Genealogy 101: What Will Happen to My Genealogy after I’m Gone?

Introduction: In this article, Gena Philibert-Ortega gives advice from leading genealogists and genealogy websites about preserving your research after you’re gone. Gena is a genealogist and author of the book “From the Family Kitchen.”

It’s a question I hear over and over again. It’s a concern we as family historians share, since we spend years and countless dollars researching our genealogy. Our shared passion has led us to gather, curate, and write about our family history. But when we pass away, what happens to it all?

Not everyone is lucky enough to have a family member interested in continuing our research or even storing it for posterity. Many researchers have family that aren’t interested in their heritage – or aren’t interested right now. So, what can you do? Well, the obvious answer is that eventually you may have a family member who welcomes your research. But that could happen long after you have passed from this world. You need to start making plans now, not just rely on hope for the future.

One way to ensure that your work is available to whomever might want it is to share what you’ve collected online via family trees, genealogy websites, or even your own website or blog. The problem is that any website could eventually cease to exist – and with it your research. If you are using a website or blog that you have to pay for, that too will go away eventually if the bills aren’t paid.

What about donating your research? That can be an option, and donating your research to a library, archive, or museum seems to be a good choice to ensure its availability to future family historians. But even this option has limitations. Researchers often assume that any repository would welcome their research, but space limitations, the focus or goal of a collection, and staff availability to process donations can make it difficult to find an interested repository.

Passing on your research is a serious concern, so I turned to the experts and asked them about donating family history research. Below are some genealogical repositories that you may have considered and their policy on donations.

Family History Library (Salt Lake City, Utah). “We do not accept original manuscript materials as we are not an archive. We encourage guests to submit their family history and upload their source documentation to Family Tree. We welcome book donations of published family histories and other genealogically relevant works.” (1) For more information see the FamilySearch Research Wiki page, Donations.

Clayton Library Center for Genealogical Research (Houston, Texas). “We will take research collections, however they need to be in ‘book’ form. That means the papers need to be grouped in a way we can create a ‘book’ that has a title page, a time period and geographic location. We request this information be provided by the donor. We also like to know the five most prominent surnames in the book. For example, we would like to be provided a group of related research pages that have identifying information: Thomas Thompson of Darke County, Ohio (and other locations if applicable) 1823-1900. We need this information so we can catalog the materials. We ask the donor to create the book because we don’t have the staff resources (time and expertise… it’s not our family so we don’t know how to organize it correctly) to process the materials. Additionally, we won’t accept original documents or photos.” (2) For more information see their Support Clayton Library web page.

Allen County Public Library (Fort Wayne, Indiana). “We would prefer that the material be organized in some fashion, by surname normally, with notes identifying the family groupings, etc. If material comes to us already digitized, it’s fairly simple to process it and post it online. If we have to scan or copy the material, it may take much longer. We appreciate that researchers want their work to be preserved, but they need to realize that it may take us quite a while to organize and digitize their material.” To learn more, see their web page, Donation Options. (3)

Midwest Genealogy Center (Independence, Missouri). “Book and periodical donations are gratefully accepted at the Midwest Genealogy Center. Family history research collections are considered on a case-by-case basis.” (4) Please contact them for more information.

[Your] Genealogy Society or Historical Society. Some societies accept donations of members’ research. Obviously, every society has a different take on whether they have the space, time, and resources to accept donations of research, but if your society has a library collection or a place to store items, they may accept your collection – so it’s worth talking to them. Also consider talking to the society located in the place your ancestor was from.

Archives. Melissa LeMaster Barker, the Archive Lady, provided this piece of advice when thinking of donating your research to an archive: “Each archive has their own rules for what they will take and not take. I encourage everyone to start planning now to find a home for their genealogy records. Many archives will only accept original records, not copies. Call and talk to the archivist, librarian, museum curator or historical/genealogical officer and ask them what donations they accept.” (5)

Start Planning Now

Don’t leave the decision about what happens to your research up to your family. You know what you have and whom it would benefit. The message I heard over and over again as I asked about donations was succulently summarized by professional genealogist Amy Johnson Crow: “Talk with your family and the society/library/archive that you want to donate it to. And, yes, you have to organize it before you donate it.” (6)

To learn more about what you should do with your collection, see the RootsTech presentation given by Amy and Allen County Public Library librarian Curt Witcher, “How Not to Leave Your Genealogy Behind.”

________________

(1) David Rencher to Gena Philibert-Ortega via Facebook post, 27 April 2019.
(2) Susan Kaufman to Gena Philibert-Ortega via Facebook post, 27 April 2019.
(3) Email from Allen County Public Library to Gena Philibert-Ortega, 30 April 2019.
(4) Midwest Genealogy Center message to Gena Philibert Ortega via Facebook, 1 May 2019.
(5) Melissa LeMaster Barker to Gena Philibert-Ortega via Facebook post, 27 April 2019.
(6) Amy Johnson Crow to Gena Philibert-Ortega via Facebook post, 27 April 2019.
(7) Amy Johnson Crow to Gena Philibert-Ortega via Facebook post, 27 April 2019.

 

22 thoughts on “Genealogy 101: What Will Happen to My Genealogy after I’m Gone?

