How much is your genealogy worth to you? How much are you willing to spend to record it, preserve it, and protect it? Whether you're a newbie just starting out or a veteran genealogy researcher, at some point you'll have to ask yourself these questions. Much time, effort, and money goes into genealogy research. Then what?
As one begins to collect information about their family's history they're quickly faced with the task of recording it in an organized way. A few years back, family group sheets would have been the place to record basic data on one's ancestors. But not too many people choose to hand write their research findings anymore. Software programs such as Family Tree Maker, Legacy Family Tree, Roots Magic, and the like have now become the most commonly preferred method of storing genealogy research findings. There are some programs that are available for free, such as the basic edition of Legacy Family Tree. But many people feel the need for a more robust program which means shelling out some dough. In rough numbers, Family Tree Maker will run you $40.00, Roots Magic and Legacy Family Tree Deluxe Edition are $30.00. But wait, it's not as simple as that…
Even with a more robust program there are still things it won't do or won't do well. That's where an add-on or supplemental software comes in. Programs such as GenSmarts ($30.00), Clooz ($36.00), Map My Family Tree ($40.00), Charting Companion ($25.00), and Personal Historian ($30.00) are examples of additional software available to the genealogist. Can you get by without this additional software? Absolutely. But for the most part it is really good software and at some point you may find some or all of it desirable for recording and organizing your information. It's not difficult for that one basic $30.00 - $40.00 program to turn into more than $100 of investment in software. And that doesn't count the constant and predictable upgrades to the software...
I think we've all heard the message about the importance of backing up our data. And after all the hours of research and money spent on documents it would certainly be heartbreaking to lose that information. So it's really important early on to make some decisions about how you're going to safeguard your data. Some people advise printing hard copies, inserting them in vinyl sleeves, and storing them in three ring binders. Other people advise burning the data to CDs or DVDs. Still others would recommend multiple hard drives (raids), online backup services, or web sites. If worry comes naturally to you, you will likely feel the need to do all of the above.
Burning CDs and DVDs are relatively inexpensive if you have the equipment to do it (most current models of computers are capable). This may be the least expensive option. The "gold standard" (what the industry calls their "archival quality") media will run you $3-$4 per disc. CDs will store quite a bit of information, DVD's even more. They are a good storage value but there is much debate about their long-term viability. Will the disc degrade over time? Will the format you saved your data in remain "openable"? How long will there be equipment on the market to read this type of media?
Printing out all your data as hard copy can get pricey if you have a very large family tree. In addition to the actual printing costs, the price of vinyl sleeves, binders, and the bookshelves to put them on can add up quickly. Home inkjet printers are very expensive to operate. Estimates run anywhere from $8,000 to $13,000 for a gallon of the ink used in printer cartridges. Yes, that's right… that's not a typo. This is another one of those items that we buy here and there over a prolonged period of time without realizing the cost. But the cost can really add up if you're printing out all of your documentation and records. If you're determined to print out a hard copy of your research findings a better option would be to purchase a USB travel drive (less than $50.00) and make occasional trips to your local quick printer. You can get a much better rate on bulk printing. Even with that it's not hard to envision a couple hundred dollars in printing costs over the life of your research, especially if you're printing some of your documents or photos in color. And you really should print on archival quality paper... that will cost you more too.
The price of hard drive storage keeps coming down. A terabyte drive can be had for less than $500 and that would likely take care of most people's entire collection of genealogy research, digital photos, and additional family history documentation. Personally, I think I could bring a terabyte drive to its knees with all the stuff I've got in digital format, but hey… that's just me. My mother grew up during the Great Depression and she taught me the fine art of hoarding. I'm a certifiable pack rat!
Online data storage is a wonderful idea. It's fairly easy to set up and maintain. And it's not very expensive. The downside is it's a recurring bill and it isn't a permanent solution. The same could be said for web sites. Do you think your heirs would appreciate you sticking them with the bill for online storage or web hosting? At some point we will all be faced with the day when we can no longer use our computers. What then? Disk media, hard drives, online backup services and web sites are all computer dependent. I've watched two people near and dear to me suffer with and die from Alzheimer's disease. They both lost their ability to use computers very early on in the course of the disease. However, my mother was still able to read fluently in both Polish and English right up until the day she died. I'm not suggesting that we will all end up with Alzheimer's disease but many of us will be faced with some sort of debilitating condition. It's something to think about.
Recording and backing up our research findings will probably run into the hundreds of dollars regardless of which combinations of software and backup we choose. There are some free options of course, such as a wiki, a blog, or free web hosting sites. The problem with these is that you just have no guarantee that they will remain free or that the hosting company will remain viable. Are you willing to take that risk with all that data you've worked so hard on for so long?
Next we'll take a look at the cost of sharing our family history with others.
Here is the series of articles I've written on this subject:
What Is Your Genealogy Worth To You? (DNA Testing)
What Is Your Genealogy Worth To You? (DIY)
What Is Your Genealogy Worth To You? (Recording)
What Is Your Genealogy Worth To You? (Sharing)
What Is Your Genealogy Worth To You? (Reflections)