before. I searched some names and info and got back the same worn out documents I’ve seen a hundred times before. Nothing new, as they bragged.. Then they added on about 50 names tbat shared the first 2 or 3 letters of my name but not the last 5 or 6. The names really weren’t even close. So I signed off.
    Since then, I’ve been inundated with sales pitches from ancestry.con to sign up again and upgrade my membership. Apparently tbey “found” some more records of people with different last names for me to delete. Why bother anymore,,I’d rather donate my money to charity than waste it on those thieves.

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    longislanderl@aol.com April 24, 2015 at 1:22 pm

    Be careful criiticizing ancestry.con here. Certain prople have a love affair and connection with them and you could get into trouble.
    I love bashing ancestry.con here and have been beaten up by their supporters for it.
    Last week ancestry.con gave another “free weekend” to poor gullible souls like me. So after being off there for a few months, I made up a fictitious name, and snuck in. (Not too different from those here who use fictitious credit cards to sign on with).
    Same old ancestry.con as before. I searched some names and info and got back the same worn out documents I’ve seen a hundred times before. Nothing new, as they had bragged.. Then they added on about 50 names that shared the first 2 or 3 letters of my name but not the last 5 or 6. The names really weren’t even close. So I signed off.
    Since then, I’ve been inundated with sales pitches from ancestry.con to sign up again and upgrade my membership. Apparently tbey “found” some more records of people with different last names for me to delete. Why bother anymore, I’d rather donate my money to charity than waste it on those bums.

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    I wish people would not rely on Ancestry.com for all the answers. This site is useful for certain types of records but often you need to dig deeper. It probably will mean ordering microfilm of probate records, court records, tax lists, etc. Sometimes it will even mean traveling to a distant courthouse or to a county or state archive. Genealogical research can be difficult, expensive and time consuming.

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    longislanderl@aol.com April 24, 2015 at 5:22 pm

    I agree with you, Lorraine.
    I just disagree with Dick and many others here who blame us genealogists and blindly praise all the work done by ancestry.com and their co-conspirators, and overlooking all the victims of their cheating and lying to get as big and profitable as they are today.
    For tbe tenth time here, I am saying that its NOT the money, I’m complaining about, it’s the underhanded and dishonest business tactics used by most of the popular genealogy websites that lure millions of people in and do not deliver what they promise.
    Many of those people are beginners like me who might get easily turned away from this wonderful venture after being lured in by “free” offers and promises of quick and accurate results.
    So whatever ancestry.com charges, that’s their business, but be honest and forthright with the customers. I’m not spending $29.95/mo to get 50 names that aren’t even close to mine. I could do that myself for free.
    For $29.95, they had better deliver something that is worthwhile, and not easily obtainable for free by the public.
    So whatever the charges are from “free” to “universal-wide”, if they tell me they have records throughout known universe and i search for my Uncle Mork on the planet Ork, they’d better find his birth or immigration record. I won’t accept records for Morgan, Morris, or Morley. It has to be only Mork or return all my money if I demand it.

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Hooray! Thank you.

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Whenever I encounter that comment, I usually take it as a sign of lack of education. For the most part, through the gracious access of libraries, volunteers, and online services like USGenWeb and remote access databases from libraries (like HeritageQuest or Early American Newspapers), you can get a lot of records for free but you have to look harder for them.

Add to that the “free” periods offered by Ancestry.co.uk, Ancestry.com, Ancestry.ca, Findmypast.com, Findmypast.co.uk, Findmypast.ie., and such you can get a lot more records for free.

But again – both ways require you to make more effect to find them than just loading up a website and following a shaky leaf.

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Unfortunately, I can only click “like” once for this article!! I am so with you on this. I have the same discussion and argument with a lot of german co-researchers now the ARCHION has gone live and whenever ancestry is coming up. Especially ancestry seems to be the big mean enemey… My argument is pretty simple: when I want to sit in my PJs in front of my screen doing the research, I have to pay. If I don’t care to travel around visit all the libraries and parishes and archives, I can do that, too… and pay for travelling and the fees for using the reading rooms.

