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January 21, 2015

What Happens To Your Genealogy Research When You're Gone?

Have you thought about what will happen to your genealogy research after you are gone? I don't know about you but I have several filing cabinets full of genealogy papers and records that I have compiled over the years. It's unlikely that any one person would be willing to take all these home and start going through them.

What Plans Have You Made For Your Genealogy Research When You're Gone?
Often there is only one genealogy addict for each generation. I'm the one in my generation and have been for over 30 years. That means no one else is very interested. Oh sure they like the occasional interesting story of an ancestor but to scroll through reel after reel of microfilm or puzzle over a census record for clues - nope. 

After we've done all that work for the past 10 or 20 or 30  years, it is human nature to want to see it passed on and not discarded as if it had no meaning or importance.

Perhaps you have an appointed person who will pick up the torch and carry on after your demise. But even if there is one person you hope will do this, do you think they really want your boxes or drawers full of papers to sort through? I'm an avid genealogist and can never get enough. But when my mother died I took 4 filing cabinet drawers full of her genealogy research and put them in boxes to bring home. I've never gone through it and it's been 6 years. Every time I look at the boxes full of miscellaneous notes and papers and records I am overwhelmed at the task of sorting, analyzing and figuring out what to keep and what to toss. 

So what's the solution? How do we find and prepare a suitable torch-bearer and how can we get our genealogy research into a state that will make it easy for the next generation to carry on?

What Plans Have You Made For Your Genealogy Research When You're Gone?
I've approached this in different ways. One thing I've been doing for a few years now is creating hard cover "coffee table" books on Shutterfly. Here's a tutorial on how I create them:

Creating a Memory Book in Shutterfly (Tutorial 1 of 3)

Each book is about one family. I like to keep them 25 pages or less and they are meant to highlight the family with stories, photos and some of the documents I have obtained.  For my McGinnis family  I created 4 different volumes, one for each generation starting with mine. These are given to each of my children in hopes that they will find their way down to my grandchildren and perhaps continue to be passed on. 

The second method I'm working on is putting all my copies of original records - vital registrations, wills, census and so on, into binders (one per family) which also contain a pedigree chart for that family. In my mind it is a summary of the family with documentation and I am hopeful it is something that anyone remotely interested in the genealogy would be happy to take to their home and keep. 

I also am currently working on getting all these papers digitized, put on flash drives and given to my children. That's a big job and it's not high on my list since technology changes so quickly the day will almost certainly come when the data cannot be retrieved. Remember those big floppy discs for computers? Or the smaller ones? Who can read them now? 

Digitizing the papers is important though because then you can save them in the cloud and on your computer.  It's a great back-up method for your work but I don't see it as viable for passing on to family. 

Don't be fooled into thinking the local genealogy society or library or museum will want your papers. They may happily accept a book about your families but loose papers are unlikely to be given a home.

What's your plan?  Share your ideas here and let's see what plans and projects we can come up with.


Patricia Dever said...

Our local Archives will accept your genealogy papers as long as your lived in the area thru cover. No one is in my family is interested so my plan is to donate and then anyone interested can access it.

Lynne Bliss said...

I've been contacting historical societies and associations to gauge their interest. My aunt had polio and I have rare photos of her in a cast, classroom pictures from the 1930s, etc. The Polio Survivors Assoc is interested in that ephemera (copies of course ... originals are in an archival scrapbook).

Barb Anderson said...

I have numerous books, magazine and CD's that I have been trying to donate. I have contacted four different genealogical societies in my area and no one seems interested.

Jana Last said...


I want to let you know that your blog post is listed in today's Fab Finds post at

Have a great weekend!

Michael Zuber said...

Nice article and I've often thought about this subject even though I am new to genealogy. Nobody in my family on my fathers side has researched genealogy that I know of so I am starting from scratch on that side.

What about using an online site such as or to store the family tree information and all of the digitized records? Wouldn't our work be available "in the cloud" years down the road after we are gone? That has been my thought because nobody in my immediate family has an interest in genealogy but maybe someday one of my descendants will and hopefully they will find and expand on the work I have already done.


Lorine McGinnis Schulze said...

Michael, thank for your comment. Any work we save in the cloud is protected by a password known only to us. So no one will be able to retrieve it unless they have access.

Also there is no guarantee that specific websites or cloud services will be in existence at any point in time.

So don't think that by putting your research online you've preserved it. Far from it


Lorine McGinnis Schulze said...

Patricia, that's great if a local society will accept your research but I'd be careful to find out what format they want it in.

Lynne - yes, rare photos are often prized by a society or association so that is very helpful.

Barb - time to give up that idea then and come up with your own plan to save and pass on your work.

Thank you Jana!

Chris Bukoski said...

Hi Lorine,

I just wanted to let you know that I've shares this on our Society's Facebook page

Jim said...

This is a tough problem. I have developed a two pronged approach to preservation. First, I use the software program Passage Express as a mechanism to organize, store and present stories, pictures, movies and my gedcom files; I put the result on a flash drive that can be inexpensively distributed, opened and viewed by anybody in the family that is interested. As you say, however, there seems to be only one of us per generation who's really interested, but this approach does reduce the file cabinets and shoe-boxes to a small, accessible item. Second approach is to upload information to and - I put pictures and stories along with the ancestral relationships. This is probably the most durable preservation technique because the flash drive will go obsolete, but the Mormon Church has been collecting and making genealogy information available for a long time and they will hopefully continue to migrate their data as technology evolves. And Ancestry, well the profit motive is pretty strong and "our" content is an important asset to them.

carl.h.bloss said...

Thanks for your ideas: But you need to think bigger! First: plan in your will who is to get what? next make sure someone has passwords for your computer digitization to access all your hard work. Or create file backups to share with family members.

Lorine McGinnis Schulze said...

Hi Carl

I don't know the legalities of wills where you live (in fact I don't know where you live) but my lawyer told me not to put special instructions in my will as they can be ignored.

Far better is to have a list of bequests such as "genealogy files go to xxx" and have it somewhere where your executor knows to find it.

I have such a list but again, those lists are requests only and can be ignored by the executor. So choose your executor wisely!

Secondly I personally DO have my passwords in my safety deposit box at my bank and my son knows where the key is kept.

You're right, I didn't mention those two items but thank you for jogging my memory!

M J Bowman said...

If you digitize the documents, the LDS Family History Library will accept them.

I was told that if your ancestors were involved in the U.S. Revolutionary War, DAR Library will accept digitized documents and some actual documents. They will also except some other documents related to topics such as women's history. I was told this at a meeting and naturally can't find anything on the Website.

Kitty Cooper said...

Scan and upload your documents and photos to profiles of your ancestors on one of the many one world trees - GENI, wikitree, and/or familysearch

You may also meet some distant cousins that way who like family histoty too, I have.

Anonymous said...

RE: What about using an online site such as or to store the family tree information and all of the digitized records? Wouldn't our work be available "in the cloud" years down the road after we are gone?

The reason I would NEVER put mine on Ancestry is that they charge an arm and a leg to get the information. Sure you can search a name, but when you get a couple thousand you are up a creek unless you want to pay them to ACTUALLY SEE the documents.