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Thought For the Day – Crowdfunding Genealogy

Wouldn’t it be fun to review detailed proposals about new genealogy projects and be able to provide funding to support those projects that you think are especially worthwhile?

Crowdfunding might be one way to do just that.  For those not familiar with “crowdfunding,” it is essentially a way for people to contribute a varying degree of money to a project they are interested in, usually in exchange for a special perk.  Wikipedia describes crowdfunding as:

Crowd funding or crowdfunding (alternately crowd financing, equity crowdfunding, or hyper funding) describes the collective effort of individuals who network and pool their money, usually via the Internet, to support efforts initiated by other people or organizations. Crowd funding is used in support of a wide variety of activities, including disaster relief, citizen journalism, support of artists by fans, political campaigns, startup company funding, movie or free software development, inventions development and scientific research.

Some of the more popular crowdfunding platforms already in existence are Kickstarter and indiegogo, among many others.  One of the advantages of crowdfunding is that contributions can be as low as $5 or as high as you want to contribute.

Rewards for contributing would be priority in receiving the results of the research, an advance copy of a funded documentary, free access to scanned records, and so on.

Here are just a few examples I came up with for projects that might be suitable for genealogy crowdfunding:

  • Example 1 – A documentary about the War of 1812

For this project, the filmmakers might propose a documentary about Upstate New York in the War of 1812, including the towns of Oswego, Sackets Harbor, and Plattsburgh, NY.  The film might look at the lives of everyday citizens as they struggle through the war years, and could follow the stories of the war in this region (like “The Battle of Big Sandy and the Carrying of the Great Rope in 1814“).  This project might be of interest to people who live in these regions, or had ancestors in this region, including ancestors who fought or otherwise participated in the War of 1812 and may have been at these battles.

Funders could receive advance access to copies of the film, free copies of the film, special recognition in the credits, and so on.

  • Example 2 – Research an early New England colonial family

For a project such as this one, a researcher or group of researchers would propose researching a particular family or individual from the colonial period.  The researcher(s) could briefly summarize the known facts and conclusions, and then set forth any hypotheses or goals they’d like to accomplish with the funding, such as identifying three generations of descendants, or finding a female surname, or uncovering the day-to-day facts of a certain key family.

One advantage of this project is that most early colonial families have hundreds of thousands of descendants and thus a large pool of genealogists who might be interested in funding the project.

As a reward for funding this project all funders might receive, for example, a free report of the research along with all discovered primary records, and/or special recognition in any publication that results from the project.

  • Example 3 – The Colonial DNA Project

The Colonial DNA Project might seek to test descendants of colonials to identify shared DNA (autosomal, Y-DNA, and/or mtDNA).  For example, it could be descendants of a particular family, or a town, or a region.  A particularly ambitious project would be – as just one example – to characterize the Y-DNA and mtDNA profile of every individual living in Hebron in 1725.

Funders could receive advance or free access to research, results, summaries, and so on.

  • Example 4 – Scan a historical society’s newspaper collection from the 1800s

For this project, a historical society might propose scanning their entire 1800s newspaper collection, which is currently degrading in the basement, into an electronic database.  This project might be particularly relevant to genealogists who have ancestors from that town or county in the 1800s, and would like to see these records.

People who helped fund the project might receive advance access to the database as the records are being scanned, or could receive free access to the database instead of paying a fee.

What are some other ideas or projects you would support?

Let’s Try It!

I’m interested in trying a project like one of the above on an existing crowdfunding platform such as indiegogo.  Do you have any proposals you’ve been kicking around?  Are you interested in giving this crowdfunding idea a shot?

If I received a suitable, affordable, and intriguing proposal that I thought the genealogy community could really get behind as a “kick start” for this concept, I would gladly promote that project here on my blog, Twitter, Facebook, and at presentations, for example.  And I’d also be happy to contribute to the funding of that project!

Blaine Bettinger

Intellectual property attorney, genealogist, and author of The Genetic Genealogist since 2007

8 Comments

  1. Funny you should mention this now… I’ve been toying with the idea because I have recently discovered someone who is a direct maternal line descendant from a woman whose surname has not been discovered, although we do have some possibilities. Since the woman whose identity we do not know was born about 1610 in England and died in Massachusetts in 1687, we’re hoping the FGS test might help us find one of the suspected surnames or, even better, someone whose own pedigree reveals our Mary’s family. I’m trying to develop a persuasive appeal that could be published in all the family-related sites, message boards, mailing lists, Facebook, etc.

  2. I’ve already been exploring this idea with my family–although on a much smaller scale than your examples (such as documentaries). My college-aged daughter and a friend want to plan a road trip for their summer break. I suggested thinking of a useful project to embark on during their travels. Since my daughter has snapped some photos at cemeteries and uploaded them to sites like BillionGraves, I suggested coming up with a route that would allow them to continue the project in areas especially under-represented in the online cemetery sites. Old or abandoned historic cemeteries come to mind as an example.

    This would require setting up an itinerary, drawing up a business plan, offering availability for sponsors needing photographs at out-of-the-way cemeteries, for instance, but would be a wonderful learning experience and hands-on practical exercise for someone like a college history major. Add to that regular blogging updates reporting on current progress, and mix that with the crowdfunding capabilities of the two websites you’ve already mentioned, and voila! Instant summer break material with a real-life application twist!

  3. The Colonial DNA is an excellent idea though it would be a struggle to support more the one website or group given I have colonial ancestors in NY, MA, CT, PA and MD and that’s just the documented ancestors! Both FTDNA and Ancestry.com show numerous matches to lines originating in the Southern states which is completely dumbfounding given my only known connections to the south are my 7G-Grandfather’s brother and his family as well a few of the descendants of one of his daughters! Not one them has even one surname of the few families I haven’t been able to trace appear anywhere in those matches either.

  4. This is a fantastic idea! In fact, I suggest to clients, working on large projects, that they consider a crowdfunding platform to raise funds from the entire family.

    I recently discovered another platform that I found interesting, and which I am thinking of somehow incorporating in our menu for clients!

    There are so many useful applications to raise money for genealogy projects that could benefit a large group of people.

    http://www.gofundme.com/

  5. Stumbled across your blog in my own research about crowdfunding a genealogy project. Recently launched a blog with my main goal being to share ephemera with genealogical interests.

    Because I want it to be a free and open site to all researchers I am now searching for ways to fund more purchases of ephemera to add. Ran across several piles of church bulletins and identified photos that I would love to be able to share, and of course there is always so much more out there.

    I prefer to donate my items to historical societies and state libraries, so I have also been thinking the same as you. Crowdfunding may be the way to go.

    If I go this path, I’ll update and let you know how it goes!

  6. Blaine, I am glad that I found this post of yours. I just had a Mississippi DNA Project approved by Experiment.com. I think the Deep South is very underrepresented in the genetic genealogy community. Although it has been approved, I am waiting on launching because I feel as if the aim (a whole state) may be unrealistic, especially with the money I need to gather enough samples to make a meaningful conclusion about the results. I am sort of in limbo with it at the moment. My main problem is expressing why someone should give me funds for such an endeavor. I feel like I only get one shot at this, and the first time needs to be convincing.

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