What is going to happen to your genealogy research when you are gone? This is not a subject most of us want to think about. However, it is something that all genealogists should take time to plan.
Genealogists spend a considerable amount of time and money tracing their family. Most people do not think to include their research in an estate plan, but that is where it belongs. It is an invaluable gift to your children, grandchildren and your future descendants.
In addition, your work could benefit others working on your family lines or in the areasof your research. There is not a researcher alive today that has not benefitted from the work of another long-gone genealogist.
The solution is to create a plan for what will happen to your genealogical research after you die. Make a list and start working on the plan today.
1. Where will your research go?
Talk to your children and grandchildren to see if they want all or part of your collection. If no one in your immediate family is interested, perhaps a cousin would like to have it. If you have research material that is specific to a location, consider donating it to the local historical society or library.
Your collection will have books, manuals, completed files, files that are being actively worked on and files that need further research. The collection might need to be divided up. Someone in your family might want the completed work, but has no interest in doing further research. It would be a shame to lose the research that is incomplete. That research may help a cousin or other distant relative working on the same lines.
Is there a nearby library that would like your book collection? If not, consider making arrangements to have the books sold after your death. An Ebay auction is one way of how they could be sold.
2. The next step is to prepare the material.
Organize and label everything so that it is clearly identified as genealogical material. It is likely that someone else will not take the time or have the knowledge to go through your stuff to determine the significance of each item. If this task is left to your family, they might not see the value in something that is actually very important.
Have just one file for each person. If you have more than one file on a person, chances are there will be multiple copies of documents. When combining the files, the duplicate copies should be thrown away.
It is essential to have a good paper filing system. Go through your files and purge. If it is important, keep it. Be sure that you can retrieve it easily. If it's not important enough to file, throw it away. I know that is a hard thing to do.
My friend Jan has a great alternate system. Beside her garbage can, she has a "but I might need this" box. This is not for all trash, just those things that you are reluctant to throw away. Put the "but I might need this" item in the box. If you need it in the next six months, fish it out and use it. Every six months go to the bottom of the box and throw away the bottom half, leaving the top half in the box. Continue to put things on the top of the pile, then empty again in six months. This takes away some of the anxiety over throwing away something that might be needed later.
We genealogists tend to keep everything. Keep the research (including notes) but throw away the other stuff. If you have your data in a genealogy program, get rid of all the old handwritten family group sheets. Throw away those CDs of indexes that are now online. Other items that are probably not needed: Old copies of genealogy society newsletters, magazines, journals, etc. Tear out the articles that you want to keep, then throw away the rest. Sign up for electronic copies of publications whenever possible so the stacks don't start growing again.
Recycle old editions of books, magazines and journals that are in good condition by donating to a small library (large libraries are usually not interested) or take them to your genealogy society meeting and give the items away.
Document family artifacts and keepsakes. Take photos of each item, then arrange the photos in a binder with a description of each item and how it is important to your family. I would suggest that you share the binder contents with your children so that these items are not trashed after you are gone.
Organize all genealogy materials in one place, not scattered about the house. Keep a list of all the material and store it with other estate planning records like your will. Organize your electronic filing system also. Set up folders for your genealogy files, keeping all your work together in those folders.
3. Consider a digital estate plan.
You probably have numerous online accounts. Make a list of the accounts with user names and passwords. Think about your photo accounts, such as Flickr and Google, blogs, genealogy sharing websites such as MyHeritage and The Next Generation, and subscription sites like Ancestry and Footnote. Password-protect the list file, then your family will only need the location of the file and one user name and password. Do not include user names and passwords in a written will since that will becomes public record after your death.
There are Web sites that offer services to help with your digital estate plan. Legacy Locker, DataInherit, Entrustet and Ideparted are just a few of those that offer various services.
Make a commitment today to start working on your genealogy estate plan. By thinking ahead, you will preserve your genealogy for your descendants and assure access to your research for future genealogists.