Discover your inside story with AncestryDNA®

September 1, 2015

The Problem of Family Not Wanting Your Genealogy Research

The Problem of Family Not Wanting Your Genealogy Research
Several years ago I came to the realization that no one in my immediate family wants my 40 plus years of research on our genealogy. A few are mildly interested in hearing the more exciting stories of blacksheep ancestors or famous relatives or an intriguing mystery. No one but me does actual research into our ancestors. 

That means that my binders and file folders full of documents and charts are not something anyone is going to take and preserve when I'm gone. I'm sure many of you are facing the same problem. So...what to do?

My solution has been to create family books for each surname. I keep them short, no more than 30 pages for each book. Some surnames have multiple volumes and each volume is for one generation including children. These books are what I call "Coffee Table" books, meant to be picked up and thumbed through casually. Not all documents are included because that would turn into a book consisting of hundreds of pages! 

After publishing them on Shutterfly I give them as gifts at Christmas. That is one way the family stories and research might be preserved for future generations. If you are unfamiliar with Shutterfly I have a tutorial on using it on my Olive Tree Genealogy YouTube Channel.

Creating a Memory Book in Shutterfly (Tutorial 1)

Creating a Memory Book in Shutterfly (Tutorial 2)

Creating a Memory Book in Shutterfly (Tutorial 3)

Another solution I use is to create books for sale to other descendants. Since I tend to research all siblings in a family I can often provide details, facts and documents on a large number of family members for each generation. I use Createspace for those books which then are made available on Amazon. See my list of books I have published here.  Money I make from these sales helps offset my expenses in subscribing to online companies for their databases. 

I also donate a copy of any books I create to local archives or libraries where the family settled.  This helps ensure that even more descendants will have access to my research in the future.

How have you overcome the problem of your family not wanting your genealogy records?


Unknown said...

I to have run into that issue. I did the book thing as well.

Several years ago I took 8mm film that my dad had taken in the 50's and had them turned into VHS tapes. From the VHS I changed them into digital movies and JPG's. Freeware software is available on the net.

I then bought some inexpensive thumb drives which I stored all of these records on them. The thumb drives had a hole on the ends that I could put an inexpensive but nice chain thru to make a "necklace of family" and gave them to each of my family as a Christmas or Birthday gift. Most computers at home, Libraries or schools can handle JPEG's, or movie files today. This way they can see movies of their families past. If you have pictures going back to the mid 1800's or family paintings they can be scanned as well and will never degrade.

If you have a book that you published electronically or records of proof you can include it.

This way they can put them in their jewelry box and probable forget them till the next family genealogist gets curious. I also plan to do the same with the genealogy libraries surrounding the homes of my ancestors.

Another is to provide a DNA account with a company like Family Tree DNA, or Ancestry .com which you can pass down your user name and Password. These account will give your family a DNA signature to trace you by if all is lost.

Drop Box also is a cloud system that will probably be their forever for family files.

Keep in mind 35 years of misc files will intimidate a novice. Try to bing them in with curiosity so they have something invested in the effort.

Larry Bryan Charlotte, NC

Cards By Lynn said...

Very good ideas, especially giving them to local libraries in the communities. Definitely assures your research is not wasted time.

Moultrie Creek said...

Awesome article! Like you, I've created and shared several books with my family - and area historical societies. Mine have been smaller and more focused. You've reminded me that its time to expand my efforts. Thanks! --Denise

Colleen G. Brown Pasquale said...

I am lucky that I do have family members who are interested in my research, especially one of my children. At the same time I do like to find methods to get others interested. Your books are a great method & I enjoy putting together books. I am making a book for my grandnephew, focusing on the men in his direct line and what they did when they were boys. When I finish I will make one for his sister, focusing on women. I think they'd like to know our dusty old ancestors were once children too!

Anonymous said...

