The year was 1994, and I remember the day like it was yesterday. That sound…that beautiful sound of a dial-up modem, connecting to the internet. My husband was by my side, showing me what the “world wide web” was like. I was mesmerized and astounded. I don’t recall what I said, but I’m sure “WOW!” was in there somewhere. Not that there was a ton of genealogy sites online in 1994, but my immediate thought was how this “www” thing was going to revolutionize genealogy.
Well, here we are, more than a decade (almost two!) later. My dial-up modem has been replaced with wireless internet service and WiFi in my home. The internet has grown, and we have a lot of free genealogical stuff available to us online. Find-a-Grave and FamilySearch are a couple of my oft-visited sites and bookmarked for easy use. I have subscriptions to several pay sites, but by far Ancestry.com is the one I simply can’t live without.
Therefore, it came as quite a shock and a surprise to hear a genealogist recently state he had canceled his membership to Ancestry.com due to the price.
I recognize that times are hard and some people may not be able to afford Ancestry.com. That is certainly understandable, and fortunately Ancestry.com is available for free to users in many libraries and Family History Centers, so even those who aren’t able to have a personal subscription may still take advantage of their many great databases.
However, the person relating this decision was not financially strapped. This person simply felt that Ancestry.com’s prices were out of line, and chose to cancel the subscription to “make a point.” Unfortunately, he’s not the first one I’ve heard with the same beef.
It never ceases to amaze me how some people expect to get something for nothing, or at least something for next to nothing. Maybe I’m old fashioned, but I don’t have a problem paying for services I use, and allowing the company who provides me those services to pay their employees who process and index the records, pay for the technology that publishes those records so I can download them on my home PC, and even make a couple of bucks.
I consider my Ancestry.com membership to be quite a bargain. While FamilySearch.org is spectacular (and FREE- hooray!), it is only one site. Most people will concur that Ancestry.com is by far the leader of the large, subscription-based family history research sites. The number of databases, constantly growing, is astounding. The types of records I’ve been able to download is incredible. I’m particularly grateful for Ancestry.com’s Maine databases, providing a strong framework for researching my Maine roots with birth, marriage and death records. FamilySearch.org complements my research with excellent Massachusetts and other records.
Could I obtain those records by other means? Certainly. With one little caveat – I have to know WHERE to look in order to find those documents. Oh yes – I would also have to invest my time in scrolling through those rolls of microfilm, and then print, scan or photograph any items I found that I’d like to save for my own records. Even with the many pay (and free!) web sites, I still spend a considerable amount of time in front of the microfilm reader at my local FHC to look at the many documents (okay, MOST documents) that aren’t yet available online. Online research gives me a huge advantage as I can find out where my ancestors were, and what additional records I need to find either through research trips or on microfilm.
I guess it all comes down to priorities. For me, time is my most valuable commodity, and Ancestry.com is worth every penny I pay. I can search, find my family, click a button and download the image right onto my hard drive. In exchange for $299 per year (I have the “world” membership, but could downgrade to $149 for a U.S. subscription), I can view records from around the world in the comfort of my own home. Ancestry.com gives me the head start so I know what films to order, where to fly off to for my research trips, and allows me to develop my family history at a much more rapid pace than would otherwise be possible.
Instead of looking at how much I pay for my membership, I’m inclined instead to think about how much I’ve saved…saved in time not wasted, money not spent on incorrect microfilms, and trips not taken to locations where my efforts will prove unfruitful.
Perhaps it all comes down to perspective. You know….is that glass half empty or is it full? Ancestry.com keeps mine pretty darn full these days. What about you? Do you get your money’s worth from your Ancestry.com subscription?