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
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
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
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.
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.
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
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 firstname.lastname@example.org or
visit his website at www.rootdig.com/,
but he regrets that he is unable to assist with personal research.
Copyright 2004, MyFamily.com.