The Price of Data

Members will be aware that a substantial part of the subscription income of the Group is directed into research, but it may be interesting, and may help to put those subscriptions into context, to know how much a typical item of information costs.

As with most areas of research, the cost of family history information follows a law of diminishing returns. In the early stages, it is natural to collect all the available information from sources such as the telephone directories, the International Genealogical Index and the birth, marriage and death registration indexes. These yield relatively large quantities of data at very little cost, assuming that the work of collecting the information is done by volunteers! However, the quality of the information is obviously limited.

An entry for a telephone subscriber will often give only an initial and no indication of gender, so that even with a fairly uncommon surname, there are several possibilities including the widows of that surname whose first names we have not recorded. The identities of these individuals will often be established only when a street directory or other record yields further details such as the full first name. Except for a few such directories in public libraries, these will usually involve some cost, either to purchase the directory from a secondhand book dealer, or by payment to a search service such as FONS. The Group has a modest collection of Kelly’s and other street directories, particularly from areas of Sussex with significant numbers of Lin(d)field surnames.

Entries in civil registrations indexes did not give the age on death prior to 1866, nor the surname of the spouse on marriages prior to 1912. The maiden name of the mother apears in the birth index only after 1911. In these cases we may have no alternative but to order a copy of the certificate, which remains, for the present at least, the only way to obtain the full details. There is a lively debate on this issue, and a great deal of pressure is being applied to the government to make this process less expensive and the records more accessible, but the cost for a certificate remains at £6-50 until this is resolved.

Having collected the more obvious and freely available information, the search naturally moves on to more specialised and obscure types of record. Military records are a rich source of data, and mention has been made previously in LONGSHOT of some of the main sources. These include pension records and medal rolls and of course the list of war graves held by the Commonwealth War Graves Commission. Whilst the medal rolls are accessible without charge at the Public Records Office, it is obviously more convenient, and less costly in travelling expenses, to obtain books listing all the recipients of a particular medal where these are available.

FONS (Family Origin Name Survey) has been going for a number of years. We have been using them for at least 4 years and they have proved to be a very useful source for our one-name study. However, at £2 per item, their service would obviously be very expensive if we were dealing with a relatively common name, since they do not provide the facility to specify the particular categories of record in which we are interested. We are now beginning to find that some of the material they send us has already been covered in our records. For example, we had a search carried out some time ago by the War Graves Commission at a cost of about £20, for all the Linfield and Lindfield graves listed in their database, some 30 in all. (We are registered for each of the 4 services, pre 1600, 1600-1858, 1859-1900 and 1901-1940). FONS have recently covered some of the published lists of war graves and several of the items they have sent us recently have been graves we already had on the WGC list. Whilst it is irritating to have to pay £2 each for these, it is inevitable given the way that the service works.

In terms of a price per data item, £2 is clearly expensive when compared with, say the 1881 census fiche (about 400 Linfield/Lindfield individuals in Sussex at a cost of around £40, or around 10p each). On the other hand, it looks like good value alongside the Biography Database CD-ROMS at around £90 each which yielded less than 20 items between the two issued so far, or around £10 each, and we certainly have books in our library which have cost £10 or more and only contain one reference to the names we are researching.

Clearly, the examples shown do not bear direct comparison, in that many of the books and records in our library are also a source of information on other names, such as the families with whom the Lin(d)fields married. Incidentally, we are always happy to look up other names for members, particularly where the search will add to the information on the various Lin(d)field family trees.

Another source which appears at first sight to be excessively costly is the CD-ROM of Soldiers Died in the Great War. SDGW was originally published by the War Office in 81 volumes and sets of these books are very expensive and seldom appear for sale. The CD-ROM is actually much more than an electronic copy of the books – it includes extensive database search facilities which allow, for example, searching by regiment and place of death. The cost of the CD is currently £220, though we bought it at the pre-publication price of £150 plus VAT. Each of the 15 Lin(d)field entries might therefore be costed at around £10. However, the value of owning the CD in the longer term is that we can also find the husbands of female Lin(d)fields widowed in the war, as well as being able to assist other researchers in return for assistance with the Lin(d)field research.

The complete listing of all the books and other material owned by the Group is held as part of the main database and can be printed for any member who would like a copy. Please send an A4 SAE to me, with a cheque or stamps to the value of £1. The Library List also includes material held by individual members, where these have been notified to me.

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