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This is what I’ve had to say about this thread on my Facebook page:
https://www.facebook.com/PaulGorryMAPGI

On 4 April Eastman’s Online Genealogy Newsletter re-published an article Dick Eastman wrote a few years ago, called ‘I Have a Complaint Concerning Many Genealogists’. In it he takes to task those who believe that every genealogical source published on-line should be FREE. Judging from the many responses the re-publication received, generally in agreement, there are lots of people out there who have a grasp of reality: public records are free at source but if you want the convenience of having them piped into your home you must pay.
Currently there are many citizens of Ireland protesting about having to pay for water piped into their homes. Implementing this new charge for water is being imposed on the Irish government by greater powers because of Ireland’s current indebtedness. At the same time the National Library of Ireland is planning to place digital images of Roman Catholic parish registers (from its collection of microfilm copies) on-line for FREE. The National Library still has the old hymn sheet written for the Department of Arts, Heritage & the Gaeltacht before the Celtic Tiger was exposed as a hologram.
In the good old days, when Ireland thought it was the richest place in the world, the idea was fed to the Department that Ireland ‘owed it to the Irish Diaspora’ to make all Irish records available on-line for FREE. Consequently, the 1901 and 1911 census returns, a selection of church records and some other collections went on-line for FREE. Now, in recessionary times, the National Library thinks it’s necessary to put the parish registers on-line for FREE, never mind that the original records are owned by the Church and that the Church has not been consulted about the Library’s generosity.
Naturally large sections of the Irish Diaspora have learned the lesson that all Irish records should be on-line for FREE. There was a hue and cry when I questioned the gospel of FREE on this page a few months back. My comments elicited a little agreement, a lot of disagreement and one extremely offensive comment (from someone within Ireland).
A few weeks ago I got an e-mail from a genealogy friend asking if it was true that Ireland was putting church records on-line for free. He said that a diocesan archivist in the USA had asked him to ask me this question and that the archivist said:
“I’ve heard that Ireland is digitizing their church records and that they will be available, online for FREE! Is that true? If so, you may want to point out to him that Ireland could cancel its national debt by charging for those records. I can’t tell you how many researchers I know who are desperate to find their Irish ancestors (including me!).”
It would appear that the archivist is one of those people in genealogy who do have a grasp of reality. Back to Eastman’s Newsletter, I recommend anyone seriously interested in the debate about FREE to read Dick Eastman’s article, and the many comments it received.

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Way back when I became addicted to this hobby, we did research quite differently. For overseas information, you found someone who could transcribe your questions into another language, wrote a letter, enclosed a SASE [with foreign postage on it] as well as a few dollars and sent it off. A few months to a few years later you either got that letter back, or an answer which needed the same source to translate the contents and may or may not be relevent. To find living relatives, I used three different libraries who had different runs of other city phone directories to look up names. You could also write away to the phone company in other cities and ask for copies of their directory for the names you were searching. [That won’t work now with half the world on cell phones!] You did the same for vital statics information. All this took months and years to follow one lead.
Contrast that with the night I sat in my nightie and spent 100bps in a few hours for certificates, wills and other documents through the British National Archives and Ancestry! Comfortable, got tea at my side and success in spades at 3AM! Mind you I do miss seeing original documents but even doing research at Salt Lake City didn’t give you that and everything but the photocopy machine was free there.
Yes, I pay for Ancestry and Find My Past and willingly. The time, energy and money I save more than makes the web sites worth the cost. They aren’t perfect, but how many of us are?
I have a few doubtful connections, but I know that they aren’t as yet confirmed and would never pass them on to anyone – that is my puzzle to solve! Hopefully I can do it before I am no longer on the right side of the grass!

