Sunday, May 6, 2012

To be honest Family History research really is dirt cheap ...

O.K. I can hear some of you newcomers to the hobby grumbling about the cost of subscriptions or the cost of page views - but you don't know how very expensive it was in the past. I was reminded of this by Peter Calvar's article Is the cost of your hobby going up? on the latest LostCousins Newletter. He compared the cost of a subscription to a site like Ancestry 10 years ago with the current subscription for very much more information at your finder tips. Basically he was saying that the present day "Bucks per Bang" today is very much bigger than it was when he paid his first online subscription.

If you go further back the costs of researching your family tree were very much higher - which meant that you had to send very more time and more money (allowing for inflation) to make even slower progress.
When I started 35 years ago I spent very many hours lifting down the very heavy volumes that made up the births, marriages and death indexes in St Catherine's House. Each volume had to be carried over to a reading desk, examined, notes made, and the volumes returned. When I did the Phipson One Name Study this meant looking at about 1800 volumes - at say 1 minute per volume or 30 hours non-stop. (Now you can search the lot for free in minutes.)

In addition to my time searching I had to travel to London on many different days - as 2-3 hours of the heavy lifting work was as much as I could manage in one day. Other visits were made to Somerset House to look at the many volumes of the probate index - which was better because there was only one set of alphabetically order volumes a year. (Now available on Ancestry for a more comprehensive online search.) At least initially the census was available at the Public Records Office in Chancery Lane - one enumerators volume at a time (yes you handled the actual book) which was not indexed so you had to go through turning pages looking for your ancestor's entry - assuming you had the right book for the right village. (You can now search the whole country over 8 different censuses in the time it would have taken me to scan one badly written enumerator's book for on small village for one census.)

I also spent many happy days in the Society of Genealogists looking at trade directories and many other kinds of material. - And this doesn't cover the visits I made to Records Offices all over the South of England to look at parish registers and other documents.  At least I didn't have to do what my great great uncle had to do when he was researching his ancestors in the 1870s - sending a letter (with a generous donation) to the vicar of each possibly relevant parish, hoping the the vicar could read the old registers well enough to be able to spot relevant entries.

 To be realistic what I could do was cash limited and if I had had to pay for all the travel to London and elsewhere I would have done very little. In fact my university work involved visiting students on sandwich courses all over the country and it was often possible to visit the student and pop into a suitable records office en route for a couple of hours.

Not only do the current online facilities mean you no longer need to spend a fortune on travel - but for key areas searches that could take you weeks, months or even years of page turning can now be done in minutes  - in some cases for free!

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This is the newsletter for the Genealogy in Hertfordshire Web site. Comments on this blog are moderated and may be transferred to the web site where appropriate. If you have a local or family history query you want answered you must use "Ask Chris" - See box in right hand column. Anonymous comments cannot be answered.