Whoever said There’s No Free Lunch wasn’t kidding. Someone had to go “kill it and drag it home” (to borrow the words of Dave Ramsey), cook it, and serve it up. It cost someone something to provide that lunch. If they’re willing to give it away to us, great. If not, they are as entitled to compensation - as I feel I am after a long day at work.
Such is the case with Ancestry vs. FamilySearch. I personally think it’s wonderful that volunteers at FamilySearch are willing to digitize family history records and make them available at no charge to researchers. But, and I say this with no firm data to back me up, Ancestry, using a paid staff, is able to provide a larger quantity of information. And for me, right now, it’s more about quantity of information than whether or not I have to pay for access.
If documents are in the public domain, and Ancestry digitizes and sells access, more power to them. Objectors are always free to go get the document themselves, the old fashioned way. Ancestry, as far as I’m concerned, isn’t selling me access as much as they are selling me EASY access. I’m quite willing to pay to have a document I want delivered to my desktop, while I sit here drinking coffee and listening to a ballgame, as opposed to having to drive somewhere (probably at some distance, as most of my research is not local) and go fetch it myself, particularly if I don’t have enough research to do in that area to justify a trip.
Free indexes are fabulous - even if access to the original document is on a pay-basis. For those who aren’t willing to pay, knowing exactly where to look for the document, and knowing that the document DOES exist, saves a lot of time, leg-work, and money. A great example is provided by the Olmsted County History Center. Their indexes are online. If you don’t want to pay for an item, go get it yourself. At least you know exactly where to look for it.
The down side of all this is that the online resources are going to close down many local genealogy societies, unless the societies can re-invent themselves to fit with how genealogy is done today. They need to offer something that the fee-based companies, or the free sites, can’t. And most of all, LOCAL SOCIETIES NEED A STRONG ONLINE PRESENCE. As a consumer, I have been more than willing to send a society $3 in return for an obituary. I’d be willing to pay for a scan of an ancestral photo as well, or a newspaper article. Online subscriptions aren’t cheap, but spending a few dollars here and there through a local society is much more affordable.
As people get busier, more and more will be using online resources to help with their family histories. Many of these researchers will be willing to pay to get online access to the documents they need, either via memberships/subscriptions or doing business with local societies, but I believe what researchers will want more and more is quick and easy access to what they need.