Saturday, December 8, 2012

We Interrupt This Regularly Scheduled Program…

Yes, I know, I have already exhibited a “Bah, Humbug” attitude toward, at the very least, holiday shopping rushes this season. Despite my Black Friday rant—and despite the fact that A Family Tapestry does not have any business interests or financial ties with any organization mentioned throughout the course of this publication—I do want to stop and offer a suggestion about holiday shopping.

Actually, I need to amend that statement: I wish to pass along an idea that I read in someone else’s newsletter.

Cyndi Ingle Howells, whom most people know as the owner of Cyndi’s List, was the one who got me starting thinking. In a December first mailing list reprint of her November 30 Facebook entry, Cyndi mentioned:

During the upcoming holiday season, I have a favor to ask. If you do any shopping online please consider using the affiliate links on Cyndi's List. Purchases you make after using these links help to support Cyndi's List.

A simple request, granted. But what a difference a thought like that can make when it is put in action.

Think about it: sites like Cyndi’s List provide all of us, as genealogy researchers, with multiple free resources to further our progress—and all in the comfort of our own homes. Usually, the way such websites meet their expenses—and you know there are expenses, even if the website is done free of charge or calls itself “non-profit”—is through advertising or sales programs such as the affiliate links Cyndi mentioned. All that means is that you, as the recipient of what she provides, pay nothing, but her costs are covered through a third party program.

For instance, if you buy a book through Cyndi’s affiliate link with Amazon, you pay no more and no less than you would by purchasing the same book directly through Amazon. The difference is that, because Cyndi’s List directed you to that book’s specific link, Amazon agrees to pay Cyndi a small amount roughly akin to a commission for the sale. Furthermore, some affiliate programs will continue to pay that commission on other items you buy at the site, even if they weren’t originally mentioned on the original referral.

That way, the referring site—in this case, Cyndi’s List—benefits from the commission, which then gets plowed back into providing even more great content on Cyndi’s site. It’s a win-win-win situation: Amazon gets the business, Cyndi’s List gets the commission, and you get informed of a great product that you might not otherwise have known about, let alone bought.

When I saw that comment on Cyndi’s newsletter, it got me to thinking. I’ve written about “clicking through” to help fund other privately-funded genealogy websites before. My first post on that subject, over a year ago, was inspired by my appreciation for what Tim Fisher does with his Perry County sites—both his site with scanned data and his family tree database. Tim uses this same sort of model (albeit including outright advertising banners, too) to fund the costs for his server and associated website costs. When users click through on the ads on his sites, it helps him pay his site’s expenses and expand his collection.

But my thoughts on this topic range even farther. I think of other, more traditional non-profits we encounter as genealogy researchers—or in our other walks of life, too. I think of the many local and state genealogy organizations who try throughout the year to raise funds for their group’s mission. When you visit their site, if there are affiliate links such as Amazon’s program—or even advertising banners—do you click through? If you do, and end up making a purchase, you may be helping your genealogy society raise funds.

The same goes for other organizations, too. Think of your favorite charities or causes you like to support. If their website includes affiliate links to companies where you’d normally do your shopping, why not take the detour and click through to the business through your charity’s website? They would get the credit while you do your normal shopping routine—other than that minor detour.

Of course, places like Amazon are enormous and provide such a wide variety of shopping choices that clicking through sites like Cyndi’s List to get started with your shopping could make a difference for some of these genealogy websites.

On the other hand, some of us have very specific genealogical items on our wish lists, and perhaps those items aren’t readily available through such an affiliate link. That reminds me of an excellent “wish list” post that fellow genealogy blogger Julie Cahill Tarr wrote last Thursday. There are some items on the genealogist’s wish list that can’t be found just anywhere.

Regardless, much as my bah-humbug disposition led me to write on Black Friday, there are some things that just can’t be bought at any price. The finest things we have in life—family, friends, the values we cherish—are truly priceless. Often, these are the intangibles of life, such as love, selflessness—or even time, as Mariann Regan quipped in a clever twist on the Twelve Days of Christmas theme.

These are the essence of what makes the holiday season glow, in my opinion.

However…if you must spend that hard-earned money, I know of some volunteer organizations and non-profit groups that would appreciate your keeping them in mind as you head to those online stores.

Above left: Currier and Ives lithograph, "American Homestead Winter," courtesy Wikipedia; in the public domain.


  1. I added Cyndi's List to my blog yesterday as one of the Genealogy Tips.

    1. That's great, Grant. Did you know that you can ask to be included in Cyndi's list for your blogs, too? There is a way on her website to make that request (same as suggesting any other genealogy-related link).


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