Confession: I Hate Free Genealogy Stuff

3366720659_b746789dfd_zI do. I hate it. I don’t get why other people don’t hate it too.

Here’s the problem with free: You have no say.

When Find A Grave was sold to Ancestry, I was delighted. I had long been creeped out by the idea of putting time and effort into uploading content to a “free” site. When you do that, you have no way of knowing what will happen to it. You only know that no site stays free forever, so it’s either going to vanish, or it’s going to be bought. Now we know—Ancestry gets the content. Mystery solved. I like Ancestry, and I never had any illusion that Find A Grave would remain independent forever, so I’m fine with this. I can now make intelligent, informed decisions about whether to create content for Find A Grave.

When Mocavo came out, it was free. I couldn’t figure out how it would make money, and in the early days the company was mum on that point. That made me uncomfortable. Now we know that Mocavo offers paid subscriptions. Since I can clearly see how they make money, I can make intelligent, informed decisions here too. That’s all I need. (Note: Mocavo is free this weekend, so if you’ve wanted to try it out, now’s the time.)

When RootsWeb was bought…well, okay. That bummed me out a little, because I was a baby genealogist when RootsWeb was a baby website, and I had a strong emotional attachment. But the fact is that Ancestry has money, and as a result of that money, the RootsWeb stuff is still available to us. I still use it. In fact, I had a pretty big breakthrough last week, because someone posted something on RootsWeb in 1999. I can see those ancient posts because Ancestry pays for servers that host them. Money makes that possible.

Lately, though, I’ve developed an unhealthy dependency on a free site: GEDmatch. I’m obsessed with really into using DNA for genealogy, and GEDmatch offers awesome analysis tools for DNA tests…when it works. You can do all sorts of cool tricks, find common matches across all three of the major DNA testing sites for genealogy, run a bunch of reports…when it works. Increasingly, however, it doesn’t work. I have a test I uploaded months ago, and it’s still not through processing. Today was the most recent of many dates it was supposed to be done…but today the site is down. It’s down quite a bit. It’s tough to get non-genealogist cousins to submit to DNA testing in the first place, but it’s tougher still when you have a multi-month wait for the results.

Here’s the thing, though: I can’t complain. GEDmatch is run by a couple of smartiacs who are real humans, with full-time jobs and lives that (oddly) don’t seem to revolve around my personal needs. The site is 100% free, and subsists only on donations and the generosity of its owners. Under those circumstances, it’s a miracle that the site ever works. We’re extremely lucky to have it.

But I wonder if I’m the only one hoping that someone buys this site, or that the current owners turn it into a subscription-based service. There’s clearly a market, because people overuse it to such a degree that it crashes all the time. Each one of those people has spent at least $100 on DNA testing so far. These are people who have invested already, and are very likely to invest more (DNA tests are like potato chips…you can’t stop at just one). After months of waiting for the results on just one of my tests, I’d gladly hand over a wad of cash if I could just have my results now, with all of the tools working properly and the site up for as long as I need it. I always feel like a mooch when I’m using a free site in the first place, and I feel like an even bigger mooch when I’m cranky because I can’t get what I need from the free site.

When you pay for a service, there’s money to make it work properly, and there’s a course of action when it doesn’t. With a free site, you can’t complain, you can’t pay extra to get what you need…you’re just stuck.

Am I the only one who prefers to pay for stuff?

 Photo by AMagill

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