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Jimr nioio@tampabay.rr.com Having been in business and around business people most of my life, a business has to make a profit to survive. ask yourself how much do I need to live on today, to get the answer take your income fro a month and divide it by the days in the month then put it in one place, Next add all your bills up for one month and then divide them by the days of the month which is greater and by how much do you have enough to buy any genealogy info. This is what it cost you each day to live the business people always knows the daily cost of doing business NO MATTER WHAT THEY ARE DOING TO MAKE MONEY. Jimr

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My goodness, there are certainly a lot of folks here who dislike various companies business models or ethics. While I find some distasteful, there is a perfect solution to the problems. If you don’t like a company’s product, service, or means of delivery, the old fashioned way to solve it is not to do business with them. There are now so many providers of genealogical information to the public, you should be able to find one you like, or at least can tolerate. The others will either please enough people to continue in business, or fail. We don’t all want the same thing, so just let the market decide what succeeds or fails.

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    Write on, Don!
    I only want to do business with a reputable company.
    But can you name one, please?
    All the major sites I’ve found on the ‘net operate exactly the same devious way. I think they’re all related or owned by the same guy.

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I agree in most aspects of this article. The problem I have is the accuracy of the information you pay for. I’m in Australia and have subscribed to different so called reputable companies over the past. One Genealogy company in particular when I was subscribed kept sending me hints as to a posable connection. I go to the site and am asked to pay. I do, only to find that the connection has no baring on my research what soever and in a country that I know I don’t have any relatives . Only the names are the same. This happens quite a lot. It looks like these companies databases are mostly automated to send these “feelers” to either generate more income (after all it is a company wanting to make a profit) or to generate more hits to show posable investors of these companies.

Don’t get me wrong. I agree mostly with what Dick Eastman has written re if you want something for free, do it your self otherwise pay someone to do it for you.

The key to these sort of companies is if you want the public to pay for your services then the information supplied has to be accurate.

Another sticking point I have is that after uploading most of my personal research to one of these sites, I get an email from a very distant cousin to say to access my research they had to pay. This is NOT right! I told him to cancel their subscription and I sent them all my research for FREE.

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When, about 5 years ago, I first began seeking genealogical information for the book I am currently researching, I very quickly ruled out paying for a personal subscription to services such as Ancestry. Because I needed to visit the locations relevant to my book’s intended content (it is a migration/impact study of one family), I knew I would be spending a great deal of time in various town halls, libraries, historical societies, museums, etc. Most of these already have institutional subscriptions to the major genealogy databases and services, with the bonus of scholarly archives such as JSTOR, too. Rather than pay Ancestry and the like, I purchase memberships at these small institutions. Very often an annual membership is in the range of $30-50, and will not only give me access to all the print, digital and physical resources in each collection, but a trained archivist is there specifically to help researchers like me. My money offered in the form of annual membership or research fees helps keep these valuable institutions afloat while providing personalized assistance when I hit a “wall” in my pursuit of documentation. In a world where so many armchair genealogy “enthusiasts” would rather swipe a visa and get instant gratification from Ancestry or whichever online service than ever make use of a library or visit a museum archive, it feels good to know that my money is helping to keep the doors open at Anytown, USA’s historical society for the pleasure of a future generation of geeks like me.

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Very well said, and I liked your analogy to water supply. Here in the UK family history magazines, I have read complaints about the cost of research,. However people seem to forget that many hobbies involve cost whether it be sport, music, crafts, collecting etc.

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Yes, yes, YES!
“Tooth Fairy University.” (Snort!) Loved that.

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For those of you complaining about some records being free on certain sites and having to pay for the same record on others why don’t you search on the free site first? That way if you find it, it is there for free and you won’t complain about finding it on a paid site that you don’t have a subscription for.

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I have used and referenced Dick Eastman’s
FREE “Eastman’s Online Genealogy Newsletter” for many years, and
also tried the Paid Subscription service.
I was even fortunate enough to actually meet him at a Genealogy presentation,
where I had to drive about 400 miles round-trip and stay overnight to do so.

