Why Does It Cost So Much?

In a recent email exchange with a prospective client, she asked the following question:

“Please can you explain why it costs so much as I have provided you with the exact index number for the one specific record? Number 838308.00; I was hoping you

would charge me 50 dollars for the one record. Also I’m not sure I need a German expert when all the person has to do is read the name [of the person] to know they have the correct entry.”

That’s a very fair question, and the answer gets to the heart of one key aspect of professional genealogy research. Like many researchers, ProGenealogists offers a “look-up” service for people who know exactly what record they want, but don’t have access to it. Since we have daily access to the Family History Library, this is a service many people appreciate, but, like much of life, things are not always as simple as they seem.

While her request was for a uniquely challenging document, several of the issues I mentioned in my reply pertain to searching in other kinds of genealogical records. Every kind of record is different, but compare some of the research problems you’ve faced with different documents to the issues I explained to my correspondent:

I, too, wish that the cost were not so great for that particular record. Permit me to explain just a bit about the Wuerttemberg Emigration Index and the records that it indexes. You did indeed cite a reference number for [your ancestor], however, that number is actually just the number of the roll of microfilm at the Family History Library on which his emigration application papers appear. Unfortunately, it does not tell us where, on that roll of microfilm, his papers appear.

In case you are less familiar with the records . . . they are the documents that individuals submitted to district officials in Wuerttemberg when they wanted to permanently leave that German Kingdom and settle elsewhere, typically in America. Each file usually has about two to six pages (typically four) which may include a transcript of the applicant’s birth and/or marriage record, military release papers (where pertinent), letter of application and other materials. There are no pre-printed forms that are filled out with names easily read or neatly arranged.

Rather, each district’s documents and arrangement may vary slightly from other districts and over time. Typically the applications are roughly arranged by date and surname, but that is not a given. Furthermore, the names of the applicants are often not prominently placed on the pages. Sometimes they are written in italic writing, but other times are in the old German Gothic style.

Hence, finding the appropriate pages on the microfilm can take some time as we must scroll through the film seeking the applicant’s pages. While we can generally skim through the film fairly quickly, it can sometimes take an hour or more to pin down the right pages on the microfilm. Part of the problem is that someone who knows the German language and handwriting needs to review the pages to determine which ones pertain to the emigrant (there is often no clear division between the application papers of different emigrants).

Of course, it then takes some time to make the digital image from the microfilm and to provide even a brief abstract of the content of the pages. Most of our clients would be frustrated to receive copies of the pages without a summary of all the important information in those pages.

So, as you can see, it is not a matter of simply cranking the microfilm to the ‘L’ surnames and then finding the entry for [your ancestor]. However, the wealth of information the records provide about each emigrant is worth the effort to find those pages. Every time I use these records I am very grateful for Trudy Schenk and her colleagues who read through dozens of rolls of microfilm to identify and index the emigrants. Otherwise that valuable information would be essentially unusable, since you need to know the native district and emigration year to even consider using the records without the index.

By the way, she ordered the record and got seven pages of great information. And, it was as hard to find as described.

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Reader Comments

Kory, as a “non-professional” genealogist, I appreciate your attitude toward your client. As a person who has often purchased genealogical goods and services, it is sometimes difficult to part with hard-earned money when the value of the resource sought is still unknown. I understand your client’s reservation about the cost. And yet you were very patient in explaining some of your client’s misperceptions (e.g., confusing the microfilm roll number with a specific record number) and then detailing the reasons why the search was not as simple as your client supposed. No doubt this went a long way in allaying your client’s reservations. That you were able to locate the record, and that it provided valuable information, was certainly a very positive outcome. But regardless, your approach was exemplary, and I commend you for it.

[...] This post was mentioned on Twitter by Kerry Scott, iMortuary and Michael Auger, ProGenealogists. ProGenealogists said: Why Does It Cost So Much?: In a recent email exchange with a prospective client, she asked the following question:… http://bit.ly/ccsGA1 [...]

This speaks to so many areas of genealogy research vs. record retrieval. Thanks so much for the validation.I absolutely agree with Aylaria’s comments.

[...] When the client received the invoice, it showed the lesser amount of time, but the hourly rate was higher than quoted! Now, that staff member is a more experienced researcher, with key language skills whose research is billed out at about 50% more than a record searcher. So, although the total cost of the service was less than what was originally bid, the client was upset that we used a “higher paid” expert for what was thought to be a “simple record search.” [I wrote about not-so-simple searches here.] [...]