19 May 2011


     I often find myself in a quandary when reporting on new sites and services in the world of Irish genealogy. Ireland's tourist industry, among many other genealogy entrepreneurs, discovered very early on that descendants of the diaspora would pay for online information about their ancestors. I am not against paying for information or access to it online, because I do realize that costs are involved in research, transcription, digitization, and website maintenance. I regularly pay for subscriptions and records on various genealogical web sites. Many of these companies provide a valuable service at a fair price.
     I don't mind fees or costs that I feel are fair. What I do mind are sites that charge for records that can be obtained for free, and in a fairly easy manner, elsewhere. I also don't like being treated like a fish being reeled in by broad search engines that force me to spend money rather indiscriminately to determine if a record pertains to my ancestors. I do not like having to buy records in a "bundle" in the hopes that one of them might be relevant to my research.
     So, check out my "consumer guidelines" and learn from some of the ways I, and other researchers, have wasted our money in the pursuit of online records!
1. Check the databases. Determine what databases are included. Check if the source of the individual databases are named. Then check for those databases elsewhere to see is they are available free (don't forget to check free book sites such as Google Books). Determine if those databases would be helpful to your research.
2. Read the terms and conditions! Yes, I am guilty of simply clicking the "I agree" box a few times without reading all the legalize (and me, a lawyer, shame!). But many of the genealogical online database sites have restrictions on searches and uses that might surprise you.
3. Check whether renewal is automatic, and if it is, whether you will receive notice before the renewal is made. Some sites allow you to turn off the auto renewal feature.
4. Sites that advertise free searches but charge for details of retrieved records often limit the number of free searches. I know people who have been restricted from databases for performing too many free searches without purchasing any records.
5. I have seen terms that restrict a user's purpose to personal research only. I have seen terms that restrict a user from using their subscription to perform research for anyone else, even if the user is doing it for free. I'm not quite sure how the sites police this type of use, but I have on occasion had to click a button saying that a name was on my family tree.
6. If you purchase a record, check the expiration date for viewing the record. On most sites, you are purchasing the right to view the record for a specified time only. Can you save the image to your computer? Print it out?
7. Know what you will get for your money when you pay for a record. Will you be able to view the original record online, or are you paying for a transcription of a record? If a transcription, beware of transcriber error.
8. Examine the search engine. Can you use a phonetic or soundex search or are you limited to exact spelling ? Does it have advanced search features such a geographical locations, dates, spouses, parents, occupations, and keywords? Can you exclude certain terms?