Although I’m still doing Genealogy ‘as a Hobby’, it can be quite a financial investment.
But, so are my other Hobbies: HAM Radio, Photography, Computer Software & Electronics … (and I’ve always wanted to BUILD a WINDMILL !)

So, I have to agree with Dick’s outlook that YES,
we may have to pay for the PROCESS of GETTING the FREE INFORMATION
.. ONE way or the OTHER.

It is up to the individual to determine the BEST Return on Investment.

But, I also want to say, Bless FamilySearch.org and several other such sites, like EOGN !!

Dick, Thank You for all that FREE TIME you dedicate to this Blog on our behalf.

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There are many sides to this situation.

I do agree wholeheartedly with Dick’s point of view – that individuals and companies have the right to charge for their investment in equipment and services, and their own efforts when making information available to the public.

There is, however, an ongoing problem with some sites using quite shady, underhanded practices to get your credit card number in hopes of charging it once the trial period has been forgotten by the user. Ancestry.com is the best of these, because at least they provide enough information in their search results so you can be reasonably sure what you’re paying for is the information you need.

Other sites are not so ethical.

On the flip side of the coin, I do believe that those of us who have been researching a very long time and have a great amount of information, images and sources, should be free to make it available however we wish – whether through community sites, family tree sites, or personal websites.

In my case, I have two genealogy sites – Empty Nest Ancestry and Blythe Genealogy – and where I can legally do so, I have made all the information I have available for free access and download.

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Hard drives and servers cost money, Ancestry and the other sites need a lot of equipment to get that information on the web.

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Thank you so much for this post! (Again) It bears repeating for sure. I have spent years and a good amount of money collecting, analyzing and organizing my research. My work is organized and published on Ancestry.com. In a PRIVATE tree. The criticism and ‘shaming’ I have received would burn your ears! The argument was the same and invariably I was chastised for not sharing. It was THEIR family, too…ya da ya da. I do share, but on a request basis and after I determine if the information actually belongs to the inquirer’s tree. I can’t tell you how many times I found my data erroneously in someone else’s tree when my tree was public. Contacting these people to correct their error did no good whatsoever. The wrong association still sits in those trees to this day. Damage done and so I went private. I do work with a core of genealogists, historians and associations and I provide my work at no charge much of the time because I know there will be due diligence and accurate cited data is of great value. The whole idea about using cited proof is so that the next research can (and should) go to the original source to validate it for their own work’s veracity. I also do some free work for folks who are getting started and need to have some guidance before they begin in earnest to become an educated researcher and family historian. Included in my lessons….etiquette in requesting help or information and respect for the work of others. Thanks again for stating the case. Well done!

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I am not quite sure why people are so negative about a company like Ancestry and paying money for access to their site. Yes, some things are publicly available elsewhere, but the truth is that the package: records, access to others also researching your ancestors, help with the interest area (researching Italian, German, whatever – records) as well as help with their products – is relatively cheap when you take in the big picture. I am not aware of stories that people from Ancestry are becoming billionaires, but I am aware that access to new records and databases is constantly becoming available through their site.

I read posts from people on FB and other sites who are both complaining about fee-based sites, and yet constantly asking others who have paid access to a site to check or research something for them. Sorry – I will never do that. Maybe the money they spend on these crazy elaborate notebook and paper filing systems would be better spent on good reliable information resources and a decent online system of data storage – the cost is probably close to the same.