Not only do I have photos and documents and some artifacts with the collection beginning in 1858, I have family bibles and all sorts of other memorabilia primarily 19th and early 30th century in three countries with most documents in other languages. No one in the family is equipped to handle this collection in terms of significant enough interest or space or ability/experience. I do not want to separate the collection because people are connected---one family married into another. My thought had been to find an organization focusing on genealogical interest in these countries that would accept the collection but now find that my first choice only will accept bound books. I do not have time to write and publish books of several hundred pages. No one in my immediate family would understand the significant of specific items if I were not in a position to explain each one. Leaving 50 pages of instructions almost is a guarantee that the instructions would be set aside. For someone having far fewer artifacts and documents (providing the documents have been fully and accurately translated) perhaps a thumb drive would work although one would hope that the recipients of those thumb drives would continue updating the format as technology evolves. Current technology of thumb drives, like VHS, at some point likely will be left behind. Anyway, my decades of research represents a snapshot of families over a long time. One letter, written during the late 19th century, which Mother partially translated for me years ago, was written on board ship and contained the tantalizing statement "... and while walking on deck I discovered that snake is on board." This clearly was a reference to someone known to the family in an unwelcome way; the referenced person's presence clearly was a surprise to the writer. There was more but Mother had difficulty translating it. Precise translation are vital because they set time, place, circumstances, characters and place them all specifically in time and space (geography, land or sea). As with all letters written at that time, the date (for example, 30 August 1895, but not the date of the referenced letter) and sometimes even the town in which the writer was located at the time he/she wrote the letter (which is not necessarily the place where the writer lived). Your insights would be helpful. Thank you.

Vivi said...

Very interesting, thank you. You may want to know that the link to the list of books you published doesn't work.

Olive Tree Genealogy said...

Thank you VIvi for spotting that error. I have corrected the link and you can view my list of published books at Lorine's Books

Olive Tree Genealogy said...

Anonymous it sounds like you have quite a treasure on your hands! I personally would be scanning the documents and letters and creating books containing them. Organize them by topic or family or decade - it doesn't matter, just choose which organizational method suits you!

Then I would give them to family members and local libraries/archives so there is a good chance of those wonderful items being preserved.

You can also put many online - for example at Past Voices I accept submissions of letters or postcards for all to view freely.

Olive Tree Genealogy said...

Larry you have some very creative ideas for preserving your family treasures! There is one tiny glitch however in some of your plans - you can digitize to preserve BUT in time with technology changing so rapidly, there will be no way to retrieve what you have digitized. Remember the big floppy discs, the smaller harder ones? Do you know anyone who has a disc drive that can retrieve data on it?

As for thumb drives, they are intended for temporary storage and almost invariably fail after repeated use. You would be better to store your hard work on a separate hard drive such as Western Digital Passport or on your own personal cloud such as MyBookLive. I do like your necklace idea but it's a temporary solution.

Dropbox and other cloud storage services are wonderful! But they too can bite the dust and disappear so you need backups of your backups :-)

Dana Leeds said...

Great ideas!!! I am going to look further into these & look at links you supplied.

I just finished my final draft of a single chapter in a much larger book about one of my German families. This has given me the 'itch' to make more books. I like your idea of smaller, 30 page or so book and about just ONE family at a time. Definitely something I'm going to think about! Thanks for sharing!

Olive Tree Genealogy said...

I hope the ideas work for you Dana! I have found 2 things by creating shorter books:

1. Folks tend to actually look at it if they can pick it up and glance through a page or two

2. It's faster to complete one and then you have a great feeling of satisfaction which leads to creating a second!

Dana Leeds said...

I just watched the 3 videos & really enjoyed them. I made several books with Shutterly, but it was years ago. So, it was a great refresher course & I picked up a few tips! Also, at the time, I was making books about 'now'... I hadn't really thought about making books with family history books. I'll give it a try!

You mentioned that you were going to make a video showing a completed book of yours. Did you ever do that? I'd love to see more of what you actually put in your family history books.

Olive Tree Genealogy said...

