Sunday, October 14, 2007

Frugal Genealogy

Jasia of Creative Gene has written a thoughtful and interesting five-part series called "What is Your Genealogy Worth to You?" (click here to go to the first post in the series). She starts off with "Have you ever thought about how much your genealogy addiction costs you? What price have you paid to collect all those names on your family tree? If you had known what the cost would be when you began, would you still have started down this road?"

I've been gathering information and organizing it since early 1987. In 1990 and again in 1999, I helped to organize a Midkiff Family Reunion. In 1995, I made my first forays into research by requesting the marriage record of my paternal grandmother's biological parents, and not long after, visited a Family History Center for the first time. I haven't looked back since! Back then, I didn't keep track of my expenditures, but I never had a lot to work with and would just make do with about $5 or $10 a month in ordering microfilm from the FHC. Since purchasing Quicken software three-and-a-half years ago, I've kept pretty good records on all my expenditures, and ran a report to see how much I've spent. Since May 2004, I have spent a total of $823.65 on paying society fees, ordering vital records and microfilms, paying for subscriptions to genealogy websites like Ancestry, making photocopies of documents and forms, buying office supplies specifically for my genealogy files, and purchasing genealogy books, CDs, and magazine subscriptions. I've been able to offset these costs: my sister-in-law reimburses me half of my online subscription costs since I help her research her family tree; I also get paid for teaching Online Genealogy at my local community college district's community ed and for doing presentations at area genealogical societies. When I consider the after-tax income and reimbursement I've received in comparison to the expenditures listed above, I actually have a credit of -$52.81.

There are several other costs, however. While I don't figure in the cost of gas in going to genealogical society meetings or going to my local Family History Center, it does cost to park when I attend society meetings and computer classes at the public library, and my three-and-a-half year cost for that has been exactly $127.00. I gladly would park in a free parking area at the bottom of the hill half-a-mile away; however, since I'm the Ways and Means Committee Chair, I usually have many boxes of books and bags of supplies to haul in, and even with my cart, that's simply not practical. The parking garage I normally use is the cheapest in the downtown area: 50 cents per half hour.

Another cost would be printer ink (which I haven't bothered to account for here, since I list it under Consumable Household Goods). I am very frugal with it, and only print when I have to, using the "quick print" and black-and-white settings. Still, it does cost, but I recycle my cartridges or trade them in for reams of paper or photo printing.

Because I use my computer and Internet service almost exclusively for genealogy in one form or another, I have to consider those costs. The first computer I had used Windows 3.1 and was found by my brother-in-law at a garage sale. I paid $100 for it, along with some software and a decent (for that time) printer in 1999. I used Juno's free Internet dial-up service, then later tried a free dial-up service which was accessed through my local public library. For several years, I used AOL free trial dial-up service. It was good for two months; I'd call them up at the end of the trial service and "cancel" and they'd "persuade" me to try it again for two more months. It was great! However, when we had a friend build us a new computer (with the Edsel-like Windows ME operating system!), AOL wouldn't work well with it. We went to Juno's pay dial-up service of just under $10 a month. That computer cost us about $600 and included everything--monitor, speakers, software, keyboard, mouse, etc.--except the printer. We later bought a quality printer/scanner/copier/fax machine at Costco for about $300, which I still use. Since my husband works for a company that produces heavy-duty laptops for the military, police and fire departments, and service repairmen, he's been able to pick the brains of engineers and tech geeks that he works with, educating himself along the way. Armed with this advice and knowledge, two years ago, he built a complete new computer with Windows XP ourselves, with a little help from his nephew. This one has a high-resolution flat-screen monitor, a cordless keyboard and mouse, and all kinds of bells and whistles, and set us back only about $1100. We also obtained an older laptop, which has come in so handy with four computer users in this household. Along the way, we switched to DSL broadband Internet service through a small local company that contracts with the local phone company, costing us a discounted $45 a month. Offsetting this expense, we have chosen not to get cable television (I have always been one to willingly live without a television!), nor do we use long-distance telephone service (using an inexpensive 10-10 code for our infrequent long-distance calls). For us, the Internet is our main entertainment and long-distance communication resource.

So there you have some of my tangible costs of genealogy, although as Becky at kinexxions wrote, genealogy is priceless. The family I've found, the friends I've made, the discoveries I've happened across, the life-long learning process...all are invaluable! And yes, I'd do it all over again, in a heartbeat!

Coincidentally, I'll be giving a one-hour presentation to the Kootenai County (Idaho) Genealogical Society this week, Thursday, October 18th at 7:00 PM, entitled "Frugal Genealogy (or How Not to Spend a Fortune on Your Family Tree!)." We will be meeting at the Hayden Family History Center at 2293 West Hanley (west of off Ramsey) in Hayden, Idaho. This is not the normal meeting place, as the Hayden Lake Library is being remodeled. I hope that if you live in the area, you will join us (meetings are free to the public). I had the opportunity to meet some of the fine folks of the KCGS at the Bonner County (Idaho) Genealogical Society's June conference, and look forward to meeting more of their members. I'll also be giving this presentation to the Northeast Washington Genealogical Society in Colville in July 2008, if you wish to catch it then. If you are not able to attend, you can e-mail me to request a copy of my syllabus (see "View my complete profile" in the right-hand sidebar to obtain my e-mail address).
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