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Are Genealogy CD’s Worth It?

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Written by Jill Moore

Have you ever been tempted to buy those genealogical compilation CD’s from Ebay or Amazon?  For what seems to be a relatively reasonable price, each one appears to be chock full of regional books that are often billed as vintage, antique, hard to find or out of print. Each listing tantalizingly gives a long list of surnames and subjects that are contained within the books.  The lure of convenience at having all that regional and surname information on hand, in one place is certainly appealing.  But are these CDs truly worth the price?  Are you getting a good value for your dollar?

I have one particularly aggravating family in Pickaway County, Ohio, that has eluded near all attempts at documentation despite over a decade worth of dedicated research.  In sheer frustration at the scant amount of evidence, I rashly purchased a very large compilation disk for that county when I saw their surname appear in a listing on Ebay.  I bought the disk for around ten dollars with hopes that I might find some tangible, tiny scrap of information for this family.  The listing said it had nearly two hundred books yet in my hasty excitement, I failed to realize that none of the book titles were actually listed in the description.  

When the disk came, I anxiously rushed to peruse the contents but I was just utterly disappointed at the actual content of the disk.  Despite this being billed as a disk for Pickaway County, there were only five actual files that pertained to the county and/or its residents.  The multiples of other files on the disk were only loosely related to Ohio and did not contain information that would be relevant to genealogical research.  If you were interested in early Ohio history and the formation of counties, townships or the political speeches of various judges throughout the state, then sure, this disk was a goldmine.  Even within the five books that applied to the county, one was a small booklet detailing a golden anniversary party for an older couple residing in the county and contained transcriptions of the toasts made in honor of the happy couple along with some random pictures from that evening’s fete.  Unless they were your particular ancestor, or your relative had given a speech that night, you probably wouldn’t have interest in reading it.

A disk purchased for Johnson County, Kentucky was even more disappointing in that the PDF wasn’t properly created nor was the book scanned with adequate software. The search function therefore missed several names although they appeared in the ebook’s index which forced me to manually search through the PDF.  Sadly, this isn’t an issue with just one particular vendor or online seller. I had purchased another disk from a different vendor for Noble County, Ohio, which was an additional area that the Pickaway County family was associated with.  Imagine my disappointment when this disk contained the same exact ebook PDF that I had already downloaded months before.  Unfortunately, these vendors are often vague, omitting to list the titles you’ll be purchasing because they don’t want you to go finding these books online yourself for free.    

Thankfully, these books aren’t really all that “hard to find” as they’re being touted and you can save your money for other genealogical needs.  Ancestry.com has a large collection of family genealogies and county histories that can be located in the Stories, Memories & Histories category.  Additionally, sometimes county historical and genealogical societies will have these older history collections online along with multiple censuses and maps. Google Books and Archive.org have a vast collection of digitized books from libraries and universities around the globe.  If your library is like mine, they’ll likely have copies of these older books in their local history collections.  You might not be able to check them out but they’ll have them available for in-house browsing.


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