Dana - I'm glad you found the videos helpful. I think you will like creating a Family Memory book on Shutterfly

I need you around to nudge me about projects! I completely forgot I was going to make that video of a completed book. I am going to try to do that this weekend - thanks for reminding me!


Carol Kostakos Petranek said...

Hi Lorine - this is a timely article with excellent suggestions. I am a co-director of the Washington DC Family History Center and people are constantly asking what they should do in this situation. May I have your permission to copy this article and share it? Thank you. Carol Kostakos Petranek

Olive Tree Genealogy said...

Hello Carol

If you provide me with your email address I will chat with you privately about your request. I need a few more details as to how you would share my article, etc.

You may write to me at olivetreegenealogyATgmailDOTcom


carl.h.bloss said...

With more than 70 binders in my collection, and no family member willing to assume the role of Archivist or Genealogist - my will memorandum designates which binders are to be placed in which Historic Societies. With them goes a GEDCOM and PDF of the registry, and which permission is given to make copies - if requested.
Special Family books have been created (as you suggested) to provide family needs. Carl

Anonymous said...

Since I am the last sibling in my generation, I felt almost compelled to research my ancestors. All I had to go on were stories told by Mom and Dad, names of their uncles, etc. When a small child, I really didn't ask the questions that should have been asked, but I did make notes of what they disclosed to me. My older sister also had taken notes, but she had heard their stories earlier than I. After she passed, some of her notes, mind you, small pieces of paper, as mine were, also, were given to my from her daughter.

With these in hand, and old address books of my mother's, I set out to search, first using That was a difficult searching process. After Ancestry combined with Genealogy, it was much easier. I found the names of my dad's uncles living in the same area as he, when a child. Both maternal and paternal were Czechs; so I just put the names that I believed to be relatives in my tree, with hopes at some time in the future they would be proven to be true.

After a year or more, I had written an article about a childhood experience and sent it to Reminisce and it was published in Reminisce Extra in 2005. From that article, a then unknown relative in Wisconsin sent the article on to another then unknown relative, who sent it to a woman who was doing family research.

She phoned me and after we talked we believed that we were definitely related. We each hired a Czech researcher across the pond and with what each of us had, the researcher found that we were indeed 5th cousins. Her 5th G Grandfather and my 5th G Grandfather were brothers. Which brings me to the topic at hand. I completed my search and compiled the information, printing 32 books of two volumes, giving them to each of my siblings children, and of course, to my children and grandchildren. The books were finished in 2012, and lately, I have received a few comments of appreciation for discovering the roots of our family. A nephew actually went to Czechoslovakia and took his picture in from of the still standing family home there. There are a few mysteries left to solve, which keeps tapping on my soon to be 83 year old brain. Perhaps it will be done, but if a descendant catches the genealogy bug, it may be solved later.

rottenralf said...

I run a small genealogy library, and we accept family research files in their entirety. I have about a dozen family collections so far. When I get them, everything (except large items) go in plastic sleeves and 3 ring binders. I don't do further research on them, but I do put them in the Family Histories section and add it to the card catalog. I know my library is named in a couple of wills to have the person's files sent here. Of course the best solution is to leave it to a wanting family member, but if that isn't possible here is a better solution than tossing it in a dumpster. I also have two more generations of family ready to take over the library after me so the files will be protected for another 5-6 decades.

Adrian Brisee
C. G. Brisee Genealogy Library
Irwin, IA

Unknown said...

While these ideas are helpful (and I've long since taken action to share my research in archives), the basic premise that somehow family members should be as interested in family history as I am is, I think, just asking for disappointment. When I started working on our family history I assumed it would be of no real interest to anyone living; if it was they would have started on it themselves long before, or joined me enthusiastically when I told everyone what I was starting to work on.

