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I'm Jennifer, and I'm an Occasional Genealogist... sort of. For over ten years I've been a professional genealogist. I started researching my own family nearly 30 years ago. Like many of you, I started as an Occasional Genealogist. I had to squeeze research in while in school and while working full-time. Then I got my first genealogy job and for awhile, it was genealogy all the time. Now I have two kids. I do other people's genealogy constantly but my own? Coming up with ways to do great genealogy, despite all the interruptions, is now mandatory.

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How to Save Money on Your Genealogy Subscriptions

There is really only one way to save big bucks on your genealogy subscriptions.

To get BIG savings you have to apply this method. The method works and is possibly the best way to do high-quality online research, too. The great thing is, there aren’t any complicated coupons, discount codes, or special websites to visit.


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

How to Save on Genealogy

This is a simple method anyone can use and reuse.

So what's this wondrous 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 all parts of 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!

First, let me briefly address traditional ways to save money on a purchase.

Are There Coupons for Genealogy Subscriptions?

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. I've seen Groupons and AARP discounts for Ancestry.com, but both are a one time discount. The one time savings can be big, but genealogy is a life-long pursuit.

Currently (since about 2021), I've mainly seen holiday sales at sites like Ancestry and MyHeritage. These come around somewhat often but are usually only for new subscribers or sometimes returning subscribers OR they are for gift subscriptions. The savings can be significant (40% or 50% off) but at least at Ancestry, that's often only for a 6-month subscription. If you want a shorter or longer subscription, too bad.

Remember, subscription sites are usually a business. Their goal is to make money. They are going to structure sales to serve that goal. You can waste your time getting mad or figure out how to make it work the best for you. I am much happier having the option to pay for a subscription and be able to use it from home than to still be stuck in the 20th century and have to visit physical repositories to use microfilm, books, and original records. I love using those mediums but travelling to multiple repositories is much more expensive and takes a LOT more time. You also don't get any search options which also speed up research.

Basically, the fact people can make a business out of providing online genealogy records is a great thing for genealogists. Spend your energy figuring out how to do the best research you can within your budget. Yes, subscriptions are expensive, but they're a lot cheaper than all those research trips you used to have to take!

This newer trend for subscription websites (not coupons but sales aimed at new/returning subscribers) works perfectly with the method I'm suggesting. When subscription genealogist sites were new, online subscriptions were usually only available for a full year. The shorter terms will cost you more if you constantly have a subscription but open up the option to do more research for a lower cost when you plan ahead.

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

The Method: Save on Subscription Sites

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

Essentially, 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 family tree.

I've created a digital Tracker to help you track your subscriptions and memberships as well as track ideas for other subscriptions you might want to try out. You can get it in our  free Resource Library  (you'll need to scroll down on the page that opens to find the spot to sign-up).

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 subscription. Plan to drop your subscription for one or two quarters, how long is 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.

What About Free Genealogy Websites?

There are many genealogists that do not pay for subscriptions. They access the subscription sites at their local library, local Family History Center (sometimes called a FamilySearch center), or another local repository. You should also be using FamilySearch which is 100% free. There are many smaller free sites.

You should be learning about options specific to your research and keeping track of the sites so you can use them when you have time for online research.

We created the Digital Dashboard portion of The Occasional Genealogist Planner and Digital Dashboard for exactly this use. Family History involves researching more than just people.

Planning to Use Family History Websites

Here's something you need to keep near the front of your mind. You can focus on saving money, sticking to a budget, doing more research, solving a specific problem, or doing more diverse research. Each of those might look different when it comes to planning your use of websites for genealogy research. This post is all about saving money. The method I'm suggesting, should also result in doing more diverse research. You can tweak this method for any of the other focus options.

It comes down to, this is research planning. You have to learn about records before you can adequately plan your research. This method is not about creating a research plan. This is a precursor most modern genealogists skip because they just pay for the same subscription over and over again. You may be missing out on exactly the record you need by skipping researching online genealogy resources.

Offline research was so much more difficult, you usually needed to start with the problem you were trying to solve. If you want to bust a brick wall, that is still your starting place. However, online research, particularly research from home, allows you to do genealogy more often. That means you have the option to start by focusing on what you can do from home instead of having to start with a specific problem.

Let's wrap up the overview of this method with the emphasis on saving money.

If you want to keep doing research from home but save money on paid genealogy websites, here's what you can do.