  1. Aunt Sara Ellen did genealogy back in the old days when she kept track of which courthouses she needed to visit, and then made trips to get what she wanted. She wrote a book and gave every living relative a copy with their name embossed on the cover, and two copies to the city library. She really seemed to cover the bases. Then she gave her papers and other political papers also to the library. Her husband was the first mayor under a new political system… fast forward 35 years and my daughter got the genealogy bug. She traveled to the library and asked for the papers, etc., that had been donated and were mentioned in “the Blue Book.” They pulled them for her and she enjoyed reading for a couple of days. So for at least two generations things seem to be going well. Thank You Aunt Sara Ellen.

    1. Susie,
      How wonderful is that?! What a great find for your daughter. It sounds like Sara Ellen ensured that her future family would benefit from her hard work. Thank you for sharing that.

  2. Some great ideas here, but what about the photos, boxes and boxes of them, that families have? Where can we post those before they get tossed by family members going through our stuff?

    1. Teresa, websites like DeadFred (http://deadfred.com/) and Ancient Faces (https://www.ancientfaces.com/) are great for sharing photos. You may also want to look at adding family photos to the Memories section of FamilySearch. You can add photos and documents to that collection and then family can share them via Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, or by email.

    2. Remember to put names to faces on any photos you pass along as we all had family that said “Well I know who they are!” and then they were gone . my mother had many from her youth 1924 to 1947[marriage ] plus after and if I had not looked at them with her many times I would not know who was who. I was also given 2 family photo albums [beautiful fancy covers and beautiful photos by studios ] but have barely matched a couple pictures due to getting my Great Grandfather and Mothers wedding picture.

    3. I’ve started free photo sites on Shutterfly.com. Under photos, I have files that show members of each family. I started with grandparents, on down……you can share with all your family digitally, and they can even add their own old photos if they are so inclined, and I encourage because that way everyone gets to see what everyone else has….although many don’t share theirs, or don’t know how…but it is a start….

  3. I traveled south to Virginia with the expectation of visiting courthouses and cemeteries of deceased family members. Imagine my surprise and delight when I was directed to the Washington and Lee library for genealogical records and found 31 binders of records and correspondence archived by a previous Youel family descendant. An unexpected gold mine!

    1. How wonderful Barbara! Isn’t it great when you stumble upon a gold mine like that? I think we all hope that happens to us! Thanks for sharing.

  4. I live in England and have a wealth of family history and even have it in a section of my life story.
    Do you have any suggestions on where to leave my information and book? Is a time capsule a waste of time?
    Kind regards,
    John Boutwood

    1. John, one place to leave this information is FamilySearch. If you have published in book form they will digitize it. Have you asked your local Family History Society if they would be interested?

  5. My name is Darlene. I have been doing my genealogy for several years but my problem is that I am not good with typing, I have to memorize then try adding information into a tree. I am 78 and my eyesight is not good. I try to file but that too is a disaster. My question is: No one in my family wants anything to do with my info that is not in order, etc., so can I scan it to sd cards and keep it that way??
    Thank you,
    Darlene

    1. Scanning your info to sd cards is a good way to keep your info and if something happen to your computer you sill have your genealogy. Check with a local historical ociety and mabe someone would help you. Too bad your family doesn’t want to help organize

  6. I’ve made booklets of about 30–40 pages for each branch of the family using pressboard report covers so that additions and corrections can be made. They contain stories about various ancestors along with the trees, as well as some family photos and maps of the ancestral areas. I make about a dozen of each and give them to our children, siblings, one cousin in each of my uncle’s or aunt’s families (whoever seems interested) and the appropriate historical societies.

    1. Judy, that’s great. The more copies, the more likely the copies will be passed down to future generations. What a wonderful legacy you’re providing to your family! Thank you for sharing that.

  7. Darlene, you could scan it, that’s one option. Is there someone from a local family history society who might help you organize it?

  8. We had a niece that did a considerable amount of research on my wife’s family on Ancestry.com. Unfortunately, she passed away last year and, as an Ancestry subscriber, I can only view parts of her research through Ancestry. Sure wish there was a way I could fully capture her information and include it in my tree of my wife’s family. Does anyone know how I might be able to access this information?

  9. I don’t mind sharing my work with anyone, if it’s reciprocated. I have about 7000 persons with 2000 families, but with not enough confirmation to suit me. Much of the work I’ve seen is either fiction or very misleading.

    1. That’s a good point, Henry. I know some people who actually add a statement to their online family tree that the information is a work in progress and that other researchers should do their own research to verify that information (which is something researchers should automatically do anyway). Thanks for your comment.–Gena

  10. I lost a book that was written by a Wirfs, which is my maiden name. I would really like to purchase another copy, but I have no idea where I can find one. I do not think it is in publication anymore, but I would love to have a copy of it. Is there any way you can find out if there is such a book in some archives somewhere? Please let me know. I am literally heartbroken that I lost it somewhere last month while on vacation.

    1. Donna, You may want to conduct a Google search for either the author or the title. That should help you locate it. Searching Worldcat might also help you determine what library might still have that book. Good luck!–Gena

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