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From the Ancestry Daily News

  Michael John Neill  - 11/10/2004

Time Is Up!

What if you had a year to complete your genealogy research? What would you do? What things would you save? What materials would you attempt to give to which person? While such a deadline may appear arbitrary, it serves to remind us of the importance of making certain our compiled material outlasts us and that we leave something behind other than material for the recycle bin.

Find Someone Who Is Interested
This is one of the more difficult decisions genealogists face: who is going to get all the stuff after our demise? In an ideal world, one willing person would take the entire collection. Most of us do not live in the ideal world, however. It might be more practical to break up our material along family lines and try and locate one person who would be interested in each branch of the family. Your local library, genealogical society, or historical society, may or may not want your material. They most certainly would be hesitant to accept boxes of unorganized and unsourced photocopies and notepaper with handwritten scribblings. Consider donating some material to repositories (after querying them first) in the areas where your family members lived during their lifetime.

Find a Place for Your How-To Books and Similar Material
Any interested parties may be more inclined if they don't have to take your five shelves of how-to books, conference syllabi, and other material not specific to your genealogy. Is there a local library or genealogical society that would be interested in this material? You may have to expand outside your geographic area to find someone or some place that could use your material.

Identify People on Photographs
If there are still unidentified photographs in your collection of materials, place the identification of these individuals high on your priority list. Future family historians will be glad you did.

Interview Any Uninterviewed Relatives
Are there family members of whom you have not asked questions? This too should be a priority. The books, microfilm, and other materials hopefully will be around for a while--great-aunt Martha might not.

Organize What You Have
Would calling your genealogy material organized give an entirely new definition to the word? Your material is less likely to get thrown out if it is not in stacks all over the kitchen table. Enter what data you can in your genealogy computer database, sourcing the information as you go. Print out family group charts and other records on good paper.

Write Your Own Life Story
Who among us would not love to have a few pages written by an ancestor? Are you doing that for your descendants? Leave behind something about yourself in addition to all those photocopies of two-hundred-year-old wills and estate settlements. The writing need not be verbose or extremely eloquent, it just needs to be left behind. Start with a simple chronology of your life, trying to think of an event for every year and working from there. Who knows? Your writing may help your great-great-grandchild break down their own genealogical brick wall in a hundred years.

Write Biographies of Your Ancestors
Consider writing short biographical sketches of your ancestors as time allows. Submit these to the appropriate genealogical societies in the area where your ancestor lived. Societies with a library will file these in their collection and may even publish the biography in their newsletter or quarterly. What a great way to preserve and share the information you have located. Just make certain to cite your sources and to document all facts included in your biography. It is not a good idea to perpetuate myths and speculation.

How Permanent?
Remember when attempting to preserve your genealogical materials that not all media are created equally. Some types of digital media, particularly certain discs and CD-ROM, may not last into the next century. Acid-free paper is still a very viable option. Remember the key is to give your organized and compiled information to someone. Acid-free paper that never leaves your house may end up in local dump where it will not even have a chance to last one hundred days, let alone one hundred years.

Loose Ends?
Are there leads you have left lingering in your files? Are there unorganized materials that no one will ever make sense of? Have you reached a conclusion but so far have failed to commit that thought process to paper? Consider wrapping up these loose ends before running off to gather additional information.

One Final Question
If you were to leave this Earth today, what would happen to your genealogical information?

Links to Related Articles
Elizabeth Shown Mills, "Writing Our Family's Story " (Ancestry Daily News)
This article provides some excellent advice on writing about family history.

Michael John Neill, "Interviewing Grandma" (Ancestry Daily News)
Some basis interviewing suggestions are given which may also serve to help you beginning writing your life story.

Michael John Neill, "Cleaning Mother's House" (Ancestry Daily News)
A fictional story about what might happen if we fail to plan for our genealogical materials after our demise.

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 Magazine and Genealogical Computing. You can e-mail him at or visit his website at, but he regrets that he is unable to assist with personal research.

Copyright 2004,

Used by the author on his website with permission
More of Michael's Genealogy Articles