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21 April 2017

How to Save Money on Your Genealogy Subscriptions

There is really only one way to save big bucks on your genealogy subscription(s).

To get BIG savings you have to apply this method. It is a guaranteed method and probably the best way to also do high-quality research. The great thing is, even if you mess up, it can still save you money, there aren't any complicated coupons or special websites to visit.

How to save money on your genealogy subscriptions from The Occasional Genealogist.



Tell Me How, Already!


So what's this wonderous method?

Take a break from your subscription. You will have a 100% savings during that time. OK, it's not that simple. Obviously, anyone can just stop a subscription. Why would I write a blog post about that?

I wouldn't.

Like genealogy research, if you put some planning into your subscriptions, you can save money and do more research.

Yes, do more research by taking a break from your subscription(s).

Are There Coupons?


First, there are coupons and discount codes out there. I've never seen one that can save you a lot of money on the big subscriptions (maybe a Groupon or AARP discount for Ancestry.com, but both are a one-time discount).

I have seen great savings on new sites and some of the "smaller" sites, mainly at genealogy conferences. I've gotten my Fold3 subscription this way several times, at a huge savings. I’ve also gotten great savings on smaller sites through deals from Legacy Family Tree or Family Tree Magazine.

The discounts for the big subscription sites aren’t deals you can use repeatedly. The deals on the smaller subscription sites are often repeatable, but the sites are usually “add-ons.” You might like to “add-on” one of these smaller site subscriptions to what you already have, but it probably isn’t the only subscription you’d want.

This means coupons and discounts aren’t the best savings you can get for genealogy subscription sites. The method I’m describing can save you a lot. The great thing is, you can combine it with coupons or discounts to get more savings.

So let’s jump into how to drop a subscription, save money, and do more or better research.

The Method


How can you possibly drop a subscription and do more research?

Essentially, you drop an expensive subscription and work with different records during that time. This can be very simple or a complex plan. It's partly your choice and partly depends on your research.

I’m going to use Ancestry.com as my example “expensive” subscription. It’s just an example—the concept applies to any subscription.

Let's say you pay quarterly for your Ancestry.com subscription. Plan to drop your subscription for one or two quarters, it's up to you. You have three basic options for researching during that time.

  • Save records from Ancestry.com for review during your break.
  • Subscribe to a different site that costs less.
  • Plan in-person research.

The great thing is, they are all repeatable. If you're organized, you might find you can save a lot and do a lot more research, and better quality research, by actually planning.

I’ve written before about budgeting as part of your research planning process. Include planning your use of subscription sites. I’ll talk more about planning in another post.

Who Does This?


There are many genealogists that do not pay for subscriptions. They access the subscriptions sites at their local library, local Family History Center (sometimes called a FamilySearch center), or another local repository.

Isn’t This Too Hard?


If only doing research by visiting a physical location to access records seems impractical, this is how genealogy worked for, I don't really know how many generations.

When I started in genealogy, I remember reading all about how to handle research by mail. I was in elementary school so I didn't even have money for postage. Many genealogists successfully did the bulk of their research by mail, though. I maxed out on microfilm when I had a chance. That was in my budget (but no copies—talk about hard!).

My point is, you've got it easy. You can do this.

You’ve Got Choices


Remember, having to access records at a physical site is not part of this method. It is one option and an option that could save you a lot of money. However, it could also cost you too much time.

If you don’t have a local repository that offers subscriptions or records you need, that isn’t a money saving option. You can absolutely stick with online research until you have time to plan a research trip to access additional records.

My point is, you also don’t have to stick with researching at home. It is extremely convenient and might be necessary in your situation (it is in mine).

Find out if you could access Ancestry Library Edition, Fold3, GenealogyBank, and/or more, at a local repository. Even if you want a subscription to use at home, it might change which subscription you choose.



There is an additional set of issues that relates to saving on subscriptions. I’m only going to introduce this concept in this post. I’ll follow up about this later and with additional details about the method, too.

You've Got a Problem


There are several problems I see genealogists having related to genealogy subscriptions, specifically. You may have one of these problems, or all of them, or any combination. Each problem you suffer from needs to be "cured" for you to save money AND do more quality research.

Let's look at the four broad problems I've identified. I will briefly describe them in a moment.

  • You think your subscriptions is IT.
  • You are searching, not researching when you use your subscription.
  • You don't use your subscription enough to justify it.
  • You aren't aware of what's free through your subscription site.

The first two are major problems that probably lead to problems through-out your genealogy. These will be covered more precisely in one or more future posts. The last two are more a problem if you are budget-minded.

As you consider how you could drop a subscription and still do more research, think about if you have one of these problems or a possible variation. Here are the brief details of each.

You Think Your Subscription is IT


The problem here is how vital you think your subscription is (or subscriptions are) to researching. This "IT" has nothing to do with popularity or even if you think it's the "best." The problem boils down to thinking you can’t do genealogy without your IT subscription.

You Are Searching, Not Researching


This is a horrible, terrible problem. It isn't actually limited to subscription use. Genealogists have always been prone to catching it, even long before the Internet. It's just much easier to catch online. I'll cover this in more detail later, for now just start thinking, are you searching instead of researching?

You Don't Use Your Subscription Enough to Justify It


Although this sounds straightforward, you have to also consider it in tandem with the first two problems (which is why I briefly mentioned them).

The most obvious consideration relates to the second problem. Once you recognize you are searching instead of researching, is the cost of your subscription worth it? You might do some serious research occasionally, but is it enough to justify the cost of the subscription? Your answer is personal to you.

In other words, you might look at the subscription site daily. However, do you really use it for research (instead of a poorly considered search)? Maybe you do every weekend. Maybe you never really research, you just keep searching.