My work was always intended for archives of whatever kind I could find, in whatever counties and states I could deposit them. I think interest in family history is about a once-every-three-generations thing, and my intent has been to leave as good a trail as possible for whoever gets the bug next. It might be some distant cousin's grandchild for all I know, someone I'll certainly never meet. I find myself writing as if to that person and projecting my work and stories to some future researcher keeps me pretty happy with what I'm doing. I've pulled together some photos that show five generations of some of our ancestors and made nice copies in archival books for all my immediate relatives. Figured it's better to send out a teaser once a year or so to get them asking questions rather than badger them to participate in my hobby. Because that's all it is to most of them; I certainly don't want to go fishing with the uncle with a boat or sit through every high school football game with the cousins whose teenager made the team, so why would they want to work on this with me?

By not putting any pressure on them I'm still welcome in their homes. And that's probably led to more sharing of information than if I'd kept asking them for contributions and help. Or expecting them to show a level of interest that would gratify me.

Mary said...

I think the genealogy bug bites more often than every three generations in the average family, but rarely in a direct line. My parents are interested in what I find, but neither have ever felt any inclination to research themselves. I've had the bug since I was 12, but am the only one in my direct line or among my first cousins. A first cousin's daughter has an Ancestry account, as does a first cousin, but neither seem to have done much with them. They are at least moderately interested when I share discoveries with them though. My Irish descendant relatives are in general much more interested in family history than those of a more melting pot Southern U.S. lineage. The aforementioned cousins on Ancestry are definitely on the Irish side, and others from that side with no interest in researching will still listen and express appreciation for the information I share. Throughout that large Irish Catholic family, there are many other active researchers among my mom's first and second cousins.

My other side has equally interesting stories (if not moreso, as there are far more records), but a much smaller willing audience. The only fellow researchers on that side are my grandmother's first cousin and that cousin's daughter. I'm not sure if that's because most of my dad's generation had mixed feelings about their family, or if it's just a normal thing for the average person who wasn't raised with a particular cultural identity and pride. My immediate family is fairly small, but hopefully as I get older, I'll find someone on the next generation to pass the torch onto, whether they're my own child, a niece, a nephew, or much further removed. I've certainly always enjoyed connecting with the researchers on my parents' generation, and they seem to enjoy it as well. The neat thing about modern genealogy research is that you don't have to bother every relative until you find someone else who's interested. Just start doing a little poking around online, and you'll find your closest relatives who are on the same hunt. I met several of my mom's first cousins online before I ever met them in person!

Anna Matthews said...

I love this idea. It is a great way to pass on the information to those who may find themselves with the bug in the future and to spark some interest as well.

Anonymous said...

Please, please consider giving your research to the DAR. They are located in Washington DC. So many people will be able to use and appreciate your hard work...

Kiwigirl said...

I am in a similar situation so I have now started putting my information, photos, videos and stories - both written and verbal on the website. There future generations will be able to see, read, or even listen to the voices of family.

NNYACGS said...

Please make sure that your descendants know where you want your stuff to go - name the institution or institutions. Edit it first and put it in some logical order. As many pictures as possible should have names and dates on the back. Software for them and the other material to associations.
I volunteer at a museum and a genealogical society. Hard copy is always best. Sometimes software can't be opened.
Institutions also like to receive the books and source documents you used so others can use the for their research. Tell your family when they are so they can always use the later.

Anonymous said...

To the "unknown" poster researching family history for future generations -thank you! I was the recipient of the same sort of forward thinking you have. In fact the person in my family, my great great granddad ' s brother's son, who wrote "Judith Basin Pioneers", even dedicated the book to those of us in the future in the family who would appreciate our history
His book dedication made me smile and cry at the same time. I had been given 8 random pages of the book by my great uncle and tasked with finding the whole book. Eventually that led me to & family , both of which had a copy. Then I ordered the 100 years history of Hobson montana from the local historical society and discovered that the same family member was a major contributor
So thank you again!
I plan to donate copies of my research to historical societies, genealogical societies in relevant locations & the Mormon church. And I've now been inspired to tackle getting a book done on shutterfly :)

Unknown said...

