Sunday, February 26, 2017

Thrifty Thursday: Free or Fee Genealogy?

During my Genealogy Go-Over, I'm carefully checking what I know and don't know, looking at my evidence, and filling in the gaps by obtaining vital records and other documents.

Since money doesn't happen to grow on my family tree, I have to pick and choose what I will pay for. Fee or free genealogy? It's not always a straightforward decision.

Increasingly, documents that I purchased even a year or two ago are showing up on free genealogy sites like Family Search and on fee-based genealogy sites like Ancestry.

A case in point is the above marriage document for hubby's grandparents, Brice Larimer McClure and Floyda Mabel Steiner. I sent a check to buy a copy two years ago, when doing the original "Do-Over" program. I considered it to be a good investment because it revealed that Grandma Floyda had been married once before. That sent me to the newspaper archives to learn more...and I fleshed out this ancestor's life a bit.

Since that time, more Ohio vital records have been made available through Family Search. And in fact, the very clear image above is not from the copy I purchased but the free version available on Family Search.

I'm still collecting documents for my Go-Over. Being a long-time Ancestry subscriber, I always check there first. But if it's not on Ancestry, where would it be? Here's my thought process on deciding what to pay for (and I'd be interested in yours, readers).

In general:
  1. Try Family Search. Best free site to start looking for most documents! Two years ago, this license wasn't available through a Family Search name/date search. I checked the wiki to see what documents are available from the time and place. I learned from the Wyandot county part of the Ohio wiki that marriage documents weren't always filed as required by law before 1908. I knew Grandma Floyda was married in 1903. I called the county clerk first and she kindly checked in the database. Once I knew the document was available, I was almost ready to send money but first I checked a few more sites.
  2. Try Cyndi's List. This will point to fee-based and free sites that might have a document or information. I looked at "Ohio" but no luck with a Wyandot county site for a freebie on Floyda's marriage or divorce docs.
  3. Try This will tell me whether some other local source might be holding certain documents. In this case, no luck on holdings that would include Grandma Floyda's marriage or divorce paperwork for free.
In the end, I decided to spend the money for Grandma Floyda's marriage document. I had no way of knowing when or if Family Search would have that document available, either online or via microfilm.

Now, with Reclaim the Records, there are more ways to obtain documents than even a couple of years ago.


  1. Marian: I have been listening to some of the RootsTech sessions, and one by Crista Cowan, "Don't Just Be a Searcher, Be a Researcher," gave me pause. She works for Ancestry and does a lot of the research for the genealogy television shows. And she admitted that years ago she found a family connection and built a marvelous branch off her tree only to realize later that one link was in error and her "marvelous"branch was NOT her family! You are so good to be doing a genealogy do-over. It will be our do-overs that will locate our weak links - smile.

  2. "Don't Just Be a Searcher" sounds really fascinating, will have to check it out. I'm not doing a do-over, just a go-over, which means I'm double-checking what I know or think I know about each branch, making sure I have original sources to confirm hypotheses or anecdotal evidence, and entering (or re-entering) the info on my Ancestry trees so those are as accurate as possible.

    Thanks for reading and commenting, Mary!

  3. For those looking for foreign records, the paid sites might not be necessary. I have New Brunswick, Canada roots and PANB (Provincial Archives) has a fabulous website. I also have Danish roots - Denmark offers free church records and census images online. Consumers need to be informed and educated as to what is available. I believe for-profit companies need to be able to make money, but, like you, my money doesn't grow on trees and choices have to be made. If what I need is available for free, I sure don't want to pay for it!

  4. Linda, I couldn't agree more. I try lots of different sites before I pull out my checkbook, but sometimes I just have to pay. I'm not finished blogging about this topic!