Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Bloggers and speakers and researchers, oh my!

There has been a buzz lately about genealogy for profit, specifically pointing fingers at genealogy bloggers. Let's distinguish genealogy bloggers with affiliate links, advertising and disclosure statements from those awful sploggers who create a "blog" of sorts, surround it with tons of advertising, and actually pull headlines and first sentences from unsuspecting, hard-working genealogy writers.

Read up on some great critical analysis by our friend Thomas MacEntee in his  Us vs. Them blog post, and his follow-ups Genealogy Blogging For Fun & Profit and Careers in Genealogy – “Off the Chart” Thinking.

Thanks, Thomas, for a well-composed, realistic look at how genealogists "do business." Genealogy speakers, bloggers and for-hire researchers should be able to make a living on their work.

A few weeks ago, I had dinner with some nationally-ranked genealogy speakers who explained they actually lose money when speaking at national conferences. This got me to thinking...
  • Why is it that we must charge so little for genealogy conferences, seminars and institutes? 
  • Is it because the genealogy public tends to think our conferences are too expensive and won't attend?
  • Is it that most in our genealogy community are retired? 
  • Is the majority in our community on fixed incomes? 
  • When you compare the expert genealogy training provided at annual genealogy conferences to similar 3-5 day seminars in other genres, genealogy conferences are very inexpensive.
  • Historically (say circa 1890s) only wealthy people could afford to do research and publish a family history book. 
  • With the proliferation of genealogy websites providing scanned images at little or no cost, the expense of research has declined in the last 120 years.
  • With the Internet and print-on-demand resources, the cost of information distribution has also declined significantly.
Any worthwhile pursuit has its expenses. Admit it, we don't live in third-world countries. Genealogists, like everyone else, have leisure time to do with as we wish. If we were into stamp collecting or model trains, we'd be spending money on such "frivolous" things as newer models, bigger layouts, and attending conferences to learn more about our craft. 

So why do we begrudge genealogy bloggers, speakers and for-hire researchers a fair income?

Perhaps until Thomas published his posts, people quite simply had no concept how much it costs to produce blogs, webinars, archives of webinars, etc. Similar stats could be compiled about genealogy speaking and researching for hire. (For instance, do my DearREADERs know how long it takes to compile a PowerPoint presentation or a coherent research report?)

I think not. There are folks who contribute freely by volunteering at local, regional or national society levels. Remember those helpful workers at your local Family History Center, or "genie" volunteers at your local public libraries. Every time our friend Thomas travels to Springfield for his volunteer work with the Illinois State Society, you can bet he is doing so at his own expense. Think about it. Does your local genealogy society pay it's board members? There are only a few top-drawer societies that can afford paid staff.

At our regular Sunday evening genealogy chat in Second Life this past week, we discussed LineageKeeper's The Value of Personal Online Genealogy Sites blog post. Many in the group choose blogs as a method for:
  • sharing ancestor stories with family members
  • connecting with other researchers
  • honoring an ancestor
  • describing a research process
  • comparing and contrasting genealogy software
  • placing fun things in a place more appropriate than at an existing genealogy website
No one mentioned profit -- most felt blogging was fun.

During two of my RootsTech 2011 presentations, Ol' Myrt here suggested blogging as the most cost-effective method for publishing a society newsletter. No more headaches over mailing labels and high printing costs. No worries about correcting changed email addresses for distributing .PDF versions. More importantly, public blogs are spidered by search engines like Google. This means a newsletter blog shares worthwhile content beyond the limits of your genealogy society members. Those articles are timeless -- the content is readily accessible for months and years to come. It's a lot easier to find something about an ancestor and his hometown on the internet than by pulling old limited-edition newsletter issues off the shelf at a library.

Ol' Myrt here has lately been getting weird emails from people literally demanding I publish the archived versions of my workshop webinars. I let such demands slide off my back, and chalk it up to those individuals not yet understanding the cost of producing a webinar. My DearREADERS and webinar attendees are very supportive. These folks probably have no idea Ol' Myrt here pays $100 a month for my GoToWebinar account. I am not a non-profit organization, nor do I have a wealthy corporate sponsor. Ol' Myrt here is simply not prepared to pay for storage of each 80-100MB webinar session plus bandwidth for everyone to view archived version of my webinars. Should I then offer the CD version of the webinars? ('s cost to me would be $5+ per DVD). Until technology catches up with this new webinar information stream, DearMYRTLE workshop webinars will be one-shot deals.