  1. Research what other subscription sites exist. If this is too big a task, narrow it to the part of your research you are most interested in. You might do American genealogy and Irish genealogy. If one of those is your current interest, don't worry about subscriptions for the other right now. You can also pick a specific problem and look for subscription sites that will help with it.
  2. Research what free genealogy websites can help you. This is usually too difficult for all your research unless that's pretty specific (for example, the bulk of my research is in Georgia, I would focus on free records for Georgia. Free sites for the U.S. is pretty difficult, but it might be possible for other countries, especially if you want the site to be in English even if the records are in another language).
  3. Get organized. You should have ideas from the research into paid and free sites. that's why those were the first two steps. You might have organized the information you found as you did that research (that's the most efficient) but sometimes you were just poking around to get an idea what was out there. You need to record the URL, cost/terms, and some notes about why that site is of particular interest. You can record more if you want. This does not need to be a huge project. Narrow it down to a part of your research or a specific problem if this seems like too much to do. Our free subscription tracker was designed to track and organize the basic information about ideas for online subscriptions.
  4. Make a plan. What subscription will you stop and what do you need to do before it ends? This might involve downloading copies of records to use while the subscription is stopped or something similar. What subscription will you try next? This does not have to be immediately, you can go without a subscription. What free options can you use while your subscription is stopped? This can be using the downloaded records, using free records, or doing something else like learning or getting organized. You can also plan to use a subscription for free at a local repository (like your local library, archives, of FamilySearch Center).
  5. If appropriate, create an actual research plan. If you are focused on solving one problem, you should create one research plan. You will not create the next plan until you finish the first (the results of the first help determine what you will do next). Don't worry about forgetting what online family history records you will use for the research. Instead of creating one plan that is too big or creating multiple plans, you organize your information about subscription/record options as information, not as a research plan. That's why creating a research plan is so far down this list. It uses information you have tracked and organized elsewhere. Got that? You won't forget what records you want to use because you saved those ideas and details somewhere else.

We've provided the free subscription tracker to keep track of basic details related to paid subscriptions and memberships. The complete Digital Dashboard was designed as a way to track more information, including links to things that don't fit in the Dashboard.

When we're talking about subscriptions and online records, you need to research what records should have been created, if they exist, have they been digitized or not, how you can access them, what they will cost, etc. This is simpler than researching people so it can be tracked in the Digital Dashboard and then your findings can be linked to tasks you need to do.

For example, you start with a task to learn what records should have been created for a fact you need to learn about your ancestor. This isn't a subscription. You can record this information in a text document (I use Evernote for this type of information) or you can use the Source Idea Worksheet in the Dashboard if you're just recording a quick idea.

Then you need to learn other details about those records. You might be saving a website or finding aid that contains the details or typing it up for future reference. Some of the information is best put into a budget or into your research plan. There is a spreadsheet based budget template in the Dashboard and you can link files like a Google Doc or Evernote note for items that don't fit into a table.

When you learn about a record that is available in a different subscription, you can record the site, cost/terms, and notes in the Subscription tracker so you can see it when you review your current subscriptions and memberships. If approprite, you can also record the record in the Source Idea Worksheet, To-do List, Initial Planning Template, or in a customized sheet in the Dashboard.

By keeping all the information in the Dashboard you are just a click away from the work you've already finished. Instead of spending your limited time hunting for what you've done or redoing it, you can keep going.

If a Google Sheets based Dashboard isn't for you, you can track the same information on paper. You obviously lose the advantage of being able to link items. You could also use a tool like Notion or organize a digital file folder that included links to both online material and shortcuts to files on our computer.

There are many ways to organize all the other information in genealogy. We created the Digital Dashboard for you so you don't have to figure everything out from scratch. A great place to start getting better organized is by focusing on saving money on your genealogy subscriptions. If you are mainly concerned with saving money, organization is the best way to do that.

Put some thought into what you could do if you stopped or paused a genealogy subscription. There are lots of free or lower-cost options to consider. What works for you is personal to your interests and the research you've done and still need to do.

You can get the free Subscription/Membership Tracker in our Resource Library. When you click on the link, it will open a new window and you'll need to scroll down to find the form to sign-up for the Library.

We recently updated this post. If you're looking for information on better using your subscription, check out this post on our sister site. It contains the additional content that was originally the end of this post.