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So, with all this chatter about “free data” costing Genealogists money to reproduce and provide for fee, is to assume that each and every one of them went to the actual location of the data in question and copied all the “free data-the old fashioned way” and then reproduced it for fee? That would mean that every grave site, every census page, every biblical record was copied “the old fashioned way” at the innumerable sites around the globe and then re-produced, like a water pipe, for fee,; and, that they can “expect” to “recover expenses” and a “reasonable fee”! I was born at night but, not last night. They obtained all their data electronically for free and then sold it to the relatives searching for family! The general public ought to be able to get the free data for “free” as well! Some people can’t afford their “free” offer but still have a right to view public information! Please tell us how you went to each and every location that you have data from and got it the “old fashioned way”! You must have an “Army” of people to be able to collect thaqt world wide data dump! Bruce Garwood

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    —> They obtained all their data electronically for free and …

    In most cases, the major genealogy web sites went to an archive or library that already had a major collection available on paper or on microfilm and paid a licensing fee to that archive to scan the information and make it available online. For larger collections, a licensing fee of $50,000 or $100,000 or more is not unusual. Even larger collections will command even bigger licensing fees, of course.

    Then the same company also spent money to have the information scanned (the labor costs are usually higher than the cost of the equipment), spent perhaps a couple of million dollars or more for web servers and disk drives (the biggest online sites probably spent much more than $10 million) and multiple high-speed backbone connections to the Internet (add in perhaps $25,000 per month or more), built a data center to keep everything ($1 million and up) and then hired a a few programmers to write the needed software and a larger staff of systems support personnel to work in the data center to keep everything working and also hired a few support personnel to answer questions from users. Add in a bit more for marketing, billing, and management personnel.

    No, it isn’t free.

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I actually felt like I hit the jackpot when they started making things available on the internet, regardless of the cost. I have been a member of ancestry since it first went online. I was never one for traveling across country alone to do a bit of free research.

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I have been doing genealogy for nearly 40 years and it has NEVER been free! It used to cost for postage, long distance phone calls, travel and fees at courthouses. Now you must buy or have access to a computer and pay for many of the sites.
I don’t mind paying for what I use but I do mind that they tell me it is FREE then, when I get there they only show you the tip of the iceberg, so to speak, and you must to give them a credit card to view the rest, for a trial period. Again, not a big problem, but if I want to cancel I have to notify them so they do not continue to charge my card. If it is a free trial it should be FREE (they should have to shut you off, not you cancel). If it is going to be charged then give me the choice of renewing at the end of my time or not, I hate leaving my credit card for them to keep billing while the message to cancel never seems to get through.

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I have found that the old way is fast disappearing. I can no longer go to the court house in the county where my family resided and get records (not even my own birth cert.). I am referred to an online or mail service company that holds all the state records (NJ). These are not free and I suspect NJ gets a cut. I just wonder how long before all states subscribe to this.

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Very well put! Couldn’t agree more.

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Dick and Blog Readers,

Access to annoymized / macro data produced for ‘health genetics’ is not FREE to those in the Genetic Genealogy community nor is it even AVAILABLE to those in the citizen scientist Genetic Genealogy community nor service providers such as FTDNA, 23andme, Ancestry.com etc.

A case in point is valuable ‘ancestry genetics’ BGA ‘group level’ British Heritage data from the March 2015 PoBI (People of the British Isles) study published in NATURE and funded to the extent of US$5 million plus by the Wellcome Trust charity out of London. They masqueraded their study as purely a ‘health genetics’ one when in fact it dealt more with ‘ancestry genetics.” http://dienekes.blogspot.com/2015/03/british-origins-leslie-et-al-2015.html.

Many senior level, but uninformed, Genetic Genealogists think this British Heritage data in annoynmized group level form will be available to the Genetic Genealogy community. GUESS WHAT – IT AIN’T! One such person is Blaine Bettinger who helped author the so called official standards for Genetic Genealogists. Those of you who know Blaine, maybe you can clue him in and set him straight on the facts since he is an attorney and should be dealing in the facts.

See what Blaine wrote here and then look into the comments. http://upfront.ngsgenealogy.org/2015/03/the-people-of-british-isles-project.html

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I’m afraid I have to….. agree with every word you said, Mr. Eastman. 🙂

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Not everything is available on genealogy web sites. Sometimes you have to visit a courthouse or order a microfilm from the Family History Library. It all costs money. Genealogy can be an expensive hobby if you are a serious researcher.