Yes, technology changes so fast, we hardly know what to do with it. Remember when we paid $200 for a 10MB (megabyte!!) hard drive and thought we'd never fill it up? Maybe adaptability should be the name of our game. Hang in there folks -- there are people in the genealogy community who thrive on figuring out how to use technology to advance our purposes. Remember, we're on the same side. Let's work together and have fun learning how to do this thing called genealogy research.


My dear Sir Thomas -- I appreciate who you are as a leader in our community, and who you are as a person. We're mighty lucky to have you. ((((hugs))))

Happy family tree climbing!
Myrt     :)
Your friend in genealogy.


  1. Thank You Myrt for your upfront honesty and frankness! How about a webinar on 'creating a webinar'! Or better yet you could do a webinar on the various opportunities on how to make money in this business, including webinars,I would attend.

  2. A well needed post indeed. As a professional genealogist, and someone who has worked for companies that produce websites and tools for genealogists, I have noted how many members of the community do expect everything to be free or handed to them. I put a lot of work, time and personal funds into providing information or volunteering to help societies and others. When I go on speaking engagements, usually I am happy to have travel and lodging paid. There have been times I have lost money on these trips. I do it for the love of genealogy and the desire to help others.

  3. As an aspiring professional genealogist, I was rather surprised at how outspoken people are in demanding genealogical research, blogs, speaking engagemenets, etc be either free or ridiculously cheap. Like Thomas Macentee has said, we are professionals, using our training and skills to provide a service, and we deserve to be fairly compensated for that service.

  4. A great article and great comments. I now put this info on my professional Website to that newcomers understand my fees:

    Fees are based on costs incurred and time spent on handling the commission. This includes the time it takes to analyse information supplied, contact you for clarification if insufficient data is provided initially, plan the research, search the records, assess results, order and collect photocopies, prepare reports, and read and respond to emails. Out-of-pocket expenses are extra (photocopies, phonecalls, certificates, photographs, postage, packaging etc). My hourly rate covers non-billable expenses such as stationery, computer hardware and software, equipment repairs, Internet access, Webpage costs, electricity, ongoing education (genealogy seminars, conferences and journals), books/fiche/CD-ROMs for my home reference library, etc.

  5. I'm going to leave a snarky comment just because that's the mood I'm in and I've left very serious comments on other posts related to this topic.

    Golf is also a hobby for many who are retired and living on a fixed income. Do they expect free green fees? Of course not. Perhaps the genealogy "business" has been too timid to stand up and demand that THEY be compensated for their work?

  6. Jenna--I think the argument would be that golf is for rich people, but genealogy is supposed to be for everyone. I've seen more than one remark that says something like, "Do we want only rich people to be able to trace their ancestors?"

    The answer to that, for me, is "Of course not." But I'm not rich myself, so I can't afford to subsidize others for long.

  7. As the old saying goes--nothing in life is free! For those of us who do try to attend some conferences as well as webinars-they are wonderful learning tools and offer great chances to meet others with our same interest. No one forces you to attend or to pay for a fee based webinar.It is a choice.I appreciate every bit if information I get from both venues and certainly expect to pay to attend if that is the presenters platform. While archives are great, I know they cost money. We are a country of hobbies and interests as Jenna stated and most people think nothing of spending for those things. Why should the knowledge and expertise of a professional be given away for free? Some are and that is a bonus. Weigh the benefits of these wonderful webinars and appreciate the fact that so many are offering their knowledge in this manner. Everyone occasionally volunteers their time but who of us would routinely perform our daily job for free? Thanks to everyone who is giving us a chance to become more educated!

  8. Cheri, you made my point better than I did. Whatever the hobby we have the expectation that we are going to pay for it and we either do or we don't. Somehow that same expectation isn't applying to genealogy. Perhaps the mentality is "we" are looking for "our" family, so why should we have to pay for that?

  9. A few weeks ago, I had dinner with some nationally-ranked genealogy speakers who explained they actually lose money when speaking at national conferences. This got me to thinking... Audio review