Buying Family History Resources

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Buying Family History Resources on the Internet

By David Ferdinando January 2001.

I have to say, touchwood, I have never had a problem with purchasing on the Internet. Either I am lucky or the rules I’ve set myself to follow work for me. Of course, having committed that to print I am setting myself up for failure. However, in 4 years or more, it’s only some of the goods I have had to return rather than having my credit card details misused.

As a nation, in fact as a continent, we haven’t really taken to buying on the Internet in a big way. Scare stories and high profile press coverage of the slightest security lapse have made us all very cautious of making that Internet purchase.

In fact you would have to be very unlucky indeed to be tricked into Internet Fraud. In 4 years of Internet shopping my biggest gripe is with the design and usability of the sites rather than the transaction itself. I have booked holidays, insurance, flights, breakdown cover, ferries, Hotels and even a train once. I have purchased books, CD-ROMs, Office supplies, software and family history resources without once worrying about my Credit Card number falling into the wrong hands. In fact, last Christmas I used the Internet almost exclusively to sort out presents as I was away on business.

So what should we look for when buying on line?

I follow some very simple rules:

1. Use sites that have secure facilities

2. Use well-known sites/Household names

3. Check out sites before you buy (do they have a real business address, telephone number, fax etc?)

4. Are they accredited in some way ("Which" recommended etc)?

Look carefully at the sites for:

1. A site that takes you to a secure are to pay for your purchases has thought about security and when you are directed there a padlock icon (and sometimes a warning message) appears on you browser.

2. A well known or household name has a reputation to uphold, if anything goes wrong they will deal with it rather than having the adverse press associated with a web site failure

3. What does the site look like? If you have been browsing for a while, you get to know the look and feel of a well engineered site and know that it is one you can do business with

4. Does the site have published addresses, phone and fax numbers? A complaints or customer service and enquiry area. Why not e-mail them and ask them about their security arrangements? See how fast they respond to your query. Alternatively, look at the Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) or on-line help sections. Many sites will explain in detail what they do to ensure that your transactions with them are safe

5. Are they accredited? With whom? What does it mean? Follow the links to the accreditation provider and see what guarantees are offered.

Are you happy now? No? Well, does your Credit Card company make any guarantees to allow you to shop on-line? It is worth checking this out as they may guarantee you against Internet Fraud should the worst happen.

Hopefully, you are now a little more comfortable with what to look for.

So what exactly can we spend our hard earned money on in the family history world? Well, books come to mind almost immediately for me. I am an avid fan of old books, the ones you just can’t get anymore. I found a fantastic site for old and antiquarian books and regularly use to search out history books especially those from other countries. The search facility is extremely good and the detailed search allows you to input many variables. I have purchased books from as far away as Australia and California for my research. But, what if you want a book in print today? My advice is to use something like (there are other similar sites) where you can find a book by Author, Title, or ISBN and then use their online compare feature to see who has it and at what price. You will be surprised at the variance in cost.


For software again try shopsmart, or twrcomputing at They have many of the top selling family history software packages.

CD-ROMs. Again shopsmart or similar is a good starting point. Something a little more unusual would be where a number of old books and records are being scanned to CDs. I recently purchased their scanned version of the London Marriages Licences 1521 to 1869 online.

For the 1881 Census, I made the mistake of buying this from a US site rather than the UK one. It cost me extra VAT and a heated argument with the courier who wanted a "special handling" charge. So caution when making large purchases overseas is necessary.

Other resources are available. Maps and microfiche for instance. I try and get all my requirements through the EoLFHS, saving up until the AGM and then "treating" myself to a years supply in one go. If there are resources that are not available via our own FHS then why not look at the other FHS web sites. They are available through links on the EoLFHS web site and via Genuki. You can’t always buy on line but there is often a listing of everything they provide.

For specialist items I haven’t mentioned my advice is to use your favourite search engine to track down what you are after. I also keep a close watch on the various forums, the EoLFHS one is growing rapidly and there are some excellent ideas and leads posted by our members and a real nugget was the Marriage Licences mentioned above. My thanks to the member who posted it.

As a final word on the subject. Please always check the terms and conditions of business and the delivery costs associated with your purchases. Shopping by Internet is a bit alien to us all but can save a huge amount of time, money and effort in tracking down that resource you need. The main thing is to make sure that you are entirely happy that your transaction will be safe and to investigate before you buy. Caveat emptor may be the watchword but remember that this is exactly like mail order and the supply of goods and services act applies in buying on line as it would anywhere else. Your rights are not affected because you have chosen to purchase goods in this way.

The whole benefit of purchasing online is the convenience and ability to search for just what you want. Shop around for the best price, check out the terms and conditions and stick to your own rules about whom you want to do business with and you shouldn’t go far wrong. If a site looks wrong to you, then it probably is. If you don’t know whom you are dealing with or there isn’t a well thought out security statement or policy then, at the click of a button, you can take your purchase elsewhere. You are in control and that is what makes the Internet such a powerful medium. Many suppliers are aware that this is the case and will be using every means possible to ensure that you purchase with them safely and continue to come back for more.

Happy shopping

Web site addresses mentioned in this article are examples in support of the comments made, other sites are available.

David Ferdinando

Member 1921


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