Look for Hidden Charges on Bills
The years come and go, and we either allow services to renew automatically or sign a check and toss it in the mail without a second glance. AOL has come under media scrutiny recently after a former executive claimed that up to 75% of AOL dial-up Internet subscribers don't actually need dial-up but are still paying for it, thinking they need to pay it for email access. While some have pointed fingers at AOL, this comes down to a matter of Caveat emptor - buyer beware!
Take 15 minutes to go over your cable/internet bills, whether you're an AOL customer or not. Are you using each service you're paying for? If you're not using it, contact the company's customer service department and have them take it off. If you're not sure whether you need it or not, find out what each service provides you with, including whether you will still have access to email addresses.
Some customers I know simply call up and see if they can get a better rate- depending on how competitive your market is, you might get a deal.
Do this same process with other bills - telephone/long-distance services are another important part of genealogy research, and like Internet access, there are a lot of providers competing for your money. Can you get a better deal? Would you consider trying free Internet phone providers such as Skype or Gmail phone's Google Voice? (Google Voice will be free until the end of 2012 and allows free calls anywhere in the US and Canada).
See What's New at Your Local Library
Libraries are constantly changing, and many are adding more and more digital resources. Take a few minutes to find your local library's website. (Visit Public Libraries and find your library's website, as well as others in the same county and state).
Your library may offer (or have just started to offer) the following resources:
- Access to genealogy programs (note that Ancestry Library Edition does not have several features that an individual subscription provides, including Learning Center resources, OneWorldTree or the ability to upload GEDCOM data)
- New databases
- An in-house genealogy/local history specialist
- A local historical society
- New local history books
- E-books ( Note that you do not need an e-reader for e-books. Adobe Digital Editions is a free, trustworthy software you can download on to your computer which allows you to read e-books.)
Don't forget that many libraries perform inter-library loans or share resources, so look on your library's website to see if it is part of a larger network. My local library is very small, but has joined up with several larger libraries to provide access to thousands of e-books and audiobooks, among other resources.
Use Others' Free Time (and Offer Yours)
The genealogy community suffered a serious blow with the late 2011 loss of Bridgett Schneider, founder of Random Acts of Genealogical Kindness. Started by Schnieder in 1999, RAOGK was the major resource for genealogists who lived far away from the records they needed. As detailed in my previous column A Genealogical Friend in Need: Where to find (and give) genealogical help online, RAOGK connected people willing to do local research for those who lived far away.
Although as of this writing the RAOGK website is still offline, the RAOGK Facebook page continues to be a meeting place for research requests and offers. While on Facebook, also check out Ancestorville, a community of genealogists who offer (and request) advice on genealogy searches. Ancestorville has a series of popular chats, both regular chats across different time zones and specialty chats by state, topic or ethnicity where people share their expertise.
Back Up Everything
This is a case where an ounce of prevention costs much less than a pound of cure. Spending on an on-site and off-site backup method is much less expensive than paying a data recovery company to try and retrieve information on your fried computer, or spending all the time and money to re-document what you've lost.
The popularity of online storage, where your information is stored in a remote, secured data center, is growing. Symantec's Norton Online Backup service automatically backups your files, on a schedule of your choosing, for up to five computers. It costs around $50 a year. Other popular online storage backups include Mozy, Dropbox and Carbonite.
At the same time, I believe it's foolish to place all of your trust (and information) in a remote server: hackers, natural disasters . . . things happen. Store online and also store at your own home using an external hard drive (I am not a fan of USB or flash drives as backups - too easy to lose or accidentally wreck). And keep your external drive safe. I plug mine in right before I back up and disconnect it right after. Sure I have a surge protector which should protect everything if a nasty lightning bolt comes my way, but it only takes a few seconds to stay on the safe side.
If you don't backup regularly, you're wasting any money spent on backup storage. Make a weekly appointment to backup your files. Or do what I do. Take a second when you're finished with something to think, "How much of a pain would it be if I lost this?" You'll be amazed at how quickly you get in the habit of backing your files up.