07 October 2016

How to Save $$$ on Genealogy Records

Last week I told you about my new (free) mini-course "Finding Her Maiden Name." In it you'll learn about skills and techniques for solving what you may call an "impossible" problem. Tere was one skill I didn't have time to include in the five (very quick) lessons.

That skill is budgeting.

Today I want to look at some places to get free or cheap access to records and also highlight some techniques to use if you have to hire someone to get records for you.

Next week I'll talk about budgeting as part of your research planning.
How to save money on genealogy research

How/Where to Access Free or Cheap Records

  • Your local library. If they don't have a genealogy room with records related to your interests, they may offer free access to paid subscription websites. (Remember FamilySearch.org is free, use it from home if you haven't been!)
  • Your local library, use Inter-Library Loan (ILL). There are a few libraries that loan significant genealogical material although most keep "reference collections" which don't circulate. The Library of Virginia loans their microfilm via ILL. Ask your librarian for more information, he/she may refer you to a different branch where you can get the best assistance.
  • Your local Family History Center. You order microfilm of your choice via FamilySearch.org and it is delivered to your chosen Family History Center (or "FamilySearch Center") for you to use. Short-term microfilm rental is only $7.50/roll.
  • Other public libraries. See what the library local to your ancestors' residence has available to order. This varies widely but is absolutely worth checking.
  • "Local" libraries that aren't "your" library. If a library in an adjacent county (or whatever jurisdiction is appropriate) offers services just to their patrons, see if you can pay a fee to become a patron. I've seen this option in county libraries and university libraries.
  • Society libraries. This could be genealogical, historical, or any other type of society. For your local societies, they may offer services your local library doesn't. You should also check societies for your ancestral locations. This last item also applies to genealogy/historical societies that might offer research services even if they don't have a library. Some societies offer genealogical research at an hourly rate at the local courthouse or local public library.
  • Batch your research. If you plan ahead and keep yourself organized, you can create batches of records you need. You can batch these in various ways. Personally, I like to save up research to justify a research trip. This may or may not be in your budget but I always like to look at the records myself, if possible. You might also batch records to order microfilm or ILL materials. This is the most budget conscious way to do this so you don't end up ordering the same material again. 

Budget Tips for "Hiring"

  • Hire a professional. Some professional genealogists will take jobs copying records for less than they would charge to do full research. I used to do this when I lived outside of Washington, D.C. Some of my services were cheaper than what it cost to order the record from the National Archives. Not every genealogist does this; it's not always financially profitable (or even reasonable) for them. You can search for a genealogist in an area on the Association of Professional Genealogists website. I recommend using the advanced directory search instead of the "by location" search or use both ("by location" has had some inexplicable quirks in the past that may or may not have been resolved). There are many researchers at the Family History Library that do this type of work but it may or may not be cheaper than ordering the microfilm for use at your local Family History Center (if you need a book, ordering it yourself is not an option).
  • Batching When Hiring. You may want or need to batch records if you're going to hire a professional. If you need simple records that are indexed, you may need to request multiple records to meet a minimum (usually a minimum number of hours of research). Note that you usually are not allowed to do batch requests when requesting copies from government-run repositories. Sometimes they offer hourly-research just like hiring an independent researcher but you may be limited by a maximum number of "requests," instead.
  • "Share" with Research Cousins. Consider sharing the cost of research with your research cousins. If you need records from different locations, you can simply split up who will order what and have a plan for how you will share. 
  • "Share" with Genealogy Friends. If you are hiring someone and need to meet a minimum, you can "share" the cost with any genealogist, a research cousin or just a friend. In this situation, though, you need to figure this out before you are ready for the professional to start. Work out the details with your friend and then approach the researcher (or repository) like a professional does. If you double the administrative work (two people paying, two points of contact), some researchers/repositories may not be willing to accept this type of job. Instead, make a request for yourself and a "client." I often make requests to one researcher for records for multiple clients. I just ask for the time it took to get each record (or it's flat rate) so I can bill my clients correctly. I usually specify if several records are for one client and several for another so they can bill this the easiest way for them.
Genealogy is not free and after you look back at years of research, it's not really cheap. But it is possible to break up the costs and use techniques to get the most bang for your buck. If you really want to discover your family history, I can assure you, it's money well spent. 

Next week I'll look at actually budgeting within your research planning. I'll tell you now, I'm cheap. My problem is not over-spending on my personal research, it's under-spending. Considering a budget for a personal project (just like I do for my clients) helps me determine the best use of my money and usually results in much faster results than if I just "wing-it." Whether you over- or under-spend, budgeting is an important part of research planning.


Looking for the budgeting printable in the image? You can download it in the Resource Library. Click toto get free access to the Resource Library. Information on using it is in part three of this budgeting series.

How to save money on genealogy. Cheap genealogy records.

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