Thursday, May 22, 2008

Is the High Cost of Fuel Effecting Your Genealogy Research?

Almost every day on the news we hear another story about the high cost of fuel and how it is impacting our lives. Just this morning on CNN they reported that American Airlines, who a while back announced a surcharge of $25 for each passenger's second checked bag, has now announced an additional surcharge of $15 for the first checked bag. Experts say the other airlines may well follow suit as they scramble to cope with rising fuel costs.

Today the cost of a barrel of crude oil hit its 15th high this year. Overnight the gas stations in the metro Detroit area have pretty much all gone to about $4.00/gallon for the Memorial Day holiday weekend, the traditional start to the summer vacation season. One station by Metro Airport has a price of $4.35 for regular unleaded. In my suburban community a quick check of 28 gas stations within the city limits indicate all are currently charging $3.89-$3.95 for a gallon of regular unleaded. I understand Jim Cramer, a well known financial guru, has predicted that gasoline will be priced in the $5.00-$6.00 range by the end of summer. Yes, the end of this summer. Sobering isn't it?

And just a few minutes ago CNN reported that Ford Motor Company announced that they are cutting back production and they will not meet their profitability goal for 2009. They are now saying that maybe the company will be profitable in 2010. The company is confirming what many of us (around Motown at least) have known for a while now. The bottom has dropped out of the truck and suv markets (their most profitable vehicles) due to a complete and abrupt change in the buying preferences of consumers. It seems consumers have developed a preference for fuel efficient vehicles over gas guzzling monster trucks. Go figure. ;-)

All this talk about escalating prices for air fare and gasoline got me to wondering what impact the high prices might be having on people's genealogy research. Has anyone decided to cancel a planned research trip because of high fuel costs? Decided to drive instead of fly to a destination? Thought about taking Amtrak instead of driving or flying? Have you considered paying to order records that you would have copied/photographed on location yourself to save the cost of gasoline? Have you had to cut back on any genealogy subscriptions or memberships because the cost of putting gas in your car for normal family functions is eating away at your hobby funds? Will you be attending fewer or closer genealogical society meetings because of transportation costs to get there? Are you skipping the family reunion this year because you can't afford to get there?

On the other hand, some people may be spending more time and money on their genealogy hobby because they are opting for that instead of pursuing other of their more expensive hobbies ( i.e. long distance travel, golfing (...have you seen the prices for 18 holes these days? Yeesh!), boating (... marine fuel is often higher than gas for your car)). Genealogy can be a bargain compared to some of those.

For myself, I know I will be staying closer to home as I write my family history this summer. In the past I've enjoyed driving out to a park, preferably a nice wooded area, to write. I find that being "in nature" gives me a fresh perspective and allows me to leave thoughts of household chores, bills, etc. behind. My writing is better when I do it outdoors, I think. But this summer, I'll be looking for those "in nature" spots closer to home. I drive an suv but it's not a big one and it gets pretty good gas mileage if I drive fuel-conservation-responsibly... 20 mpg city/ 25 mpg highway (@ 70 mph). Any research I need to do will be relatively close to home (1.25 hour driving time tops) as my ancestors immigrated to this immediate area and stayed here.

Let's face it. For most of us genealogy is a hobby. And when household finances get squeezed, well, the hobby funds are likely to be effected in the first round of cuts. I'd be interested to know how the high costs of fuel are effecting your genealogy/family history hobby. Leave me a comment or if you write a blog post about it send me the link (imjasia at yahoo) and I'll create a list of links at the bottom of this post.

I'll leave you with a photo I took last weekend at the Henry Ford Museum. This is a re-creation of a typical gasoline service station from the 1940s. The fuel tanker parked at the pumps held about 1/3 of what the typical fuel tankers can carry nowadays. The price at the pump? Fifteen cents per gallon. Doesn't that just make you long for the "old days"? The lowest price I can personally remember seeing posted for gas when I was a kid was $.27/gal. How 'bout you?

John blogged about this topic.
David did too.


  1. Great post J!

    I think we may be able to get more converts to following the genea-blogs and using Internet resources for their research.

    I don't remember gas prices that low but I do remember the oil embargos and the gas lines in the 70s.

    I hear that more people are shopping at Costco and Sam's Club; the ads of items for sale on Craigslist are way up; sales of small cars (as well as their prices) are way up; etc. This may be new for most people but it is how some people consciously live and operate all the time.

    Problem is, Americans have short memories. When this passes, conspicuous consumption will no doubt return.

  2. I know what you mean. I'm still trying to take a little time to write the stories, but my research is on the back burner for now. I've already canceled all of my magazine and online subscriptions. I've gone back to work, which also creates a time issue for my hobby. The best I can do right now is write their stroies from what I know and blog when I have the time.

