Given Name(s) Last Name


From the Ancestry Daily News
  Michael John Neill – 11/15/1999

Ready to Go?

As morbid as it sounds, when I go I want my death certificate filled out accurately and my mother's maiden name spelled correctly in my obituary. It would be deeply ironic if such information were incorrect in the final records of a genealogist. However, a genealogist needs to think about more than his or her death certificate or obituary.

If, heaven forbid, you were to die in the next few days, what would happen to your genealogical materials? Can you even locate them? Could anyone else? Are they somewhat organized? Could your spouse or someone else step in and figure out what you were doing and what was what?

If you live far from family members, do you have important information where it can easily be located? Would someone be tempted to "dump" your genealogy information rather than ship it to a person or a place that would take it?

Is there anyone who would even want your collection of information? Are your materials in such a disorganized state that anyone would even bother with them? As you have researched, have you indicated where you obtained copies of various papers? Would someone receiving your files have any idea where the information you have originated? Or would your materials be simply a collection of photocopies of pages from various books and printouts from web sites whose original source was unknown? Is there anyone who would want such materials? Would you want such materials from someone else?

Have you done something with your genealogical information, besides collecting more of it? Are your photographs, newspaper clippings, and other materials inventoried and organized in a fashion that someone else could determine what your collection contained?

Do you have a preference for what will happen to your materials when you are no longer among the living? Or will the individual in charge of your affairs simply dump your papers into garbage bags for the trash man? You may need to stipulate such information in your will or estate planning.

Find out if the person or group you wish to have your materials actually wants them. Some libraries and archives are facing space constraints and may have to turn down material, especially undocumented and unorganized material. This type of material has a greater chance of being refused. If your material is organized, have you considered microfilming it as a way to preserve it for future generations?

Have you attempted to preserve old letters or other handwritten materials by transcribing them and donating copies to relevant libraries or archives? This is an excellent way to preserve such records. The transcription should be done accurately, carefully, and thoughtfully. Make certain to use archival safe materials in which to store these relics of your past.

Are you the only one who knows the identity of individuals in certain pictures? Are you the only one who knows what family member made or purchased the antique dresser or table that sits in your home? Share this information. You don't have to give the furniture away just yet, but let others know about it so that its history does not disappear when you are gone.

Have you written or compiled a documented family history and distributed copies on high quality paper to interested persons and relevant libraries? Are you preserving your information in other ways besides electronic media? It won't last forever and there's little guarantee that the file format you use today will be readable in twenty years. Are you sharing your data responsibly in an attempt to preserve it?

It is not just death we should be concerned about? What if your home burned? Have you shared some of your information with others so that re-obtaining it would not be onerous? Are there any personal family artifacts that you may wish to store somewhere besides your home? Are some of your materials at risk of being flooded in your basement?

No one likes to think of that time when they will no longer be among the living. Yet it happens to all of us. The near death of a twenty-seven year old family member and a clipping sent to me by a long time associate have personally reinforced in me the need for such preparation. Genealogists should leave behind more than boxes of unorganized papers and computer diskettes.

All of us need to give some thought to these issues to ensure that the genealogical information we have worked so hard to collect actually outlives us.

Remember: Genealogist----preserve thyself.

Copyright 1999, Michael John Neill. Michael John Neill, is the Course I Coordinator at the Genealogical Institute of Mid America (GIMA) held annually in Springfield, Illinois, and is also on the faculty of Carl Sandburg College in Galesburg, Illinois. Michael is the Web columnist for the FGS FORUM and is on the editorial board of the Illinois State Genealogical Society Quarterly. He conducts seminars and lectures on a wide variety of genealogical and computer topics and contributes to several genealogical publications, including Ancestry and Genealogical Computing.

Other Genealogy Articles by Michael John Neill

 1930 Census Online   

Genealogy Section of Ebay

---type in your surname or county and state in the search box that comes up on the left hand side of your screen. I've found and purchased several books this way!