You might think $400 a year is worth it if you research most weekends. You might think it is worth it for the convenience of researching when you “suddenly” find time, even if that’s about four times a year.

As long as you’ve realized what you are doing and given it some thought, whatever choice you make is fine. Just don’t blindly pay for a subscription you aren’t getting sufficient value from. Especially don’t keep paying and missing out on other records (or even experiences, like education) that would be more helpful.

With regard to using a subscription enough and your concept of the subscription being "IT," this gets a bit more in-depth.

You might use a subscription a lot but maybe what you use isn't unique to the subscription. You might have cheaper (or free) alternatives for the same records. You also have the same consideration I mentioned above. You might be missing out on records that would be more useful because you think your subscription is IT.

Using your subscription “enough” to justify the cost isn’t as simple as how often you actually visit the site. If the cost of one subscription is preventing you from subscribing to something else, making a research trip, or skipping educational opportunities, put more thought into the value you get from the use of that subscription.

If the cost of one subscription is preventing you from subscribing to something else, making a research trip, or skipping educational opportunities, put more thought into the value you get from the use of that subscription.

You Aren't Aware of What's Free Through Your Subscription Site


This problem boils down to fear. You might be afraid of losing your work if you end your subscription. It's not that easy to determine exactly how a site will behave when you're on a free plan.

Some sites don't have a free plan, you won't be able to log-in at all. Other sites do have a free plan and maybe you have a general idea what you can't access, but you're not sure exactly what will happen.

Unfortunately, I can't detail this exactly for you. There are far too many sites out there and I'd have to set-up free accounts on all of them (and let any free trials expire) to test this on your behalf. That is just too much work. And there's a good reason it's too much work.

You shouldn't be "storing" your genealogy on a subscription site. Thankfully I don't have to write a post about this. Check out this post, by Amy Johnson Crow, CGSM, about this very idea. You should be able to drop a subscription at any time and not lose data (you might have to download a little, but not years worth of work).

In addition to not using your subscription as your filing cabinet, realize that not being aware what is available for free relates to the above section. Unless you have checked, you might mainly be using a feature you could use for free. And of course, this also rolls into the same idea of whether you are mainly using something you could access for less or free on a different site.

Although I’ve listed four problems, there’s a lot of interaction between the issues that might result in you overpaying based on what you actually use or need. That’s why I’ve mentioned all four issues here but not covered them in-depth.

However, I do want to wrap-up one area of “free services.”

Your Tree, Worth the Cost?


I suspect most readers of this post, if they have an IT subscription, it's Ancestry.com. In the U.S. they are the most visible subscription site. MyHeritage is certainly trying to catch up with advertising but Ancestry.com has many years headstart.

So, under this concept of knowing what's free, I want to mention the area I think a number of people need to look into. That's the area of Ancestry.com trees. I specifically want to mention this because this is a way many people are becoming involved after having their DNA tested.

That’s also the reason I want to talk about trees on Ancestry.com, specifically. Due to the very limited DNA tools from AncestryDNA, a public tree is the main tool you can use on-site (there are many other tools if you upload your results to a third party site like GEDmatch, which is free). If you’re holding onto an Ancestry.com subscription you can only just afford, for the tree, you need to think carefully.

A few years ago (maybe more like 18 months, even), I let my Ancestry.com subscription expire, on purpose. I was slightly nervous what would happen to my trees when I dropped my subscription. However, I was pretty confident it would be fine, and it was.

The tree service is free and remains intact when you don't have a paid subscription. You have to actively delete a tree (and I don't even know if your trees would be deleted if you could fully delete your account, I've never tried).

Your paid subscription gives you access to the records you might have attached to your tree. You won't be able to access those if you aren't subscribed, but they won't be removed. If you resubscribe later (such as in the method I’m describing to save money), you will again be able to access the records attached to your tree.

Your online tree is no excuse for paying for a subscription you don't use or can only just afford. If you are just getting started, especially if you've gotten hooked through an AncestryDNA test, create that public tree, attach some records during your free trial.

Remember to download copies of any records that are part of the paid subscription. Then you won't feel your tree is holding you hostage and you'll free up some money (if you were paying for a subscription) you can use to access different records.

So, What Now?


I’ve given you the bare bones of how to drop a subscription temporarily and still do genealogy research. I’ll be following this post up with more information about those two big problems---thinking your subscription is IT, and searching instead of researching. If you have problems related to either of those, addressing them will improve your genealogy and possibly save you a LOT of money on subscription costs.

All of this really comes down to research planning. So, in the comments, let me know if you plan your paid online access to records. Do you know how to do research planning? Do you have a system for saving on subscriptions while still doing online research?

Also, let me know if you have questions about this post. This topic could possibly be three or four posts and this one just scratches the surface. Do you need to hear more about the three options for researching while taking a break from a subscription? Maybe your question is related to another area, let me know.

Remember, there is no IT subscription, you need a variety of sources, online and off, and genealogy is not cheap. The best way to save is to have a plan. That includes a research plan and that plan needs to address your budget.

How to save money on your genealogy subscriptions from The Occasional Genealogist.

How to save money on your genealogy subscriptions from The Occasional Genealogist.

4 comments:

  1. Thank you for this information. Thinking of doing my research on Family Search for six months instead of paying Ancestry. I've been subscribed for too many years.

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  2. That sounds like a great plan. I'd love to hear how it goes!

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  3. Great info - thanks. I think I will take a break from my Ancestry subscription and spend some time cleaning up my tree and making sure that all my info is sourced correctly. I will definitely take the time to download the attachments to my tree before I discontinue my Ancestry subscription.

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  4. Great info - thanks. I have had an Ancestry subscription for quite a few years. Time to take a break and make sure that I have adequately sourced all the information that I have.

    ReplyDelete