    I really miss it too.

  3. Jasia:

    Just got back from town where gas is $4.05/gal. I now make one trip a week and combine everything.

    I have opted for a monthly Ancestry rather than the trips to the library and the Family History Center.

    I'm using the phone and email much more for my research.

    We're remodeling our house as we will be spending more time in it. Also bought a more fuel efficient car a year ago knowing this was coming.


  4. Last week, gas jumped from 3.859 to 3.959 per gallon here in northeast Indiana. Today I saw that it was at 3.999 and I expect it to go up tomorrow with the holiday weekend right around the corner.

    I now make fewer trips to the ACPL in Fort Wayne as it's about an hour drive from where I live. I hadn't made definite travel plans yet for this summer but was looking forward to getting away on a non-genealogy trip out west. I have a feeling gas isn't going to come down any time soon so I may take a trip anyway. Or I might just wander Indiana.

    Generally I make one trip a week to see my Mom and go to the library in Columbia City but the past two weeks it has been nearly every other day. It's a half hour drive (25 miles) to her place so the cost adds up quickly, but the trips were necessary. I suppose I could move to Columbia City but I like where I am living now ;-)

    Whether I renew my footnote and ancestry subscriptions later this year is still up in the air.

  5. I'm fortunate in that most of my frequented locations are nearby and I've been good about organizing errands to get them done before traffic - in stores and on the road - gets heavy. While that has been mostly to reduce the irritation factor, it now also serves to keep the gas consumption down too.

    I'd like to never get on an airline again - again mostly because of the irritation factor - and would like to see more rail opportunities. I've always enjoyed traveling by train.

    The direct cost of fuel isn't impacting us as much as the indirect costs - food, electricity, services, etc. Our state has been playing footsie with taxes - again - and rules that will increase my home insurance. Congress has blocked any effort that might generate more domestic fuel production and is looking for ways to make our costs go even higher. I'm paying a lot more attention to what my government is doing - at all levels - and telling them what I think.

  6. Well said, Jasia! I keep wanting to go to the library in my county seat to use the version they have within their library (as I can't afford a subscription) but I don't even want to drive the 15 miles to get there! Gonna be fun the fall when my graduating daughter has to drive to the same area every day for college!

  7. I took a trip to Salt Lake City in late April with my genealogy travel buddy. We got a great airline fare and an unbeatable hotel rate in SLC. And, we had a "chauffeur" (a cousin of my companion) who gave us a tour and took us to some special events.

    Because of the increase in airline fares and fees, I have canceled my plan to attend the Palatines to America Conference in Columbus, OH.

    However, I'm still taking my planned research trip to upstate New York (from Florida) in late August and then attending the FGS Conference in Philadelphia in September. I am taking the autotrain from Florida to Virginia to conserve fuel. My travel buddy will be joining me in Philly and we will be sharing costs during and after the conference. While I am in New York, I hope to save money by staying with friends and relatives as much as possible.

    As for gas prices, I remember that the price was 29.9 in the early 1960s.

  8. Just before the war a station in Ft Plain,N.Y. charged $1.00 to fill you tank-suppose the gas tanks were about 12 to 15 gal, gas was probably cut with kerosene.
    Can't remember the price in 1971 but it was so high [$1 something]I sold a brand new thunderbird for around $1400 and bought a V.W. everything is relative I guess.

  9. I'm very happy that I didn't put off my trip to Michigan until the summer. I've decided to take the summer off so I'm working like crazy now to make up for that. I'll be sticking close to home. We've been combining trips and cutting back where ever we can for four years already and it's getting old. As prices rise I'll either have to give up some of my subscriptions or work more OT to pay for them which won't leave much time to use them :(

  10. Good post Jasia. We must be about the same age, as I can remember those gas prices. Not only that, but when getting that 27 cent gas, get your windshield cleaned and air checked in your tires by a uniformed attendant! I think the high price of gas is having an effect on genealogical travels. I volunteer with the local historical society, and I can see a decline in out-of-state visitors using local facilities so far this season.

  11. I remember when gas was 5 gals for a dollar,sometimes cheaper if there was a gas war.
    Of course $1 per/hr was a good wage back then

  12. At the Seattle Public Library we have noticed a serious uptick in the number of genealogist doing the "old-fashioned" thing and using our print collection. We've seen people who used to be regulars but who we haven't seen for years. And many are using our Ancestry subscription as well. I've heard people talking about canceling "non-essentials" such as subscriptions and memberships. Supposedly Seattle lags behind the nation on recessions but based on the behavior of the local genies - I wonder.