Everyone dies. It's a sad fact of life, and one we all face. For genealogists this natural order of things is compounded by the fact that we have invested so much time into researching our family tree. What will happen to our years of work once we're gone?
As we've discussed previously on Olive Tree Genealogy blog, genealogy is often a way of life, an addictive all-consuming hobby or avocation. If you're like me you have boxes and binders and filing cabinets chock full of papers and documents you've collected on your ancestors.
But do you have a plan for your papers after your passing? You not only need a person or repository for your work, you need to have it in some semblance of organization in order to pass it on.
Let's face it, do we really think anyone else wants our piles of unsorted papers? I can't think of anyone in my family who would offer a spot in their homes for my records. I have two 3-foot long filing cabinets, 3 drawers high - the kind that pull out so the files are sideways not facing front. I also have 2 smaller front-facing filing cabinets. I also have several large plastic tubs. They are all full of my genealogy research. I'm only kidding myself to think that anyone would take them and give up room in their house to store them.
And let's not forget my Genealogy program with data entered that is not printed off. I'm not even sure my husband knows how to access all those digital family files.
As avid genealogists we each need to put together a solid plan for our work. The plan should cover three areas:
1. Where will our work go - an individual family member? An institution?
2. In what format will our work be organized so that it can be passed on
3. How have you ensured that your executors or loved ones know about your plan
Many genealogists seem to think that an institution such as a local library or an Archives or Museum or the Family History Centre in Salt Lake City will jump at the opportunity to have the research. But have you verified that this is correct? Have you found out what format they want it in, IF they want it at all?
Do you know of an enthustiastic family member who is hoping you'll leave all your research to him or her? I don't!
My plan is to continue creating small family booklets which I've talked about previously on Olive Tree Genealogy Blog under the topic Genealogy Memory Books and also larger in-depth books.
In each of those I will place scans of documents I've found. It isn't realistic to think I can include scans of every single document for every individual - the census records alone would create a book so mammoth it would not be feasible to print it.
So I will note my sources carefully and accurately so that others reading my work will be able to duplicate (i.e., find) what I have found. I'll only be able to include scans of the more obscure documents, and of those which are original one-of-a-kind documents or photographs in my possession. I hope to create these booklets and donate them to local libraries during my lifetime. I plan on one booklet or book per family surname.
For family lines where I've not yet done in-depth research I will simply put together a very small booklet with a pedigree chart, family group sheets or genealogy report printed automatically from my genealogy program, and copies of documents. These I won't donate during my lifetime but will add to them as I can.
Instructions for disposal of my genealogy research notes and booklets have been added to the set of instructions I have for the executors of my will. Both my husband and my son know where this is kept. It's a large manilla envelope with several pages of important items - my bank accounts, credit cards, burial wishes, facts for my obituary, my wishes for disposal of family treasures, life insurance policies, etc. Everything to make my executors' lives easier.
I rest easy knowing I have a plan that I like. But I haven't yet begun organizing the genealogy data and that leaves me feeling uneasy. Genealogy is important to me. The truth and the story of my ancestors is something I am compelled to pass on to others.
Facing our own mortality isn't easy but it's inescapable and so I've vowed that 2011 will be the year I organize my over 40 years of research. Do you have a plan and a goal for ensuring that your genealogy research survives? What a wonderful legacy we can each leave if we take some time to make it happen.