How to Preserve Your Genealogy Research

You’ve spent a lot of time, energy, and money tracing your family tree. Not to be morbid, but have you thought about what happens to all of that when you’re gone? Don’t leave things to chance. Here are 5 ways to preserve your genealogy research.

1. Organize

(I hope you’re still reading.) If your organization method is “File by Pile,” your research stands a good chance of ending up in landfill. If others can’t make sense of what all of those notes, papers, copies, and scribbles mean and how they fit together, they’re likely to say, “Forget it,” and chuck the whole thing.

2. Write and Record

This is something we should be doing anyway. Don’t allow your conclusions to reside only in your brain or in your genealogy software (which your descendants probably won’t know how to use or understand its importance). Write them. It doesn’t have to be long. It just needs to be written. While you’re at it, record your memories. A binder labeled “Our Family History” is more likely to be saved than a pile of file folders strewn across the dining room table.

3. Pass It Around

After you’ve written something, share it. Send a copy to the libraries in the areas where your ancestors lived. Send articles to the genealogy societies for their publications. Even if your research files don’t survive, your conclusions will.

4. Find the Next Generation

Identify someone in the family who would be interested in picking up the baton as the family’s historian. If it isn’t one of your children or grandchildren, what about a niece, nephew, or younger cousin? Work alongside them now and when the time is right, give them your files. (You might even want to put it into your will, so there’s no misunderstanding in case something were to happen before you can transfer the files yourself.)

5. Donate — with Preparation

So you’ve decided to leave all of your files to your local library or genealogy society. You’ve even written it into your will. Awesome! But does that library or society know that stuff is coming? Do they even want it?

Not every library will accept loose materials like that. Also, it might not fit into what they collect in terms of subject. (If your local library is in Nebraska, but your research revolves around families in Virginia, they might not want it.) Talk to your intended library or society before you draw up your will. See if they’re interested and what shape the files need to be in. While you’re at it, include a cash donation in your will to help them offset the cost of processing your research.

Don’t be like the ancestors who tossed out their letters and lost the family Bible. Take steps to preserve your genealogy research. Future generations will thank you.

You've spent time, energy, and money tracing your family tree. Take these steps to preserve your genealogy research for future generations.

Posted: April 29, 2016.

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  • Jean Naisbitt has made a recorded webinar for the BYU Family History Library with the title, “Inherited Family Records? Now What?” In it, she offers advice about materials that should be kept or thrown away, with suggestions about the in-between items. I have been trying to go through this process with my own material from this point of view in hopes of making it more attractive to a younger relative. The video is here:

  • I have recently found your Facebook page and subscribed to your email blogs. You approach tasks with doable lists, and taking a “long view” of the most disliked parts of Genealogy. Thanks for that! I often wish those who left me with this “cleanup” had had YOU to encourage them. I would have found many more interesting stories by now, I’m certain! Keep up your excellent writing!

  • I have taught classes in what to do with your research – the first thing is: Back Up, Back Up, Back UP. L.O.C.K.S.S. – Lots of Copies Keeps Stuff Safe. Think fires, floods, hurricanes, a tornado or 3 or 4, etc. We have seen multiple events in the last few years and I shudder to think how much family material, artifacts and so on have been lost through lack of preparation or just plain “I’ll do that project tomorrow”.

  • I was at a loss as to what to do with all my little notes that were lying about my desk. I am researching so many different family lines that my desk has contracted ADD! I bought an expandable file and labeled the 12 different tabs with family names that I am most interested in. Now every time I only have a few minutes to research and scribble down some information the note can immediately go into the appropriate pocket for review at a later date. I can now see the wood top of my desk and will actually be able to go back to the notes I thought were important to start with.

  • I love the dictation feature on my phone!
    I spend a lot of time helping my elderly parents who love to talk about the past. Whenever I hear a story from a family member as soon as possible I dictate the story and send it to myself in an email. When I get home I edit it and save it in a Word document and put it in a family folder. It’s been a great way to capture family information.
    It’s also great for recording the details of a doctors visit!