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I have no objection paying for a good honest service, so if these genealogy web sites are genuinely honest and not devious WHY DO THEY ADVERTISE Free Family Search, Free Birth, Marriages & Death Records etc. Why do they hide behind other genealogy sites that your new to explore, there they are, sites you’ve previously explored and rejected for being deceitful, stating they were FREE. They state 14 day FREE TRIAL, so why do they require peoples private banking information, surely those private details are only divulged when agreeing a contract for payment. Yes I do agree Genealogy organisations that take time and effort to compile these records should charge for access to their sites but stop stating that it’s FREE.

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How do you feel about these “for profit” organizations who have mined your personal photos and documents you put online and then are selling copies of those?

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    I believe if these commercial organizations did not have paying customers to provide revenue, they would all go bankrupt and disappear within a few months, if not within weeks. The loss would be bad for all genealogists who seek this information.

    It costs millions of dollars to build data centers, install super high-speed connections to the Internet backbone, hire dozens of employees, including systems analysts, programmers, data center engineers, customer support people, accountants to keep the books, and more. I would hate to see these companies go bankrupt. Genealogists would have to go back to the “old days” when we used to write letters and hope for replies. (I guess we would use email today.) Then, to view the records, we would have to travel to other parts of the country or to “the old country” to view the original records. Travel expenses alone would be much higher than today’s online expenses.

    It’s the way we all used to do it. I started genealogy in the last few years of that process but I hope I never see those days again.

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Considering the eagerness of most amateur genealogists to find their distant cousins or other relatives online and then exchange information about common ancestors, you would think that this type of information is exactly the sort that “wants to be free”. Aren’t Ancestry’s prices rather high in view of that?

Moreover, when I tried Ancestry out, I was unable to corroborate much of anything in the family genealogy we already possessed, and which had been the result of decades of painstaking work by a fifth cousin. And this in spite of a very rare surname, and with recent generations having left quite the paper trail of degrees, professional licenses, and military service.

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When I first began my genealogy ONLINE researching, I found the free (volunteer) sites USGenWeb.com and Fultonhistory.com (Thank you, Tom T.!). I also subscribed to Ancestry.com and joined NEHGS and two or three historical societies in my main geographical areas of interest. As time has gone on, I joined FindAGrave.com and became a contributor and Fold3 and actually became a contributor to USGenWeb and several historical societies. Before that my model was to travel to libraries and historical societies and spend hours and days at considerable expense..with absolutely NO GUARANTEE that I would find (1) what I was looking for or (2) anything remotely of value. I would call ahead and learn about their records and fees and sometimes the historian would suggest other local sites or people to contact. Archived materials can be remarkably complete or “Swiss Cheese”. Organization/Indexing is either well done or the information kept in a system devised by the local archivist and you would need that archivist as a working partner to ferret out pertinent information. That never stopped me from going to a local research site and diving in and adapting my technique and my expectations. Often times I found a treasure that made all the digging and false starts worth it all. Besides I made some wonderful relationships with local historians who were invaluable in continuing my research after I returned home. Lots of footwork and travel in those days.

Then came online researching! WOW! The available information opened up a whole new world. I kept my basic research model and plugged it into working online. There are sites that are rich in research material and very well organized and indexed. There are unfortunately sites that throw data up in the air…charge you for a look and eat up your budget and time for little or nothing. Just as in the ‘good old days’, you still have to have your strategy in place and decide where to spend your money and time. Bottom line, I decide where to spend my money and the FREE come-ons really don’t motivate me….especially because I network with other historians and genealogists who share their experiences and recommend not only the local research sources, but the paid online sites that have invested properly in data gathering and search ease and the volunteer-based/free sites. Time and money is important and there is a value to being able to access the plethora of sources that used to be only available at a location far from you, but perhaps even more importantly unknown to you. Now I can find these items and have the pleasure of incorporating it into my research, but also to help me plan to visit the source site on a future trip and to learn more.

Money well spent is money well saved.

