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Twigs & Trees with Rhonda: How Much Should My Research Cost?
by Rhonda R. McClure

August 02, 2001
See Rhonda's Previous Columns

For a long time genealogical research was considered a rich man's hobby. It was only the rich who could afford to invest the time needed. It was only the rich who could invest the money sometimes needed to hire a professional researcher or take a trip to visit where the ancestors lived long ago.

In 1976 the publication of Alex Haley's Roots showed that anyone could research their ancestry. A trend began that has taken on momentum even to this day. Modern technology has added to that trend, as we are no longer bound to the nine-to-five hours of many repositories. While it is no longer just a hobby of the rich, there is some investment in time and money that a researcher should expect.

Genealogy is not free, but no longer only for the rich.

Buyer Beware

Perhaps because it is a hobby, new researchers tend to think that they need little knowledge about the researching of their family history. As a result, they often end up wasting money.

The best thing you can do when first beginning your research is to look into purchasing one or two good how-to books. There are a number of them out on the market today, including some that incorporate the Internet in that research equation. While this is a preference call, you may want to begin with The Complete Idiot's Guide to Genealogy by Christine Rose and Kay Ingalls.

There are also some excellent online guides, that are free, that will help to educate you in the ins and outs of researching your family history. The Genealogy Classes here at are a great place to get started. You can then follow that up with the collection of How-To articles. Similar lessons can be found on RootsWeb's Guide to Tracing Family Trees.

Look Around

One of the biggest ways to save money is to look around. There is often more than one way to get a copy of the vital record you need.

For instance, you may write to the county courthouse or the state vital statistics office. The cost for the certified copy may run you upwards of $15.00. Or perhaps you can get a microfilm through the Family History Center for $3.75 and that microfilm may have more than one record of interest to you. Therefore you have saved money.

You could rent census microfilm at $3.75 to $5.00 per film for a month's time. Or perhaps you could subscribe to one of the online databases, giving you access to all of the 1900 census images for $9.00 a month allowing you unlimited access to all two thousand rolls of microfilm.

You may also find that some of the information you want has been transcribed and is now available online for free. It is important to keep in mind that transcriptions are secondary sources, and whenever possible should be verified eventually with primary sources. For instance, in the case of the census records. The next time you get to a library, look up the census entries that you found transcribed online.


Another resource that can help you to save money when it comes to researching your family tree is libraries. Libraries with large genealogy departments offer you access to records, such as microfilmed census and passenger lists or published volumes by the hundreds.

Libraries receive many genealogical periodicals. Many of them have PERSI, the PERiodical Source Index, an index to genealogical and historical periodicals. By first searching PERSI and then getting the genealogical periodical, you are furthering your research with little expense.

Sometimes even taking a research trip, say to Salt Lake City to the Family History Library is cheaper than ordering a bunch of microfilms. You can view a large number of microfilms in a given day at the Family History Library. When you add up the number of films and multiply it by the cost of renting those films to your local Family History Center it puts the cost of the trip into perspective.

In Conclusion

There are costs involved in researching your family tree. You will have to pay for photocopies. You will need to rent microfilms. And you may want to purchase some CD-ROMs or books, or subscribe to some of the online sections that are available. The good news is that you control the amount of money you spend by tailoring your research to the budget you have allowed for your genealogy research.

See Rhonda's Previous Columns

Rhonda R. McClure is a professional genealogist specializing in celebrity trees and computerized genealogy. She has been involved in online genealogy for fifteen years. She is the author of the award-winning The Complete Idiot's Guide to Online Genealogy, now in its second edition. She is the author of four how-to guides on Family Tree Maker. In late 2001, she wrote The Genealogist's Computer Companion. She is a contributing editor to Biography Magazine with her "Celebrity Roots" column and a contributing writer to The History Channel Magazine. Her latest book is Finding Your Famous and Infamous Ancestors. She may be contacted at

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