Is It Worth It? You Bet It Is! by Paula Stuart-Warren, CG

That question comes to me very often. The inquirer typically wants assurance that a subscription, membership, reference book, or genealogical event is worth their time and money. Nine times out of ten I answer with a resounding, “YES!”

Is it worth it to order the death certificate since there was so much in the index? Is it worth it to go to the state archives? Is it worth it to go to genealogy conferences (classes, seminars, institutes, cruises) since so much is online? Is it worth it to subscribe to or another online database? Is it worth it to hire someone in that county? Read on for the verdicts.

Genealogical Societies
What do you find in a genealogical society?

  • Friends
  • People who care about family no matter who they are or what they did.
  • Contact with someone who has researched at the Family History Library or the county courthouse.

No organized group in your area? Post a notice at the local history room, the community bulletin board, the local newspaper, and tell friends and neighbors. Ask if the county historical society would put a notice in their newsletter or website. Invite people to meet at a restaurant or in a reserved room at the library. Then, just begin talking with each other. If you are an old hand at family history research, you can share your knowledge with those just beginning the journey. Worth it rating: 10 out of 10.

Genealogical Events
Attending lectures and workshops can be enlightening. You may be surprised at how a refresher helps. The lecturer might know of a publication or index that you don’t. I find that such events invigorate me for more searching. Some events you might consider are:

  • Classes: Look for them at the local and state genealogical and historical societies, community education programs, courses at colleges and universities, and public libraries.
  • Seminars/Conferences: Whether one day or more, these usually involve a full day or more of learning, genealogical book and software vendors, and meal events. Sitting at a table eating lunch with seven other genealogists can be very enlightening. Sharing of ideas and energy will add much to your search.
  • Institutes: Most are five days long and the learning is more intensive than in a one-day seminar. The classes in a given track are linked and are chosen to reflect the week’s theme. The third hour’s class may be dependent on the information from the second hour’s class. 
  • Cruises: This is a relatively new way to gain genealogical knowledge. Cruises often have groups with a common interest such as scrapbooking, photography, family reunions, and now, genealogy. For example, a seven-day cruise may have three days at sea as the ship travels from one port to another. On those days several instructors give genealogy classes. Additionally you can sit together with fellow genealogists at a meal or talk some genealogy while in port on a local tour. Some cruises include one-on-one sessions with the instructors. Does your significant other complain that you are always going to a genealogy event while they sit at home? The cruise offers things for both of you. The camaraderie with your fellow genealogists is fantastic. Genealogical events? Well worth it.

Actual Birth, Death, and Marriage Records
So, that index online has given you the dates, places, and middle names you were seeking. Is it worth it to go after the actual record? Please don’t stop there. The actual record may give you a mother’s maiden name, places of birth for the individual or his or her parents. The witnesses to the marriage might lead you to more family. The remarks on the original certificate may not be in the index. What if it said that the family had recently moved to that area from Harris, Pennsylvania. Ancestry often tells where to obtain a full record because they know there might be more details. The full record might be on film at the Family History Library, or the originals might be at a local or state archive. Yes, it is well worth your while to look at the original vital record.
Subscriptions and Memberships
Are genealogical subscriptions worth it? That genealogy magazine may have an article about the hidden treasures at a county historical society. New techniques, electronic items, record descriptions, indexes, queries, and tips abound in genealogical and historical publications. The online database may have the link to Great-Grandma’s obituary in a newspaper you had never thought to check. Various online newspaper indexes can provide exciting breakthroughs. Other online databases have given me the sad story about my brother-in-law’s third-great-grandfather, his health, and his death. The state censuses at Ancestry have been immensely helpful to me as have the many birth and death indexes. Yes, these are worth every dollar they cost.
Hiring a Professional
So, you can’t get back to that state or country. You have used online indexes, microfilmed records, and the local genealogical society’s publications. What more could you do? Hire a professional in that place to provide the answers. That person might know about the family files at the historical society, the every-name index to some probate records, or newspaper clipping files that are filed alphabetically.

Perhaps the microfilmed probate records you need go up to only 1902 at the FHL. What if you need to check out the later years? Is it worth it to hire someone? You bet.
The State Archives
Is a trip to the state archives worth my time? Let’s see, would your research be helped by original probate case files, the registration of grandpa’s first automobile, or coroner’s records? If you have Pennsylvania ancestry, might these original items at the state archives be helpful? Elizabethtown Hospital for Crippled Children patient registers; bonus payment files for military service from the Spanish American, WWI, WWI, Korean, and Vietnam wars; Civil War-era lists of deserters, sick, and wounded; family letters, genealogy charts, and scrapbooks? These are records not filmed. Yes, the visit would be worth it.
The Conclusion
The answer to all the questions above is yes. No, I don’t attend, subscribe, or have a membership in everything, but do have many. I use some databases at the library, some on my computer at home, and some on my computer at home courtesy of the library. I read other genealogical publications in libraries. Value: Priceless.

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Paula Stuart-Warren, CG, a Minnesota resident, is a professional genealogist, consultant, writer, and lecturer who is frequently on-the-road. She coordinates the American Records Course at the annual Salt Lake Institute of Genealogy. She writes for several periodicals including Ancestry Magazine. Comments and additions to her columns will reach her at or via her blog She regrets that she is unable to answer individual inquiries due to the volume of requests.
Appearances by Paula Stuart-Warren, CG
12 April 2008, St. Louis, Missouri
St. Louis Genealogical Society 38th Annual Family History Conference 

17-19 April 2008, Cincinnati, Ohio
Ohio Genealogical Society 47th Annual Conference

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