Hello, I know that the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter day Saints do lots of genealogy. They even have buildings specially for people to go do their genealogy, and they even help them do it.
I am sure they would take your hard work and preserve your records to share with people that cherish genealogy.

I love your ideas about sharing your genealogy with your family! Thanks so much

Dawn Roode, Modern Heirloom Books said...

First, to the "unkown" commenter who has always researched with a future ancestor in mind—"my intent has been to leave as good a trail as possible for whoever gets the bug next"—kudos! I think that's a wonderful attitude to have, and the next person in your line to catch the genealogy bug will be lucky, indeed.

Regarding the idea from the original post to create smaller books for family members: Hurray! While not everyone finds a fleshed-out family tree and generations' worth of ancestors' names intriguing, everyone DOES love a good story. I find that bringing family history to life through stories and photographs is a wonderful and effective gateway to a deeper appreciation for genealogy. We find connection and understanding through stories.

I encourage everyone who delves into their past for clues to their heritage to leave future generations more than just your research into the past. Leave your documentation, yes, but leave them STORIES. Whether in a journal, through letters, or in an audio interview, gifting future generations with YOUR voice, wisdom, and the stories of your experiences is a most precious gift. Remember, someone just might be looking for clues about you one day—what legacy will you leave them?

Olive Tree Genealogy said...

Dawn what great comments! Thank you for joining in the discussion. I also love photos - even photos of documents are better than none.

I try to make my books like "coffee table books" with lots of photos/images and lots of white space and not too much text :-)

Patty said...

After reading thru your posts and having similar problem with "what to do with our treasurers", I attended a HQRL Seminar given by the Allen County Library Curt Witcher! Phenomenal speaker, but furthermore Allen County wants your Genealogical collection. They will take boxes, books from your Prom Card to your yearbook to the dossier off your cruise-line dinner.
Please contact them. After listening to him explain that they will Index your collection, not the first 5 pages, but ALL. They will record each piece and return the originals and a bound book depicting what you sent.
I decided to make them my priority for my collection. Check it out please.

Unknown said...

Patty, thanks for sharing this information. I had no idea they were so generous to donors. It's a very attractive offer that makes me feel excited to get cracking.


Gayle said...

I just came across your blog today. Since my research has reached a point where I am seriously considering publishing I found this post informative and encouraging. Thank you.

Anonymous said...

I am late finding this post - but it is a great discussion.

I would encourage genealogists to consider major research libraries in your own area, or the area where the family was primarily located. An example of such in Michigan is the University of Michigan Bentley Historical Library. Talk to them about what they can or want to accept. Historical artifacts, especially, are of interest far beyond individual families or the direct descendants of a particular family. Collecting those items - either no longer wanted by family members or of wider social significance - in research libraries benefits all.

davidbcrawford said...

Acid free paper is still the longest lived medium for records, other than getting it carved in stone.

Unknown said...

I'm not sure what's worse, family members who don't want your research or family members who refuse to share family photos and information.

GeniAus said...

Perhaps The Surname Society, an I international organisation could help with findinding someone interested in the Surname records.

Mary Walthall said...

After researching for 50 years, and family members not particularly interested this is what I came up with. I had 17 three-ring binders of data and documents on one family. The city where the family settled after coming to Texas has an archives and was seeking information on early settlers in that area. They were thrilled to accept these binders. Another family came into Texas at a different place so many records and all of my Texas books were placed there. Another family was prominent in Indiana before coming to Texas. All of my Texas books were placed in the genealogy library where that family settled in Texas. Then all of my out of state books were placed in a local Historical Society and Library where my family has lived for several generations. Almost all of the books in my library were out of print and I didn't want them lost or destroyed. A nephew was interested in his surname binders and materials, one niece was interested in another family. By placing them in the various libraries my books and materials were made available for others to use and my work is not lost. With the internet, now available, more records are online and available for researchers.