How much it costs to research your family tree

Money doesn't grow on trees, which is too bad, because it would make researching your family tree a lot easier.

If you aren't careful, or even if you are, you could end up spending a small fortune while researching your family history.

Just ask Lana Rushing, who owns a public relations firm in Los Angeles. In the spring of 2014, she was on a vacation in Ireland and stopped by the library in Dublin, hoping to learn more about her mother's side of her family tree. She came away inspired to learn more, soon after subscribing to a genealogy website, getting her DNA tested and traveling in order to search for clues about her past. It's a hobby that can get costly.

"All told, I have spent about $4,800 so far, but it has been worth every penny," says Rushing, who isn't including in her tally the cost of that vacation to Ireland.

Most people who spend money researching their family probably do feel that the expense is worth it. After all, looking at genealogy isn't something one has to do, like paying for car repairs. People do it because they want to. Still, if you're looking for ways to research your family tree and want to know what you're in for, or if you want to spend more money in order to dig up more roots, you have a number of things you can spend money on.

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Genealogy sites. Ancestry.com is likely the best-known of these sites; an annual subscription starts at $189 ($99 for six months). For the money, you'll receive access to a seemingly limitless amount of historical data, including census and military records as well as birth, marriage and death certificates.

But there are other genealogy sites you may want to check out, such as FamilySearch.org (which is free and a good place to start), FindMyPast.com (starts at $9.95 a month; aimed at people with British and Irish heritage) and Afrigeneas.com (free, and for people researching African-American roots).

You can also use genealogy services without paying for them.

"Most public and state libraries subscribe to one or more genealogy services. These are available [online] at no cost to anyone with a library card, though Ancestry's library collection can only be accessed from the library [building]," says Stacy Harris, a publisher and editor in Nashville, Tennessee.

Genealogy DNA testing services. You know you are part Native American, Pakistani or Italian but are wondering, just how much? You could use companies like MyHeritage DNA, Family Tree DNA, AncestryDNA and 23andMe. Their prices generally range from $79 to $199, with sales sometimes popping up throughout the year.

That can get expensive, though, if you and a spouse or other family members are interested in your ancestry. For instance, over the holidays, Dana Freeman, a travel journalist in Burlington, Vermont, bought DNA kits for herself, her husband, her sister and brother-in-law for a total of $260.

She also purchased a six-month membership to Ancestry.com and is contemplating becoming a paid member to other ancestry websites and doing some travel-related research. She says that she has been interested in genealogy for some time, collecting information from relatives and keeping track of it in a hand-written family tree book she bought 20 years ago for nine bucks. Only recently did she begin spending money to learn more about her past.

"I fear though going forward this endeavor is going to be a lot more expensive," Freeman says.

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Traveling. Rushing spent about $2,000 to visit Tennessee to meet some distant cousins on her father's side. She also estimates she spent another thousand when she visited the Daughters of the American Revolution's library headquarters in the District of Columbia to do some research.

Freeman is considering going on a Jewish World Heritage cruise, which would cost over $8,000, with flights, hotels and cruise fare for two people.

Miscellaneous costs. If you go to a lot of libraries, photocopying fees of birth, wedding and death certificates and newspaper articles and so on can add up, Rushing says. She estimates she has spent about $300 on photocopies in the last four years.

And by joining the Daughters of the American Revolution, Rushing says she is spending about $150 a year as a member. Rushing says that she has also bought history books associated with the counties she is researching and spent $300 to hire a professional genealogist to help her out as well.

Time. If you feel time is money, you'll spend a lot of it. But that's hopefully part of the fun.

"I've spent hours and hours reading death certificates, census records, looking at tombstones – I do love cemeteries – old newspaper articles, family letters and staring at the backs of family photographs," says Roxann Kinkade, a communications executive in Kansas City, Missouri.

And you could spend your entire life savings researching the lives that came before you.

But the information you find may be priceless. For instance, Kinkade says that one of her father's relatives was convinced he was a Native American.

"He spent his entire life giving Native American cultural presentations to school children. He certainly dressed the part and even had the two tribes' symbols placed on his tombstone," Kinkade says.

After his death, his kids asked her to research if they actually descended from Native Americans. Nope, Kinkade had to tell them. But the kids' father was a first cousin of a man who went to prison for conspiring to kill many Osage tribal members in the early 1920s.

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Freeman says that one of her surprising moments was of turning up a relative of her husband's, a nun who went on a mission to Jamaica for five years.

"He had no idea," she says.

And one of Rushing's fun finds was learning that Camden, Tennessee, has many areas, like Rushing Creek and Rushing Road, named for her great-great-great-grandfather John Darling Rushing, a minster and magistrate. She also learned about her great-great-grandfather, William Henry Rushing, who fought for the Union side during the Civil War while living in Tennessee, which was very much a Confederate state.

"He fought against his brothers and neighbors," Rushing says.

And if Rushing wants, she can spend plenty more time – and money – tracking down long-lost ancestors connected to her family.

"My mother has 10 siblings and my father has nine," she says. "This feels like a never-ending jigsaw puzzle – but I happen to like puzzles."

Copyright 2017 U.S. News & World Report

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