I was sent this from another list I belong to. I find it to be important
and well said. Please don't credit me for the article. Thanks for
A message on the Internet caught my eye the other day and I
can't get it out of my mind. A West Coast genealogist had been exchanging
information with a researcher in Virginia for some time. Then it
last message bounced -- it couldn't be delivered as the address no longer
existed. Fortunately she had received a number of family group sheets
from her correspondent which listed a telephone number. When she called
number a man answered, so she asked for her Internet friend and, after a
slight hesitation was told, "Oh, Mary Ann passed away three weeks ago."
Shocked, but ever gracious, she expressed her sympathy and commented how
close this long-distance relationship had become and how it will be
missed by her. The husband explained that he was sorry that he couldn't
be of any help because he really didn't know much about what his wife was
doing with her genealogy.
Perhaps you too have noticed at genealogical gatherings that
the average age of the participants is something in excess of 39 years,
at least judging by hair color. Most of us really don't have a lot of
time to devote to our hobby until after the kids are grown, out of school
and we've retired. Then it is no longer a hobby, it becomes an obsession.
At some point in our continuous search for dead people, our ancestors, we
recognize our own mortality and start to think about a permanent home for
our research. If our children or grandchildren appear to be interested,
we have it made, but frequently that's not the case. Then what happens to
Genealogists are usually pretty smart people, until it comes
to providing for the distribution of their genealogical assets. The
latter, in my case anyway, is a room full of books, journals, magazines,
maps, photographs, brochures, newsletters, computer equipment and
furniture (desk, chairs, file cabinets, tables, lamps, etc.). The files
are loaded with folders bearing family and town names, historic events,
and a bunch labeled
"MISC." There are miles of computer printouts, hundreds of photocopies,
and many "original" vital records. My desk is usually loaded with
correspondence awaiting an answer -- either mine or from someone else.
What should my
wife do with all this stuff when I make the ultimate research trip -- a
personal meeting with my ancestors?
Some of our brighter colleagues say "My college library is
getting all my stuff" or it's going to the local public library or to the
LDS Family History Library in Salt Lake City or even to the Library of
Congress. Well, I hate to be the one to tell you this, but unless you are
a celebrity or a huge financial donor, these institutions probably won't
want your material-- they just don't have room for it. They would be
grateful for a copy of your book, but they might not want the manuscript
or research notes. The FHL would appreciate a GEDCOM disk of your
genealogy database files, but it doesn't want your paper pedigree charts
or family group sheets.
So what are your spouse and children to do with all of your
stuff? They could really do a couple of dumb things with it if you don't
provide guidance to them while you still can. It could be placed in the
weekly trash collection and don't say "They wouldn't do that" because
unfortunately happens all the time. How about a garage sale? Now that is
really scary, but it also happens every day. Remember all those old
photos and tintypes you have seen in flea markets? How about all those
bargain genealogy books you bought because you got to that garage sale
before the dealers did? They all had to come from someplace.
What should you do to insure the sane distribution of your
genealogical assets? Perhaps the first thing is to make a record of what
you have and then try to keep it current. Show the acquisition date and
you paid for each item on the inventory sheets. This is especially
helpful for artifacts, collections, and books. A photographic record of
these items, including those of rare books, could also be useful.
Microfilm, microfiche and
complete photocopies of books and some records have value. Back issues of
many journals, newsletters, and magazines are also in demand by
genealogists and therefore have value. However, if you don't tell them
what is valuable, your heirs probably won't know.
Now that you have identified your assets, you need to tell
someone what you want done with them. Maybe the simplest way is to
prepare a letter to your heirs, but remember this lacks the force of law.
If they want to, they
can toss everything in the trash. A better way to provide for the
distribution is in your will, particularly if you also designate
sufficient funds to carry out your wishes. Your Last Will and Testament
is also where you may
make specific bequests: your copy of the 1898 edition of Burke's Peerage
to your FGS Conference roommate or your old roll-top desk to your newest
granddaughter. Your wishes can now be enforced by the courts, if
If you still want to have any of your assets given to your
alma mater or a local library or anywhere else, personally contact that
agency and discuss the possibility -- right now. It won't come as a
surprise to them and
they should be able to advise you immediately of any conditions of
acceptance. If you can support those conditions, ask for a written
acknowledgment that can be placed with your will.
Some other things that you can do right now are to distribute
copies of your research among your family, friends, and, perhaps, local
or national libraries. This is simple if you have progressed to the
stage, but don't be too concerned if you haven't. Many genealogists
assemble their pedigree charts, group sheets, pertinent vital records,
selected family photographs, and other important documents in notebook
form. They write a
brief introduction, provide a table of contents, and sometimes an index
before having copies made for distribution. Afterwards, the notebook can
be kept current with a new year's letter which might include new charts
Computerized genealogical data can be distributed in the same
way on diskette. Sometimes an envelope or jacket is provided in the
notebook described above to house data disks. Another way some
researchers try to
insure the safeguarding of their electronic data is to submit it to the
LDS Ancestral File (tm) or one or more of the other commercial
collections. If you don't know how to do this, consult your local
genealogical society or Family
History Center or even the public library for instructions.
Another thing you can do right now to benefit your heirs is to
clean up your files. Eliminate unnecessary correspondence and duplicate
copies of records. Toss out all those old printouts you made in 1984 on
Apple IIe computer. Sell all the "Genealogical Helper" magazines you have
saved since 1973, because you will never open one of them again and you
know it. If you get 50 cents each for them you can have a pretty good
away all that old computer software that is taking up room on your
bookshelves -- it's probably not worth anything anyway. Label your
photographs, and diskettes too.
I find it a bit morbid, but you may wish to write your epitaph
and select your tombstone now to insure future researchers will not
encounter some of the same problems that you've had.
If you decide to follow some of these suggestions, when you do
eventually meet your ancestors they may thank you for perpetuating their
memory. They may also show you where you made some of your mistakes and
able to fill in a few of the blank spaces in your previous research.
Remember, do it now; there may be no tomorrow.
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Michael Reck / 2434 Forest Home Avenue / Riverside, Ohio 45404-2410
Researching: BAIR - BIRT - BOYD - BRANDON - CONNER - CURTIS - DAVIDISON -
FRANTZ - GRIBBLE - HENNING - HINER - HITESHUE - HOWE - JAYNE - KOHR -
LESHER - McCLURE - McGREW - MUNCY - NULL - PEARSON - PONTIOUS - RECK -
REIGLE - ROBBINS - ROSE - SHAFFER -SHOOK