Saturday, October 13, 2007

What Is Your Genealogy Worth To You? (Reflections)

What is your genealogy worth to you? Everybody would answer that question differently. We each have our own sources of income, our own values, and our own budgets. Each and every day we make decisions about how to spend our money. Those of us who have a passion for genealogy can't help but spend some of our money indulging that passion. But let's face it, we all have limits… We can't give it all of our time or all of our money.

How do you decide how much to spend and what to spend it on? Of course you want to spend your genealogy budget on those documents that will give you the most information about your family's history. That is after all, the fun part. But what about recording and preserving the information you already have? And what about sharing with others? Have you given any thought or money to those things?

The first few years that I was researching my family's history my money all went to the fun part. It wasn't until I had accumulated a good bit of information that it occurred to me to worry about backing it up so that I wouldn't lose it all. Fortunately, I had the good sense to act on that concern before a catastrophe happened. I've read about and heard of so many instances where people neglected to do this and were heartbroken when they lost all or most of their data. I hope any of you who are reading this have taken measures to back up your data as well. It's not something that's fun to spend money on but it is very necessary.

Have you thought about compiling your family history and sharing it? How does one decide it's time to take a pause from their research to write up the family history? Will you wait till you're "done"? How will you know when you're done? Should you be writing it up and publishing it incrementally? How will you finance the publishing of your family history? Will you ask other family members to share the cost? Would you consider doing a fundraiser for it? Will your final product be limited by your cash on hand at the time you decide to publish it or will you save and budget for it in advance?

If you won the lottery (a big one!), and money was no object, how would that affect your genealogy research? Would you send away for more documents? Hire a professional researcher? Subscribe to more magazines or online databases? Visit research locations in person? Would you perhaps spend some serious money on DNA testing for all of your family lines? Would it influence the time you spend on research? Would it affect the way you publish your family history?

If you knew that your days on this earth were numbered and you could afford it, would you hire a professional genealogy researcher or team of researchers to see how the story ends… or rather began? Would you designate in your will a certain amount of money to archive your personal research or publish what you have? Would you consider hiring a professional writer to write your family history for you?

Lots of questions to think about.

For myself, I can honestly say that my genealogy research thus far has been worth every penny I've paid for it. I have no regrets. But I've kind of gotten to the point where any further substantial research would have to be hired out. I have no doubt that there are records of my family members in the archives in Poland that I don't even know exist. I'm speaking here of records beyond vital records such as property records, tax records, school records, etc. It isn't feasible for me to go to Poland, access these records, and translate them. But, if I'm willing to write a check I can find out more about my family. I've already written a couple checks to researchers in Poland. How much more should I spend? What is my genealogy worth to me? If you were in my position, how would you answer that question? If you got to a point where the rest of your research had to be hired out in order to continue, would you be content to write out checks?

I've asked myself these questions over and over again. At least for now I've decided to be "done" with my research and have transitioned into the recording, preserving, and publishing phase. In the beginning I was looking for that book... you know, the one with my family surname on it that would tell me the family history. Of course I never found it. And somewhere along the line I got addicted to the hunt. It would be easy enough for me to write a check at this point. I can afford it. But then it wouldn't be my research anymore. There's no pride in achievement when all you have to do is write a check. Does that make any sense? If I'm honest, I think this is part of my issue about DNA testing. It's just too easy to write a check, swab a cheek, and get the results with no effort on my part. What is it with me and wanting to do it myself, anyway?

You know what I haven't touched on yet? I haven't even begun to discuss the value of the friendships I've made in the course of my genealogy research, or the family I've found that I didn't know existed. I haven't talked about the thrill I get with each and every letter I receive from a family member in Poland. How do you put a price on thrill or friendships? I would argue that the real worth of my genealogy research can't be measured in dollars or by the number of names on my family tree, the number of evidential documents I have collected, or even my yet to be written family history. For me, the very best part of researching my family history has been the relationships I've made along the way with new family members and friends. I can't live in the past or interact with any of the names on the tree that are my ancestors. But my life has been enriched hugely by those I have met in person, by mail, over the phone, and online (especially my blogging buddies). And that is the real value in my genealogy.

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)

Others who have written on this subject:
Randy at Genea-Musings: Can You Put a Price on Your Family History?
John at Transylvanian Dutch: Cost of Genealogy
Becky at Kinexxions: What is Your Genealogy Worth?
Miriam at AnceStories: Frugal Genealogy

I'd like to know your thoughts on the worth of your genealogy. Leave a comment, or write a blog post and drop me an email (imjasia at yahoo dot com) with the link so I can add it to the list.