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Published 30 August 2010

Rick Roberts
What to do with my genealogy collection when I am gone?
By: Rick Roberts,   Biography & Archived Articles

The following question from a subscriber deals with an issue that many family historians are struggling with. My reply follows the question. If you have an idea/s or have experience with this issue, email your comments, and we will add them immediately after the article:

    Hi Rick,
    I have a 76-year-old aunt who has compiled a lot of beautiful scrapbooks & related family history but has no one in her own family who has shown any interest.

    What suggestions can I give her to preserve this material?
    Good morning David,

    Your aunt's challenge in finding a family member to carry on, and/or preserve her accumulated family history work is an often encountered quandry that many family historians are faced with.

    I notice by your signature line, that you are from Hamilton, Ontario. If your aunt is also in the Hamilton area, a good place to start would be to approach the Hamilton Branch of the Ontario Genealogical Society with the question. They may be willing to take in the collection on or before her passing, especially if the family has Hamilton area connections. This would be a good result if the society is willing. The collection would be housed with their archive in the central branch of the Hamilton library, making it accessible for family members of future generations.

    Should your aunt's family history be centered around a different community, a genealogical society or local history museum in that area may be willing to take and preserve her work. Finding those organizations is easy. Just search for the name of community plus the words "genealogical society" or "museum" (in or equivalent). A few phone calls or emails will help you determine if there is a genuine will to help.

    If the collection contains materials that have a financial value (ie sewing samplers, daguerreotypes, rare documents, etc), non profit groups can issue a tax receipt for the full value of the collection. This can be helpful for reducing your aunt's income tax.

    A final comment regarding perceived lack of family interest. There may indeed be a family member who would value and preserve your family history collection. Many people, especially younger family members, are uncomfortable talking with their elders about what will be done with thier loved ones' possessions after they pass. I think it is a form of denial, but I am no psychologist. A first step may be for your aunt to initiate clear and forthright discussions with those in the family who she believes are responsible enough to carry on the family tradition, to find out if they have a willingness to do so... They may be more willing than they have let on.

    Hope this helps.
Readers' thoughts on this subject:
    Let us know if you have ideas or experience with this topic. We will post your comments here:

    • I would ask my immediate family who would be interested in the genealogy material and would they be willing to carry on the search. If no one in my immediate family is interested I would contact my cousins to determine who has and would be willing to take on the responsibility and carrying the work down the line. I would then put a clause in my will who is to get my genealogy records with a subclause as to who would get it if that person predeceases. The will ensures that your wishes will be granted. If no one in my family is interested I would donate it to the genealogy center in the city/village where I reside and again insert it in my will to ensure my wishes are granted.
      - - - June, from Canada

    • "IN MY WILL" are the most important words - with pre-arranged discussion with family. In Britain, if one's roots were there, not only are there County Family History Societies / Genealogy Societies but sometimes town / city societies, in addition to county and local libraries. For Example, in Kitchener, Ont., the Grace Schmidt Room in the Main Kitchener Library is a mine of information about Waterloo county and early pioneers. A local library, if they have room, often welcomes local family history.
      - - - Elizabeth & John from Ontario

    • The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints should be the first choice. The Mormons have vast experience in gathering and preserving genealogical databases. They willingly share with people of all religions all information that they have. A lovely gift such as described will be well received, preserved and shared for decades to come.
      - - - Pamela in British Columbia

    • Good answers by all! I think that it is essential to put in the will one's wishes. I would suggest that it would be better to first consider family, then the Genealogy Society or Archives in the community one lives in, before going to an outside organization like the LDS, especially with pictures relating to people of the community. I would also wonder if the individual asking the question might be interested, after all it is his aunt. We all should be thinking about this issue NOW, and trying to interest our descendents- grandchildren are often easier to involve when they are young, as they love stories and readily catch our enthusiasm.
      - - - Molly in British Columbia

    • Firstly may I say how very useful and informative your newsletters are to an Australian with ancestors in Ontario. Thank you. Re the family history after I die: I have a statement in my will that requests my children to burn all documents etc on my computer onto DVD and send copies to two genealogy societies in my home state. I have also requested that they offer my extensive collection of local history (including Ontario history, thanks to you) to these societies as a first option. I have consulted with my daughters concerning this legacy and they are prepared to carry out my wishes. Cheers
      --- Marianne in Melbourne, Victoria, Australia

    • Interesting topic with many different ideas. I think some folks would like an easy one step method of possibly dealing with their genealogy material. Many of us hobbyists will eventually face the same issue or their relatives will. There is another question to all of this and that is finding the works of previous genealogists a trail I have followed in the past. I often found material from genealogists in the past scattered and in many cases parts of it in the possession of active genealogists. I have also found donating some material such as books may generate a tax receipt from some genealogy groups. I have a thought, I know the OGS keeps some submitted manuscripts but that can be limited. Many of us have accumulated a lot of correspondence and some if it is invaluable. What if websites such as Rootsweb was to create various surname repositories for others to send their material too? This could be sent electronically or by land although many may have several boxes of material. I would hope one day the repository could be scanned and available on-line. A huge task for some records (I have two 4 drawer cabinets of material in addition to a library of books). Another idea would be for a professional genealogist to research, write and speck on the subject which would include ideas. The OGS could also consider accepting genealogists' files but storage could be a problem. Some of my files contain correspondence and privacy could be an issue. I also think some generalists are exploring several family surnames originating in different areas. This may mean their material would need to be separated and possibly donated to different genealogy organizations located in related geographic areas. Often some source materials are from similar archival resources so it is not necessary to pass this material along if the sources are documented. Sad to say much of our material will be lost. Publishing your genealogy is also a way to summarize your research for future generations. I think this could be an endless subject with lots of ideas to explore. Regards,
      - - - Paul R. Caverly UE, PLCGS from Ontario

    • Excellent answer. I would only add that local archives would also be an excellent choice, maybe even more so than a museum, as their mandate is to preserve documents, including maps and photographs.
      - - - Irene from Ontario

    • I concluded more than a year ago that a wiki genealogy site such as WeRelate was the only chance I had of leaving something permanent including important documents and photos. It has the added advantage that it can be corrected at any time by me or anybody with better information. Although I will leave my hard files to family members and some historical organizations, in both cases exposure is very limited and, in the case of family, the files will sooner or later be destroyed or lost. Societies or museums will probably accept basic genealogy but are not likely to want reams of documents; unless you are a notable person and your files end up as "fonds".
      - - - Howard in Toronto

    • In 2008 I had to make a new will, and I had my lawyer write in the will that my granddaughter is to receive all my genealogical data, and certain books that were published with information on family members. My granddaughter is also researching on her father's side and her daughter is also keen on genealogy even though she is only 14 years old. So I know that there will be someone carrying on future research after I am gone. My lawyer didn't want to put my exact wishes regarding my genealogical data, etc., until I explained exactly what 'genealogy' was, so make sure you spell it out exactly the way you want in your will. Mind you, it costs extra, but in the end it is well worth it, and my executor is well aware of what is in my will. - - - Margaret in Canada

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