20    Jun 20103 comments

Prevent loss: Save your history

You've researched your family extensively over many years. What will happen to all that material in the future?

I have to admit that some of my own recent research is not as organized as it could be, due to lack of time. There are notes on loose papers not yet in the correct folder or binder. There are photographs waiting to be sorted. There are miscellaneous printed emails that I understand - would anyone else? 

Although beginning researchers might not think about this important topic, it is essential to address at every stage of research.

What will happen to your research if you become ill or worse? Will it be just thrown away? Will close family or other relatives understand what your work represents and its value?

This is a very personal topic for me as our family lost a 300-year-old family tree brought by one of the last family members to arrive from Belarus to the US in the early 1900s. He died in Florida in the 1950s and neither of his children were there. Everything in the house, including our priceless family history, was simply thrown away.

No matter how much research I do, the information contained in that tree will be impossible to replace in its entirety. It was compiled by those who lived that history and who knew much more than I can ever learn.

Fortunately, I had discovered and spoken to five or six relatives who had seen the tree and remembered something about the collection of various papers, hand-writings and historical periods.

"What you must know to save your research from destruction" was a timely session presented at the recent Southern California Genealogical Society Jamboree by Lisa Louise Cooke,  one of today's best-known genealogists, bloggers and podcasters. Her Genealogy Gems Podcast is known throughout the genealogy community.

Topics included:

-- Getting and staying organized: keep material stored in binders or in clearly labeled boxes.

-- Plan ahead: Accidents or illness can happen without warning, so begin preparing for such an event as soon as possible.

-- Make it legal: Write in your will a "genealogical materials directive," which will cover what you want done with your research. The directive will cover what you have, who should get what or all of it. Ask your attorney for legal suggestions and include it with your will.

-- Identify a future keeper: Talk to family. Is there someone who would agree to preserve your work? Lisa advises, "taking the guesswork out of what to do when you are gone." Give that person a copy of the directive and discuss the situation.

-- Future donation: Are you thinking of giving your work to an archive, library or other respository? Think about a "deed of gift," a legal document transferring ownership and legal rights to the receiving repository. The paper is signed by you (the donor) and the respository's representative. Lisa provided two good guides to this process, view A Guide to Donating Your Personal or Family Papers to a Repository and A Guide to Deed of Gift.

-- Share your research now, so your family members will have copies of it.

Lisa's suggestions include:

-- Hang a framed tree in your home and give them as gifts.I usually give a family tree chart and index along with the traditional gifts for a new baby, wedding or other lifecycle event. As the years go by, and there are more recent events, I provide updates. The person who receives it might not be actively interested today, but they might be in the future. When they are, they will have a copy to work from.

-- Prepare a book on the family history. She gives information in her Podcast episode 13 on how to do that (see link above and then see the episode).

The important thing is to get your research organized.

As I heard Lisa speak, I thought of those boxes  and papers in my own office and who would understand what they really meant? Her Genealogy Gems Podcast offers many helpful hints on diverse topics, so visit her site at the link above.

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Comments (3) Trackbacks (1)
  1. I think it is important also to transcribe as much as you can into your software package. This should have been the case with the 300 year old tree.
    Also get young people interested in the family history - find an ally who may like to inherit your research.
  2. Hi, Liz.

    Thanks for writing.

    You are right that the 300-year-old tree should have been transcribed into a software package.

    However, the incident in question occured in the 1950s, before the Internet and before genealogy software packages. The option did not exist back then, and the document was not in my possession.

    The moral of the story is that if someone has such a document or collection of documents, make sure to photograph each page digitally, transcribe the details, make scanned copies of the documents and share them with numerous family members with an eye to preserving the information.

  3. Wow, its so cool the connections being made with gegnlaoey on line! Through bulletin boards, websites, data bases, blogs and DNA projects online I hear these stories more and more. It makes realize see how we are all connected

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