26 March 2013

Travel Tuesday - Research Trip; a Cost Comparison

Cost Comparison between ‘Physical’ Research Trip and On-line research . . .
I have been a paid subscriber to an on-line genealogy site since 2003; however I didn’t really get involved in my research until about two years ago.  My boys are now grown; my husband and I have an ‘empty nest’ and so I have more time and energy to devote to the wonderful hobby of researching and preserving our family history.  Until recently, I had not physically traveled to conduct family research.  This past November we went on our ‘maiden’ research trip.  It was a small four-day trip and truth be told probably didn’t need to be taken, I could have done the majority, if not all, of the research from the comfort of my home.  But, we were traveling to western Pennsylvania to celebrate Thanksgiving with our eldest son and daughter-in-law, so we decided to take a few extra days and visit eastern Pennsylvania to visit cemeteries, the Courthouse at City Hall, the Free Library of Philadelphia, and the Schwenksfelder Library and Museum located in Pennsburg. 

I frequently see queries on-line from a subscription site asking how they are doing?  OR, would you recommend their site to friends and family?  And, without fail there are numerous complaints about the cost of membership.  On one such query recently, I suggested that a cost comparison be posted showing the costs associated with on-line membership and research vs. traditional - 'old school' research that involved travel to an ancestral location.  After some thought, I decided to take on my own challenge; I’ve reviewed my checkbook ledger and bank statement and below you will find the cost(s) associated with our November research trip to eastern Pennsylvania (table 1) and what it would have cost if we had chosen to do the same research from our PC at home in Virginia (table 2)

As I stated I have a World Explorer Membership, $299.00 per annum *, which works out to be approximately $0.80 per day (24 hour), unlimited access.  On those nights that the ancestors keep me awake (insomnia), I can be on the computer researching into the wee hours of the morning.  I don’t have to worry about operating hours, pull times, copy fees, what I can and cannot bring into the research area, etc., etc.  I don’t have to get in and out of buses, taxis, or trains.  I don’t have to coordinate my schedule with my husband’s or anyone else.  I call the shots.  This isn’t true for research trips.  First my husband and I had to plan the time off; make hotel reservations; make kennel reservations for our dog (read an additional 'hotel fee', becasue that is what it is); plan what we wanted to accomplish and what places, record repositories, etc. that we needed and/or wanted to visit.  We did an initial check-in with these places prior to our trip – the cost(s) of those phone calls are not included in the tables below – but each of them stressed the importance of coordinating with them further when we arrived in Pennsylvania.
Our goals for this trip were to visit six cemeteries; determine the final resting place of our ancestors – 3 cemeteries (husband’s family) and 3 cemeteries (my family).  We wanted to pay our respects, get tombstone pictures and copies of the cemetery maps with plot and lot locations.  We also wanted to visit the Free Library of Philadelphia; we wanted to locate obituaries and city directory pages for our ancestors.  And the Schwenksfelder Library and Museum located in Pennsburg, Montgomery County, Pennsylvania.

Table 1

Table 2


*Currently the on-line subscriber site is offering their World Explorer Membership for $34.95 per month; $419.40 per annum; $1.16 per day (24 hour),  unlimited access.  Using these figures Table 1’s total cost would now be $908.40** and Table 2’s total cost would be $28.09.

** Please note that when creating this table I forgot to factor in the the kennel fee for our dog; kennel fees per day are $50.00 x 4 days = $200.00.  That brings our total costs for our four day research trip to $1108.40.
Our membership fee was considered in both tables; as a daily fee is assessed for membership whether I choose to do my research at home OR in tandem with a physical research trip.  Clearly, my membership, with unlimited 24 hour access, the ability to review and save vital records and other source documents to my tree and print unlimited (if I choose) copies without additional cost(s), the ability to connect with other members, the ability to connect with subject matter experts within the genealogical community, access to resources such as the Red Book and The Source and YouTube Tutorials and webinars, and much more, pays for itself.  And, is by far cheaper in the end.
Now, no one said, that an on-line subscription or any other on-line genealogical site has ALL the records in the universe digitized and available to the family historian.  They never will; there are just too many documents out there.  So, I will have to make a number of other research trips, but, BUT, where tracing your family tree sometimes would take a person’s life time to just make a dent in the research of just one person on a family tree; it is now possible to get so much further in our climb (quest) than ever before was possible and at a vastly cheaper cost than ever before.  THIS IS what makes the cost of yearly membership worth it to me.  And, there is NOTHING like sitting at the computer searching for my ancestors in my pajamas with a cup of joe nearby.
I will be taking another trip to Pennsylvania – this time to Columbia County – in a few weeks for research, I’ll post cost comparison on my return.  I see this as an on-going project.


  1. I loved reading this post. I followed the link you posted in a comment on the Ancestry.com page. Like you, I get tired of seeing those comments about how expensive it is. But they never seem to listen. They want everything for free.

    I've been a member of Ancestry.com for a few years and I love it. Sure I can't find everything I want, especially with my family in Virginia. And I live in Seattle, so I just go with what I can get. Haven't tried ordering documents yet, but that is the next step.

    Again, great post.

    1. Betsy, thank you for visiting the blog and your comments. "They want everything for free." It's so true, the vast majority of this nation - dare I say world - is infected with the incidious disease of entitlement. Sad and a bit aggrevating bording on annoying too.