The costs of researching your family history

I am very excited to share the news that my first article in Family Tree Magazine is published in the current edition (May 2023).

The article concerns my great-grandfather’s first cousin, Richard Kent. In attempting to trace his family, he disappeared from the records, and then I found multiple candidates for him in different record sets. Were they all the same man or not? This research investigates how we track someone across different countries and decide if two or more people are the same person. I don’t want to spoil the story. Family Tree magazine is available online from the link above or in good newsagents.

I’ve been waiting a while to talk about a particular topic and my research on Richard Kent is a perfect illustrative point. It costs a lot of money to do independent speculative genealogy. 

I’m going to breakdown what researching this project cost step by step. Of course, there were some free resources used: the wonder that is in both civil and church records.

At the outset, it must be acknowledged that I’m a professional genealogist, which means that the cost of subscriptions for websites like AncestryFindmypast and Rootsireland are legitimate business expenses for me. However, for the amateur or hobbyist researcher, they can be an expensive add-on. Expect to spend roughly €20 a month on a subscription for each of these sites. Discounts are available if purchasing an annual membership or when buying a DNA kit. Add to this my education (2 university-level courses) and experience, which is more difficult to put a price on.

  • At the time of research, Findmypast was not yet including the 1921 census (England and Wales) in their pro subscription. I paid for one census return in the course of this project costing €3.69.
  • Some marriage and death records were required from the English GRO too. The death records were available at the cheaper PDF rate and the marriage needed to be posted (which takes a torturously long 2 weeks to Ireland – a kind UK-based friend lets me post certs to her and then scans them for me!) These cost €21.89.
  • I needed two records from GRONI – the Northern Ireland GRO. One of them I had bought a long time ago, costing £2.50. The other was not available through their website as it was outside the data protection dates. I paid a researcher to obtain the certificate for me. This cost €30.42.
  • After a friend confirmed there was info on Fold3, the specialist military records site, owned by Ancestry, I took out my own subscription to it. Cost: €49 (cheaper because I already had an Ancestry one). I’ll probably end up keeping this sub permanently for my client work.
  • Total here: €107

Then we come to quid pro quos. It wasn’t possible for me to go to the British Library in London to look at newspapers on microfilm. A very kind friend did this for me as a favour. Several other people helped by listening to my reasoning and interrogated it for me. They gave their time and expertise willingly, and I much appreciate it. It’s something I often do for other genealogy friends – a form of peer-review.

I’m delighted to have figured out what happened to Richard Kent. I’ve now fully illustrated his entire branch of the family. In the course of finding him, I also found the death of his younger brother from appendicitis. I wrote about their other brother, William Kent, previously, who died at Gallipoli. Three little sisters didn’t survive childhood. One sister, Elizabeth, grew up, married and has living descendants.

There are all kinds of resources not available to independent researchers. Most academic journals and books are beyond our price range. If you’re a college student, you can get these for free through libraries. Unfortunately, these resources are not extended to alumni or those who never attend university. Some material is available through Open Access programs, and JSTOR is a great resource too. Never forget public libraries either!

I am not saying everything should be free. There are huge costs associated with the digitisation of old records and then the hosting of it on websites. Users should be aware that doing look-ups for other people is usually against the terms and conditions of most websites. See more on this from Judy Russell, aka the Legal Genealogist. But it would be great to see more free weekends, student discounts and other ways to make research more equitable. It’s a privilege for me to be able to spend this money on something I enjoy so much, and that’s why I put out free newsletters and content on my YouTube channel and other social media. I also give a lot of free advice on Twitter’s #AncestryHour and Genealogy is a wonderful hobby but it can be a costly one. If you’ve got any tips for helping defray your costs, please let me know!

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