The commercialisation of genealogy – is it ethical for commercial businesses to charge money for access to genealogical records?
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MSc Information and Library Management
Dublin Business School
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The discipline of genealogy entails the study of family history. Ancestry was, until fairly recently, chronicled exclusively through paper records housed in physical repositories. The advent of the internet allowed records to transition into the digital realm and several commercial companies now offer online access to them for a fee. Debate exists in the modern genealogy community about the ownership of genealogical records. Some argue these records belong to the public and should be freely accessible. They disapprove of commercial companies making profit from them. Others feel these businesses provide a valuable alternative to the need to actually visit a repository in order to access records. This dissertation posed the question of whether or not it is ethical to charge money for access to such information. A questionnaire was formulated and distributed to a core sample group consisting of members of the general public who have conducted or are currently conducting family research and those who have not undertaken any research yet but would be interested in doing so in the future. The survey revealed the majority of participants do not consider it unethical for companies to charge money for access to genealogical records. These people acknowledged the time, effort and money needed to digitise and index records. Many felt they were paying for the service these companies offer, that is the ability to search through huge volumes of records quickly and easily, rather than simply paying for access to the information. In conclusion, the majority of people involved in genealogy do not have an issue paying for such resources per se but many feel the fees charged by these companies are too expensive.