BTW, I am semi-retired and have to mind my expenses.

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Reblogged this on familytreegirldotcom and commented:
Well said Dick Eastman, well said! I am in support of your article 100% so much I am reblogging it. Well said and thank you for sharing your opinion. it is valued.

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It’s been said over and over but I can’t agree more with your comments . I used free and I used paid site. I don’t begrudge the money as I research what I’ll be getting for my money and if its of value to me I pay. I would give up a lot of things before I’d give up some of these sites. I’m sharing your article as well.

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I have a family website where I share information about my family. I have been fortunate over the years to have friends and family give me tips that lead to finding difficult family members. I have never joined Ancestry or any other paying service but should I need something from them there is always the library. I share what is in my site, not always giving my sources but it can sometimes help others who do not know where else to look. I have volunteered in transcribing marriage records and census forms. I did it willingly to help other in their quest. I do find that there are unfortunately companies out there who take advantage of others by charging fees when the material can actually be found freely. We must however, realize that that is commonplace today with many companies who are just trying to make a fast dollar. I believe in the pay it forward approach to this subject but I do understand the costs involved with paying companies ie) Ancestry and others. Just be prudent when deciding whether or not you are choosing a legitimate business to find what you need. Some of the large ones do give you access freely for a month to try the service and find out if it meets your expectations.

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Reblogged this on Writing Matters and commented:
My feelings exactly, and the same applies for paying a genealogist to do the research for you.

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What really pisses me about a good number of these sites is the say “FREE.” You input your information for a search. They fish you in to the end, then BAM, they want money before you get your results.. Hey be upfront. If there is a charge say so in the beginning, don’t hide it till the end. Not exactly being honest and upfront. I went through a ton of these misleading sites. I found one run by the LDS (Mormon Church). They said it was free, and it was free. How refreshing!

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I agree to a point, and I’m fully aware that it costs a lot to set up databases like Ancestry, My Heritage etc, however, as John pointed out, there are flaws:
I joined Ancestry with the Free 14 day trial. I ended up paying for 1 month more after that. I did not like the fact that you have to enter card details for a FREE trial straight up. So if you forget to cancel after 14 days, you’ve conveniently already paid for another month you didn’t want. Not very honest of them! I then realized I don’t really need to pay for it. Sure there are some records that Ancestry seems to have a lock on in exchange for bank details (mainly census), but there are MANY records and other research items to be found online for free, provided by either governments (where Ancestry gets them from in the first place) or generous people who have made their own free of charge genealogy websites/other websites. I could piece together family relationships, DOB, DOD, marriages, addresses, military history, occupations etc without Ancestry.
Another problem with Ancestry is, if you upload your own photos/research with the idea of helping others, they’ll be charged to be able to view it, which is wrong. So Ancestry makes money from its users uploading items to help others. If you want to contact another member to discuss your families, you have to be a paying member to do so, also wrong. Then sites like Billion Graves try to charge you for the work and effort of others in their premium service, yet those who put in the effort to take photos of graves and transcribe them do not get paid- without these people Billion Graves would be empty. Again, making money out of people who were genuinely trying to help others. If you look up Ancestry’s annual financial reports, you’ll see they make profits WELL in excess of covering operating/employee costs—greed at it again it seems!

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Economics and Money are definitely important. We should all make sure nobody works for free, nobody gets things for free. What else would motivate people to get up in the morning or to even live? Let’s all make sure to get paid for your work. I’m going to start charging my children for the food I cook them, for room and board, the trips I take them to school and practices, etc. Of course they can’t pay now, I’ll just give them credit and then make them pay later when they have jobs. I should’ve had more kids, that would have made a great retirement plan. This is how we all make the world a better place.

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Family Search is free to join and use. If you don’t mind working in public, your library may have Ancestry free on their website. Remember to clear your tracks when you leave no matter what browser you use when using a public computer.

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Why worry about pay sites. Family Search is Free and will neer charge for it. You might be surprised how much you can find.

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